Living at the Edge

Uley Church c1830 copy

St Giles, Uley c1830

I have previously mentioned my ancestor George Mitchell/Witchell and his antecedents (here), and his granddaughter, Mary Ann has also appeared as the wife of William Gibbs (here). This article aims to fill in as many gaps as possible. George Mitchell and his family have, without doubt, been the most difficult of all my lines to research. Like the Gibbs family whom they married into, they moved between Bristol and Bath, finally ending up in Bristol, and with several marriage irregularities and some missing records, they are often hard to pin down. George’s use of both Mitchell and Witchell also causes problems in the early period but most of the records concerning the family in the nineteenth century use Mitchell so I shall continue with that.

George was a tailor, born in Wotton-under-Edge in 1794, and who married Harriet Moore at Uley in 1816. Their first child, Elizabeth was baptised at Uley in the following year. Thereafter I can find no record of any other baptisms for the couple, who had eight children, with the exception of a final son, Walter who was baptised at Bath Abbey on July 1st 1836. The father’s address was given as Ladymead, now part of Walcot Street. Five years later in the 1841 Census the Mitchells are to be found at Galloways Buildings (later North Parade Buildings) just to the south of the Abbey. George’s occupation is still given as tailor (as he is in all records) but Harriet is not with the family. It may that she had died, but I have not found a record of any death or burial. Living with George are Sarah (20) William (15) George (12) Emma (8) Richard (6) and Walter (4). I have not been able to find any further trace of the two girls and although Walter is living near his father in 1851, he disappers thereafter. Also missing are Elizabeth and the eldest son, Henry. The latter in the Census’ from 1851 on gives his place of birth as either Uley or Wotton, and on his marriage certificate names George Mitchell, a tailor, as his father.

Henry, being my ancestor, is my main concern and I shall return to him later. Of his four brothers, there are again, gaps in any records that I can find. William and Richard were both french polishers (as was Henry) and both moved to Fulham in London, although Richard returned to the West Country and was living in Weston Super Mare in 1891. William was living at the interesting address (at least for football lovers) of 1 Craven Cottages, Fulham in 1881 before moving to Hammersmith. George (who gives his place of birth as Wotton under Edge, rather than Bath like his elder brother, William) was a warehouseman and lived in Bristol, at least until 1861 after which he disappears. All three of the brothers married but it seems only William had a child – Rosina Martha, who was born in 1848.

1841 Hannah Dix copy

The Dix family in 1841

It was with some difficulty that I finally found Henry Mitchell in the 1841 Census. Although impossible to prove, I am sure he is the “Henery” listed as living at Snow Hill, Walcot. The household consisted of Elizabeth aged 50, Hanah (20), Thomas (11), Rosena (1) and “Henery” also aged 20. The surname is spelt Dixs by the enumerator and after Elizabeth, just the abbreviation “Do” for ditto is given. Of course, in the 1841 census no relationships are shown, but it is strange that, were Henry part of the Dix family he is not shown in age order as was the rule, but is added at the end. I think the enumerator may have assumed he was a Dix. The birth certificate of little Rosina proves, I think, my assumption. It shows that Rosina was born on September 5th, 1839 at Upper Dover Street (a turning off Snow Hill) and is the daughter of Henry Mitchell, a french polisher, and Hannah Dix. A second daughter, Mary Ann was born in March 1842 by which time the family had moved to Claremont Buildings, also in Walcot. The details of parentage are the same as on Rosina’s certificate. In September of that year banns were called at St Saviours Church, Bath for the marriage of Henry and Hannah, but no wedding seems to have taken place; there is no entry in the register nor a certificate issued. Henry and Hannah were at a different Walcot address again in 1844 when their eldest son, Henry was born, and the mother still given as Hannah Dix. Thereafter, starting with the birth of a second son, George Dix Mitchell in Bristol in 1847, Hannah appears as Hannah Mitchell on her childrens’ birth certificates, and also on the 1851 Census.

