The Flexneys, an Oxfordshire Diaspora

Holy Trinity. WoodGreen Witney crop

Holy Trinity Church, Woodgreen, Witney

Flexney is an Oxfordshire surname with a long history, the earliest usages appearing in the thirteenth century. It also has a distinguished record, the family providing the city of Oxford with two mayors and several other officials, but by the start of the nineteenth century it had all but died out in the county. In the 1851 Census there were just five households, all of them living in Witney and all descended (with one possible exception) from Richard Flexney (1756-1803) a blanket weaver. Twenty years later not a single bearer of the surname remained in Witney and only one family, who had moved into Oxford in 1851, lived in the county. No doubt much of this was occasioned by employment factors and the availability of easy rail transport to areas where jobs were more plentiful.

St Mary Witney [10]

St Mary’s Witney

The one family whose origins are obscure were Edward and Eliza Flexney. I can find no record of Edward’a baptism (around 1813) and nothing before his marriage to Eliza Godfrey at St Mary’s, Witney on 9th July 1831 which gives any clue. He may be connected to the other Flexney families in the town, but we can’t be sure. Edward was a Woolen Spinner, no doubt working in one of the many textile factories that had developed in Witney with the gradual industrialization of the blanket making trade. The family moved to Yorkshire at some time in the 1850s, possibly to find work in the rapidly expanding textile industry there, for Edward still gives his occupation as Woolen Spinner in the 1861 Census. Edward had died by the time of the Census ten years later, but his sons, Charles (a Cabinet Maker) and Frederick (a Stationary Engine Mechanic) both married and had families of their own. In all probablitity any Flexney alive in Britain today is descended from either this Yorkshire branch or the London branch (see below).

Returning to Witney in 1851, there were two branches of the Flexneys which were headed by a son of Richard (1756-1803), a blanketweaver. The eldest son, another Richard was a maltster and lived with his wife, Mary (nee Fords) in Swingburn Row, off Corn Street. Their only child, John was an agricultural labourer and lived at 47 High Street with his wife, Eliza (nee Austin) and their two daughters, Marlin and Mary Ann. John had joined the Royal Marines in Portsmouth in 1836, and was discharged in 1845, listed as “Branded”, presumably with “D” for deserter. In 1861, with his parents and wife having all died, John was left with four children at home – a son Edward had been born in 1852/3 and a daughter Alice in 1857. The family have been difficult to trace after this, but Edward may have been in the army before he reappears as a chimney sweep in the 1891 Census. Ten years further on he has a wife, Elizabeth and three children who were all born in Pusey, Wiltshire. I have not been able to trace them in 1911.

The younger brother of Richard Flexney the maltster, was another Edward (1795-1853) who was also a Woolen Spinner. He was my ancestor and the bulk of my research has naturally been into his family. It is remarkable that for three generations his forbears were involved in the blanket industry and yet none of his ten children, who all survived into adulthood, worked in it. In fact, with one exception, they had all left Witney by 1861 and eight of them moved outside Oxfordshire completely. Between them they exhibit all the characteristics and contradictions of the Regency, Victorian and Edwardian ages which their adult lives so neatly spanned, the eldest, Thomas being born in 1816 and Selina, the longest lived, dying in 1918. Edward had married Mary Godfrey, the illegitimate daughter of Marlin Godfrey, in 1815. He is living in Corn Street in 1841 and had moved to Wood Green by the time of the 1851 Census. He died there in 1853 and was buried in the churchyard of All Saints, Wood Green, which had just been completed.

I will treat each of his children in order and examine the themes that run through so many of their lives; musical ability and a slightly cavalier approach to marriage.


Thomas Flexney 1816-1872

The eldest son, Thomas was baptised at St Marys, Witney on January 28th 1816 and was one of the more conventional members of the family. He married Elizabeth Parmee from Curbridge, also at St Marys, on 18th April 1835, and by the time of the 1841 Census were three children in the household: Mary Ann (aged 5), Elizabeth (3) and Thomas (4 months). They were living on Corn Street, near Thomas’ parents and his occupation is “shoemaker”. He is variously described as “cordwainer” or “bootmaker” in later Censuses, but these are simple variations on the same occupation. By 1851 three more daughters are mentioned – Marlin, Emily and Mercy. The rather unusual name, Marlin, was a family one; it was the name of Thomas’ grandmother, Marlin Godfrey.

Oxford Prison

Oxford prison

On 7th August 1858 Thomas was appointed “Turnkey Trade Instructor” at the prison in Oxford. He had already been working there for the previous six weeks according to an announcement in Jackson’s Oxford Journal, and was to be paid one guinea and provided with a uniform. The necessary tools were also provided for him so that he could “engage in the duty of teaching shoemaking to eighteen convicted prisoners whose original period of imprisonment exceeded twelve months”. It was noted that Thomas, although having a different title from other warders, had to undertake the common duties of a prison warder “as occasion may require”. At the time of the appointment Thomas was still residing in Witney, but by 1861 Thomas and Elizabeth had moved to Oxford, and were living at Park End Place, St Thomas. Two final children are in evidence – Norah (born in 1851) and James Edward (1853). The family stayed in the western area of Oxford, with Thomas dying in 1872 and Elizabeth in 1885. Both their sons followed in their father’s footsteps, becoming shoemakers, and, although both married, neither seems to have had any children. On the death of James Edward in 1904, the surname was finally extinguished in Oxfordshire.

Mercy Flexney 1849 - 1891

Mercy Flexney 1849-1891


Marlin Flexney 1819-1896

West End Witney

Marlin was the eldest daughter of Edward and Mary and was named for her grandmother, Marlin Godfrey. Like Thomas she lived a fairly conventional life – perhaps the elder children were made more responsible by the necessity of their having to help with the upbringing of their siblings. By the time of the 1841 Census she too was married and living in Corn Street with her husband, Frederick Bridgman and daughter, Susan. They had been married at St Marys in 1838 and Frederick came from Charlbury, just north of Witney. His occupation is difficult to read, but it may be “bailer”, possibly working in the textile trade. In later Censuses he is “out door servant”, “general servant” and finally, “gardener”. Marlin always appears as a “dressmaker”. By 1851 they had moved to Bridge Street, and by 1861 to West End. They remained there until Marlin’s death in 1896. They had five further children after Susan – William (1842) Marlin (1845) Edward (1847) Frederick (1852) and John (1860). Frederick was a Railway Porter in 1871, living with his uncle John in Bristol. Marlin was the last Flexney to live in Witney.


Mary Ann Flexney 1823-1890

Mary Ann was born in 1823 and was still living with her parents in 1841 when the Census took place. Five years later she married John Woodcock, a widower who was then Parish Clerk and the Witney National School Master; he was sixteen years older than Mary Ann and his first wife, Fanny had died earlier in 1846, leaving John to bring up five children. It was a common occurrence for widowers (and widows) to remarry quite quickly when young children were involved and four of John’s children were under the age of ten. Within six months of their marriage they had a daughter, Mary Ann and another five children would follow in future years.

It has been impossible to find the family on the 1851 Census and we can only trace their movements by the birthplaces of the children. The second, Agnes Jane was born in Witney in 1850 and the others were all born in Bristol: Frederick Edward towards the end of 1852, Alfred (1855), Albert (1858) and finally Susannah in 1860. A presentation of a desk was made to John by the staff and pupils of St Mary Redcliffe National School at Christmas 1862, so this may suggest he had been there for ten years.

Redcliffe Parade

St Mary Redcliffe church and Redcliffe Parade – No 1 was the nearest to the church

So it seems they were the first of the family to move to Bristol, and by 1861 at least four of Mary Ann’s siblings and her mother had joined them, no doubt following the death of Edward Flexney in June 1853. Living in the same house as John and Mary Ann (1, Redcliffe Parade East) were her brothers, John and Daniel as well as her sister, Agnes. A few doors along, her mother Mary Flexney was a nurse in the household of Mary Passmore, and in Nelson Place, a row of smaller houses that backed on to Redcliffe Parade lived Mary Ann’s sister Selina.

Map Redcliffe Parade

Map of Redcliffe showing the church, Redcliffe Parade, Nelson Place and Guinea Street

As a National School teacher, John Woodcock was expected to move around the country. 1871 finds the family in Otterton, near Budleigh Salterton, in Devon, living in the School House. By the time John had retired, sometime before the 1881 Census, they had moved to Yorkshire, for in that year John appears as an Annuitant, living with Mary Ann and their daughter Susannah at 3 Edith Terrace, Symon Street, Sculcoates, near Hull. John died there in 1885 aged 78 and Mary Ann in 1890.


Edward Flexney 1825-1891

Edward is the first of the family to cause us some problems, especially in his early career. He is with his parents in Corn Street, Witney in 1841, but can’t be traced again until 1871 when he is living at 50 St Michael’s Hill, Bristol, along with four other families.

