A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
Four Generations of the Eley Family
with the Baptist Churches
Leominster, Thornbury, Wotton-under-Edge,
Morton, Berkeley and Woodford
James Eley was born in about 1736 at Thornbury, the son of James and Elizabeth Eley. His father, James Eley I, was a tailor and he married his bride, Elizabeth Morgan, at Thornbury Parish Church on 21st April 1720. The Eleys were an established Thornbury family and there seems to be a line of James Eleys stretching back to the early sixteen hundreds although the surname is sometimes spelt Ely and perhaps even Eddys.
James Eley II was to be the only surviving son but an earlier James had been baptised at Thornbury Parish Church in 1727 and buried three years later. Their sister, Hannah, was baptised in 1724 making her twelve years older than her new baby brother. I have not found a baptism for baby James and I am beginning to wonder whether this may indicate that his parents had become Baptists.
His mother, Elizabeth, died when he was only eleven-years-old and his father died in 1754 when James was only eighteen. Hannah, the elder sister, had meanwhile married Richard Scarlett of Thornbury on 17th September 1747 at Wotton-under-Edge and they settled in Thornbury. No doubt they would have taken an interest in young James Eley after he had become an orphan. Richard Scarlett was a shopkeeper and at least three of their seven children were baptised at Thornbury Parish Church.
James Scarlett, baptised at Thornbury Parish Church, 4th July 1750
Elizabeth Scarlett, baptised at Thornbury Parish Church, 16th March 1753
Richard Scarlett, baptised at Thornbury Parish Church, 29th September 1756
George Scarlett, born 1761
Michael Scarlett, born 1764
Ely Scarlett, born 1765
On 20th June 1754, the death of James Eley I was formally proclaimed in the Thornbury Manorial Court and ‘his only son and heir’, James Eley II, claimed rights to his father’s property in Oldbury-on-Severn Tything.
On 22nd April 1756 Richard Scarlett of Thornbury, shopkeeper, and his wife, Hannah, appeared before Thornbury Manorial Court. As a result £43 was paid by John Rudge, of Thornbury, gentleman, for ‘all that messuage or tenement and water grist mill with appurtenances lying and being in the tything of Morton and late in tenure or occupation of James Eley deceased, late father of the said Hannah, and now of the said Richard Scarlett, his tenants and assigns, together with all outhouses, buildings, barns, stables, gardens, orchards, ways, waters, watercourses, commons, profits and appurtenances …’
On 18th November 1756 James Eley, the younger, who was described, like his father, as a tailor of Thornbury, came to the Manorial Court and was licensed to the demise at Oldbury:
‘one close of meadow or pasture land called Shadows, by estimation 3 acres; one other close of meadow or pasture land called Shadows by estimation 2 acres; one close or meadow or pasture land called the Pools estimated at 2 acres; one close of meadow or pasture land called Stotts Close estimated at 8 acres; one acre of ground lying in common meadow called Stone Yard – all in Oldbury. The two closes called Pools and Stone Yard were from 13th February next; the three acres called Shadows and Stotts Close from 15th April next; the messuage or tenement with Barkside (sic), garden and orchard and the other part of Shadows from 14th May for seven years.’
James Eley was again confirmed as tenant of the property in Oldbury at the Thornbury Manorial Court on 16th March 1758. Nine months later on 19th October he surrendered this to Daniel Bennett for the sum of £105. Clearly something was afoot!
In January 1760, aged twenty-four-years, James Eley was working as an Exciseman and we find him mentioned in the Excise Office records as posted as a Supernumerary at Ledbury. This was probably only a temporary position because, by 1762, James Eley was married and living at Pembridge, Herefordshire.
Meanwhile we discover that James Eley had returned to Thornbury in February 1760 for his marriage to Ann Taylor. The bride was one of the five daughters of a yeoman farmer of Morton and Oldbury-on-Severn, James Taylor and his wife Mary. It is interesting to note that the bridegroom is still considered a bachelor of ‘this parish’.
Thornbury Parish Church Registers:
‘Marriage between James Eley & Ann Taylor on the 10th day of February 1760 by me William Forbes Vicar. The said James Eley of this Parish batchelor (sic) and Ann Taylor of this Parish spinster were married in this Church by Licence this tenth day of February in the Year One Thousand Seven Hundred and Sixty by me William Forbes Vicar. signed by both in the presence of James Taylor and Andrew Whitefield’
The young couple took up residence at “The Broad Stone”, Pembridge, near to The New Inn, and it was here that their eldest son, James Eley III, was born on 17th April 1762. Pembridge is a delightful village some eight miles west of Leominster, with many ‘black and white’ houses, with overhanging storeys and striking timbering. The 13th century New Inn overlooks an old open Market Hall, said to have been the earliest centre for the sale of Hereford Cattle. The church just across the road has a detached stone campanile, with diminishing wooden upper storeys giving it something of the appearance of an eastern pagoda. This sturdy structure no doubt afforded a refuge in the days of border raids.
Many years later, in 1808, this son made a nostalgic visit to Pembridge and wrote the following about the place of his birth:
‘Dinner ended Saml Gwilliam and myself by previous agreement mounted our nags and rode off for Pembridge, a distance of 7 miles, nothing material happened on the way, but the recollection of places and old scenes furnished us with topics of conversation – we passed by the field where Molly Parry was murdered – arriving at Pembridge we rode up to Mr. Wildings, who is removed from Clearbrook, having sold that estate for two thousand pounds more than he gave for it – he is fitting up the house where he now lives in a very comfortable style – Isaac Collier who is at work there told him we were coming to see him but when we arrived he was not in the house – we walked back along the street to find him – we met opposite the house called the Broad Stone. A little girl was standing at the door – This, says I, is the house where I was born, I must go in and see it – without any ceremony we passed the girl and entered the house, and on seeing the parlour door open, I ran in exclaiming, this is the very spot of my nativity, they all followed and having minutely surveyed the room, we left the house and the girl too, wondering I suppose what sort of fellows we were – this was a little indecorous but I was formerly acquainted with the man that lives at the house – tho’ he was not at home…’
In 1764 James Eley II was appointed as office keeper at Leominster. James Eley seems to have moved from Pembridge in the 1760s to occupy a house near to the Castle field in Leominster, where further children were born. From 1770 until 1772 James Eley II was working on the Birmingham ride. In 1771 he was both living in Leominster and doing the Leominster and Hereford rides. In 1808 when his son, James Eley III, returned to Leominster to visit old haunts, he wrote in his Journal:
‘We then turned the corner and bore away full swing for Leominster – several local circumstances now presented themselves to my mind – at Wharton I said to myself “there is the Lugg, the banks of which I have so often trodden in my juvenile days, when following the amusement of Angling – and that’s the house to which my dear parents, now no more, once sent me, to bring home a basket of apples,” thus were my thoughts occupied as in a pleasing dream when the coach stopped and I was set down at the door of the Red Lion, Broad Street…’
‘Left Mr. Kiplin’s about eight and took a walk to the bottom of Etnam Street, and down the midsummer meadows where once grew a very long row of the largest Poplars I ever saw, by the side of the pleasantly gliding Pinsley. These alas! are all cut down, and I said with Cowper “The Poplars are felled and adieu to the shade.” Saw a new bridge thrown over the Lug as you are going into the midsummer meadows, similar to the one at the Priory – went through the Castle field and had a sight of the old House, where we once lived, The Garden, Poplar tree and bower, where I have spent many a playful hour, free from all anxiety and care – leaving this once favourite spot, which was not even without its charms, I went by the Quaker’s meeting along Turnbole Street, up Beast Street, and so home – supped – committed ourselves to the protection of the Divine Being and retired to bed about eleven.’
In all James and Ann Eley had eleven children between the years 1760 and 1779. Their eldest son, James Eley III, became apprenticed to a Mr Sayer or Sayers, of Leominster and it was presumably in his shop, opposite the Red Lion in Broad Street, that he trained to be a staymaker. Dipping again into the pages of James Eley’s Journal of 1808 we can glean a few more details of the boy’s apprenticeship:
‘I was set down at the door of the Red Lion, Broad Street, exactly opposite the house of my former residence – on turning my eye I saw my old master looking through the shop window – I immediately crossed and went in, thus accosting the old gentleman “how do you do, sir?” Mr Sayer, with great civility, returned the compliment – on this I said “You do not know me”. He replied, “No Sir I do not”, expressing my astonishment and he still remaining insensible, I told him my name. Mrs. Sayers, who was in the next room, hearing the name of Eley, like an arrow shot from a bow, ran out and seizing me by the hand both welcomed me most cordially and kindly – had breakfast and after an hour’s chat took a stroll to see if anyone would know me – called first on Mrs. Higgins, with whom the family used to be very intimate. She took me for a traveller, and thought I had called on her for an order. When I undeceived her she appeared surprised, and with a great deal of friendship in her manner, invited me to tea – from thence went up the High Street and at the Iron cross asked a lad where Abraham Roe (who was a fellow apprentice) lived. At this instant Lawyer Nicholls, who very politely said “Walk with me Sir and I will show you.” “your name is Nicholls I presume, Sir.” “Yes, but I have no knowledge of you.” I told him I was a son of Mr. Eley’s – he then remembered me very well – went into Abraham Roe’s who was immedeatly (sic) called, he came but did not know me, notwithstanding we had lived almost seven years together. On telling him my name, he shook hands and insisted I should spend one whole day at his house.’