Pope's Parade 1906

Popes Parade in relation to Merchant Street

The Mitchell family had moved to Bristol at some point in 1846/7 and their address there was Pope’s Parade which was a short terrace of five houses in the lane connecting Merchant Street and Quakers Friars. It is now a pedestrian way into the recently developed Cabot Circus shopping area, although the old houses have since disappeared. Rosina Mitchell had died in Bath in May 1846, aged 8 with her abode given as “Workhouse” but this could mean she died in the Workhouse Infirmary, which was the only source of health care for the poorer classes; but it does raise the possibility that the family had fallen on hard times. Their son, George Dix Mitchell, born in Pope’s Parade died within a year but a third daughter, Miranda, was born there in 1849. She proved to be the longest living family member, not dying until 1923. The living conditions in Pope’s Parade must have been cramped. From a map of the later 19th century, the houses do not appear very large and yet they were home to multiple households – five at No1 where the Mitchells were lodging – a total of sixteen people. No 4 was even more crowded with twenty-one inhabitants. In the same rank, lodging at Nos 5 and 3 respectively were Henry’s father George and younger brother, Walter who was described as an errand boy, aged 17, though his true age was 14.

By 1855 the Mitchells had returned to Bath. Hannah gave birth to another daughter, Jeanette in that year and three years later a fourth daughter, Jessie arrived. Jessie only lived for a few months, yet in early 1859 a final child, Hannah Harriet was born; she too died within two months and her mother Hannah followed her to the grave in December of that year. The cause of Hannah’s death is stated on the certificate as Phthisis, the medical term for Tuberculosis; she had been suffering from it for nine months and died at the age of 42.

The 1861 Census finds Henry Mitchell and his three surviving children back in Bristol, living at 11 Water Street, St Pauls. Little Jeanette had died shortly before the Census was taken, so only Mary Ann, Henry and Miranda (whose name obviously caused problems for the enumerator – he wrote “Emma”) were in the household. The house was shared (as we have seen here) with Ellen Cornwall, her son John and three lodgers, among whom was William Gibbs, the future husband of Mary Ann, whom he was to marry later in the year. By then Henry had moved to adjoining Milk Street, which he gave as his address on the occasion of his own marriage to Louisa Jane Bult. The two witnesses at the marriage were George and Elizabeth Mitchell. The former could be Henry’s father, but I am more inclined to think it was his brother. George Mitchell junior had married Elizabeth Watson in 1848 and they appear in the 1851 and 1861 Censuses living in the St Pauls area, although I cannot find them afterwards. They do not seem to have any children.

Frogmore Street area

The area to the north of Frogmore Street (at bottom) showing Hope Place and Jessamine Cottages ( aka Dennis Place)

In 1861 George senior was living in Hope Place, near Frogmore Street, in the parish of St Augustines, and at some time around 1869 Henry moved his family to the same area, being listed at Dennis Place in the 1871 Census. The area to the north of Frogmore Street, rising up the hill to Park Row had a very unsavoury reputation in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and again it probably indicates the level of poverty in which the Mitchell family appears to have subsisted. The children of Henry and Hannah had all moved away from home by this time. Henry junior, a french polisher like his father married Ann Gilham in 1866, and Miranda (this time spelt Mineda) was a live-in waitress at the Adam & Eve Tavern in St Mary-le-Port Street; she was to marry William Lloyd in 1878. It seems as if Henry and Louisa had moved to Burnham on Sea (Louisa’s birthplace) around 1867/8 as one of their children, Margaret Emma had been born there, but by the time the next child was born in 1870 they were settled in St Augustines. In all Henry and Louisa had six children, the two youngest dying in early childhood.