50 St Michaels Hill, Bristol (Yellow house with blue door) [2]

50 St Michaels’s Hill, the yellow house with a blue door

With him were his wife, Harriet, son Edward aged 22 and “daughter” Nelly, aged 5. Both men are described as musicians. In fact Nelly was Mary Eleanor, a niece, who was the daughter of his brother, Daniel (see below). She was at some stage taken in by Edward and Harriet and continued living with them until her marriage. Harriet Peake was born in Combe, near Woodstock in Oxfordshire and Edward and Harriet’s eldest child was Edward Harrington Flexney who was born in Salford and baptized at Manchester Cathedral on April 8th 1849. A daughter, Ellen was born in Witney in 1851 but died the following year when the family were living in James Street, Waterloo, London. However, it wasn’t until February 2nd 1853 that Edward and Harriet married, at St Nicholas, Liverpool. All the evidence points to them living in the north-west in the 1850/60s and it may be that their entries in the 1851 and 1861 Census’ were lost when much of the Manchester area data was destroyed. They appear to have had no more children.

Although he seems to have been based in the north-west of England, Edward must have travelled a good deal in his musical career. We have two announcements for performances where he participated – both in Bristol (the lack of any other venues is probably accounted for by the range of nineteenth century newspapers online). In 1853 at Forresters Music Hall in Broadmead, Fred Hargest performed “The Belle of the Hunt” and “Sarah’s Dress Rehearsal” with a cast of vocalists and dancers, together with “Full Band” of which, “Mr E Flexney, cornet” is given as one of three individual artists. On a more elevated note, the Bristol Philharmonic Society announced a performance of The Messiah on 27th December 1869 at the Colston Hall. The “Band” consisted of thirty “gentlemen amateurs” of the society along with a number of “eminent professors” from various locations – one is Mr Flexney from London: this could, of course be either father or son.

We have seen Edward and his family in 1871; by 1881 they had returned to the north-west. Edward senior was then living at 64 Bala Street, Walton, Liverpool with Harriet, Nelly (now Mary E Flexney, niece) and granddaughter, Emily, aged 2, who was the youngest daughter of Edward junior. Edward gives his occupation as “Trumpeter in RAM”. I have not been able to interpret this – it is definitely not the Royal Academy of Music and may refer to a local orchestra. In a newspaper report of his son’s death in 1902 it records that Edward senior was a member of the band of the Royal Horse Guards, and he certainly served in that regiment in what was an episodic miliatry career. He first enlisted in the Grenadier Guards in April 1858, but bought himself out at a cost of £18 in May 1861. Nearly a year later he enlisted in the RHG for a term of twelve years but is recorded as deserting in November 1863. Possibly at some time he was at the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall, Twickenham, where his son claimed to have studied in his early life.

In 1891 the family are at 15 Venus Street, Everton – not a great distance from Bala Street; Mary Eleanor has married, Emily is with her mother (see below) and Edward is a musician. Edward died later in 1891 and Harriet in 1898.

Edward junior followed the irregular marriage habits of several of his uncles and aunts – 1881 finds him apparently with a wife, Elizabeth and three children (a fourth, Emily was with his parents as we have seen). However it seems that he never married this Elizabeth Ardern, who came from Buxton, although their two eldest children were born there. Two more were born in Manchester and a further two back in Derbyshire, but in 1891 Edward married Elizabeth Zumpf and it is she who appears as his wife in the 1891 Census, where they are visiting Gunter Grahe, a German importer who resided in Manchester. On both 1881 and 1891 Censuses Edward is given as “Professor of Music”. In 1901 Edward and Elizabeth are living at 45 West Wynford Street, Salford (Edward is now a Musical Conductor) – they do not seem to have any children and Edward died in early 1902. Between 1875 and 1898, Edward played with the Halle Orchestra, as a violinist (early in his career he gained a reputation as a celebrated cornet player like his father) and may well have been a teacher with Charles Halle’s Northern College of Music. Towards the end of his time with the Halle he was a principal violinist, leaving in 1898 to concentrate on conducting.

Halle Orchestra 1888 [6]

Halle Orchestra poster 1888 showing Edward Flexney in the second violins

Edward’s children mostly used the surname Ardern, although the eldest, Charles Edward called himself Flexney. Both Charles (a professional soldier) and his younger brother, George Ardern were killed in the First World War and had no families of their own.


Agnes Flexney 1828-1902

Agnes was still living with her parents in Witney in 1851, aged 22, occupation Dressmaker. In 1861 she was in the household at Redcliffe Parade, Bristol that contained several of her siblings (see above under Mary Ann). Now 32 and still a dressmaker, she called herself Agnes Francis, widow and there is a child in the dwelling, Agnes Flexney aged 5. We have several problems here – firstly no record of a Flexney/Francis marriage can be found; secondly the birth certificate of the child Agnes is full of contradictions; and finally there is no obvious individual who fits the information we can find about a putative father.

Agnes Flexney junior was born on 15th March 1856 at 32 Colston Street, Bedminster (which would now be called Redcliffe – between Redcliffe Hill and Temple Way). Under “name of father” we have Edward Flexney, occupation “solicitor’s clerk”. Agnes senior was the informant. She gives her name as Agnes Flexney, formerly Francis (yet in 1861 is again Agnes Francis) On the 1871 Census the younger Agnes is called Agnes Francis and when she married Edward Neale in 1878 she gives her name as Agnes Flexney Francis and her father’s as James Francis, solicitor. Did the elusive Mr Francis exist at all? I can find no individual in the Census records who fits.

Agnes senior (as Agnes Francis) married William Chipperfield Hutchings in early 1871, and on the Census that year the family are living with William’s grandparents at 14 Guinea Street, Redcliffe. Also in the household are the younger Agnes and her grandmother, Mary Flexney, listed as lodgers: Mary is listed as “annuitant”, Agnes senior as “milliner” and young Agnes Francis, aged 15 as “school teacher”. Mary was to die at 14 Guinea Street on 26th September 1878, aged 82 and was buried in the churchyard of St Mary Redcliffe. As we have seen young Agnes married Edward Neale in the same year, but William and Agnes senior continued to live at the same address until Agnes died in 1902.

14 Guinea Street {1}

Not a large house (the illustration shows Nos 13 and 14), it contained 16 people in 1871 – the numbers decrease over the years, until by 1901 there are only 8 inhabitants; but still, life must have been crowded. William and Agnes appear to have had no children together but his cousin, James Price, who also lived there had several, and there were nearly always some lodgers as well.


Charles Richard Flexney 1831-92

Witney Town Band 1850 Reproduced with the kind permission of the Witney Town Band [12]

Witney Town Band 1850

Charles Richard was baptised on 17 July 1831 at St Mary’s, Witney. Although he gives his full name on marriage certificates, he always appears as Richard on the Census records, so we can assume that this is how he was generally known. He is with his parents in 1841, but he next turns up in Wrexham, north Wales ten years later, along with his younger brother, Frederick, another Flexney (unidentified) and Robert Golding from Ireland. They are all listed as musicians and seem to be staying for the Wrexham March Fair – a major event in the area, at The Blossoms Inn, Charles Street. Their names are marked with a note explaining that they were “strangers during the annual fair” There were quite a few other musicians, entertainers and hawkers in the town at the same Census. It is possible that one or more of the brothers are in the photograph above which shows the Witney Town Band in 1850.

At some time during the 1850s Richard moved to London, where he seems to have lived for the rest of his life. On 3rd December 1857 he married Ann Goodwin at St Nicholas, Deptford and the 1861 Census has them residing at 39 Fellows Street in the district of St Marys, Haggerstone. In 1868 a daughter, Annie was born in Islington and 1871 finds the small family at 13 Curzon Street, Shoreditch. In all the records we have for him, Charles Richard is always shown as a musician. Ann worked for some time as a “dresser” at Astley’s Theatre, according to a newspaper account of a robbery in 1872. She was knocked down and clothing she was carrying home was stolen. By 1881 however a drastic change had come about. Ann is now living at 9 Wood Wharf, Greenwich with daughter Annie. She is shown as “wife”, “married” and a charwoman. Meanwhile Richard is at 2 Lower John Street, Shoreditch with a new wife – Emma. In fact he had married Emma Mason (nee Charnton) at St Thomas, Bethnal Green just two months before, on 8th February 1881. As at his first marriage, Charles Richard made a mark rather than signing. This was obviously a bigamous marriage, but it seems never to have been detected by the authorities.

There were no children from this second marriage and it may not have fared any better than the first; second wife Emma is visiting friends or relatives in Bournemouth in 1891, and Richard is on his own in lodgings in Essex Street, Haggerston. The deaths of Richard and Emma Flexney are recorded in the first half of 1892 in Shoreditch District, so it could have been a temporary seperation. Ann is to be found in 1891 living as head of household at 83 Thames Street, Greenwich – she is described as “living on her own means” in a 6 roomed house with Annie who is now married to Alfred Argent. She appears to be better off than ever before – all her residences with Charles Richard were in multi-occupation houses. She still calls herself “married” but was only to enjoy two more years of independence, dying in 1893.