William Steadman’s ‘Memoir’ of 1838 offers us some clues about the education that James Eley III may have received as Steadman mentions that ‘he was a school fellow of mine.’ We know the following about Steadman’s education so it is probable that James Eley was taught by Mr. Joshua Jones too:
‘Owing to the poverty of my father, this was all the schooling I had till I was about eleven years of age, when my aunt, who had kept my father’s house from the death of my mother, and who had performed numberless acts of kindness to me, was at the expense of my education for some months, at different times, with Mr. Joshua Jones; and a few years afterwards, when I was nearly grown up, my eldest brother paid for two quarter’s schooling, to a Mr. Price at Leominster, to whom I was chiefly to improve myself in writing, in order to qualify me for teaching a school.’
James and Ann Eley endured sadness in Leominster and they lost five of their children, three of them in infancy. The eldest child, Ann, died aged twenty-five years, Elizabeth aged three, the elder Thomas aged one year, Mary aged two, and Isaac aged nine. Three of the surviving children, Thomas, Mary and Sarah were to remain single whilst James, Elizabeth and Hannah were all to marry.
P.R.O. Nonconformist Registers from Herefordshire transcribed by M.A. Faraday in 1970
P.R.O. R.G.4 730 & 731:
Ann Eley born 11th November 1760. Died 29th May 1785
James Eley born 17th April 1762
Elizabeth Eley born 30th October 1763. Died 11th March 1768
Thomas Eley born 21st February 1765. Died 28th May 1766
Mary Eley born 14th November 1766. Died 12th March 1768
Thomas Eley born 14th February 1769
Elizabeth Eley born 6th December 1770
Mary Eley born 21st November 1772
Hannah Eley born 18th March 1775
Sarah Eley born 11th September 1777
Isaac Eley born 1st February 1779. Died 6th November 1788
Sadness was not confined to Leominster but a succession of devastating news came from Thornbury between the autumn of 1765 and the spring of 1766. Smallpox struck and James Eley’s sister and brother-in-law both fell victim. We read in the Thornbury Parish registers:
Hannah Scarlett died on 13th October 1765 aged 42 years and was buried on 16th October 1765 at Thornbury.
Richard Scarlett died on 25th March 1766 of Smallpox, aged 45 years. He was buried on 27th March 1766 at Thornbury.
Michael Scarlett died on 4th April 1766 of Smallpox. He was buried at Thornbury on 5th April 1766 aged two years.
With the deaths of his sister and her husband, James Eley II must have felt some responsibility for their surviving children. Somebody must have arranged for their upbringing and there would seem to be no obvious relative left in Thornbury to do so. One of the nephews, James Scarlett, was fifteen when his parents died and in later life he became Clerk in The Secretary’s Extra Office in the East India House and lived at Brown’s Lane, in the Parish of Christ Church, Spitalfields, London. He remained very close to his Eley cousins for all of his life and when in 1808 James Eley III paid his visit to the land of his birth his cousin was twice mentioned in conversation.
‘He (Mr Wilding of Pembridge) enquired for my brothers and sisters by name, asked about Mr. Scarlett, and strictly charged me to tell them all that Old Mercury was still alive – he likewise made me give him the direction to Brown’s Lane, for being in London last summer he very much regretted the lack of it, he would most certainly give them a call as he was intending to go up again in a few weeks’
‘Mr. And Mrs. Sayers gave me an invitation to pay them a future visit, begged I would write to them and desired their love to my wife and family – Brothers – sisters – Mr. Scarlett – Mrs. Shepherd and family, etc, etc.’
Perhaps we can conclude from this that James Scarlett actually stayed with them in Leominster for a time before going up to London. It is conceivable that James Scarlett became a clerk of the East India Company through a connection with Thomas Rous of Wotton-under-Edge. Rous went up to London in about 1736 and like his uncle joined the Salters’ Company. In either 1748 or 1749 he was elected to the court of Directors of the East India Company. He held this position for more than twenty years and was three times chosen as chairman. He died in 1771 but two of his sons continued to have involvement with the Company.
The younger surviving son of James and Ann Eley was Thomas who was also an apprentice to Mr Sayer before becoming an exciseman like his father. Eventually he retired from London to live in Wotton-under-Edge with his sisters Mary and Sarah Eley. James Scarlett seems to have joined them and when he made his will in 1807 he referred to his ‘dear cousin Mary Eley (daughter of my Uncle James Eley who died at Thornbury in Gloucestershire)’ and he charged her to give his fiddle case, violin, deal bow and Ainsworth’s Latin Dictionary to his cousin, Thomas Eley.
Returning to the life of James Eley II we cannot be sure when he first became a Strict or Particular Baptist and it is perhaps interesting that the Scarletts seem to have remained Anglican. To date I have not found evidence for James Eley II’s adult baptism. It could have taken place back in Thornbury where the earliest surviving roll only dates back to about 1790. We do know the following details about the church there:
Extract from “250 years Thornbury Baptist Church 1747-1997”:
‘The Church began in 1747, when a Certificate was obtained from the Bishop of Gloucester to hold Baptist services in the house of John Rawlings. The certificate granted under the Toleration Act of 1689, allowed nonconformists to hold services without molestation, provided the doors were unlocked. The Certificate was renewed in 1752 for the house of John Whitefield and in 1789 for our original Church building on the present site, or for which the conveyance is in our Church safe. We are described as ‘Protestant Dissenters, called Baptists’.’
Thornbury is not far from Bristol and it is possible that the Eleys may have had connections with the Broadmead Baptist Church. Broadmead Baptist church was the mother church of the Baptist church in Bristol. The church was established in the 1640’s under the influence of one Dorothy Hazzard who assisted in the defence of the city during the Royalist siege. A popular preacher involved with Broadmead was Thomas Ewins who has helped set up several Baptist churches in Wales. His preaching in Bristol attracted the attention of the authorities and he was locked up in Newgate gaol. He and several other Baptist ministers were baptised at what is now known as Baptist Mills in Easton in 1667. The original meeting house was opened in 1695.
All that we can say with any certainty is that James Eley must have been baptised before he came to Leominster, as there is no reference to the event in the church roll there. The Baptist Church in Ledbury is modern and was only opened in 1831. The Leominster Baptist Church was much older than that at Thornbury and the Reverend J. Cole wrote about this period in its life in his brief history, which he compiled in 1906 to mark the 250th anniversary of the church:
Rev Joshua Thomas (died August 25th 1797, aged 78 years). ‘When the Rev. Rees Evans determined to leave Leominster for Salop, he urgently pressed Mr. Thomas to come to Leominster and occupy the pulpit on the first Sunday after his departure. Mr. Thomas consented, and on October 7th, 1753, he preached his first sermon here. The Church at this time consisted of only 14 members. He, however, did not become the settled pastor till November 1754. In order to maintain himself and his family, he kept a day school to augment his stipend, which naturally must have been small.
He was a man of fine abilities and of a fine Christian spirit, but he was of a dogged, determined disposition, and whatever he took in hand he would accomplish at any cost. During his ministry of 47 years he added about 110 members, but the deaths and removals were not a few. He filled up many a blank in the old Church book, and added much useful information. He also wrote a history of the Baptist Church at Olchen, a history of the Welsh Baptists, and collected a fair amount of information about the early history of the English Baptist Churches. He compiled a list of the members of the Leominster Church from its formation, giving the names and characters of most of them, with their birth places, their families, and when they died, thus showing how hard he laboured in the pulpit and outside it. His history of the Welsh Baptists was published in four volumes, but these have long been out of print.
It has justly been said of him, “He was a man of clear understanding, strong in judgement, wide in knowledge, a sincere Christian, a true friend, and an earnest and faithful preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” During his pastorate the present Chapel was erected with the Manse. At the opening of the Chapel in 1772 two sermons were preached by the Revs. Caleb Evans, of Bristol, and Benjamin Francis. He finished his course on August 25th 1797.
We may refer to one noble brother who began his Christian life in Leominster, and was baptised by Mr. Thomas, namely, Dr. William Steadman (1764-1837). Apparently he was a native of Eardisland, a village about six miles from Leominster, and was baptised when quite a young man, on April the 16th, 1784… (He became a distinguished minister)
We ought also to refer to a noted sister of the Church, Mrs. Mary Marlow (died December 9th 1778, aged 87), who was baptised…in 1729… In 1771 she bought a strip of land adjoining that given by Mr. John Davies in 1692, giving it to the Baptist Church. She then built the present Chapel, with the minister’s house, also two cottages for aged and needy widows or spinsters belonging to the Church and congregation, and enclosed the whole with a brick wall, at her own expense. She also bought three cottages adjoining her father’s little estate at Dilwyn, bequeathing the whole to the Baptist Church for the Minister’s salary. In addition to this she left a sum of about £8 yearly to be divided yearly between the poor of six parishes; also to the Baptist and Dilwyn Schools. She died in 1778, held in high esteem by all denominations, and lamented by the poor whom she had succoured and comforted. Her remains were interred in the Baptist burial ground, with a suitable tombstone to mark the spot; there is also a tablet to her memory in the Chapel. She left charities for nearly forty other Baptist Churches in Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Shropshire… Her good deeds like Mary’s ointment, are still fragrant.