Returning to George Mitchell senior in 1861, his household as recorded in the Census consists of himself aged 66, a tailor, his wife Belinda aged 33, born in Ireland and a daughter, Hellen aged 5 and born in St Pauls, Bristol. I have been unable to find a marriage or the birth of Hellen, who may not of course, have been registered as Mitchell. There is a Belinda Coffy, born in Ireland about the correct age, living as a servant in a household in Clifton in 1851, and this may be her, but I cannot find a birth for a daughter named Coffy either. To confuse matters further the 1871 Census shows George living with a wife, Ellen (born in Cashel, Ireland) aged 49, and no sign of a daughter. I’m inclined to believe that Belinda/Ellen are one and the same, perhaps giving a false age in 1861 and deciding to change names; but we shall never know. George died in August 1871 of “Old age and Dropsy” and the informant was wife “Hellena” Mitchell. The confusion continues in the later Censuses – in 1881 Ellen Mitchell, widow is living with a daughter Ellen (unmarried), and two grandchildren, Florence (5) and Edward (3); in 1891 Helen Mitchell, widow is with daughter Helen (widow) and granddaughter Lily (9). I can find all three grandchildren in the birth index (Florence and Edward both have a second name, Horrell, perhaps pointing to parentage) but they all appear to be illegitimate.

Henry Mitchell continued living at Dennis Place (also called Jessamine Cottages – a row of four small houses on Stoney Hill) until his death in January 1885. The cause of his death is given as “Fatty degeneration of the liver”, which was possibly caused by the inhalation of methylated spirits used in french polishing, but may also be a symptom of alcoholism or diabetes. One other late record is his signature as a witness on the will drawn up by his son-in-law, William Lloyd, the husband of Miranda in 1883. I have not seen this, but someone who has assures me that the signature plainly appears as “Witchell” so perhaps we have come full circle.

Frogmore Street

Frogmore Street


Bath and Bristol

Earl Street, St James

The Gibbs Family

The ancestors of Joan Gibbs mostly hailed from Bath and south Gloucestershire, yet gravitated to Bristol during the course of the nineteenth century. The earliest member of the family we can be positive about was John Gibbs who was born around 1810 in the Walcot area of Bath. He is almost certainly the individual baptised at St Swithins, Walcot on 17th December 1809, the son of Thomas and Mary Gibbs. They themselves had been married at the chapel of ease of St Mary, Queen’s Square, which was part of the large parish of Walcot, on 1st February 1807, both being shown as widowers. Mary’s previous husband was named Smith, but earlier records are unable to pinpoint her maiden name. Thomas was probably the person whose burial is recorded at St Swithins on January 4th 1819 aged 59 but we can be sure that Mary’s burial is that recorded at the same church on June 26th 1838, as her place of death is given as 62 Avon Street, Walcot which is the address of her son, John the following year.

St Swithin Walcot R

St Swithin’s Walcot


John Gibbs had married Amelia Helps on May 19th 1833 at St Swithins. Amelia’s family also came from the Walcot area, her father, William, a plasterer had died (aged 33) in 1819; her mother was born Elizabeth Vincent around 1776 and the couple had married at Bathwick before moving to Walcot, where they had four children baptised, Amelia being the third in 1815.

Following their marriage, John and Amelia seem to have moved to Bristol – their first two children, Amelia (1834) and Thomas (1836) both give Bristol as their place of birth on later census records and their baptisms are recorded at Holy Trinity church St Phillips. By the middle of 1839 the family were back in Bath however, and their next child, William was born at 62 Avon Street on 1st June of that year. John’s occupation is given as “comb maker”, and he continues to give this in future years along with his other profession in the retail trade. In due course, three other children appear in the records; Elizabeth Helps (1842), Frederick (1851) and Robert Frederick (1854). By the time of the 1841 Census the family were living in Stable Lane, Walcot, and ten years later were in Bridewell Lane, closer to the centre of the city. This is where John seems to have carried on his occupations as variously a Toy Dealer, China and Glass Dealer, and Newsagent as well as continuing as a Comb Maker. Their businesses certainly are listed in directories as being here, even after the family moved residence to Hartley Place.

