Elderly parents

Suddenly needing to look after elderly parents in one way or another is something that comes to many of us.  Mum’s fortnight in hospital, during which we were caring daily for my Dad, got me thinking about how my ancestors cared for elderly relatives.

When you look back through census returns it is fairly common to find a widowed parent now being cared for by a son or daughter and family.

Elizabeth George’s husband David died in 1851, aged 70, but she would outlive him by another fifteen years.  At the time of the 1861 census she is to be found living with her youngest surviving daughter Frances and her family at East Bilney, Norfolk, and the census notes that she is ‘blind’.  Despite her 12 children, she was nearly 85 when she died in 1866.

Of the nine children of Thomas and Caroline Mitchell in Sussex, three died young, three emigrated, and two others left the immediate area.  Only one, my great grandfather, remained in the same village, where his daughters helped to care for them in their old age.

Meanwhile in East Finchley, Jonathan Wakefield, seventh child of William and Susan and born in 1835, was widowed in 1893.  Sometime between then and the 1901 census he went to live with his youngest son Henry until the death of Henry’s wife in 1913.  He then lived out the last few years of his life with his son Jonathan, dying of ‘senile degeneration and exhaustion’ in 1917 aged 82.  His obituary in the ‘Finchley Press, Muswell Hill Mercury and Highgate Post’ says that he had been in declining health for a long time, but that for 30 years he had been caretaker of the Wesleyan Church in King Street “where he discharged his duties with fidelity and in the most cheerful spirit”.

Newspaper reports can be great, can’t they?  But more disturbing was the report in the Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette of Saturday 6th February 1847, where twin brothers Richard and Robert Neighbour where being called to account by the Overseers of Lewknor for refusing to support their father Thomas “being an inmate of Thame Union workhouse”.   In the days before any Social Services financial assessment, the overseeers “considered they were in circumstances to maintain their parent, being very industrious men”.  But then, in a twist to the tale, the two brothers basically declared that they thought their 64 year old father should get off his backside and do an honest day’s work and that he had apparently left a good place of employment to go to the workhouse!  There was something odd going on in that family:  Thomas Neighbour’s wife Ann appears in the 1841 census with their daughter Elizabeth in the same village.  Of course, she may just have been there overnight, but I wonder whether there was more to it.  Three years after the workhouse incident Thomas was “found drowned in the mill pond”, according to the burial register.  Did the couple separate?  Did Thomas have a drink problem?  Was he suffering from depression and therefore unable to work?  We shall never know.  Unfortunately I have found no newspaper report to shed light on his death, but the Overseers’ conclusion in 1847 was to conclude that they had “no power to compel children to support their parents when they were able to earn their own living” and Richard and Robert were apparently not minded to support their father.

In our society it’s probably more unusual now for elderly parents to be taken into the homes of their children to be cared for and so the present-day Overseers have to make their financial assessment as to who pays for the care.  There’s rarely an easy solution.

Overseers of Lewknor versus Richard and Robert Neighbour 1847
Overseers of Lewknor versus Richard and Robert Neighbour 1847 





Ancestral pub number 2 – The Leather Bottle Lewknor


The Leather Bottle, Lewknor

When we drive north on the M40 I always look out for the Red Kites.  I love seeing these majestic birds, and just where the concentration often seems greatest – just after the Chilterns – is junction 6.  If you come off at this junction you quickly find yourself in Lewknor –  a lovely little Oxfordshire village.

This pretty little village has a Church, a school and a pub, and that pub is the Leather Bottle.   Sophia Neighbour, my 4 x great grandmother, was for many years the landlady of this pub.  I feel that Sophia must have been a woman of some stamina and resilience.

Aged 19 she had an illegitimate son Richard in 1805.  However, five years later she married one James Hawkins with whom she eventually had four more children.  By 1841, aged 55, Sophia was running the Leather Bottle pub in Lewknor together with James, but  my examination of the Licensed Victuallers Records within the Quarter Sessions Records at Oxford History Centre (QSD/V/1,2,3 and 4) for the period 1753 – 1822 have revealed that a Hawkins was running this pub from as early as 1758.  The licence was held by a Richard Hawkins, and then his widow Hannah Hawkins, and then their son William Hawkins.  William’s widow Alice in turn was then the licencee from 1786 – 1790, before their eldest son Richard then ran the pub from 1792 to at least 1812. His brother William took over the running of the pub around 1816 and held the licence until at least 1822. There is then a gap where I don’t know for certain yet who ran the pub, but by 1841 the licence had passed to James Hawkins.

Lewknor; Leather Bottle
Inside the Leather Bottle

The relationship between James and the Hawkins family mentioned above is unclear, but there has to be some familial connection I feel sure.

The ten yearly census returns then help to fill in the picture and we see that by 1851, aged 65, James was additionally farming 70 acres.  It was quite common for a pub to have land attached, and small-scale farming would have supplemented the family income.