After Mr Thomas’s death the church was without a pastor for about twelve months. Then Mr. Samuel Kilpin, a student from Bristol College, was unanimously chosen pastor in 1799, and was ordained here on June 27th of that year, Dr Ryland being present. Mr. Kilpin was a native of Bedford, and a member of the Church of which John Bunyan was pastor. He came for eight weeks as a probationer; he afterwards served the Church for six months, and at the expiration of that time there was a unanimous invitation to the pastorate. He accepted, and was pastor for 13 years; he then moved to Exeter. His life is published by the Religious Tract Society.’
We know that James Eley II became a Member of Leominster Baptist Church on 29th August 1762 – as shown by an entry in their Roll. We also know that his wife, Ann Eley, was baptised – as an adult – at Leominster on 20 September 1764. In the Church Meeting of October 1777 James was proposed as a Deacon of the Church along with Joseph Wyke and they were to serve alongside the existing Deacon, Jn Adams. This appointment was confirmed and James Eley II became a Deacon of Leominster Baptist Church on 1st January 1778. On 22nd September 1789, his name again appears in a newly compiled list of members – still as one of the three Deacons. No other record of his name appears in the Church Roll until his removal to Banbury some time later.
When James Eley’s son returned to Leominster for his visit of 1808 he eluded to various people that are mentioned in the extracts above from Pastor Cole’s history:
‘Mr. Kilpin – he eyed me through the parlour window, came to the door and said “Brother Eley, come in, come in.” Both he and Mrs. Kiplin treated me with great kindness, and invited me to dine with them on the morrow, which invitation I accepted.’
‘I went to Mr. Kiplin’s to Dinner, which was made up of veal, ham and tarts. After dinner came Mr. Prosser, a merry hearted blade, and smoked his pipe with us, with which we drank some very excellent bottled Perry, made of the Longlon pear, growing on Dilwyn estate (Dilwyn estate belongs to the meeting)’
‘From thence I went into the body of the church, walked round the aisles, and saw a table of benefactions two or three bequests of the late Mrs. Marlow, one of which is thirteen shillings and tenpence yearly to the poor of the Baptist meeting of this town.’
‘On looking round the meeting, a degree of melancholy came across my mind, and these words instantly occurred – “Your Fathers, where are they, and the Prophets – do they live for ever?” the venerable Thomas gone whose instructive voice has so often charmed my ears and warmed my heart – most of the families with whom I used to worship are now no more, and scarcely a pew with its old inhabitants.’
‘Thro the burying yard where I saw once more the graves of some dear departed friends, such as Mr. and Mrs. Thomas, Mrs. Nicholls their daughter – Mr. and Mrs. Adams, Hester and poor old Mary, who had been dead about 10 weeks, and Michael Dukes, all of whom in their day were valuable members of the church, but these with many others I trust are now entered into the rest which is prepared for the people of God.’
‘The Memoir of Reverend William Steadman D.D., Pastor of the First Baptist Church, Bradford’ by his son Thomas Steadman was published in 1838. Within this volume are a number of references to the Eley Family. As we have already discovered Dr. William Steadman (1764-1837) was a native of Eardisland and was baptised when quite a young man, on April the 16th, 1784. Steadman was encouraged by Mr. Thomas to take up preaching.
‘In this state of my venerable pastor asked me a question that excited some surprise, ‘William’ said he, ‘I can ask you a question which I would not venture to ask everyone; have you never any thought of preaching?.’
The story of Steadman’s early attempts at preaching was also taken up in the Baptist Magazine August 1838, page 337: ‘The Early Years of the Late Rev. W. Steadman, D.D.’ Here we find our first Eley reference:
‘However, from this time I surmounted the difficulty, and attended the meetings preparatory to the Lord’s Supper, the monthly prayer-meetings for the spread of the gospel, then for the first time set-up, and also the conference on the Lord’s day morning. That meeting was attended by few; Mr. James Eley, Mr. Samuel Nichols, and myself, were the speakers. As they were aware that the meeting was set on foot with a view to my preaching, these good men left me room to speak. I experienced more liberty than I had anticipated, and the result was, as I afterwards learned, their conviction that I should be a preacher. Not long afterwards the church was consulted by my pastor, and I was requested to exercise at the preparation-meetings, instead of the address usually delivered by the pastor. I complied; and the first of these was on Saturday, the 26th of October, 1787…’
‘The Memoir’ includes a letter from William Steadman to a Mrs Winter, dated 21st December 1826, which refers to his son, James, who had settled in Buenos Ayres:
‘He and a few more have a prayer-meeting at a Mrs. Tate’s. a pious old lady, who rejoiced greatly to see him and said, ‘I heard your father preach at Leominster, and he was entertained at my old friend Eley’s.’ This must have been thirty-six, or seven, years ago, as Mr. Eley had left Leominster nearly as long ago as that.’
Elsewhere in ‘The Memoir’, Steadman reflects on his first preaching experiences in Leominster:
‘Had I then experienced such barrenness and such embarrassments in preaching as I have many times since, I am ready to think I should have been discouraged and have given up the work. This was well known to my great Master, and he, in tender mercy, kept me from such great trials. I also have great reason to acknowledge the kind indulgence of those who heard me, and feel gratified when the names of Thomas, Eley, Adams, Knill and Nicholls, of several pious women, and of many others, all of whom are now gone to the other world, pass over my heart.’
Returning to the career of James Eley II, the Excise Office records suggest that he fulfilled a number of different duties during this period but it is difficult to imagine that he would have remained a Deacon if he had not put in an appearance fairly frequently to fulfil his diaconal duties at Leominster, particularly in an era when members were expelled for not properly living up to expected standards as Church members.
H.M. Customs and Excise Records: Minutes of the Excise Board (Customs 47 Series):
Customs 47/227: Wednesday 2nd January 1760. Francis Bellingham, Officer Ledbury 20 Ride, Hereford Collection, rendered incapable of doing business in the Excise and desiring the charity as by his letter of the 29th ult ordered that he have leave to qualify for the same, that the Supernumerary or proper officer supply the vacancy and that James Eley be Supernumerary by order of the Board.
Customs 47/248: 15th November 1764. That James Eley, Officer of Leominster 20 Ride, Hereford Collection, be Office Keeper there.
Customs 47/271: 8th March 1770. That John Eley, Officer at Leominster 20 Ride, Hereford Collection, be Officer of the New Division of Birmingham 16th.
Customs 47/272: Wednesday 9th May 1770. That James Eley, late Officer of Leominster 2nd Division and private Office Keeper at Leominster being removed to Birmingham ordered that John Harrison officer at Leominster (1st Division?) be officekeeper there in his stead, as proposed by Mr Symons collectors letter of the 17th inst.
Customs 47/278: August 14 1771. John Anderton (or Anderson) officer of Kington District Hereford Collection disguised in liquor every day carried off £4-19-0d in coach & plate duty & bjoles (??). John Eley of Birmingham 12th Division Lichfield Collection succeed him and that William Draycott officer of Pevrensny (??) 20 Ride Coventry Collection succeed Eley on Mr Bagot’s motion.
The remainder is the result of some rather rushed research in 1979!
Thursday 30th July 1772: J.Wilson, officer of Leominster 3rd District, Hereford Collection to be examiner or head of board. James Eley to succeed him.
Friday 31st July 1772: John Bowen to Birmingham 13, Lichfield District, to succeed James Eley.
Wednesday 11th September 1782: James Eley of Leominster 3rd district – Hop (?) superintendent in Hereford collection in room of Wm Prosser who is ill.
Friday 24th September 1784: Robert Dickenson to come off Leominster 2nd District, Hereford Collection and to go to Worksop. James Eley, officer of Leominster 3rd District, to succeed him at his own request. John Phillips, Officer of Usk 1st ride, Wales East collection, to succeed Ely on Head of the Board.
Tuesday 7th February 1790: John Harris private office keeper in Leominster removed. James Eley to succeed.
Friday 9th April 1790: Wm Garbitt, officer of Leominster 1st division, Hereford Collection, because of age and infirmities to qualify for charity. James Eley, officer of Leominster 2nd division to succeed him.
Saturday 10th July 1790: Thomas Martin at sign of Union, Leominster to be office keeper there in room of James Eley.
Friday 30th May 1794: James Eley, officer of Leominster 1st division to be officer of Hereford 3rd division. To be replaced by Roger James of Bromyard, Hereford collection.
Monday 7th September 1795: James Griffiths, private office keeper at Hereford be removed. James Eley ordered to succeed. Proposed Samuel Harman to collect, by letter of 5th.
The Hereford Collection covered a very wide area, and the references to Rides implies that they were just that, as the Officers would ride around a district on horseback, and until the move to Banbury it was perhaps possible for James to remain centred on Leominster. No doubt when he went to the new Birmingham 16th Collection it was recognised as being a more or less temporary appointment, and indeed he was in Leominster again in just over two years. Even so commuting to and from Birmingham and Lichfield for a couple of years over eighteenth century roads would have been a daunting prospect.
James and Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth Eley, who was born in 1770 was baptised on 25th July 1790 at Leominster Baptist Church and the Church Roll records that she was later removed. Her younger sister, Mary was also baptised at Leominster on 25th December 1794.
In 1796, at the age of sixty, James Eley II was appointed to Banbury, Oxon. The present Baptist Church at Banbury was founded too late for James Eley to have belonged to it. However, it has been noticed that in the returns made by Dr. John Evans early in the eighteenth century and lodged at Dr. William’s Library, that there is a note concerning a General Baptist Church serving the area at that time and also there was an independent church in Banbury founded in 1787.