Hartley Place map

Hartley Place off Lansdown Road, Bath

The 1851 census, when the family were in Bridewell Lane, gives John as a Comb Maker and Amelia as a “Shop Huckstress”. This indicates that she was already in the retail trade, a Huckster being a person who sold small items from a tray, either instore or door-to-door (like a pedlar). Perhaps it was Amelia who built up the retail business that the Gibbs’ carried on throughout the rest of their lives. By 1871 John was described as a General Dealer, but no more occupations are recorded for Amelia until 1881 (after John’s death) when she is described as a “Newsagent”. The family stayed in Hartley Place (a court of five or six houses, just off Lansdown Road) until after John’s death in 1880. By 1891 Amelia had moved just around the corner to become a lodger at 12 Guinea Lane. She is described as a “Retired Shopkeeper”. John died early in 1880 and was buried in Locksbrook Cemetery which served the St Swithins parish.

12 Guinea Lane Bath

12 Guinea Lane

Amelia Gibbs died in early summer 1900 and was buried with her husband (the cemetery record notes “2nd interment”) at Locksbrook on July 21st of that year.

It is gratifying to be able to record the history of one’s family and such accounts tend to gloss over the situations where no progress can be made. I try to research the story of all the siblings of my ancestors, although they are generally not mentioned in these articles. One such problem ancestor is the eldest daughter of John and Amelia; named Amelia like her mother she was born, as we have seen, in Bristol in 1834, and in December 1859 she married Henry Abraham at Bathwick church. A son, Mark was born in April 1860, but died at the age of five weeks and was buried at Bathwick. Thereafter I can find no record at all of Amelia. In the 1861 Census, Henry is living with his parents and described as “married” and twenty years later he married again, but I can find no death or any other trace of Amelia under either her maiden or married name.

Water Street, Bristol

Water Street, St Pauls

The two eldest sons of John and Amelia continued the family tradition by moving to Bristol early in their adult lives. The 1861 Census finds them at 11 Water Street, St Pauls. There were two households there – the Mitchell family, and Ellen Cornwell and her son, with whom the brothers were lodging. Both Ellen and the head of the Mitchell family, Henry had been born in Wotton under Edge in Gloucestershire, although all of the Mitchell children had been born in Walcot. We shall return to this family later, as the eldest daughter, Mary Ann was to marry William Gibbs later that year. She is described as a servant and William is a Chair Maker. Interestingly they married at St Swithin’s Walcot, which was the home parish of both of them, but seem to have lived virtually all of their married lives in the St James area of Bristol. The birth of their eldest son, William Henry is registered in Bristol in the quarter ending 31st December 1861, whilst the wedding took place on the 15th December of that year, presumably after the birth.

The second son, Frederick Samuel was christened at St Pauls in Bristol, but most of the baptisms of their growing family took place at St James, and the Census returns show them living at West Street in 1871 and Earl Street in 1891. The Census for 1881 shows the family returning to Bath and living with William’s recently widowed mother, Amelia at Hartley Place.

St James c1800

St James church

William’s occupation is normally shown as “Chair Frame Maker”, but the 1891 Census shows an interesting range of jobs for his children: Frederick and John who were married and not living at home at this time were respectively a mason’s labourer and a french polisher; William was a nail cutter, Mary Amelia (born 1870, sometimes Emily) was a seamstress, Thomas (1873) a chair maker, like his father, Henry (1874) a pawnbroker’s assistant, Robert Charles (1876) an errand boy and young Albert Edward (1886) was still a scholar; Albert Edward later became a collier like his elder brother Frederick Samuel and was killed in the First World War near Cambrai in 1917.


The 1891 Census was the last in which William and Mary Ann appear –she died in 1895 aged 53 and he died in 1898 aged 59 – and the family were back in St James Parish, Bristol, living at 11 Earl Street. Apart from the sojourn in Bath they seem to have always lived in the close-packed streets and lanes just to the north of St James Church. It was obviously a tight-knit community who lived in one another’s pockets. At the same address in 1881 William’s sons, William, Frederick and John were boarders with the family of Edwin Horsford – this Edwin was a chair frame maker like William and was a fellow boarder with him in 1861 with the Mitchell family (see above). Another boarder at the Horsfield’s was a Joseph Cavill – he was still at No.11 in 1891 with William’s family, and also in 1911 with William’s son John. The Horsford family had moved to No.7.