James Hawkins died in April 1860, and the next census shows Sophia, now aged 75, still running the pub (!) and her son John running the farm.  Two of her daughters, Sophia and Louisa, are both living with her, and Louisa is herself a widow.

Amazingly, in 1871, aged 85, Sophia is still the innkeeper and son John is still running the farm.  But four years later, aged 89, Sophia died and was buried at Lewknor church, with James.  Their grave can still be found on the south side of the church.

Lewknor; Hawkins; Neighbour
Grave of James and Sophia Hawkins

At this point Louisa Guy, the widowed daughter of James and Sophia, took on the running of the Leather Bottle, as seen in the 1881 and 1891 censuses.  Louisa had a son Thomas, and when he died in 1880, his widow Eliza Annie and their 2 year old son James came to live at the pub too, and lo and behold the 1901 census shows that Annie Guy is now the publican – making her the third widow in a row to hold the licence! The 1907 and 1911 Kelly’s Directories for Oxfordshire indicate that Richard Whiting took over the licence and the 1911 census confirms this, showing Richard and his wife Ellen at the Leather Bottle. I have no evidence that they were related to the Neighbour/Hawkins/Guy families at all.

Today the pub sign says “Leathern Bottle” rather than “Leather Bottle”.  I’m not sure when the change in name occurred, or whether in fact it had always been somewhat interchangeable.  The pub sign also gives Brakspear as the brewery, but apparently that brewery was taken over by Wychwood in 2002, brewing at Witney.  (Brakspear ales were originally brewed in Henley).  Unfortunately Brakspear have failed to reply to my emails asking if they hold any additional information.

Leather Bottle pub sign







Continuing to take advantage of my subscription to the British Newspaper Archive, I found this wonderful snippet on goings-on at the Leathern Bottle in 1839:

Leather Bottle


Oxford Journal – Saturday 21 September 1839


These photos were taken on our visit to the ‘ancestral pub’ just over two years’ ago.

Lewknor; Leather Bottle
The Leather Bottle, Lewknor
Lewknor Church

“First class West End harness at prices one half their original charge”


“First class West End harness at prices one half their original charge” – Sporting Chronicle – Saturday 22 October 1864

Originally it was spotting a mention of the elusive David George of East Dereham which drew my attention to the British Newspaper Archive .  I could see that it was a death announcement, so I decided to sign up for a month’s subscription to see what more this notice might reveal. Well the Norfolk News of Sat 3 May 1851 did tell me that he died “very suddenly”, that he was “much beloved and respected by all who knew him” and that he was “leaving a large family to lament their loss”.  It would have been really nice if it had said “son of the late xxxxx of xxxxxxxx” – but it didn’t, so David George’s origins remain a mystery.  Ah well – worth a try.

George; East Dereham

Norfolk News – Saturday 03 May 1851


But having got a month’s subscription, what else can I find?

Loads of really interesting and often random things!

Three months before his father’s death, on Saturday 1st February, Francis George was mugged in Swaffham!  (What was he doing there?  Did he often go there?).  Charles Wales stole two calico bags, a piece of dumpling, an ounce of bread, an ounce of meat, and a frock coat from Francis.  The perpetrator got a month’s imprisonment.

Meanwhile, twelve years earlier in Oxfordshire, Caleb Buckingham, my stonemason ancestor, was convicted of “unlawfully assaulting and kicking” his apprentice!  He got a hefty fine of 17 shillings – I should think so, too.  What was he thinking of?

Still in Oxfordshire, my Neighbour ancestors in Lewknor were not playing ‘happy families’ in 1847:  the Overseers brought a case against twin brothers Richard and Robert Neighbour for refusing to support their father, who was residing in the workhouse.  However, it turns out that the brothers considered their father quite capable of doing a day’s work and claimed that he had “left a good place of work to go to the workhouse”.  The case was dismissed as the magistrates “possessed no power to compel children to support their parents when they were able to earn their own living”.  What was going on there, then?

Neighbour; Lewknor

Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette – Saturday 06 February 1847


In 1870 William Pitcher (of the Horse and Groom, Swaffham, see blog post number 10 ) was the victim of a theft from the pub kitchen – John Forster stole a steel from him, for which he was committed for seven days’ hard labour.

In the 1860s business was booming for George Bryant in Chapel Place Mews, Belgravia.  His frequent adverts in the Sporting Chronicle indicate that he sold new and second-hand saddlery and harness as well as rugs and horse clothing.  And (thank you very much, George) it tells me that the business was established in 1837 (that would have been by his father John, according to the 1841 census).  We located Chapel Place Mews the other year – it’s pretty near Buckingham Palace.  Great job on the marketing, George!


Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle – Saturday 08 February 1868



Well, I’m going to keep going during my month’s subscription to see what other gems I can find!