According to Ken Marling (letter dated 12th May 1979) there is at Leominster Baptist Church an undated list of ‘Members at a distance’, recording the following details:
James Eley – Deacon- removed to Banbury, Oxon. (died at his son’s Thornbury 1802)
Ann Eley – to Banbury Died B. July 1799.
Elizabeth is marked as ‘London’
We know from the Excise Records that James Eley retired from the Excise Service on 28th July 1799 aged sixty-three-years and it was clearly the death of Ann Eley at Banbury which prompted James to leave this employment after nearly forty years service.
H.M. Customs and Excise Records: Minutes of the Excise Board (Customs 47 Series):
Thursday 4th February 1796: William Minton, officer of Banbury 1st Division, Oxon Collection, dead (letter of 29th Rice James super.) James Eley of Hereford 3rd, Hereford Collection to succeed him.
18th April 1796: Thomas Crewe of 3rd division to be new private office keeper at Hereford.
Wednesday 31st July 1799: James Eley, officer of Banbury 1st division, Oxon Collection, through age and infirmities rendered incapable of performing the duty of an officer as by letter 28th instant from Samuel Harman, collector, to relinquish and qualify for charity. Joseph Choran (?) of Cleobury (?) 1st Ride to succeed him on head of board.’
His daughter, Mary Eley, was removed and dismissed from Leominster Baptist Church on May 5th 1799 to attend ‘Mr Booth’s Church’. This meant that all the Eleys had now left Leominster. This entry presumably refers to Abraham Booth (1734-1806) who was the pastor of the Prescot Street Church in London:
A.C. Underwood, A History of the English Baptists, 1947, page 166, 179-180:
Abraham Booth (1734-1806) was the pastor of the Prescot Street Church for over thirty years. The son of a Nottinghamshire farmer, he was a convert of the Midland Evangelical Revival and ministered to one of the churches which entered the New Connexion of General Baptists. He changed his views and became a Calvinist, publishing his sermons under the title ‘The Reign of Grace’ (1768). This secured his call to the Prescot Street Church which ordained him. It has often been said that he went over from Arminianism to an extreme Calvinism. This is a mistake…
Booth’s career was a remarkable one for a man who used to say he had a wife and family before he knew anything of the theory of English grammar… He lived economically and was able to help unostentatiously many needy persons and causes. He counselled Ivimey, to whom he gave a plain meal in the kitchen, to be careful how he invited people to dine and to take tea. “If you do not take care, my friend, you will spend twenty pounds a year at your tea-table,” he said. On the other hand, when a woman belonging to his church left him a legacy and he found out that there were poor relations of hers surviving, he quietly went to the Bank of England and transferred the whole amount to them…’
David Woodruff, the Librarian of the Strict Baptist Historical Society has carried out research and discovered the following details:
‘Taking the churches that your ancestors were connected with, the only one that we have any information about is Little Prescot Street in London. We have checked the minute book up to 1806 and this contains the following:
Church Meeting March 20, 1799. Mary Ely, a Member of a Sister Church at Leominster, late under the pastoral care of Mr Thomas, deceased, being desirous of having full communion with us, our Brethren Arnett and Garness were appointed to converse with her.
Church Meeting April 24, 1799. Mary Ely, having satisfied our Messengers, relative to her faith and experience, it was agreed, That our Pastor be requested to make application to the baptised Church at Leominster for her Dismission.
Church Meeting May 22, 1799. A Letter from the baptised Church at Leominster, late under the pastoral care of Mr Joshua Thomas, dismissing Mary Ely to full communion with us, being read; it was agreed that she should be received upon that Dismission.
Lord’s Day June 2, 1799. James Tuck & Benjamin Colls, Ann Hill, Martha Willis, Mary Ely, Martha Sharp & Jane Roberts, were received into communion
This is the only reference to an El(e)y in this book. There are no references to Scarlett.’
When James Eley II retired from Banbury he went to live with his son James Eley III (who wrote the Journal) at Thornbury where he died in 1803.
We also know that on 19th April 1787 James Eley III had married his first cousin, Elizabeth Greenwood, at Thornbury. At the time of his marriage the young James was only twenty-five-years-old and his bride a year younger. Both were described as ‘of this Parish’. Elizabeth was the second of the eleven children of William and Mary Greenwood, he being a baker of Thornbury. Her mother, Mary, was a sister of Ann Eley. This meant that Elizabeth was a niece of James Eley’s parents and her husband was a nephew of Elizabeth’s parents. The witnesses at the wedding were the bride’s sisters – Hannah Greenwood, and Mary Shepherd (not her sister!), John Shepherd and Sarah Nelson (sp?).
Walter Eley, his grandson, wrote the following about James Eley III in 1907:
‘My grandfather was apprenticed to a Mr. Sawyer (sic), a Stay Maker whose shop was situated opposite the Red Lion, Broad Street, Leominster. I have papers showing these articles were made by him for customers. He was 28 years of age when he left Leominster in 1790. I am unable to find the reason for his settling at Thornbury, it may have been Mr. Scarlett who was our family solicitor.’
If we are to believe Walter then the younger James Eley was still working in Leominster until 1790 but this seems highly unlikely as he was involved in the erection of the new Baptist Church at Thornbury two years before that date. The 1808 Journal offers an insight into the joy that James Eley III felt on returning to his native Leominster but it is clear from it that he had lost contact with former friends and acquaintances after his move to Thornbury.
‘The Memoir of the Rev William Steadman D.D.’, a former school friend, offers us some useful information:
‘On the 20th of August 1788, I set out, on foot, being unable to travel in a more expensive way and that evening reached Ross, a distance of nearly thirty miles. On the morrow I arrived at Eastwood, a farmhouse within two miles of Thornbury, a town eleven miles north of Bristol. There I met with a very hospitable reception from Mr. Thomas Shepherd and his family, to whom I had been previously known, at least by name, and who had been appraised of my coming. I felt thankful to my preserver; for though to accustomed travellers such a journey may appear little, to me who had never before been thirty miles from home, a journey of upwards of sixty miles, fifty of them through strange country, was a formidable undertaking.
At Thornbury was a small Baptist Church, which then met in a private house, and had for its pastor Mr. Thomas Biwicks, a plain, pious man, who resided in part of the forest of Kingswood, a distance of nine or ten miles. He preached three Lord’s days out of four; the fourth was supplied by students from the Bristol Academy. Mr. James Eley, then a young man, son of one of our deacons at Leominster, and formerly a school fellow of mine, resided at Thornbury, and was one of the most active and useful members of the church. Knowing of my coming, he engaged me to supply instead of a student, which I did, preaching twice on the Lord’s day, and on the following Monday evening; though it is a strange place, and amongst strange people, I experienced much liberty. On Tuesday afternoon, August 26th, I walked to Bristol.’
So it seems likely that James Eley III was already settled in Thornbury at the time of his marriage and it is probable that he and his young family were already living at the Corner House on the Plain by the time that Grandfather moved from Banbury to join them in 1799. From as early as 26th June 1789 James Eley III was described as a ‘Staymaker of Thornbury’ so the Corner House would have been his business premises. By the time of his death in 1831 we know from wills that James Eley III owned two adjoining properties on The Plain.
The young couple had seven children who were born during the lifetime of James Eley II, their grandfather, and two more afterwards:
Martha Eley, born 13th January 1788
James Eley, died on 5th September 1794 aged 4 years
Selina Eley, born 28th August 1791, died on 12th June 1810.
Thomas Eley, born 14th January 1794
Ann Eley, born 20th March 1796, died 2nd December 1823
Elizabeth Eley, born 12th October 1798
Mary Eley, died 14th May 1822 aged 21 years
James Eley, died 24th October 1803 aged 5 months
James Eley, born 31st October 1805
As has been said the Eley Family was involved with the provision of a new Baptist Church for Thornbury. Certainly a Baptist Church existed in the town from as early as 1747 and we also know the following details about its early history:
Extract from “250 years Thornbury Baptist Church 1747-1997”:
‘The Church began in 1747, when a Certificate was obtained from the Bishop of Gloucester to hold Baptist services in the house of John Rawlings… The Certificate was renewed in 1752 for the house of John Whitefield and in 1789 for our original Church building on the present site, or for which the conveyance is in our Church safe. We are described as ‘Protestant Dissenters, called Baptists’.
Our first Church book is an account book which begins in 1793 by stating that Thomas Bissicks had died; he had been Minister for about 40 years. His name appears on the first Certificate in 1747, so he could well have been Minister from the beginning, or one of the Elders of the fellowship, who was regarded as the Pastor. After his death, there was an arrangement for many years, 1793-1832, with the Bristol Baptist Academy, to send out preachers, and the Rev. Feribee from Chipping Sodbury came once every two months, when a Communion service was held. The accounts mention expenses for candles and paying for the horse at the Inn. In 1797 a vestry was erected at a cost of £30.2.4d; the meeting house enlarged in 1806 for £17.13s.1d and a baptistery built in 1811 for £1.2s.7d. In 1834 there was a decision to enlarge the church…
It is of interest to note that our Baptist Chapel was built in 1789, the same year as the (Cossham Hall) Methodist Chapel, and may well have been completed at the time of Wesley’s 4th visit to Thornbury. The first stone of the Baptist Meeting House in Gillingstool, Thornbury was laid by J. Eley Esq. on August 15th 1788 and the building was opened for Public Worship by the Rev. Caleb Evans, M.A. on May 27th 1789.’