Frederick Flexney 1834-90

The information we have for Frederick is very similar to that for his elder brother Charles Richard. He is on the same census records in 1841 and 1851. That he was in London by 1854 is shown by his marriage to Priscilla Minton at St Johns, South Hackney. Unlike his brother, Frederick could sign his name and rather inflates his father’s occupation to “Blanket Manufacturer”. His bride was a minor, being born in 1837, but so too was Frederick – he describes himself as “of full age”, yet was only just twenty, being born in February or March 1834. Frederick’s family life was to be more conventional than his elder brother’s. The 1861 Census finds the family at 15 Provost Street, Shoreditch, although the birthplace of the children shows a degree of movement: Priscilla Agnes (known as Agnes) Islington, 1855: Louisa, Shoreditch 1857 and Frederick Richard, Bethnal Green 1859. Over the years six more children were to follow (two of whom died in their first year) and all of them with the exception of the final child (Ann Elizabeth, born & died 1875, baptized at St Anne, Shoreditch) were baptized at St Johns, Hoxton.


The family were still in Provost Street, at No 56 in 1871, and ten years later were at 13 Bacchus Walk, just off Hoxton Road. Frederick is always described simply as “musician” and they are always the second listed family in a two family property occupation. We do not know what type of music the two brothers played – long before the days of recording there was, no doubt, a large popular demand for live musical entertainments and the East End must have had its fair share of music halls and other similar venues. It seems however, that the family did not enjoy much prosperity. On his death in November 1890 the following notice appeared in The Era, the musical and theatre newspaper of the time:

TO THE BROTHERS FLEXNEYS and MUSICIANS – I am sorry to say that poor Fred. Flexney, after a long illness, was buried last Sunday, and Smallest Donation will be thankfully received by his old Friends Jim M’Grath and Fred, Alexander to help pay for the Funeral and a bit for the Widow and Boy. Address, 47 Alma Street, St John’s Road, Hoxton, London. P.S. – All letters answered.

Frederick died at the early age of 56 and Priscilla survived him for six years, dying in 1896. One wonders if his brothers contributed to his funeral or helped the family – it would seem few of them were in a position to do so.

It is from Fred and Priscilla or the Yorkshire family that any British Flexneys alive today are descended.


Selina Flexney 1837-1918

Apart from the Census and Birth, Marriage & Death indices we have very little information for Selina’s life. In late 1856 she married Charles Hadden in Witney. This was three years after the death of her father, so possibly, with her youngest daughter settled, this was the trigger for the departure of Mary Flexney to join her children in Bristol. In any event the couple had two children in Witney, Mary Ann (or Anna ) in 1857 and Selina in 1860. By the time of the Census of 1861 the family had joined the other members of the Flexney clan in Redcliffe (see above). They were at 12 Nelson Place with two other families (fourteen individuals in all). Another family in the house consisted of Henry Woodcock aged 22, a Chair Maker, born in Witney, together with his nineteen-year old wife Elizabeth, and baby daughter, Eliza. Henry was the son of John Woodcock the schoolmaster and we shall meet Elizabeth again later. Charles Hadden’s occupation in 1861 is given as labourer and ten years later he is a “Brewery Labourer”. This is last we hear of Charles – he died in 1880.

Charles and Selina had five more children whilst in Bristol – all sons; Charles William (1862), Edward (1864), Thomas (1872), William (1874) and Alfred (1879). By 1871 they had moved to the Dings area of St Philip & St Jacob parish, a district noted for its tough working class reputation. They are always found in Folly Lane, usually in one of the terraces of houses it contained: Cannon Place in 1871, Adelaide Place in 1881 and Folly Lane itself in 1891. By 1901 Selina, by then a widow for more than twenty years had moved to Queen Victoria Street, a few hundred yards away, close to the main railway lines that ran into Temple Meads station.


Folly Lane must have been a fairly unpleasant area to live in. Bounded on two sides by railway sidings and major engine sheds, to the east lay a major gas works, which, by the 1880s necessitated the demolition of Adelaide Place in order to accommodate a second gasometer. As far as we can tell, Selina was the last of Edward and Mary’s children to die – living until the spring of 1918.


John Flexney 1840-?

John was born on 9th May 1840 and baptised just under a month later at St Mary’s, Witney like all his siblings, and he appears on the 1841 Census as a child of one; on the 1851 Census he is shown with his parents, living at Wood Green. As we have seen above, John was residing at Redcliffe Parade in 1861, along with Mary Ann, Agnes and Daniel and his occupation is given as “Porter”. This Census was taken on the night of 7/8th April and just six weeks later John was married to Maria Noyes at St Pauls, Bedminster. According to the certificate John was living at Wapping, which was an area near the docks, just to the west of Redcliffe, between the Floating Harbour and the New Cut. Strangely enough, Maria’s address is Philip Street, Bedminster. Could this just have been a convenience address, so the banns could be called at St Pauls, for the Census of April shows her living with her parents, above her father’s bootmaking business in Temple Way, Redcliffe? It must be added though, that Maria had had a child, Arthur John Noyes, baptized in Bedminster the previous year, although the infant only lived a few months.

John Flexney and Maria Noyes marriage certificate 1861 [7]

John worked as a railway porter for the Great Western Railway, probably at Temple Meads (He was certainly there in 1877 when a he appeared as a witness in court in a case of theft). A twice daily trip from his home in the Redcliffe area to the station would have taken him past Mr. Noyes’ shop, and possibly inside to order new boots and converse with the young lady serving?

Temple Gate, Bath Parade [11]

The photograph shows William Noyes shop in Bath Parade, Temple Gate. It is the second on the right from the public house, with a rectangular sign between the downstairs and upstairs window. It stood exactly facing the entrance of the original Temple Meads building of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Most of the people photographed stood perfectly still as required, but there seems to be a ghost image of a child or children outside the Noyes’ shop. They obviously lacked the necessary patience. This photograph dates to 1892, but not much had changed in the intervening thirty years.

John and Maria’s first child, Ada Maria Constance was born in April 1862 at 50 Weare Street, Bedminster. Sadly little Ada died before the year was out, but the following year a son, Frank Noyes Flexney was born. By this time the family had moved to 25 Mead Street, which lay next to Weare Street. Two years later a third child was born, Kate Alice, and by 1870 they had moved to No 51, where Wrights Directory lists John Flexney. The family were still at this address when the Census was taken in 1871 and John is now described as a “Foreman Railway Porter”. In addition they have two boarders, both railway porters, one of whom is John’s nephew, Frederick Bridgman, the son of his sister, Marlin. There is also a second family living in the house.

Wright’s Directory for 1876 shows that John and Maria had moved to 6 Cambridge Street in Totterdown, and when they had their daughter Kate baptized in that year, John is described as a “Clerk”.

Cambridge Street, Totterdown

Houses in Cambridge Street (No 6 has been demolished)

What had seemed to be a steady improvement in the family standing was to end by 1880. That is the final year in which John was to appear in the Directory, indeed, when Maria died at the tragically early age of 37, he may not even have been living at home. The causes of Maria’s death are recorded on the death certificate as “Albuminuria 7 years, Dropsy, Coma”, so it seems as if she had been an invalid for some time, and her father, William Noyes is the informant, “in attendance”. Her husband, John is described as a labourer. When his son Frank married in January of the following year he still gives John’s occupation as labourer, but in the Census just a few months later, John describes himself (like his elder brothers) as a musician. He is living at a lodging house at 25/6 Albert Road, Swindon, and is one of twenty boarders there on Census night; two others are musicians so it is possible they were travelling as a group.

We can’t tell if John ever returned to Bristol. The 1881 Census shows his son Frank already married and working as a porter in a private school in Redland, whilst daughter Kate was living with her maternal aunt, Clara Noyes. Apart from a single entry in the next Census no further trace of John has yet been found – not even a record of his death. In 1891 John is still a musician and again in Wiltshire, this time in a caravan belonging to a travelling show – “The Wild West” which was stopping at Sherston Magna. The company occupied five caravans and comprised two “proprietors”, three musicians, a stall keeper, groom, three acrobats, three general labourers (male) and two general servants (female) as well as four children, who were the grandchildren of Eliza Harvey, one of the proprietors. The other two musicians, apart from John, were Eliza’s two sons and the stall keeper was her daughter-in-law.

John was only fifty at the time of this last record, so it is possible he may have emigrated, lived under an assumed name or simply died unnoticed by the officialdom of the period. We may never know.

John and Maria’s son Frank stayed in Bristol and married Leah Fook, who was nine years his senior, although not until after they had had a daughter together. In all they had nine children, of whom seven survived into adulthood.

Frank and Leah Flexney c1905 [4]

Their photograph, taken around 1905 shows a confident, prosperous couple, verging onto middle class status, however Frank was to die seven years later and his two sons, Francis & Oliver both perished in the First World War, like their Manchester cousins, so no male members of the family were left. The last individual to bear the Flexney name in Bristol was Frank and Leah’s daughter, my great aunt, Lily Maria who married at the advanced age of 62 in 1953.