St James area

The area north of St James Church where the Gibbs family lived until the early twentieth century

As we have seen, John Gibbs, the son of William and Mary Ann had stayed behind in Bristol when his parents moved briefly to Bath. In 1881, still aged only 14 he is listed as french polisher’s apprentice. He was presumably following his Mitchell grandfather, Henry into that occupation and in 1891 was living at 15 Upper Montague Street with his wife, Ada (nee Street) and first child, Amelia.

Earl Street 2

Earl Street, St James

By 1901 John and Ada were back at 11 Earl Street with their growing family. Amelia was now 11 and the next daughter, Ada, (born 1891) was staying with her Street grandmother. We then have Elizabeth Emily (8), Mary Gladys (6) Mabel Martha (3) and Frederick Charles (1). A final son, Albert, was to be born the following year. Also in the household there were five lodgers, including Joseph Cavill and his son (also Joseph) and John’s younger brother, Henry who was now a woodcarver. Tragedy was to strike the family soon however, as John died at the early age of 40 on 20 March 1907, of cirrhosis of the liver. This may have been caused in part by his work with strong chemicals, but it is also worth noting that by 1911 younger brother Henry was the landlord of the White Hart in Earl Street.

Gay Street c1900

Gay Street from the top c1900

How the family coped without a breadwinner is impossible to say, but I have not been able to trace them on the 1911 Census so far. Obviously as the children grew and went out to work, life must have improved and in 1913-4 they were living in Hillgrove Cottage, Carolina Row (a short street connecting King’s Square to the bottom of Gay Street). By 1915 they were living at 4 Gay Street, Kingsdown, just to the north of the area where they were born and brought up. Ada Gibbs is reported to have kept her connections with St James’ as she was a cleaner in the church around this time. No 4 is the second house from the right in the photograph above, which shows the street from the top. It appears there is a small girl playing with her pram outside.
One by one the children married and moved away, apart from Mabel, whose fiance died before they could marry. Elizabeth also had a wartime romance with a soldier who was subsequently killed and the relationship resulted in the birth of Joan Ethel Gibbs (1918). Elizabeth later married Herbert Eason. Both of John and Ada’s sons entered military service. Frederick actually enlisted on April 26th 1915 when he was still 14 years and 9 months old; he claimed he was 18. His deception lasted almost a year before he was discharged in March 1916 for having “made a mis-statement” on his attestation document. He later became a regular soldier and took part in the evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940. His younger brother Albert was too young for the First World War but, having been in the North Somerset Yeomanry already, enlisted in the Royal Tank Corps in 1923. He served eight years and returned to his trade of leaded light glazing. Ada Gibbs died in 1935, by which time she was living with her daughter, Mabel and young Joan at Mabel’s house at 7 Greenway Park, Southmead. Mabel spent all her working life at Wills Tobacco factory in Bedminster and had not long retired when she died suddenly in 1956.
The photograph below shows most of Ada’s family on the occasion of the marriage of Mary Gladys (known in the family as Polly) to Bertie Horwood on 2 July 1921. The wedding was at St James and this photograph was probably taken at the back of 4 Gay Street

Gladys Gibbs wedding

Standing: Unknown (bridesmaid?) Unkown (best man?), Frederick, Mabel, Elizabeth Willis (Ada’s sister), Albert, Amelia.
Sitting: Bertie Horwood, Mary Gladys, Ada Gibbs with Joan on her lap.


What’s in a name?