From the above we can see that the Eley Family was closely involved and either James Eley II or his son, James Eley III, then aged only twenty-seven-years, laid the foundation stone in 1788. There are further details concerning the family to be found in the church records too. On 27th June 1789 James Eley signed a deed conveying to the Baptist Church its first piece of land. The application for the registration of Thornbury Baptist Church was dated 28th July 1789 and signed by James Eley, Daniel Read, Wm Read, John Shepherd and Thomas Shepherd. This Registration was granted on 1st August 1789.
It was perhaps because there was no resident minister in Thornbury, after the death of Mr Bissicks in 1793, that James and Elizabeth decided to take six of their young children to Wotton-under-Edge Baptist Church for registration. Two other grandchildren were also registered in the same way:
Selina, Thomas and Ann Eley on 17th November 1796
Elizabeth Eley on 29th October 1798
Mary Eley on 24th March 1805
James Eley on 7th December 1805.
Eli or Eley Bruton on 30th March 1804.
Maria Foxwell on 9th April 1806.
Again the Baptist Church in Wotton-under-Edge has a long history and members of the Eley Family and their descendents were to worship there until the late 1880s.
Website – Wotton-under-Edge Baptist Church:
The Baptist Church in Wotton is situated in the Ropewalk. The present building was erected in 1816, although the original church in Wotton was built, according to documentary evidence, in the year 1717, and a Baptist ministry has been maintained since that date.
The original 1717 church and graveyard were situated on Ludgate Hill on the site previously occupied by Katharine Lady Berkeley’s Grammar School). From that time until well into the twentieth century it was known as “The Particular Baptist Church of Christ”. This means that membership was strictly limited to “totally immersed (baptised)” members only. There is in existence a document dated about 1849 printed by Robert Presley of Wotton-under-Edge entitled “The Confession of Faith and Covenant of the Particular Baptist Church of Christ, Wotton-under-Edge”, which stipulates that there must be a closed membership of the church of “baptised believers” only. Today the church is affiliated to the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland. There is an historic Minute Book of Church Meetings.’
Turning to the other children of James Eley II we know that in November 1799 one of his daughters, Elizabeth, married John Bruton at Thornbury and their two eldest children, James and Ann were born in 1800 and 1802 during the lifetime of their grandfather. The third child, Eli or Eley, was born in 1804 and George, the fourth child, was born in 1807. John and Elizabeth Bruton became members of Thornbury Baptist Church and in the fullness of time all of their children would be as well. The eldest, James Bruton became a Deacon and Sunday school superintendent.
It was in the church on Ludgate Hill that Hannah Foxwell, a daughter of James Eley II, was baptised on 17th May 1801. Hannah’s marriage to Joseph Foxwell, a weaver of Sinwell, took place at Wotton-under-Edge Parish Church on 25th June 1805, after the death of her father. The Foxwells had at least seven children and these included Maria, who was born in 1806 and later married Richard Presley, mentioned in the historical note above. He was a printer and bookseller of Wotton-under-Edge, who specialized in religious books and hymnology. An advertisement showing ecumenical breadth in his own Household Almanac of 1875:
Hymns for Public Worship from 1d. (Used at Wotton-under-Edge & Charfield Churches.)
New Congregational Hymn Book with Supplement from ¼ (Used At Wotton-under-Edge Tabernacle.)
Ditto without Supplement from 1/- (Used at Wotton-under-Edge Old Town Chapel, Nibley Tabernacle and Kingswood Chapel.)
Hymns Ancient & Modern From 2 ½d with Tunes, from 11d. (Used at Nibley, The Ridge and Alderley Churches.)
Kemble’s Hymns from 3d. (Used at Kingswood Church.)
The Hymn Book from ¼. (Used at Charfield and Cromhall Chapels.)
Selection Enlarged from 10d (Used at Wotton-under-Edge Baptist Chapel.)
A Choice Assortment of Church Services from 1/6 each.
Bibles from 6d. Testaments from 3d.
At R. Presley’s, Wotton-under-Edge
Richard and Maria Presley were both buried at the Ropewalk. Maria’s parents, Joseph and Hannah Foxwell may well have moved away from the Baptist Church because they were buried under the shadow of the Rowland Hill Tabernacle where they were joined in the nineteen twenties and thirties by their three Presley grandchildren.
Mary Eley and her sister Sarah seem to have been living in London with James Scarlett and possibly with their brother Thomas Eley, perhaps whilst he was working at the Excise Office in London. The four of them seem to have moved to Coombe and James Scarlett was certainly living there by 1822. We know that Mary Eley and her sister Sarah were received into membership at Wotton-under-Edge Baptist Church, ‘by letter from Egle (sic) Street London’ on 2nd (or 21st) January 1825. Eagle Street was an influential Baptist Church with an interesting if turbulent background. It was later demolished owing to the widening of Southampton Row:
A.C. Underwood, A History of the English Baptists, 1947, page 141:
‘It was a calamity that, in London, Andrew Gifford (1700-1784) was ostracized by his brother-ministers. He was the son and grandson of Baptist ministers who lived and worked in Bristol. After being educated at the Tewkesbury Academy, and the Gresham College, he became assistant at Nottingham and Bristol, being called to the Wild Street Church, London, in 1729. Within a few years the church was rent with a violent quarrel. A long repented sin of Gifford’s youth became known to some of the members, who demanded his resignation. Gifford, with a condiderable following, withdrew and built the Eagle Street Church (now the Kingsgate Church) and ministered there till his death. The London ministers excluded him from their Society and refused to preach at Eagle Street…New Testament known to exist…He bequeathed his book and other curios to the Bristol Academy, which thus came into possession of the only complete copy of Tyndale’s It was a tragedy that a man so much alive and a church so prosperous and influential were boycotted by the Baptist ministers of London…’
Joseph Ivimey (1773-1834), a Hampshire man converted by a sermon of William Steadman’s, was a married man with a family when the Portsea Church formally recognized his itinerant labours. He was then in business as a tailor. After a pastorate of less than a year at Wallingford, he was called in 1803 to Eagle Street (Andrew Gifford’s church), which he brought into the main stream of London Baptist life. He added eight hundred members to the church and sent twenty men into the ministry…’
Thomas Eley, their brother, pursued his career in the Excise Service and the following entries probably refer to him:
H.M. Customs and Excise Records: Minutes of the Excise Board (Customs 47 Series):
4th April 1792; Thomas Eley assistant on head of board at Bristol
Saturday 10th May 1794: Thomas Eley to succeed William Holder of Shepton Mallet 1st Ride at own request.
Thurs 24th March 1796: Thomas Eley succeeds James Hocome deprived of Wilton Ride, Sarum.
Wed 20th September 1797: Thomas Eley swaps with Wm Wiltshire of Sarum Ride.
5th May 1798: Thomas Eley head of board replacing Wm Northcott
14th January 1803 Thomas Eley of Boston District, supervisor, Grantham Collection, to Notts 1st District, Derby.
Besides his children and grandchildren James Eley II also lived amongst his extended Thornbury family. His nephew, George Scarlett, had married Mary Ricketts and they had at least six children during his lifetime. James Eley also had nephews James, Richard and Eley Scarlett as well as nieces, Elizabeth and Mary Scarlett.
As well as her Eley relations his late wife also had four sisters living in Thornbury, namely Mary Greenwood, Sarah Tomkins, Elizabeth Lippiatt and Hester Taylor, and all of them had families some of whom became members of Thornbury Baptist Church. In the Church’s records we discover that the application for registration, dated 28th July 1789, which was signed by James Eley, was signed also by John Shepherd and Thomas Shepherd.
John Shepherd, Junior, was married to Mary Greenwood, a niece of James Eley II and he was also brother-in-law to his son, James Eley III. The couple had married at Thornbury Parish Church on 24th July 1797 and were obviously close to the Eleys. When James Eley III set out on his excursion to Leominster in 1808 and when he returned we read the following details in the Journal and also Mr Sayers sent greetings to ‘Mrs Shepherd and family’.
‘Called at Mr. Shepherd’s at Morton where we drank a cup of ale, the weather was uncommonly hot – we then proceeded to Stone.’
‘In the afternoon about two o’clock I was set down at the end of Buckover Lane, where another road leads off for Bristol. I pushed forward anticipating the pleasure of once more meeting my dear family. Called at Mrs. Shepherd’s on my way, and ate heartily of beans and bacon. I then hastened to Thornbury where I had the happiness to find my wife and family all well – they gave me a cordial welcome and were much rejoiced at my safe arrival.’
The Manor Court Rolls reveal that on 6th April 1809 John Shepherd, Maltster, succeeded to the lands of his uncle Thomas Shepherd, late of Morton, yeoman, and on 4th March 1813 John succeeded to the property of Jane Shepherd, ‘late of Eastwood and then of Upper Morton, widow and relict of John Shepherd, late of Eastwood and then Upper Morton, yeoman’. John Shepherd was their only son and heir.
We also find confirmation of this in Thornbury Baptist Church burial ground where there is a tombstone with the following four inscriptions:
Thomas Shepherd late of Morton, died 27th October 1808, aged 73 years
Jane Shepherd late of Morton, died 5th October 1812, aged 64 years
John Shepherd, late of Morton in this Parish, a maltster, died 4th November 1839, aged 70 years
Mary Shepherd, his wife, died 14th May 1834, aged 57 years
In later years John and Mary Shepherd passed through difficult times as we discover from the proceedings of the Manor Court for 13th June 1816 – ‘assigns appointed under and by virtue of a Commission of Bankrupt lately awarded and issued against John Shepherd of Morton in the Parish of Thornbury, Maltster Dealer and Chapman, a Bankrupt’. Involved in this case was also one ‘James Eley of Thornbury aforesaid Linen Draper’.