Daniel Flexney 1843-1917

Edward and Mary’s youngest child, Daniel was baptised at St Mary’s Church on 23 July 1843 and appears on the 1851 Census with his parents, living at Wood Green, Witney. Ten years later he is in Bristol, in the households of the Flexneys and Woodcocks at 1 Redcliffe Parade. Under the occupation column is written “An Apprentice”, unusually vague for an enumerator. We know from later records that Daniel became a Chair Maker, so can presume he was engaged in the furniture trade at seventeen. Also in the house and the only person not a member of the two families is Emily Hewlet, aged seventeen like Daniel, and a Pupil Teacher. This was a senior pupil who had graduated to teaching the younger children and would normally, in the course of time, become a teacher herself. It may be that Emily taught in the Recliffe National School where John Woodcock was a master.

John Flexney Census 1861 copy

1861 Census showing the Woodcocks, Flexneys and Emily Hewlet

Just two years later, on 7th July 1863 Daniel and Emily were married at St Hilary, Glamorgan, a village a few miles west of Cardiff. Although Emily was born in Bristol (in 1851 she was living with an uncle in Bedminster), her mother, Anne, who witnessed the marriage hailed from South Wales, so perhaps this is the reason for the place chosen for the wedding. Daniel’s occupation is given as Cabinet Maker. Just seven weeks later their first child, Frances Annie was born (25th August 1863). The couple had two more children, Mary Eleanor (1865) and Henry Edward (1867). The two former were born in Mead Street, Bedminster and son Harry in Somerset Street. So the family resided quite close to Daniel’s elder brother, John. By 1871 the marriage had broken down completely however. It is interesting that the certified copy of their marriage certificate I have bears the date 5th February 1868, just a month after her son’s birth; did Emily require legal confirmation that the marriage had taken place?

In the Census of 1871, we have seen that Mary Eleanor was living with Daniel’s brother Edward under the name of Nelly. Young Harry was boarding with a family called Sprake in Banwell, Somerset and Emily was employed as a nurse in the house of Thomas Rich, a chemist, at 32 High Street, Weston Super Mare. Meanwhile Daniel is recorded in a multi-occupancy house at 2 Cannon Street, St James. He is now described as a chair maker and has a new wife, Elizabeth and two children, Alice aged 8 and Annie, 7. We can assume that Annie is his daughter, Frances Annie, but who are Elizabeth and Alice? We need to retrace our steps to the Woodcock family who were in the same house as Selina Flexney and her husband, Charles Hadden in 1861. Henry Woodcock (a chair maker like Daniel) was one of the sons of John Woodcock the teacher by his first wife Fanny. He married Elizabeth Smith in Bedminster in 1859, and they were to have five children, among them an Emily in late 1862 and Elizabeth Jane in 1870. We can’t tell when Daniel and Elizabeth moved in together, but it is possible that the Alice in the 1871 Census is, in fact, Emily Woodcock, perhaps her real name being an embarrassment. I haven’t yet traced Elizabeth’s other children in that year; they were presumably with Henry who died in 1872. We have a further problem with the children in Daniel’s household in 1881, but before that another major crisis was to hit the household.

In October 1876 Daniel and Elizabeth were married in Bristol. Unlike in the case of his elder brother Charles Richard, the authorities found out and Daniel was tried for bigamy in March 1877. In his defence he claimed that his first marriage had broken down after three years and that he and Emily had agreed to separate “owing to domestic differences” and he agreed to pay her 2/6d a week. He also claimed that “an accountant” advised him this was as good as a divorce. He added that both he and Elizabeth thought that remarriage was allowed after such a long separation. If this story of the first marriage was true, it means that Daniel and Emily had split up before the birth of Harry and it was several years before he and Elizabeth set up home – her youngest daughter with Henry Woodcock was born around April 1870. However, in spite of both prosecution and defence requesting leniency in the case, Daniel was sentenced to 3 months with hard labour after pleading guilty.

The 1881 Census finds Emily Flexney, now describing herself as a widow, living with her mother, Ann Hewlett in Ealing, West London. She is a dressmaker and Ann an annuitant. Not too far away Harry, now aged 15 is living-in at the White Hart, Windmill Road, his occupation “Pot Boy”. Meanwhile Daniel and Elizabeth are living back in Nelson Place, Redcliffe, at No 10. With them are two unmarried daughters, Jane W. Flexney, a “general servant”, aged 17 and Jane Woodcock, 11 a scholar. The latter is presumably Elizabeth Jane, the youngest daughter of Henry and Elizabeth, but who is the former? I can find no answer to this quandary – could it be Alice/Emily, born 1862 in another guise? But why Flexney for one girl and Woodcock for the other in that case?

By 1891 several people in this sad saga had died. Young Harry in London was first, towards the end of 1882, and then Ann Hewlett in 1887. Finally around August 1888 Elizabeth Woodcock/Flexney died in Bristol. She and Daniel do not seem to have had any children together, but she had lived just long enough to see her daughter Elizabeth Jane marry Alfred Langdon earlier that year. Whether or not their family tragedies had brought them closer, in the Census of 1891 Daniel and his first wife Emily were back together, living in Ducie Road, Lawrence Hill. Emily died in 1899 and by the census two years later Daniel was living in Sheffield, a lone boarder with a local family. His occupation is still chair maker, but the word “cabinet” has been added, as had happened in some other censuses. 1911 finds Daniel back in South Wales, living in the household of Margret Ace, a widow with two children. There are two other lodgers in the house, at 59 Fleet Street, Swansea, but they appear at the bottom of the list, below the Ace children – Daniel appears next after Margret. Daniel died of a heart attack in Swansea on 12th April 1917 and although he died in the Swansea Workhouse Infirmary, his address is given as 69 Fleet Street. He was 73.

Daniel’s two daughters both married and seem to be flourishing in the 1901 Census. Mary Eleanor had married Daniel Jones in Liverpool in 1882 and had two daughters, Ivy and Violet. Frances Annie wed Henry Searle at St John’s Bedminster on 7th July 1884 and by the Census of 1901 she had presented him with six sons and then two daughters. Although Henry was to die in 1907, Frances Annie lived on to 1931.

Frances Annie Flexney in later years. Reproduced with the kind permission of Mr N Mills [3]

Frances Annie Searle nee Flexney

(Reproduced with the kind permission of Mr N Mills)




The Flexney Merchants



Simplified tree of the Flexney family


All my previous articles have concerned my direct ancestors or very closely related forebears. This one is different. In tracking down my Flexney family in Oxfordshire it was necessary to identify as many of the bearers of the name as possible in order to add or eliminate them from my line. In doing so I came across one branch of the Flexneys who prospered in the wooden trade, moved to London and whose story ended in a mixture of wealth and tragedy. I have decided to publish my findings here as a matter of interest and also to record part of the history of the wider Flexney clan.


Quaker Meeting House, Wood Green, Witney

There were many branches of the Flexney family in West Oxfordshire in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but one was pre-eminent in status. This was the line starting with Justinian Flexney, a fuller of Witney who died in 1675. His christian name indicates that his family may have originated in Stanton Harcourt, where there were at least three Justinian Flexneys in the late sixteenth/early seventeenth century, but a gap in the parish registers there makes it impossible to be sure. He married Ann Collier around 1640 (although I can’t find where) and had children baptised at St Marys, Witney in the 1640s. Strangely there is no mention of him in the Protestation Roll of 1641/2, although there are two Justinian Hicks listed. Now one branch of the Flexney family was known by the alias Hicks/Hix so it quite possible that Justinian belonged to one of these. A certain Justinian Flexney alias Hix was a party to two law suits in Chancery in the early 1600s and this may be his father; another identification may be the Justinian the younger, whose father died in 1634 in Stanton and who left a strange bequest to his son in his will (see here).



A Fulling Mill

Fulling (or in the south and west, tucking) is a process in the manufacture of cloth whereby the woven material was repeatedly hammered in a fulling mill, using a combination of chemicals (fuller’s earth) and soap in order to clean it and wash out any impurities, at the same time binding the fibres tighter. No doubt, with the importance of the cloth trade, especially the manufacture of blankets, fulling was a major industry in the area. Justinian died in 1675 and in his will (see here) he left his son John, three racks and three pairs of fullers shears as well as his house in Corn Street after the death of his widow, who had the use of it for life. An inventory lists all his possession including the shears, racks and furniture “att the mill”, which implies he must have leased it. There are small bequests for two sons-in-law, but no mention of his younger son, Daniel, then aged about 13.The burial register for St Marys, Witney is missing for the relevant period, but we can assume that Justinian was buried there, as in his will he states that to be his wish.