A few notes on the Mitchell/Witchell family

St Mary the Virgin, Wotton

The church of St Mary the Virgin, Wotton under Edge

Among my ancestors are George Mitchell and his son, Henry who both lived in Bath and Bristol at various times, yet hailed from south Gloucestershire. On Census returns Henry gave his place of birth as either Wotton under Edge or Uley whereas George always stated Wotton. Evidence as to the birth or baptism of Henry (around 1819) has proved elusive, and  there is no record of a George Mitchell  (about 1795) being baptised in Wotton either. Other descendants of this family have indicated that George might be the George Witchell, son of  John and Mary who was baptised in 1803; at first this seemed doubtful to me as the ages that George gives in the Census don’t fit. However, on examining the parish records, which have recently become available online it now appears to be the case. Against the baptismal record dated February 23rd 1803 the entry gives a birthdate of May 3rd 1794, which exactly fits  the Census ages.

1816 marriage George Mitchell Uley copy

I have only one example of George’s signature, on the occasion of his marriage to Harriet Moore at Uley in 1816, and it clearly shows his surname as Mitchell. However a witness to that marriage was George’s sister, Lavinia and her signature is ambiguous; it could read either Mitchell or Witchell, and at her own wedding in 1820 (with the identical signature) the incumbent has certainly described her as Lavinia Witchell. To complicate matters, at the baptism of George and Harriet’s eldest child, Elizabeth the following year, the name has reverted to Witchell. Was there a conscious changing of spelling, I wonder? It is of interest that George’s son Henry signs Mitchell on his marriage certificate but I am told that when he witnessed his son-in-law’s will in 1883 the signature reads Henry Witchell.

The parish registers of Wotton under Edge are, in the main, well kept and full; there are one or two missing years, but these can often be filled using the Bishop’s Transcripts. The later years of the Commonwealth are patchy, as is often the case, with obvious gaps and poor script at times. The Witchell family and its connections inhabited the town for many centuries so it is possible to take them back almost as far as the beginning of the registers in 1571. My reconstruction of the line is to be found on my complete tree on Heredis and commences with a William Witchell whose birth would appear to be c1590 (as yet not found). Of interest are the two Williams who were the son and grandson of this individual.

We know a little more about William Witchell (1621-1683) than the others of the family as he and his widow both left wills. It is quite likely that most of the family were involved in the cloth trade in one way or another, as this was the dominant industry in Wotton. William, in his will states that he was a clothier, that is a trader in the material rather than being involved in the process of woollen weaving, treating or dying. Sadly his will does not have an inventory of his possessions, and after the usual cash bequests to his children and grandchildren he left everything to his widow. The probate document records his estate as being in value £96 6s 4d. He had married Jane Brunkett, the daughter of Edward Brunkett, a tailor (whose will also exists) in 1646, and the will of Jane (who died in 1694) also survives, together with an inventory. The Witchell household was not a substantial one, although much (including property) may have already been passed on to the children. What remains is obviously the personal property of Jane and includes a flock bed and its appurtenances, a table board and a chest and two coffers; also assorted brass iron and pewter, the whole coming to about £7 in value. In addition she has £3 5s worth of clothes and £200 in ready money. So the family was fairly prosperous. In both wills sons are given nominal sums (£10 each from each parent) and were expected to make their own way in the world; the bulk of the cash and belongings was left, as was normal, to the daughters, especially unmarried daughters. The sons may have inherited business interest of course.

The other figure worth mentioning is William and Jane’s eldest son, another William. He is certainly a man of mystery. He can be identified firstly from his parents’ wills, and secondly as the father of various children he had baptised at St Marys. The names of his children tie in with the names in William senior and Jane’s wills when referring to their grandchildren. However, I can find no baptism for him, no marriage and no burial in Wotton under Edge. He was most likely born in the early 1650s when the registers are a problem, and he could well have married outside the parish, but his missing burial is odd. He was still alive in 1704 when a grandson of his is buried, and the father of the child is referred to as “William Witchell jnr.”. As no marriage has been found for him, and the register at this time does not record mother’s names at baptism, we do not know the name of his wife, although it is likely she is the “Anne, wife of William Witchell” who was buried in 1710; William junior had a wife Anne, but the couple were to have more children after this date, so it cannot be her. There is a burial of a William Witchell in 1721, but if this is him, there is no burial apparent for William junior.