St Michaels Church, Stoke Lane before 19th century rebuilding
When researching family history, one expects to come across generation after generation of labourers or agricultural labourers and, occupational records being sparse before the beginning of civil registration (1837) and the census of 1841, that is usually what you accept as the default. However I have been lucky with many of my families in that both rural and urban lines have often revealed crafts and trades of a variety of types. So far I have come across carpenters, plumbers and glaziers, masons, retailers, bakers, blanket weavers, railwaymen, musicians and many others. The distaff side, as well as the usual servants, laundresses and dressmakers has included a 19th century “shop huckstress” and a 17th century midwife. The rural lines have produced a number of labourers but also many husbandmen and yeomen (both of which we would now call farmers) as well as a wool comber, flax dresser, miller and a lime-burner. The most numerous of all the tradespeople however, occuring almost somewhere in every line are shoemakers, in one form or another: cordwainers (an ancient term denoting one who not only made shoes but worked in leather goods generally), boot maker, slipper maker and shoemaker itself. Of these, my starting point in this article is William Noyes (1815-1894), my ggg grandfather.
William Noyes’ shop and house on Temple Parade (probably the second from the left of the row of cottages; this was formerly Redcliffe Almshouses)
William’s daughter, Maria married John Flexney in Bristol in 1861 and died, tragically young in 1880, and we have seen (here) how they possibly met, John working as a railway porter at Temple Meads Station, which faced William Noyes’ home and shop on Temple Way. William had been working as a self-employed boot maker in Bristol since the 1830s (although the 1861 census also records him as employing three men) and he had married Eliza Pritchard at Temple Church in 1838. In their early years the family lived at several addresses in the Temple or neighbouring Redcliffe areas, but by 1861 they had settled at Bath Parade in Temple Way. Of William and Eliza’s eight children, only three survived into adulthood; Henry, a railwayman (1840-1904), Maria (1841-1880) and Clara (1857-1897) who was left the whole of William’s estate of £595 when he died; William’s wife Eliza had passed away three years before, in 1891.
I have been unable to take Eliza’s line back very far; she was the daughter of Joseph Pritchard (1783-1851) and his wife Catherine (nee Kill 1782-1859), who lived in Winchester where Joseph worked as a gardener. More research at Hampshire Record Office is required. William however proved a little easier to research as his roots lay in Somerset. When first tackling his origins I was given two clues; living with him in the 1841 census were another William Noyes and a Sarah Noyes. Of course, no relationships are given in that record (and by 1851 both had died), but their ages suggest that that could be William junior’s parents. In later censuses William gives his place of birth variously as Murtrey, Murtry near Frome, and Medtree as well as the unhelpful “Somerset” and “Bristol”. This took a little time to track down, although the “near Frome” gave the greatest clue, as in 1841 William senior gave his occupation as “miller”. A search of old maps finally showed the solution as clearly marked on the 1881 OS map is Murtry Flour Mill, just to the north-west of Frome and lying in the parish of Buckland Dinham.
Murtry Flour Mill on an 1881 OS map
The parish register of Buckland did not have William’s baptism however and no others for any children of William and Sarah. After a search for other Noyes baptisms in this area of Somerset, I finally found the baptism of William Noyes, son of William and Sarah at St Michaels, Stoke Lane (also known as Stoke St Michael) on April 14, 1816, with the parents’ abode given as Buckland Dinham. I found a further clutch of baptisms for William’s siblings as well as the marriage of his parents, William Noyes and Sarah Clavey on October 7th, 1805. At the marriage both parties are described as “of this parish” although William is further designated as a “sojurner”, meaning he was not born in the parish but, at the time, lived and worked there. Before we turn to Sarah’s family, I managed to trace William’s parentage by returning to the register at Buckland Dinham. He was baptised there in 1784, the son of yet another William Noyes and his wife Elizabeth. Beyond that there is not a great deal more – William and Elizabeth Sears married at St Johns, Frome in March 1780, but I cannot trace either of them any further back as yet. It could well be that this first William was also the miller of Murtry Mill, but there is no evidence so far. His other son, named John may be the John Noyes who is listed in nearby Mells as a miller in an 1844 Directory, but at least we can be sure that the William baptised in 1784 worked at Murtry from at least 1813 until 1820, when the family appears to have moved to Stoke Lane. The mill itself is no longer standing; it was recorded as “disused” in 1930 and demolished in the 1950s. Only a few stones now remain alongside the old mill race.
Returning to Sarah Clavey, there is much more information available on her family, who had been settled in Stoke Lane for at least 200 years. The earliest reference so far is to a Richard Clavey who was granted a licence to sell ale there in 1615, and it may be that the numerous Clavey family of the parish all descend from him. Sarah’s branch is well documented back to the early 18th century, although problems with the parish registers which are disordered and damaged, and the near-total lack of wills for Somerset make anything further more complicated. The collection of wills for Somerset, proved at the bishops’ and archdeacons’ courts (as well as those for Devon) were destroyed in the bombing of Exeter during the Second World War. Only a few proved at Canterbury, even fewer copies preserved in local archives, and the Estate Duty Office copies of 1812-57 survive. Luckily three of these survivors exist for Sarah’s ancestors. One of them is the will of Sarah’s father, Abraham Clavey (c1742-1829) which adds valuable information about the family other than the bare records of the parish register. Abraham describes himself as a yeoman and the will, dated October 6th 1828 provides bequests to his three surviving children, all daughters, Mary, Elizabeth and Sarah as well as Sarah’s eldest son, Joseph. As well as his household goods and chattels, which were left to Elizabeth, Abraham’s estate consisted of two properties; one called Rawlings which was leasehold and included a cottage and gardens, was also left to Elizabeth. The other called Fussells “where I now reside”, was freehold (although with a mortgage of £8 per year with six years to run) and was left to Sarah, and following Sarah’s death to Joseph. After paying off the mortgage, Sarah had to pay her sisters one shilling per week for the remainder of their lives. Fussells consisted of a house, gardens and pasture land running to about ten acres. Both properties lay on Withy Brook Lane which runs westwards from Stoke Lane Village towards Oakhill.