A document dated 1678, just three years after Justinian’s death names John Flexney as a fuller, and involved in the acquisition of a plot of land near Wood Green in Witney, which was to become the site of a Quaker Meeting House.This is the first indication that any of the family had joined the Society of Friends. By the start of the eighteenth century John and his brother Daniel were prosperous clothiers (cloth merchants) as well as being in the forefront of the Quaker community in Witney. Their names often appear at the head of any list in the minutes of the Monthly Meeting which organised the business of the Society. Their mother, Ann died in 1706 at the advanced age of 92 and in her will (see here) she left her son, Daniel the sum of £20 as well as her household goods which are “in his possession”; the will was drawn up in 1699 and shows that Ann was living with Daniel at that time. There is a proviso that the household goods should go to whichever of her children she was residing with at the time of her death. There are cash bequests for her daughters and a son-in-law and also to her sister, but the remainder of her estate is left to her eldest son, John. Ann was buried in the grounds of the Quaker Meeting House on Wood Green.

Around 1686 John Flexney married Ann although no record has been found. They were to have seven children of whom four, three girls and a boy, John survived to adulthood. Their youngest daughter, Hannah often appears on online trees as having emigrated to Pennsylvania and married one Thomas Rossiter; this is wholly incorrect for in fact she married Samuel Whittington and was named as Hannah Whittington in her father’s will of 1728. John and Ann’s final child was John who was born in 1698 and whose marriage to Anne May is recorded in the Quaker registers in 1724. John was described as a fuller, following the family trade, but his father was designated as a clothier in documents around this time. Anne May was the daughter of Edward May of Drayton in Berkshire (now part of Oxfordshire) who was a prominent Quaker also, and whose son, Edward had already moved to Witney and was a successful clockmaker.

John Flexney senior made his will in 1728 and died late in 1730. Thereafter nothing more is heard of this branch of the family in Quaker or other records, with the exception of his daughter Elizabeth, (who was unmarried in 1735, aged around 45, and was still receiving money for her rent from Quaker charity funds into the 1760s) and an unnamed daughter of his son John, who were both mentioned in the will of their uncle.


Elizabeth Flexney’s rent paid by the Witney Quakers 1764

The family of John’s younger brother Daniel is rather better documented. Daniel was baptised at Cogges church in 1662, the youngest of the children of Justinian and Ann, who must have been around 47 years old when he was born. Quaker registers show him marrying Mary Fitchett on 4th July 1691 and he was already described as a clothier. The couple had six children of which two sons, at least, survived into adulthood: Daniel born in 1694 and Joseph in 1698. It appears that at some stage Daniel senior moved first to Widford, near Swinbrook and then to Burford where he leased a property in 1717 (The Swan) and, judging from the text of his will, carried on his business. He retained a freehold property in Witney which encompassed a messuage, yard and garden and a piece of “Meadow Grounds”.

Daniel made his will on October 18th, 1735 and was by this time, blind (for transcription see here). It was drawn up and witnessed by Joseph Besse, the noted Quaker writer who was later to compose “A Collection of the Sufferings of the people called Quakers”. Besse noted in an appended declaration that he had known Daniel for several years and that he also drawn up a private schedule which was to be kept by Besse until delivered up to the Court for probate. Besse notes in the will and declaration that Daniel had dictated both documents to him and approved of both on having them repeated to him. Together with a codicil made three weeks later (and to which Joseph Besse does not seem to be a party) these documents give an interesting insight into the Flexney family and Daniel’s religious convictions. Apart from the normal family bequests of cash, ranging from £5 to a niece up to £250 each to the two daughters of his son, Daniel, he left his freehold property in Witney and all the remainder of his estate to Daniel, appointing him his executor. The younger son, Joseph recieved the leasehold house in Burford and the “giving and forgiving” of a debt of £1000 which was outstanding. This gives some indication of the wealth of the family.

One section of the will and the “secret” appendix relates to the desire of Daniel to establish the survival of a charity bequest as well as to arrange the printing of some papers which he had written on religious matters. The latter are described as a manuscript containing “a paper…..against Plays, another against Games and Whitsun sports so called and also a paper of mine containing advice to Magistrates to suppress Vice and Immorality”. These were to be printed and distributed “among my Neighbours acquaintance and such as have heretofore been my servants or employ’d by me in and about Burford and the adjacent places”. The charity bequest was in the form of £100 put out at interest, and for the interest thereon to be distributed by Trustees nominated by the Witney Quaker Monthly Meeting.

The codicil to Daniel’s will arranged that in the absence abroad of his son Daniel, the younger son Joseph was to be his executor and bound him to carry out the terms of the will. It would appear that Daniel senior was fast approaching death and was concerned that probate might be delayed if his eldest son did not return in the near future. The codicil was dated November 11th 1735 and the will was proved, naming Joseph as the executor on December 4th, so we must assume Daniel senior died soon after the date of the codicil. There is no record of his burial. Was he aware that his son Joseph had married in an anglican church six months earlier one wonders? Joseph’s bride was Constant Hart and in the register of St James, Newbottle, Northamptonshire the couple are both described as “of Burford in….Oxfordshire”; the marriage was by licence. Constant was baptised in 1708 in the church at Burford, so may have remained an Anglican. Only one child of this marriage is recorded – another Joseph born in 1737. Following the terms of his father’s will, Joseph took on the property in Burford and extended the lease in 1735, for a further 21 years, agreeing to spend £100 in repairs. Joseph continued his father’s business as a clothier but also invested elsewhere. In 1737 he was a partner in providing capital for a paper mill at Upton, just upstream of Burford. It may well be that Joseph expanded his business into London as did his elder brother, Daniel (see below) for in an Old Bailey trial of 1737 the accused is indicted for stealing 5 yards of cloth belonging to Joseph Flexney in the parish of St Leonard, Shoreditch.

The younger Joseph married Martha Taylor of Shutford in a ceremony recorded by the Monthly Meeting of Burford on July 11th 1759. Both father and son are described as “Clothers” and both sign the certificate. There is no mention of Constant so it may be assumed she had died by then. A year later, Joseph junior was a witness at the marriage of his cousin, Hannah (see below), but records of the two Josephs are sparse after that. Joseph senior died at Burford on January 3rd, 1783 and was buried, alongside his family no doubt, in the Burial Yard of the Meeting House in Witney. The instruction to the gravedigger bears the remark that Joseph “stood disowned” so had presumably broken with the Quaker community.

Joseph junior and his wife Martha moved to London at some stage, for the Land Tax records shows Joseph living in Kensington from 1797 onwards and when Martha was buried at Hammersmith in 1807, her address was Kensington Gravel Pits. This was just north of Kensington Palace, and was a far more prestigious residence than it sounds. The same address is given on Joseph’s burial five years later, with the added comment “not a Member”. So it seems both Josephs had cut ties with the Society of Friends.


Location of Kensington Gravel Pits

In contrast, Daniel Flexney the younger, who was born in 1694, maintained his Quaker faith throughout his life, as far as the records show. As we have seen above, he was not in England in 1735 when his father made his will. It is most likely that he was in Pennsylvania where he had many trading connections. The first mention of him comes upon his arrival at Philadelphia in 1718. A certificate from the Witney Monthly Meeting, dated August 11th 1718 was presented there on September 26th and describes him as unmarried and the son of Daniel Flexney of Burford. It was signed by his father, uncle and cousin, John. It would seem that Daniel spent some time in America, making trading contacts and buying land. He certainly struck up a relationship with the Phildelphia merchant John Reynall, who for many years acted as a factor for Daniel and was involved in numerous transactions with him. One concerned the commissioning and building of a ship “The Mary” which was constructed in Philadelphia on behalf of Daniel (for details see here). There are many references to Daniel, his trading connections and law suits on the internet should anyone wish to delve deeper into his career.

Daniel was certainly back in London, living in Lime Street, in 1722 when he married Elizabeth Mayleigh, the daughter of an apothecary, on June 4th at Devonshire House. His father and brother were present at the Quaker ceremony and signed as witnesses. Daniel junior is already described as a merchant. The couple were to have six children, all born in London, but sadly only two survived childhood, their daughters Mary and Hannah. Looking at the records of the childrens’ births we can see that Daniel and Elizabeth lived at first in Camberwell, but later moved to Bishopsgate Street in the city. Daniel is sometimes referred to as an apothecary like his father-in-law, so presumably he carried on this profession whilst maintaining his trading contacts. Certainly one document of 1737 complaining of his business actions refers to him as an apothecary, at the same time mentioning that he owned a ship called “The Elizabeth” (see here); It also refers to him living for some years in Jamaica for the sake of his health.


Daniels’s burial in the Quaker register for Devonshire House

Daniel’s wife Elizabeth died in 1735 and was buried at the Long Lane Burial Ground in Southwark; Daniel died on January 4th 1748 (1747 Old Style) and was buried in the same place. The burial record notes that he died “of a Consumption”. His will dated December of the previous year leaves all his estate, including his property in Witney, equally to his two daughters, making them joint executrices; he makes it plain that Hannah the youngest was to act as such even though she was under the age of twenty-one. He must have been a wealthy man, his address at the time of his death was New Broad Street which consisted at the time of substantial brick-built houses constructed in the 1730s, and so his death left his daughters (with their already generous legacies from their grandfather) rich heiresses. Mary the elder of the two married William Hyde, a Corn Factor at the Devonshire House Meeting on September 1st 1748, and twelve years later her sister Hannah married William’s brother, Starkey Hyde, a Stockbroker in the same place. Both couples went on to have several children and I had intended to finish my account at this point, but in researching details of when the two Flexney sisters died, I discovered the tragic story of the Hyde family.

