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.