John and Mary Shepherd had four children registered at Wotton-under-Edge Baptist Church:
Jane Shepherd was born on 29th January 1798 and registered on 24th March 1798
Hannah Shepherd was born on 27th March 1800 and registered on 20th February 1801.
Sarah Shepherd was born on 9th March 1802 and registered on 18th June 1802.
Mary Shepherd was born on 23rd February 1804 and registered on 7th December 1804
Mary Shepherd was a beneficiary in her mother’s will and also in that of her aunt, Elizabeth Lippiatt, both were sisters-in-law of James Eley II. The Lippiatts were a Thornbury family and we find a reference to a Baptist Lippiatt in the Church records:
‘An Application for a certificate for a place of worship at Lower Morton in the home of Edward Lippiatt dated 27th November 1805 was signed by Edward Lippiatt, James Eley, William Jones, James Grindley and John Parsloe. This meeting was registered on 29th November 1805.’
In 1807 James Eley III witnessed the will of his aunt, Hester Taylor, a widow of Thornbury. He was later the executor of the will of her son, Thomas Taylor of Kington who was his cousin. The will was written on 31st March 1821 and was proved on 6th February 1822.
James Eley II died in Thornbury on 13th January 1803. He, and most of his children were buried in the Baptist Burying Ground behind the church and there is a number of family tombstones inscribed with their names and dates. One of them simply records:
James Eley died Jan.13th 1803 aged 67 years
James Eley (grandson of above) died Sept. 5th 1794 aged 4 years
Elizabeth Bruton, wife of John Bruton (daughter of above) died Jan. 24th 1826 aged 56 years
John Bruton died 18th Aug. 1848 aged
After forty years James Eley had returned to the land of his fathers and in death he was surrounded by many of his descendents. In the future there were to be more Eley grandchildren. In total there are five James Eleys buried in that hallowed spot. It is rather sad that the location of the grave of Ann, the widow of James Eley II is not yet known. Besides his blood descendents the vibrant Baptist Church of today, which adjoins the burial ground, bears witness to his spiritual legacy.
James Eley II was described in the following way to his son James, when the latter visited Leominster in 1808:
‘Saw Thomas Smith, son of Alderman Smith, spoke to him but was again under the troublesome necessity of making myself known. He very politely paid me this compliment, “Your Father was as honest a man as ever carried a gauge stick” – These and many such like observations were very grateful to my feelings for I found my father among his old friends was universally remembered with respect.’
The description of James Eley as being as honest a man as ever carried a gauging stick, a stick used by excise men to gauge liquor of all kinds, is a useful one and indicates his recognised integrity. His work must also have required considerable courage, for those were days when tough resistance was often shown to the Excise Officers in the pursuit of their duty, and many who did not fall for bribery were injured or maimed. He certainly lived an active and varied life in times when the enforcement of the excise regulations was subject to both temptation and risk to life and limb. In the Journal we also read,
‘The Clerk who turned out to be Ned Hare came and said to me “Binna you a Lemster Man?” “I believe so” replied I, and told him I was a son of Mr. Eley’s – “Ay, Ay, I knew him, your Father and Mother”, said he, “were as quiet good sort of people as ever lived in Lemster. I hear they are both dead, for I have often enquired about them.’
Following the death of his father, James Eley III became increasingly a leading figure in Thornbury society. He was an Overseer of the Poor of Thornbury and Clerk to Thornbury Magistrates and it was in this capacity that he made his nostalgic journey to Leominster in 1808. He also served as Mayor of Thornbury in the years 1812 and 1813.
In 1813 James Eley was appointed Trustee of William Reed, the Baptist writer, poet traveller and philanthropist of Thornbury and was personally left the sum of £8.
William was an unusual boy. When he was 16, his father expected him to take up the shoemaking trade, but William resisted such mundane work. He had a passion for music and saved his pennies until he bought himself a fife which he later exchanged for a flute. He acquired a knowledge of drawing from painting letters on boards to be placed on carts and he expressed a desire to further this interest to obtain a living. His father forbade this venture and forced him to learn ‘the art and mystery’ of a shoemaker.
Bored at work, William sought amusement elsewhere and he excelled at fives-playing. In 1790 he found religion and became a devout Baptist. He refused to play any tune on his flute except sacred music. He also took to writing poetry. In 1791 having accepted that fate had determined him to be shoemaker in spite of his personal feelings, he set out to be a perfect master in every aspect of the business. He went on a tour visiting Gloucester, Worcester and Birmingham. At the end of six months he returned to Thornbury with his mission accomplished – his brother thought him to be the neatest workman he had ever seen. However soon after a problem with his eye-sight made him give up his work and he never seriously continued with it.
William spent his time reading and drawing when his eye-sight permitted and wandering around the neighbouring countryside which he enjoyed so much. In 1797 or 1798 he was invited to escort Dr Salmon to Edinburgh and spent a year touring the Highlands and he began to write about his observations.
Back in Thornbury William continued to be a regular attendant at the Baptist meetings. At one such meeting he met the daughter of a local gentleman who turned out to share his interest in books and a strong relationship developed. Her father refused to give his blessing and sanction a union and the lady’s sense of duty made her break off the relationship. In a letter sent to William she confessed that the sacrifice she was making had ‘preyed upon her spirits, injured her health and would perhaps cost her life itself’. This melancholy foreboding proved too true – in a very short time she died, thought to be the victim of disappointed affection.
When his father died in 1799, William was left a small property, but it was inadequate to support him and because he had given up his trade and was without any other profession, he had to live with his mother. The following year he was asked to escort a group of young people to Aberdeen for education. On his return he spent two months in London before being recalled to Thornbury because of his mother’s illness. She died two days after he returned. By her decease William became possessed of some more property, just enough to cover his moderate wants. He continued to live in Thornbury with his brother, Daniel. Then William also received a surprising bequest of a sum of money and an annual annuity from the father of the lady he had wanted to marry earlier. He was now free to indulge himself in books, poetry, drawing and music and in wandering around the country seeing the places he had always wanted to visit.
In 1809 he had the idea of going to Canada where his friend, Mr Rolph, was living. He had long dreamed of seeing Niagara Falls, but he also wanted to be useful there and planned to spend time practising vaccination amongst the inhabitants. He been spending a lot of time with Dr Edward Jenner in Berkeley and had been practising vaccinations amongst the poor in and around Thornbury. He wrote several papers on the subject wishing to remove the prejudice against vaccination by the lower classes, but these were never published.
William’s plans to go to Canada were cancelled when he had a severe bout if illness. He had moved to live in Bristol about 1810 and he busied himself writing essays which were widely acclaimed and he also wrote songs. He realised that his health would never recover fully unless he could get away to warmer climates for the winter. He planned a trip to Madeira or the West Indies. Sadly lack of funds made him give up this idea and he survived the winter at home. He did manage a long trip round Ireland in 1810 and in June 1813 he went to Guernsey and the neighbouring Channel Islands. The book ‘The Remains of William Reed’ contains a full essay about his Irish trip and an interesting letter reporting on his adventures in the Channel Islands. The letter shows that he was enjoying good health in Guernsey, but this changed and he died there on 30th September 1813. His remains were buried in the Friends Burial Ground at Guernsey.
In Gloucester Records Office we found an extract of William’s will dated 13th June 1813. William instructed that following the death of his brother and sister, his trustee (James Eley) should transfer two thirds of his capital stock to the Treasurers or Trustees of the Bristol and Gloucester Infirmaries. It was William’s wish that the Mayor of Thornbury would have the right to send two patients annually to each of the infirmaries.
James Eley wrote an obituary of his eighteen-year-old daughter Selina, who died in 1810, for ‘The Baptist Magazine’, dated July 1813.
Written by her Father, soon after her Death. After various symptoms of a declining state, for the space of two or three years, in which she experienced considerable weakness of body, and much interruption of health, my dear child Selina became confined to her room on January 20. 1810 in the 19th year of her age. Her memory will be ever dear to me, as I feel a humble confidence that she is now “without fault before the throne of God.”
The following is a brief account of her experience from the above date to the time of her death, May 15, 1810.
One day, as she was leaning on her pillow, being in a very languid state, she said to her eldest sister, “I wonder what must be the feelings of that person who, though brought as low as I am, never thought of the great importance of Eternity. I bless God that I was brought up in the ways of religion, and I desire to be resigned to his will.” On this her sister wept; shen she added, “Why, Martha, there is not a family around us, but what has been subject to affliction, and can we expect to be exempt?”
At another time, when her sister was helping her out of bed, she repeated these lines –
Though painful at present,
‘Twill cease before long;
And then, Oh how pleasant,
The conqueror’s song!
“Do”, said she, “find that hymn for me;” and she continued to say, “I have no expectation that I shall ever recover; yet I know nothing is too hard for the Lord: and if it be his will to raise me up, I hope I shall live to his glory; but if he has designed it otherwise, I hope I shall be found prepared.”