William and Mary Hyde appear to have had only two children, Richard (born 1749) and Elizabeth (born 1751) before Mary’s early death (of a “Consumption” like her father) in 1754. Elizabeth is probably the child whose burial is recorded, aged 12 in 1764; she too died of consumption. Starkey and Hannah had four children, but the three eldest (all boys) died in infancy, leaving a daughter, Mary who was born in 1768.


Dissolution of the partnership

William Hyde and his son Richard had gone into partnership, presumably as brokers, but this partnership was dissolved by William in October 1772 and an advertisment placed in the Middlesex Journal warning others not to advance any money against bills or notes drawn on the partnership. It is noted that the two month delay in placing the advertisment (it is dated December 15th) was caused by the sickness of William Hyde. Further evidence of the falling out between father and son is given in the will which William drew up in 1775; now retired from the Corn Exchange, living in Kingston upon Thames and styling himself a Gentleman, William left his only surviving child “one Shilling and no more”. The bulk and remainder of his estate (after some cash bequests to sister and cousins) he left to his brother, Starkey.

On June 28th 1780 Richard Hyde was indicted at the Old Bailey on a charge of breaking the peace and riot and was tried before a jury (for a transcription of the trial see here). The crime in question took place on June 6th and involved the breaking into and ransacking of the house of one Richard Akerman, which was later set fire to and destroyed. This action, carried out by a mob of several hundred, was part of the Gordon Riots which saw many government properties attacked, as well as much private property. Several witnesses confirmed that Richard Hyde had been one of the first to enter Ackerman’s house. The evidence and statements taken at this trial give an insight into the troubled world of the Hyde family. One medical witness, Dr Munro states that he knew the family and had attended William Hyde in October 1772 (the date of the ending of the partnership) when he was “in a state of insanity”, and although his son Richard was perfectly sane. Yet the following year Munro attested that he had found Richard too in a state of insanity. Another witness stated that he believes William was, at the time of the trial, in a state of confinement, and many others provide evidence that Richard was at times clearly insane and at others, quite normal and sensible. It further emerges that his uncle Starkey, although not insane was “extremely low and melancholy”. It seems as if William gave his son an allowance of a guinea a week although at one point Richard (whose comments pepper the trial) claimed that this had been reduced to half a guinea as “I kept two women instead of one”.

The counsel for the crown finally moved that Richard be found not guilty as long as he could be held in confinement, and the Judge agreed and released him into the custody of Richard Kirby of the Wood Street Comptor, a small debtors prison (Newgate, the Clink and other prisons had been badly damaged by the Gordon rioters). His illness and that of his father would probably be diagnosed as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia today, but in the eighteenth century it was merely classed as insanity and confinement was the only recourse. If William was also confined, it was presumably in comfortable circumstances, owing to his wealth, and overseen by his brother, Starkey. However, in 1781 Starkey died and we may assume Hannah his widow continued his role in the family’s trials. It is a fact that William did not make a new will following his brother’s death, so perhaps was incapable of doing so. In August 1780 Richard had been transferred to the Bethlem Hospital (Bedlam) which was the main destination in London for anyone suffering from mental health problems. It has a fearsome reputation, but some good work was also carried out there into restorative therapy. However in Richard’s case an annotation in the margin of his admission record states “Nov 3rd 1781, Not Cur’d but recommended to the care of his Relation”. This must be Hannah his aunt.


Admission register for Bethlem Hospital 1780

William Hyde died in 1785 and administration of his estate was, quite amazingly, granted to Richard “his natural and lawful son”. Apart from Starkey there were two other executors named in the will but they renounced their position. Possibly this was a period of remission for Richard, or more likely, his aunt was somehow controlling his actions. In any case, Richard did not live long to enjoy his new-found wealth; he died on 25th February 1787 “of a Decline” being just under the age of 37. He was buried where most of his family had been interred, at Long Lane Burial Ground, the record noting that he was not a member of any Meeting, but the burial was “granted at the request of Hannah Hyde”.

His will makes interesting reading; there is an affadavit attached, being the statement of Robert Gramond, Gentleman who knew Richard and had seen him sign his name. He confirms that the document is in Richard’s hand and the signature is his. The will itself is a more personal document than the formulaic type usually encountered. Following the normal form of confirming that he was sound of mind, Richard starts by saying “I resign my life to him who gave it with as little regrett as a young man naturally fond of this World can be expected to do”. He then continues with a request that he be buried as near his father in Long Lane Ground as is possible. He requests that a couple of specific debts are paid using remarkably modern language by saying that one loan was made “at a time I really wanted it”. The main beneficiary of the will is a Betty Eaton, wife of Wall Eaton, “now living at Dr. James Shattens at Bethnal Green”. From what little I can discover, I think this was another place of confinement for lunatics. Richard makes it explicit that Betty’s husband is to have no benefit from this legacy. He adds that he should perhaps have left his money to his aunt Anna (the sister of William and Starkey) but concludes she is old and infirm and that his aunt, “the widow”, namely Hannah, will look after her “as long as she lives as her Daughter will immediately come into possession of so good a fortune”. So little love lost there I think. Richard names as his sole executor “my dear and worthy friend Dr Henry Saffory Surgeon of Devonshire Street”, who in due course obtained probate. It may be worth noting that Henry Saffory was a leading expert in the treatment of venereal disease.

Richard’s will is a sad document, perhaps written by someone who had no direct control over his assets, but was, nevertheless determined to see that they went where he desired. For a will it is a very personal document and is moving, in a way not often encountered.

There is very little to add to the story of the Hyde family. Richard’s spinster aunt Anna Hyde died in 1789 and was also buried at Long Lane, and his other aunt, Hannah died in 1813, her residence given as Lower Grosvenor Street (or Place in one document), Pimlico. She too was buried with all her family at Long Lane. There appears to be no will for her and I can find no further trace of her daughter Mary.

Finding the connection


St Marys, Cogges


I have made mention in an earlier article (Oxfordshire Cousins) of Thomas Harwood, the husband of Jane Hanks and the the father of Hannah who married Richard Flexney in 1778. He has been a shadowy figure so far – just a name in the Witney parish registers, recording his marriage, the baptisms of his children and his burial. I had not been able to pinpoint his baptism. The Licence for his marriage simply refers to him as “of Witney”, whereas his bride Jane is from the neighbouring parish of Cogges.

I searched the Oxfordshire registers for a suitable baptism which probably occurred between 1700 and 1710, but the only one I could find was that of “Thomas the sonn of John Harewood” at St Marys, Cogges on January 19th 1707 (which would be 1708 in modern usage). This seemed a likely identification as it might appear that Thomas moved the few hundred yards from Cogges to Witney for employment reasons but knew Jane from childhood. There was one problem however. What I taken to be Thomas’ burial is recorded in Witney in 1775, but there is also a Thomas Harwood buried in Cogges in 1766. It would seem more of a possibility that the person who was baptised at Cogges might be the one buried there 59 years later. At this time the registers did not record ages, and usually not relationships either, so it seemed impossible to reach any firm conclusions and I had reached a dead end.


Baptism of Thomas Harwood 1707/8

Looking through the index of the holdings at the Oxfordshire Heritage Centre (the new name for the Record Office) I found a record of the apprenticeship indenture of Stephen Harwood, the son of Thomas and Jane in 1766. He was bound apprentice to Edward Pruce of Witney, a saddler and harness maker for the term of seven years. It states that Stephen’s father was Thomas Harwood of Witney, blanket weaver. So now we know Thomas’ occupation; the same as that of many of the Flexney family into which Thomas’ daughter Hannah was to marry. The next move was to find if there was any record of Thomas’ apprenticeship. Any such indenture would probably be at the OHC if it existed, but none was listed. I then checked the Apprenticeship Tax records. Between 1710 and 1811 a tax was raised on the indentures of apprentices and the register of payments is available online. Sure enough, on January 3rd 1723 (1724 in modern terms) the following was listed:
“Thos. son of Jno Horrod of Coggs, Oxon” to “Wm Tortman of Whittney, …Weaver”.


This is almost certainly the connection between our Thomas and the Cogges family. The differences in the spelling of the surname is not a concern – Harwood often appears in the same registers as Harewood or Horrod (often Harrod) and simply reflects the pronunciation at the time. In this case, the master’s name was Trotman not Tortman. The burial at Cogges in 1766 remains a problem, but it may just be another member of the family whose baptism is not recorded in the register. There was another Harwood family in Cogges during the 18th century – probably that of an uncle of Thomas, using the same range of names for their children, and it must be mentioned that at least two of Thomas’ brothers are not recorded as baptisms in the register, though they are named in their father’s will, so other baptisms may have missed.


