Monday, 22 August 2016

John Smith - Generation 3

This is the story of my third Bicester John Smith.  He was born around 1765 in the vicinity of Bicester.  Somewhat surprisingly, there is a shortage of likely John Smith baptisms and I have not yet found his.  I suspect he might be the son of John Smith and Catherine Gulliver, who were having children at the right time and have a suitable gap between other children that he would fit into, but have no proof yet.

I do know that John Smith’s father was a gardener working for a Mr Stratton who lived in the former grounds of the Priory of St Edburg.  Bicester parish church is dedicated to St Edburg.  I know about his father because, in 1816, a John Dunkin published a book, “The History and Antiquities of Bicester, a Market Town in Oxfordshire”. One of John Dunkin’s sources on the ruined priory was a letter from John Smith, explaining about some of the ruins he and his father had dug up while gardening.  I always think it is exciting to find the actual words an ancestor spoke or wrote, so here is a quote about a well:

“My father and Master Hudson repeatedly tried to empty it; but after they had reached a depth of seven feet the water flowed so fast that they were compelled to desist.  Close to the present building, my father also discovered a very neat coffin about two feet long; the bones were so small that he could not ascertain what they were, and there was no inscription visible.”

It sounds like they were not very successful amateur archaeologists.  The well they were trying to dig up was possibly one much visited in medieval times because it was believed to have healing properties.

On the domestic front, John Smith married Anne Bowden 1 Nov 1790 in Bicester and one of the witnesses was Martha Smith, perhaps his sister.  John and Anne had six children between 1792 and 1805, Harriet, Catherine, James, my ancestor John, Thomas and Mary Ann.

At some point, John Smith changed careers, becoming a school teacher.  He was school master at the Bicester blue coat school, a charity school for boys.  There were many blue coat schools around England and they got their name from the distinctive uniform worn by the children.  I have a photo of a former blue coat school in Hatton Gardens, London, showing statues of two children in their blue uniforms.  The Bicester charity school was supported by local gentry.

Blue Coat School, Hatton Gardens, London

John’s wife Anne died in November 1821.  The following year, probably on 2 December 1822 (I don’t have a reliable source for this date) John Smith married Mary Moore in Bicester.  John had at least another six children with Mary, taking his total to twelve: Benjamin, Mathilda, Emma, Eliza, Henry and Kezia.  Kezia was born when John was about 71 and so he might be the oldest father I have found so far in my family tree, although to be honest, this is not something I have taken much note of.  As well as his twelve children, who I think all survived to adulthood, he had over 30 grandchildren, although he did not live to see them all.  He did live to see some great grandchildren, including my ancestor Harry Smith.

Bicester in the 1820’s and 1830’s was an interesting but possibly not safe place to live.  In 1826, according to an extract from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868), there were riots in the main street that destroyed the town hall.  In 1832, the same source says there was a cholera epidemic that infected 70 people.  I have no record of any of the Smith’s suffering from Cholera, though.

By the time of the 1841 census, as well as being a school teacher, John Smith was a parish clerk.  As far as I can work out, a parish clerk was something of a jack of all trades, supporting the clergy with administrative and other tasks, possibly including leading the singing.  Also in 1841, John’s family were living in New Buildings, Market End, Bicester, near his son John.

In 1851, John Smith was an elderly man and the census says he was blind, although he is still listed as a parish clerk.  He, wife Mary and some of their children were still living in New Buildings.

In his will, John Smith seems to have owned two properties, one in New Buildings and one in Crockwell, another area in Bicester.  Curiously, John wrote his will in 1829 before all of his children were born, so they are not all named however there was a clause to cover this eventuality.

John Smith died 17 March 1858, age 93.  Did miraculous water from the well he and his father dug up contribute to his long life?

Saturday, 6 August 2016

John Smith – Generation 2

Having established that my Smith ancestors came from Bicester, Oxfordshire, as described in my previous blog post, my next challenge was to work back a few generations.  Luckily for my research, many of the branches of the Smith tree are less common names and so are easier to trace. However, for this story, I will stick with my one of my John Smith ancestors.

This John Smith was born around 1799, the fourth of six children of John Smith and Ann Bowden, and baptised 29 September 1799, in the parish church in Bicester.  There were actually three John Smith’s baptised in Bicester in 1799.  So, how do I know that I have the right one?  The first time I looked at the Bicester registers, I noted that one of the John Smiths was a twin.  I know, sadly, that the survival rate for twins was not good at a time when infant mortality was high, anyway.  

Something I learned while doing my anthropology degree was that until the 20th century in the western world (and still in some places), one of life’s biggest challenges was to get to the age of five.  Those who made it to five had a reasonable chance of reaching old age, if they avoided the risks of violence (for men) and child birth (for women).  So, I checked the burial records for the few years after the 1799 baptisms.  Unfortunately for the families concerned, two of the three John Smiths died very young and the logical conclusion is that the survivor must have been my ancestor.

Having survived the trials of childhood, John Smith trained as a plumber and glazier; plumber, at that time, being someone worked with lead (plumbum being Latin for lead), rather than the modern trade of working with copper and plastic water pipes.  I haven’t found a record of his apprenticeship yet.  Records from the later part of his life say that he was also a painter.

On 31 March 1823, John Smith married Elizabeth Ellston* in Bicester parish church, by banns.  They had nine children, including my ancestor John Smith.  Their oldest son, James, was born in September 1823.  I will leave the reader to do the maths but will say that it was quite a common occurrence...  Their last child, Ann, was born about twenty years later.

John, Elizabeth and their family can be followed through the 1841, 1851 and 1861 censuses.  For all that time they lived in Newbuildings, Sheep Street, Market End, in Bicester.  Sheep Street is the main street through the town and is now a pedestrianised shopping area but many of the old buildings are still there.  In the nineteenth century, as well as being a market town, hence Market End, Bicester was famous for hunting, although the Smith family did not belong to the hunting upper class.

John Smith died on 19 October 1870, age 71.  His death was announced in births, deaths and marriages column in the Oxford Times.  His death certificate says that he died of a diseased heart, congestion of the lungs and softening of the brain.  In modern medical terms, this probably translates to congestive heart failure and dementia.

Once again, I am pleased to have been able to discover so much about my ancestor in spite of his common name.

*There are various spellings of Ellston.

Notes on lineage: Me > Mum > Daphne Madge Smith > John Henry Smith > Harry Smith > John Smith > John Smith