Sometime, after this, she was less cheerful, and felt disposed to talk but little; and from the frequency of her bursting into tears, it was very evident she felt much distress in her mind. I asked her one day, what was the cause of her weeping? She instantly replied, “It is because I cannot bear the idea of being shut out from the presence of the Lord.” I endeavoured to comfort her mind by speaking of the great love and compassion of the Saviour; his willingness to receive all who come to him from a sense of their sinful state, and unworthiness, and who by faith placed their whole dependence on him alone for salvation. She said, “All this I believe, but the thought of being shut out of his presence for ever distresses me more than I am able to bear.” I answered, You have been the child of many prayers – “Yes, my dear father,” she replied, “It is true, I am the child of many prayers, but this very circumstance, if I am lost, will only aggravate my misery.”
It pleased God this distress of mind should continue for nearly a month, when in great mercy it gradually subsided : but through the whole of this severe trial, she very much dreaded a murmuring spirit, and would frequently pray to be preserved from it. Once I woke, in the middle of the night, and heard her (for at this time she had her bed in my room) making use of this expression, “Lord give me patience to await thine own appointed time,” and others of a similar import.
With a view to comfort her mind, her mother one day pointed out several hymns to her, and desired her to read them; she then referred her mother to the 561st of Dr. Rippon’s selection, entitled, Preparation for death, as the one she thought came the nearest to her experience.
From this time I frequently asked her respecting the state of her mind; on one occasion, she said, “Father it is well my future happiness does not depend on much talking: but I can say I don’t envy the state of the rich. I would rather be in my present circumstances, than be the child of a nobleman, for in such a family, it may be, they would manifest no concern or anxiety but about my poor body, and of what consequence would that be to me now?” This so much affected me that I was obliged to leave her; but on another occasion, when I asked her what were her views of an approaching eternity, she very calmly replied, “I cannot boast of those extacies which some have felt in the near prospect of death; but I have no fears, and I believe it will be a glorious change for me.” I again asked, ‘Do you entertain any thoughts of a recovery?’ She answered “No,” and wished me to tell her freely what was my opinion respecting her. I told her I did not entertain the least doubt of her future happiness, and said it would afford me great consolation after she was gone to think I had a child in glory. She replied, “Father, this is not a time to flatter, your good opinion is not enough for me, I trust I am resting on a safer foundation; my hope is fixed on Christ alone.” After I had been praying with her, she would sometimes say to her sister, “Martha, what a mercy it is to have a father who will pray with and for us! We can never be thankful enough for it.”
The time of her departure now drew near, and for a week before her death a very visible alteration took place in her. She experienced very great difficulty both in speaking and in breathing, and was at times extremely faint. On the Saturday preceding her death, her sister sat watching by her bedside and heard her frequently engaged in prayer, that the Lord would enable her to bear with patience the affliction he had been pleased to lay on her, and to keep her from repining at the Divine will. A short interval ensued when on a sudden she exclaimed, “What a glorious change it will be for me! How happy I shall be then!” Her Sister said, ‘My dear Selina, have you any doubts now?’ She replied, “Doubts! No! The Lord is able” – and being unable to proceed she immediately relapsed into a fainting state. On the morrow, being sabbath-day, while the rest of the family were at Meeting, she talked much of her approaching dissolution to her mother, and endeavored to comfort her mind under the affliction of parting. She said, “I know this will be a great trial to you, but I find it hard work to live; and the time do not seem to be yet come.” Her Mother said, ‘My dear child, the Lord bringeth low, and raiseth up again.’ She replied, “You can give me no hope of being raised up again.” Her Mother said, ‘I do not mean it, it would be wrong in me to do so.’ She then replied, “I believe it will be all well, and may the Lord reward you all for the kindness and attention you have paid me.”
On the Tuesday following the scene closed. We had thought her better though (sic) the whole of the day, and about half-past ten at night assembled in her room for family worship. I felt exceedingly thankful on her account, and was very much led to praise God for his kindness in removing her doubts, encouraging her hopes, making her so resigned to his will, and in preparing her by his grace for heaven, whither I was satisfied he was about soon to remove her. After prayer, her mother and I took leave of her, not supposing it to be final, and we retired to another room without the least impression of her being in a dying state; when in the space of ten minutes, or a little more, the servant informed us of her departure. She fell asleep in Jesus, without a struggle or a sigh.
Thus another trophy of divine grace is added to the number of those before the throne of him who hath redeemed us with his own blood; another proof of the efficacy of the Christian religion is given to us to strengthen our faith in Jesus. I bow with submission to the will of the Lord. He is “too wise to err – too good to be unkind.”
Sadly his wife, Elizabeth, died on 16th July 1814 and was laid to rest at Thornbury Baptist Church. Elizabeth was only fifty-one-years-old when she died and her younger son, James, was only nine-years-old when he lost his mother.
In 1816 and again in 1831 James Eley III was described as a linen draper of Thornbury. The 1830 Town Directory for Thornbury published by Pigot & Co also describes him as a fire office agent. In 1830 he was also spoken of as a ‘Gentleman of Thornbury’ in the Manor Rolls. James Eley was not only a linen draper but he also had land and property at Lower Morton.
Living with their father were his three surviving daughters, Martha, for whom he wrote the Journal of 1808, Ann who died in 1823 aged twenty-seven-years, and Elizabeth. Walter Eley, wrote about his aunts, Elizabeth and Martha, in 1900:
‘We then walked down the High Street, I suppose to the Plain at the bottom, had a good look at the house on the corner where grandfather and mother lived, and afterwards our aunts Elizabeth and Martha. I never saw them, but father was very fond of them. On their deaths these two houses became the property of my father.’
The elder son of James Eley III was Thomas, who was consistently described as a yeoman farmer, and he seems to have cultivated his father’s land at Lower Morton. It would appear that Thomas did not become a member of the Baptist Church until after the death of his father and he also remained a bachelor until he inherited the property at Morton.
The younger son, another James Eley, had married and settled down before the death of his father. Walter Eley wrote the following about his parents and his childhood in Berkeley:
‘Father settled in business in Berkeley about 7 miles from Thornbury, and Mother came to Berkeley from Horton, near Gosport, Hampshire, to live with her aunt Webster whose husband had taken a contract to make part of the Berkeley and Gloucester canal. I heard a minister, the Rev. M.Eyre (who was once the Pastor of Thornbury Baptist Chapel), say that Mother was one of the nicest looking women in Gloucestershire, and I can remember how fond and proud Father was of her, especially when she was nicely dressed. Yes, my Mother was a good-looking woman.
Father and Mother were married in St James’ Church, Bristol, on 29th January 1829. In those days everybody had to be married in the established Church – that being the reason why my Father and Mother being non-conformists were married at Church.
They returned and settled in Berkeley where we were all born. I always understood that Grandfather bought the house where we lived for my Father. Anyhow, it was my Father’s property. Dear old house and garden – I shall never forget it.
I have heard say that Grandfather only saw one of his grandchildren and that was my eldest sister Elizabeth. She was born on Good Friday, 1 April 1831. Grandfather died on the following 6 December. It is a curious circumstance that Good Friday has not fallen on 1st April since.’
A copper engraving plate survives which gives the following details about the Saddler’s business and this is now preserved in the Gloucestershire Archives:
Saddler, Collar & Harness Maker, Berkeley
Chariot & Gig Harness, made in the newest style
Hunting Spurs &c
Horses measured & carefully fitted
James Eley III of Thornbury made his will on 14th August 1830 and the witnesses were his great nephew, Richard Scarlett, and his wife Mary who lived just across the road and signed this document on 3rd May 1831.He died on 6th December 1831, aged sixty-nine-years, and was buried with his wife at Thornbury Baptist Church. Their tombstone includes details of most of the members of their family:
James Eley, died December 6th 1831, aged 69 years
Elizabeth Eley, his wife, died July 16th 1814, aged 51 years
James Eley their son, died October 24th 1803, aged 5 months
Selina Eley their daughter, died June 12th 1810, aged 18 years
Mary Eley their daughter, died May 14th 1822, aged 21 years
Ann Eley their daughter, died December 2nd 1823, aged 27 years
Martha Eley their daughter, died January 9th 1850, aged 63 years
Elizabeth Eley their daughter, died March 1st 1850, aged 52 years
His Grandson, Walter Eley wrote many years later in 1902:
‘Our grandfather occupied a good position in Thornbury, being Clerk to the Magistrates. I have heard Thornbury people say he was a highly respectable and amiable gentleman, esteemed and revered by all who knew him, his name up to the present day (1902) being held in great veneration in that town.
Grandfather was a Baptist of the old Puritan school, and as such the chief supporter of the Baptist Chapel there, often conducting the services when needed, and I for one am proud to be the grandson of such a good man. He lies buried with my grandmother and all my paternal aunts and uncles in the graveyard of the chapel, having passed away 6 December 1831, aged 69 years, leaving a name the memory of which is fragrant now in 1900.’
In his will, which was proved in London on 3rd March 1832, James Eley III provided for his four surviving children. Living at the Plain were his two daughters Martha and Elizabeth. Martha Eley became a member of Thornbury Baptist Church and witnessed the deed of 1831. In 1839 she worked in Thornbury as a Stationer, Religious Tract Depositor and as Agent for Norwich Union Fire and Life. Her sister, Elizabeth Eley, worked as a Milliner and Straw hat maker according to an 1830 Town Directory, published by Pigot & Co. She too became a member of Thornbury Baptist Church in July 1837 and she seems to have provided the land for the purpose of erecting Morton Baptist Church. She was a party to a deed relating to that church in May 1834.