19th century map showing Cogges, Newland and Hill Houses (top right)

Turning to Thomas’ father John, he died in 1740 having left a will dated May 17th 1736. In it he states that he is a brickmaker, living at the Hill Houses, Cogges. This presumably was a hamlet, now the site of Hill Farm just to the east of Cogges. Nineteenth century maps show a collection of cottages as well as the farm itself. In his will John left five shillings each to his sons, John and Richard; one shilling to a son-in-law and forty shillings apiece to his sons Thomas, William and James. The remainder of his estate, including property, implements and stock in trade he left to his son Joseph. Several of these sons seem to have remained in Cogges judging by entries in the registers and one, James, a labourer, died in 1768 leaving a will in which he left Thomas £6, his clothing to brother John and the remainder of his estate to Joseph Harwood.


Detail of map showing dwellings at Hill Houses

At the time of his will, John Harwood senior was a widower, his wife Mary (nee Thomas) having died in 1730. John is probably the individual who was baptised at Cogges in 1671, the son of Richard Harwood; a brother Richard was baptised three years later. As the registers for Cogges only commence in 1653 it is not be possible to take this line back any further.

One odd coincidence with the tracing of this family is that there are two individuals, almost contemporaries in my ancestry with identical names and both involved in the construction industry – John Harwood the brickmaker of Cogges (1671?-1740) and John Harwood the house carpenter of Bristol (1663-1745 – for more on him see here). Could some of the bricks made by the former have found their way into the houses constructed by the latter? Highly unlikely but a tantalising idea.
The wills of John and James Harwood will, in time appear on the OFHS wills website:

Document images courtesy of the Oxfordshire Heritage Centre

Oxfordshire Cousins


St Mary the Virgin, Shipton under Wychwood


My ancestor John Flexney, blanketweaver of Witney married Sarah Burson at the Quaker Meeting House on Wood Green, Witney on November 26th 1723. The certificate shows that Sarah was the daughter of Richard Burson (here spelt Bussen) a wheelwright of High Cogges. Among the witnesses were her sister Alice and brother George, as well as John’s parents, John and Ann. There is also the signature of a William Roach with those of other relations. Six years later, Sarah’s sister Alice was to marry here too, her husband being one Henry Partlot (Partlett) of Northleigh.

I have been unable to find any further details of this Burson family in the past, but now, with the publication of the Oxfordshire Parish Registers on the internet, it is possible to see connections and relationships that I was not previously aware of.

The Burson family in Oxfordshire were mainly concentrated in the parish of Shipton under Wychwood close to the border with Gloucestershire. They seem to have arrived in the area (possibly from Gloucestershire) in the late 16th century and there were several Richards around the middle part of the 17th century who I had noted, but couldn’t previously link with the one in Cogges. The breakthrough came in linking the entries in the registers with the names contained in the wills of Richard of Cogges (died 1725 – for a transcript click here) and his son George (Sarah’s brother) in 1760 (for a transcript click here). In Richard’s will he names sons, William, George, John and Joseph as well as daughters Alice and Sarah Burson and their married sisters Anne Roach and Rachel Knighton. He also leaves bequests to a daughter-in-law, Mary Burson, a son-in-law, James Shailor, a granddaughter, Jane Hanks and others. There are other relations mentioned in the will of his son, George; his sister, Susannah Bunting then deceased, a niece Jane Harwood, some Burson nephews and several others bearing the names of Parlett, Hanks and Flexney, the latter including his sister, Sarah. What is also interesting in George’s will is that he leaves bequests to the poor of the parishes of both Cogges and Shipton as well as property in Shipton and Milton under Wychwood (a village in Shipton parish). The bulk of his estate is left to Henry Parlett, the son of his sister, Alice.

Having all these family names I began to check them against the registers of Shipton under Wychwood. There was a Richard Burson (born 1642, the son of William and Joan) whose childrens’ baptisms are recorded in the the period 1670-1696. The names listed there are Richard, Ann, William, Elizabeth, Mary, John, Rachel, George, Joseph, Susannah and Alice. This corresponds so closely to the names in the Cogges wills that I assume the Shipton Richard and the Cogges Richard are one and the same. The anomalies are easily explained – the eldest son, Richard is the individual who married Mary Holland (the daughter-in-law of Richard’s will) and died in 1721. Elizabeth I cannot find, but there is a baptism of Sarah Burson recorded on March 12, 1688/9; however, the father is recorded as Will: (William). There was a William Burson whose children were being baptised around this period, but in fact there is a christening of a son of this William just under 6 months after that of Sarah – on September 8, 1689. I believe that the clerk had made an error in the register (which were often written up from rough notes every year) and the father should be Richard. Although this is supposition, we do know that this Richard did have a daughter named Sarah, and no further evidence of a daughter of William is noted after this.

Apart from the similarity of the names recorded in the wills and registers there is, I believe, more evidence to give weight to the idea that the two Richard Bursons are identical. If one looks at the details of the lives of Richard’s children (where we can find them) there are other striking coincidences. I would suggest that Richard spent most of his life at Milton under Wychwood, having all his children baptised at St Marys, Shipton and then at some date, probably in the late 17th century, moved to Cogges where he purchased a house and leasehold estate from William Blake, a wealthy wool merchant who had established schools in the parish and had built the Buttercross in Witney. He also bought land at Bernard Gate, a small hamlet to the east of Cogges.


St Mary’s, Cogges

Ann Burson was baptised at Shipton in 1671, the daughter of Richard Burson of Milton. In 1709 she married William Hanks of Lyneham, another hamlet of Shipton parish and their eldest child, Jane was born there the following year. William died in 1711 leaving his wife “great with child” according to his will, and when a son was born he was baptised William in 1712. Ann must have married again at some point in the next nine years for in her father’s will written in 1721, Richard leaves bequests to his granddaughter Jane Hanks, and his sister, Ann Roach. I believe that Ann’s new husband was William Roach of Cogges; a burial there in 1743 gives “Anne wife of William Roach”. Although aged 68 at the time, William married within the year, and his will of 1757 mentions Jane Harwood his “daughter-in-law”. Now a daughter-in-law as we would understand the term would have the same surname as her father-in-law, but the expression was commonly used at the time to indicate a step-daughter. Jane Harwood (who we shall return to) is the Jane Hanks of Richard Burson’s will. In the will of George Burson, Jane Harwood is a legatee as well as the five children of “my nephew William Hanks” – Jane’s younger brother. When Jane married Thomas Harwood in 1732, she is described as “of Cogges”, so was presumably living with her mother, now Ann Roach.

Richard’s fifth child, Mary Burson married James Shaylor (or Shailer etc.) in 1708 in the parish church at Waterstock near Thame. I can find no evidence as to why they married there, but in the register both parties are described as “of Shipton in the parish of Milton” – the clerk got the two village names reversed. I believe Mary is the individual whose burial on April 12, 1715 is recorded in the Shipton register. In Richard Burson’s will a bequest is left to his son-in-law, James Shailer, and in George’s there is a similar bequest to his nephew Henry Shayler, presumably Mary and James’ child.

Richard’s daughter Susannah was baptised in Shipton in 1693. When she married Henry Bunting at Witney in 1719, she is described as “of Cogges” which lends further evidence to the family having moved there. Strangely Richard does not name her in his will, but George leaves a bequest to his sister, Susannah Bunting.

Finally Alice, the youngest of Richard’s children, baptised at Shipton in 1696 was married, as we have seen above, to Henry Parlett at the Witney Quaker Meeting House in 1729, giving Richard as her father on the certificate. Her son, another Henry was the main legatee of George Burson, receiving the bulk of his estate and all his property in Cogges, Milton and Shipton.

I think there is enough evidence to be sure that the Richard Burson who was born in 1642 and had twelve children baptised at St Marys, Shipton under Wychwood, is the same individual who later lived at High Cogges and died in 1725, having made his will four years earlier. However, there are one or two caveats. The first concerns the baptism of a daughter Sarah (my ancestor) which I think I have settled above, Even if the baptism of 1689 is not correct, we know that Richard did indeed have a daughter of that name who married John Flexney in 1723. Secondly, I cannot find a marriage for Richard and his wife Jane anywhere in Oxfordshire or Gloucestershire, and neither can I find a burial for either of them, although assuredly Richard had died prior to July 1725 when probate of his will was granted to his son, William. One final interesting point is the age at which several of Richard’s daughters married – Ann at 38, Mary at 32, Sarah at 34 and Alice at 33. For the time, this is surprisingly older than the norm.

I have at several times mentioned Jane Hanks, the granddaughter of Richard Burson. She was born at Lyneham in 1710 and baptised at Shipton on July 23rd.

