It’s a FHS meeting, but not as you know it!

I can’t remember when I last got along to a Family History Society meeting.  Well, not precisely.  It was a few years ago when we were staying at the Brighton Caravan Club site and our week just happened to coincide with a Sussex Family History Group meeting in Hove.  It was a very wet night and Mick Henry was speaking.

But week last Monday we went (virtually) to an Oxfordshire Family History Society meeting!  I’ve never been able to get to one of their meetings before, not living close enough, but when the email came through that they were organising a talk via Zoom I lept at the chance to sign up.

Zoom has quickly become part of everyday life for many of us (and just think – 12 weeks ago we’d never heard of it!).  My husband has a lot of work meetings using it, we have a weekly extended family catch-up using it, our Church service is on Zoom and so too is the weekly social for my morris dancing group.  Conversations are frequently had on how to unmute yourself and where to find ‘gallery view’.

But this particular Zoom meeting seemed to be blessed with few technical difficulties, despite well over 90 people attending.  It was certainly the largest Zoom meeting I’ve been to and was very well organised.

The speaker was Phil Isherwood and the subject of the talk was ‘Research Methodologies’.  He gave an excellent, very clear presentation.  It felt just like old times, except that, rather than sitting on a moulded plastic chair in a school/village/church hall, we were sitting in comfort on our own sofa and didn’t have to drive home afterwards!

Phil took us through a very useful methodology, demonstrating how he had used it to break down a significant brick wall in his own research.  In defining the particular research problem he suggested four questions to ask:  what is the research objective? What is the state of the research so far? What is the sticking point? What do I need to do to move forward?

He then advised creating a timeline of all existing evidence, ensuring that all evidence is correct, fully researched and for the correct individual.  In the timeline he advocated including all members of the immediate family as well as the target individual and including sources.  It is then important to analyse the timeline:  where are the gaps (eg missing census)? What are the common factors? Are there noticeable trends?  For example, is the name used always consistent?  Do the various sources agree on date of birth?  Did the family move around?  You could create a table to look at the variation of information given in different events and sources.

This detailed and systematic analysis may then enable you to go on to search for additional evidence both during and before the period of the timeline, eg a census entry previously dismissed due to an apparent age discrepancy; a newpaper report; an earlier banns certificate.

From this additional information Phil then proposed building a case, using family reconstruction to eliminate individuals.  Having constructed a case, you then need to prove it, taking the prime candidate forwards, looking for life events to check you have the right person.  You will then need to analyse and resolve any conflicting evidence and identify new research objectives.

If this is all a little difficult to follow, I would recommend checking out Phil’s blog at where he uses his case study ‘The woman who fell from the skies’ to illustrate the methodology in detail.

Although family reconstruction is something I do frequently in my research, I have never tried this timeline approach.  I can see that it would lend itself easily to ancestors who conveniently lived during the latter half of the nineteenth century, with censuses, parish registers and wills to consult.  However, I suppose the same methodology can be used for earlier ancestors – you just don’t necessarily have the same number of sources to refer to, at least not so readily.

So, family history society meetings via Zoom – could this be the future, even after lockdown?  Well there were folk attending this one from Australia and the USA as well as closer to home.  And an attendance of over 90 indicates scope for much greater connectivity between members and perhaps more active engagement in the ongoing work of the society if people can feel involved in this way.  Perhaps, as in other spheres of life, there will be a ‘mixed economy’ going forward of virtual and face to face meetings, but I for one would really welcome the opportunity to attend talks of the societies I belong to and I really hope that others will embrace this technology.

Flora Thompson

I recently picked up a biography of Flora Thompson at a National Trust second hand bookshop.  Many properties seem to have these now and they must generate some useful extra income.  The biography is by Gillian Lindsay, published by Hale in 1990.

It is many years since I first read the ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’ trilogy, very much enjoying the description of nineteenth century rural life in Oxfordshire.  Since then, of course, we have had the very popular TV series of the same name, starring Julia Sawalha as Dorcas Lane, the Postmistress.  Many of those storylines were complete fabrication, but the series broadly conveyed the flavour of the books, and I for one enjoyed it for the costumes and settings if nothing else.

At the end of her biography Gillian Lindsay quotes from Flora’s last book ‘Still Glides the Stream’:

“We come, we go, and, as individuals, we are forgotten.  But the stream of human life goes on, ever changing, but ever the same, and as the stream is fed by well-springs hoarded by Nature, so the stream of humanity is fed by the accumulated wisdom, effort and hard-won experience of past generations.”