Abraham had married Martha Gullick at St Michaels church in 1764 and both were seemingly from the village. Unfortunately the baptisms are missing from the parish register for the period 1741-8 and (from the age given at their burials) both their births would have occured in that period; Abraham’s around 1742 and Martha’s three years later. They had nine children, but as previously mentioned, only three daughters survived them (Martha died in 1813). Mary the eldest died in 1835 and Elizabeth, who remained single like her elder sister in 1866, leaving her estate to her nephew, Joseph Noyes; Joseph was a cordwainer like his younger brother William, but he spent the whole of his life in Stoke Lane.
We are lucky in being sure of Abraham’s parentage as his father’s will exists too (as an abstract ) in the Estate Duty copies. It records that he leaves 2/6d per week to his daughter Mary Ann charged against real estate left to his son Abraham; Abraham also received a leasehold wooded area called Rich’s and a workshop erected on the site as well as the residue of the estate. Most of the Claveys of Stoke Lane lived to good ages, if they survived childhood, but Abraham’s father, William holds the record, dying in 1811 at the age of 97. In many ways he is the most interesting member of the family as we possess more information about him than any others. Once again we have to rely on the record of his burial to establish the year of his birth (c 1714) so his parentage is uncertain, the registers again being in extremely poor condition at this time. He is probably the son of another William, but anything further is plain conjecture. We do know however that he married Mary Fussell of Stoke Lane (her family is probably the source of the name of Abraham’s house) at Great Elm on August 19th 1739; William is described as “of Mells”. Both Mells and Great Elm lie slightly to the north-west of Frome (Great Elm is adjacent to Buckland Dinham) and there is no obvious reason why this parish was chosen for the marriage. What might be a factor in the location and William’s residence at the time, lies in his occupation. We are fortunate in having a document that describes him as an “edge tool maker” of Stoke Lane. Now the making of edge tools was an important and growing industry in the area. The leading lights were a family named Fussell; whether or not they had any connection to Mary we cannot be sure, but it may be that William worked with or for one of the family who, although originating in Stoke Lane, built up their business in the Mells/Great Elm area. Their business is usually dated to 1744 when James Fussell obtained a lease from the Horner family of Mells (descendants of “Little Jack Horner” who pulled out the “plum” of Mells manor at the dissolution of the monastries), but it may be that they were working in the area beforehand utilising the swift streams that ran down to the river Frome. The Fussell business later grew into a large, world-wide exporting empire by the early 19th century, but failed to capitalise on technological change and had closed by 1900.
Whatever the connection, we can see evidence of William’s business in an estate map of 1760 which clearly shows a wood named “Clavy’s Wood” with a mill and waterwheel and the adjoining “Riches Wood”. Also shown to the east of the mill is another building which may be the workshop referred to in William’s will. To the bottom right corner of the map may be made out a cottage in the field named “Batch Mead”. This was the Clavey’s home, being recorded as both Riches and Claveys at different periods. It had disappeared by 1841.
1760 Estate map showing Riches Wood, Clavy’s Wood with mill and workshop, and William Clavey’s house in Batch Mead
In a wooded valley with a stream running through it, this is surely the site of William’s mill. Edge tool making required a ready supply of power, and water mills were the principal source in the early 18th century as for generations before. There was a steady and growing need for edge tools such as spades, scythes and sickles in the agriculture of England which was booming with the Agricultural Revolution, which had started at the beginning of the century, taking hold. We have no record of how successful a business William’s was, or how long it continued. A lease of 1754 records the grant of land to William by the Horner family, and a survey of 1783 mentions the exitence of his edge tool mill; but it is significant that none of his sons seems to have continued it. We can however see an amazing example of the type of mill and workshop that he operated. The Finch Foundry, now owned by the National Trust is the last remaining water-powered forge in England and has regular displays of the process of producing tools of the sort that William made. It is near Okehampton in Devon. I visited it a few years ago and experienced a real thrill seeing how one of my distant ancestors toiled all those years ago.
An earlier visit had been made to Stoke Lane and I took the opportunity to explore the woods that William leased to see if any trace remained. To my surprise there were several signs there of what had existed before. A few small walls which might be the site of the mill and certainly a mill race and holding pond. With so few direct links with my distant forebears, it remains one of the highlights of my ancestral trail.
In Clavey’s Wood showing wall of mill
Whilst it is difficult to identify William’s parentage, we know that of Mary as her father’s will survives in the Somerset archives. He was Thomas Fussell, a yeoman of Stoke Lane who died in 1748. He left to his wife Mary (nee Shepard) two cottages and ten acres on Withy Brook, which are surely the ones mentioned in Abraham Clavey’s will of 1828 as one of those was named “Fussells”. Thomas further stipulates that following Mary’s death all his estate is to pass to his son-in-law, William Clavey whom he named as his executor. William had to pay an annuity to his sister-in-law, confusingly called Mary Ann Fussell (she had married a man also named Fussell), of £5.10s a year, and in addition pay of a debt incurred by Mary Ann’s husband of £27. Perhaps though, William was left enough to enable him to invest in his own edge tool business.
Clavey’s mill showing the mill leat and sluice gate