Following her father’s death in 1711 her mother, Ann remarried and Jane and her younger brother, William (born posthumously) lived in the household of her step-father, William Roach, an “Ale Draper” (an archaic expression for a publican) of Cogges. It may well be that Ann moved into her father’s house at Cogges in the first place and that was how she met her new husband. Jane, who had recieved a bequest of £5 in her grandfather’s will (a considerable sum in this context as her mother Ann only recieved 1/-) married Thomas Harwood at St Marys, Witney on August 28, 1732 when, as we have seen she was living at Cogges. The family seem to have settled in Witney and had ten children baptised at St Marys, the youngest being Hannah in 1756. Jane was left another £5 in the will of her uncle George following his death in 1760. George had also left £5 to a nephew of his, Edward Flexney, who was the youngest son of his sister, Sarah and John Flexney. So Jane Harwood and Edward Flexney were first cousins. It is interesting that Hannah Harwood was to marry a Richard Flexney in 1778 and although on the Licence and in the register of St Marys, Richard describes himself as “of Newbury”, I have always assumed he was the son of Edward, born in 1756 and baptised in 1759 (the family previously being Quakers). It would seem odd that someone from Newbury would marry a Witney girl without a strong connection between the families – there were no Flexneys in the Newbury area at the time – and the fact that Richard and Hannah might be cousins adds weight to the theory that Richard was indeed the son of Edward Flexney.


Document images courtesy of OFHS


Flexney. By any other name….



The surname Flexney has a long but fairly undistinguished history in the western part of the county of Oxford. The origin of the name has given rise to two conflicting opinions. The standard history of Oxfordshire surnames maintains that it originated from a lost place name in the county meaning a field where flax grows, citing ancient field names, whereas another line of thought holds that the field names come from the surname and not vice-versa. This second theory has the origin of the name being the village and manor of Fleckney in Leicestershire. Around 1190 both this manor and that of Stanton in Oxfordshire passed into the hands of Robert de Harcourt of Bosworth. The surname “de Fleckney” is certainly present in Robert’s Leicestershire holdings in the early 13th century, and in 1211 one of the tenants of his Oxfordshire manor (thereafter Stanton Harcourt) was one Stephen de Flexneia. It would seem quite likely that the sub-tenants of one estate might move with their lord to another of his holdings, especially younger sons who had little chance of advancement at home.


St Michaels, Stanton Harcourt

In the Oxford Eyre Roll of 1261, which contained summaries of cases heard before circuit judges, the names Robert, John and Walter Flexney appear, and in 1273 a John de Flexneia held land and a mill at Standlake. By the following century one branch of the family had moved to the city of Oxford and were later to provide it with an MP, two mayors and several aldermen. These lines died out in the seventeenth century, but Flexneys remained in Stanton Harcourt and spread slowly into the surrounding areas only disappearing from the county around 1900.


Ralph Flexney MP and Mayor of Oxford on four occasions

My grandmother was a Flexney and in my research of her family, who lived in Witney for over 150 years, I found it difficult to reach back any further than the early 18th century. This is due in part to the lack of records, for several of the parish registers are deficient, but also the inability to distinguish between holders of the same christian name. Looking further back into the 17th century I was also puzzled by the fact that many of the Flexneys bore the alias of Hicks (sometimes Hickes or Hix). It seems obvious to me that all these individuals must be connected in some way, and although proof will probably never be forthcoming, it has been possible to reconstruct some lines.

Alias (or alias dictus) is a latin term meaning simply also or “otherwise called”. It was far more common in the 16th and 17th centuries than in later periods and had no sinister implications. Aliases often arose through inheritance from a maternal ancestor or adoption, and second marriages where the children of one marriage used both their natural and step-fathers’ surnames. Its modern equivalent is the hyphenated double-barrelled surname. In documents and parish registers it is often shortened to “als”.It is often the case that one name was used alone and in many cases I have found only one use of the alias for an individual in records, but nevertheless it is possible to see a lineal descent connecting all the bearers of the alias.


The first example of the Flexney alias so far found is a baptism at Stanton Harcourt on September 21st 1609 of a Maria, the daughter of William Flexeny alias Hixe, and the final one, in a pleasingly symmetrical manner, is the burial, again at Stanton, of a William Flexney alias Hicks on May 4th 1736. in between these events we can find eight individuals who are named with the alias in one form or another. In most cases the name Flexney comes first, but not always, and there are a few entries where Hicks alone is used and the identification fits a member of the Flexney family. All of these usages are in the Stanton/Standlake/Witney area with the exception of a Richard Hicks alias Flexney who lived in Cassington (between Witney and Oxford) and whose will was proved in 1645. The latter is particularly interesting as it gives a flavour of how loose the usage of the two names was. Richard starts his will as Richard Hicks alias Flexney but the first personal bequest is “to my sonne Edward Flexney alias Hicks” and later on he leaves ten shillings to “my daughter-in-law Eliz: Hicks”. Richard could not sign, but his mark is noted as “Richard Flexneys mark”.


Tracing back my line of the Flexney family, I am fairly confident (despite one or two strong probabilities which cannot be certain) in reaching a John Flexney who would have been born around 1665/70. He first appears in the documents relating to his obtaining a marriage licence for his wedding to Ann Tarry in 1694 at Cogges parish church. His name is given as John Flexney and he is described as a carrier of Curbridge in the parish of Witney. In the register of St Marys, Witney three baptisms are recorded for John son of John Flexyn of Curbridge (1695), Elizabeth daughter of John Flexyn (1699) and Anne, daughter of John Flexyn als. Hicks (1702). This appears to be the same family, and at some time before 1719 it seems that John left the Anglican Communion and joined the Society of Friends, or Quakers. His name first appears in that year as a member of the Monthly Meeting as Jno. Flexny call’d Hix (see illustration above). The Quakers were more straightforward in their speech and mistrusted the use of latin. John appears in the Quaker records again when his son John was married in 1723 and he and his wife Ann both sign as witnesses with the name Flexney. He may however, be the John Hicks who features in Quaker accounts being paid for the hire of a horse and horseshoes. Despite his Quaker connections it seems that John was buried at St Marys in 1726, and Ann followed him in 1730. Their son John only ever seems to have used Flexney as a surname and the alias ended with his father.


Signature of John Flexney on his marriage licence affidavit 1694

Further back from John we cannot go with certainty as there are no relevant baptisms in parishes where Flexneys still remained. However, several parishes registers for this period are lost and by using wills and following the alias it may be possible to link John to a Humphrey Flexney who died in February 1689 (Old style – we would call this February 1690). In his will Humphrey calls himself a husbandman which is a person farming land he held leasehold. He lived in Brighthampton, which although very close to Standlake, is actually in the parish of Bampton. The parish of Bampton was unusual in having three vicars and several small chapels as well as the mother church in Bampton itself. One of these chapels was at Shifford a tiny hamlet south of Brighthampton and the registers prior to 1726 are missing. It seems though that Brighthampton people used this as their parish church (Stanlake church was closer but in a separate parish) and Humphrey is recorded as the Churchwarden there in 1641. However he and his wife Eleanor had their children baptised at Standlake and this is where we see the use of the alias. Their eldest son, Thomas was baptised in 1641 as the son of Humphrey Hix; the second son, John was baptised in 1643 and the surname then was Hix alias Flexney. At the baptism of their later children only the surname Flexney is given. There are no further entries for the family in Standlake, although we know Humphrey and Eleanor had at least one further child, Alice who is named in her father’s will. It is likely that Humphrey and Eleanor, and any of their children who died young were buried at Shifford.


Shifford Chapel in the 19th century. It had been ruinous and rebuilt in the late 18th 

Humphrey’s will gives us a little detail concerning his descendants and he leaves bequests to his daughter, Alice and her daughter, Amy as well as to his four other grandchildren: John and Elizabeth the children of his son John, and John and Humphrey the sons of his son William. I can find no record of any of these baptisms and so assume they were at Shifford as well. Humphrey’s son William died intestate in 1700 and no record of his burial can be found either. I think it is very likely that the John Flexney who married Ann Tarry in 1694 was one of the two grandsons of Humphrey to bear that name, but we shall probably never know which one. Curbridge, where John the carrier was first mentioned is only a little to the north-west of Brighthampton.


Humphrey would have been born around 1615 and it is frustrating that the Stanton Harcourt registers are missing for the periods 1586-1601 and 1612-1654, as I think it is most likely that Humphrey was born there. There were several Flexney families in the village at the time with at least two of them linked with the Hicks alias. One fact we may be able to deduce though is his mother’s name. In 1629 Humphrey Tanner of Brighthampton made his will and after bequests to his daughters Mary and Margaret, their husbands and children, he leaves the residue of his estate to his daughter Joahne (Joan) Flaxen (spelt Flexney in the probate). He also makes bequests to Humphrey, Joan and Margaret Flaxen who, although not specified, are surely the children of Joan. No Flexney husband is named and so is presumably already deceased. One assumes Joan would have passed on the estate to her son at a later date and this would explain how the Flexney family arrived in the parish of Standlake. However there is no clue as yet as to the origin of the Hicks alias.