This quotation certainly struck a chord with me.  In a sense, is this not what family history is about?  Is it not at least partly about acknowledging that wisdom, effort and experience of our ancestors?  Of course, what we do strive to do as family historians is to ensure that those individuals are not forgotten, as Flora Thompson suggested.

I have been fascinated to read of her life beyond rural Oxfordshire.  I had no idea that she had worked in Post Offices in Essex and then in Graysott, Hampshire, before moving once married to Bournemouth and then to Liphook.  I have found a link to a walk on the commons near Grayshott and Liphook, taking in the places where she loved to walk and which fed her nature writing.  I hope it will be possible to follow this trail sometime.

Flora loved her family:  her daughter Winifred trained as a nurse, her eldest son Basil emigrated to Australia and her youngest son Peter, who was in the Merchant Navy, was tragically killed in WW2 when his ship The Jedmoor, was topedoed in September 1941.

Although Flora Thompson was a prolific writer, it was not until 1986 that her nature essays ‘The Peverel Papers’ (which were originally published in the ‘Catholic Fireside’ in the 1920s) were published in book form.  I was also ignorant of another book, ‘Heatherley’, which is an account of her time in Grayshott.  Today I managed to find a copy on the shelves of my local library, so I am looking forward to reading it.

Flora Thompson died on 21 May 1947 and is buried in Dartmouth.

Bramshott Common by  Robin Webster, on
Bramshott Common by Robin Webster, on


2 months’ prison sentence for shop breaking

Perhaps it is just as well that it was not until Sunday that I discovered that FindMyPast were having a free weekend!  I might have got far too distracted otherwise…

As it was, with limited time, I decided to search some specific record collections, including Crime and Punishment.  Searching for the surname Buckingham in Oxfordshire, I came across William Buckingham, plasterer of Chipping Norton, who, in 1925, was sentenced to two months in prison for “shop breaking”.

I was particulary interested in the amount of physical description given:  I learnt that William was 5’ 9” with dark hair and brown eyes.  He had distinguising marks of a ‘heart, hand and sword’ on his right forearm (presumably a tatoo) and ‘clasped hands’ on his right wrist.  The description also noted “right foot deformed”.

I felt that, unfortunately, William was very likely to be one of ‘mine’, since I have Buckinghams who moved from the parish of Eynsham to Chipping Norton.  However, I couldn’t track him down on my tree, so I decided to do a bit of family reconstruction.

Working backwards I quickly discovered that he was the son of James and Mary Buckingham.  In 1911 and 1901 James is shown as a Brewery Maltster’s labourer in Chipping Norton.  The 1911 census was particularly revealing:  not only did it show that James and Mary had 15 children (!), but someone had also added in the ‘disability’ column for William “club foot from birth”.  Very helpful for verifying that I had the right person.  James had been born in Eynsham.  I went on to discover, working my way backwards, that James’ parents were William and Eliza Buckingham, with William having been born around 1810 in Combe, just north of Eynsham.  That was about as far as I was able to go with online records, but infuriatingly I cannot link these Buckinghams to mine, although they lived in the same places.  At some point, with more time, I must look carefully at the parish records.

Going back to the detailed 1911 census, however, I was intrigued to see that William’s brother and sister were both involved in tweed manufacturing, one as a ‘wool feeder’ and the other as a ‘wool steamer’.  Suddenly I realised that I had probably found the answer to a question raised in my mind every time we drive through Chipping Norton on our way to the Cotswolds.  A quick Google search confirmed it:  as you drive out of Chipping Norton on the A44 heading towards Moreton-in-Marsh, you cannot fail to see a large building which almost looks like a stately home, except for the extremely tall chimney.  It seems that this was the Bliss Tweed Mill, built in 1872 to process locally produced wool.  The chimney was for the furnace which powered the steam machinery used in the mill.  According to Wikipedia the mill did not close until 1980 and has now been converted into apartments.

Well, William it would seem chose not to follow his siblings into work at the mill but to learn the trade of a plasterer – a trade that he declared the intention of continuing in Oxford on his release from prison at the end of November 1925.  I hope you then went straight, William!

Chipping Norton
Bliss Tweed Mill Chipping Norton




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!