Martha Eley died on 9th January 1850, aged sixty-three years, and was buried at Thornbury Baptist Church. Her will was written on 4th July 1843 and proved in London on 15th June 1850. In this document she left ‘all that my messuage or dwelling house wherein my late father at the time of his death inhabited and wherein I now dwell with the garden and appurtenances thereto belonging, and also all that is in the messuage or dwelling house adjoining, thereto, now in the occupation of George Rice as my tenant…’ This property had passed to her under her late Father’s will and later passed on to her sister Elizabeth Eley for use during her lifetime. In the event Elizabeth Eley died on 1st March 1850, aged fifty-two years, and was buried at Thornbury Baptist Church with her family. She had made her will on 14th July 1843 and it was proved at London two days after her sister’s.
The deaths of the sisters Martha and Elizabeth within two months of each other must have caused some confusion for their executors, James Eley of Berkeley, and cousin, Richard Scarlett. It would seem that as a result of the deaths of the sisters the property of James Eley III was now been divided between his two sons, Thomas and James. Thomas seems to have gained possession of his farm at Lower Morton and his brother was now the owner of the two properties on The Plain. In the accounts of Richard Scarlett, the attorney, we can find evidence of payments in the year 1850 to James Eley of Berkeley for these premises in Thornbury town:
Midsummer 1850 – From George Rice for half yearly rent and house and premises at Thornbury £5-10s Paid to James Eley on October 7th £5-10s by cash.
September 29th 1850 – From James Vaughan for house and shop £9 Paid to James Eley on October 29th
As for Thomas and James Eley, the two sons of James and Elizabeth, they both had their own families and their involvement with Thornbury Baptist Church continued for some years.
The elder, Thomas Eley, was baptised at Thornbury Baptist Church on 11th July 1832 and on 22nd May 1833 he married Sarah Park at St Mary’s Parish Church, Kingswood. She was the fifth daughter of Peter and Elizabeth Park of Kingswood and had been baptised at the Parish Church there on 26th February 1806. Sarah’s parents had both died many years before her wedding and she was one of thirteen children. Her father had been a Yeoman and her mother was a daughter of Nicholas Trotman, a Yeoman of Hawkesbury. Three of Sarah’s brothers farmed at Kingswood and these included Thomas, the eldest, at Highwood Farm, Peter at Neathwood Farm, and John Trotman Park at Mireford or Merryford Farm, Kingswood. When Uncle John died in 1873 his nephew, James Eley, younger son of Thomas and Sarah Eley, took over Merryford Farm
Sarah had become a member of Hillesley Baptist Church and it is possibly through this membership that she met Thomas Eley. The minister at Hillesley from 1825 until 1838 was the Reverend Thomas Shakespear. He had been baptised, ‘upon a profession of faith in Jesus’ on July 28th 1805 and for fifty years he laboured in the ministry of the gospel. On 4th September 1833 Sarah was received as a Member of Thornbury Baptist Church having been dismissed from Hillesley.
Thomas Eley seems to have been a devout Baptist and was instrumental in setting up the Morton Baptist Church opposite his home, now known as Chapel Farm. He was party to the deeds relating to both the Baptist Churches at Thornbury and Morton on 27th and 28th May 1831 and again on 7th May 1834. The years after the death of his father, James Eley III, saw expansion and change in the Baptist life of the area and this is drawn out in the following extract:
Extract from “250 years Thornbury Baptist Church 1747-1997” and from fuller notes made by Rev. A. David Edwards (1993):
‘Expansion. The sign of expansion came during the ministry of the Rev. W.J. Cross 1832-1844, who is the first Minister of whom we have a portrait. Whilst in Thornbury he distributed 8,000 copies of the Scriptures. The Church, through generous gifts from his father, William Cross Esq., of Bristol, was able to start the work at Morton (1834), Berkeley (1835) and Tytherington (1841). He was a firm disciplinarian and when in the spring of one year the church allowed a member, who had opened a beer shop, to keep it open until Midsummer, he had his way and the member agreed to stop at once. On open Communion, they were not so sure and in 1832 the decision was deferred from Church Meeting to Church Meeting, until after at least four meetings, it was agreed to “admit pious Pseudo-Baptists (sic) to the Lord’s Table”. Members were dismissed for fornication, and slander of fellow members. Frequent days of prayer were encouraged with the result that the Chapel as mentioned above, could not contain them and had to be extended. Many Pseudo-Baptists were also baptised. When he resigned from the Pastorate, the Church had 78 members and 210 children in the four Sunday Schools.
The next three Ministers, John Eyres 1844-1852, Mr Le Fevre 1853-1856, lived during quieter periods, but Mr. Matthews, May 1860-September 1871 had many problems, especially with drunkenness, for which many members were dismissed from the Church. He speaks of a ‘barren year’, a year of ‘spiritual dearth’ etc.’
In the 1841 Census Thomas Eley was described as a Farmer of Lower Morton living with his wife Sarah, his sons, Thomas and James, and his three-year-old daughter, Selena.
In the 1851 census return we find that the family is still living at Lower Morton. By this time Thomas was now aged fifty-seven and was described as a farmer; and Sarah was forty-seven and was described as a farmer’s wife. Their elder son, Thomas, was a seventeen-year-old Cooper and their younger son, James, was a fifteen-year-old farmer’s son. Their daughter, Selena, would seem to have died.
Sarah Eley died on 10th August 1859, according to Thornbury Baptist Church records, leaving her husband, Thomas, a widower.
In the 1861 census return Thomas Eley was described as a retired Farmer living with his twenty-five-year-old son, James Eley IV, who was then working as a Carpenter. Also living with them were his forty-nine-year-old housekeeper, Mary Mills, and Mary Machin, an eighty-four-year-old pauper.
Thomas Eley made his will on 16th September 1859 and he passed away on 15th February 1864. His will was proved during that year and his estate was valued at less than £100. I have a contemporary silhouette of Thomas and his wife Sarah and Thomas has signed his on the reverse. Although he was probably buried at Thornbury Baptist Church with his wife and family there seems to have never been a tombstone for them.
Thomas Eley’s two sons continued the family’s involvement with Thornbury Baptist Church. The eldest son, Tom Eley, was born in about 1834. In 1851 and again in 1880 he was described as a Cooper. He was married to Henrietta Ann Laver and they had five children. In 1864 he inherited the dwelling house and garden, stables and orchard at Morton from his father. In 1874 he was living at Wickselm Cottage, Berkeley Road, Horfield.
Tom Eley died aged forty-seven-years on 2nd April 1881 at 44 Picton Street, Stokes Croft, Bristol. He was buried at Thornbury Baptist Church two days later.
The younger son of Thomas and Sarah Eley was James Eley IV who was born on 10th March 1836. When James was only twenty-three his mother died and his father died four years later in 1864. He inherited Whites Garden, House and garden and Homefield at Morton from his father in 1864.
In the 1861 Census return James Eley was described as a Carpenter and then in later life as a Farmer of Lower Morton. On 13th November 1866 he was appointed as one of the first Trustees of the British School at Thornbury, built by Handel Cossham.
The Reverend John Morgan at Thornbury Baptist Church married James Eley on 12th May 1863. His bride was Anne Shield of Tytherington. She was born on 15th March 1837 at Barber’s Land, Tytherington and was baptised on 20th May 1837 at Tytherington Parish Church. She was the fifth daughter of James Shield, a farmer of 200 acres, and his wife Mary (nee Isaac) Anne received adult baptism on 28th April 1861 at Thornbury Baptist Church and she became a Member of the church in 1871. James Eley, Farmer of Morton, was appointed a Trustee of the Thornbury Baptist Church on 28th June 1871 at about the same time as his cousin, Henry Eley, a Saddler of Cotham.
On 7th October 1873 James Eley’s uncle, John Trotman Park of Merry Ford, or Mireford Farm, Kingswood, died. Probably, it was as a result of this death that James and Anne Eley left Morton and moved to the hundred acres Merry Ford Farm. Their youngest son, John Park Eley was born at the farm on 27th July 1874 and their choice of name probably indicates that their uncle (who left property in excess of £5,000) had helped them in some way. From this time James and Anne seem to be worshipping at Kingswood Congregational Church. This church was established as early as 1668 and was rebuilt in 1821.
Sadly, in 1871, James and Anne lost their infant son, Francis Augustus and in 1873 two more young children, Annie Selina and Maud Elizabeth. The death of the three infants was followed by further catastrophe, James himself was taken ill with Typhoid Fever. He made his will on 14th September 1874 and died on 17th September that year.
In contrast, his widow, Anne, died, in her ninety-seventh year, and her body was laid to rest with her late husband at Kingswood Congregational Church on 1st January 1935.
Seven years after the death of James Eley IV, five of his children were baptised at St Mary’s Parish Church in Kingswood and one can only speculate at the reasons for this decision. The following year the family seems to have left Kingswood for Tortworth. The three eldest children were eventually buried from Congregational Churches.
Florence Mary Eley, baptised 18th September 1881, aged seventeen years
Sarah Catherine Eley, baptised 18th September 1881, aged sixteen years
James Shield Eley, baptised 18th September 1881, aged fourteen years
Ernest Edward Eley, baptised 28th October 1881, aged thirteen years
John Park Eley, baptised 28th October 1881, aged nine years
Although James and his wife seem to have left the Baptist Church, their eldest son, James Shield Eley, renewed the connection some years later. He was born on 7th February 1867 at Lower Morton and as we have seen he was baptised according to the rites and ceremonies of the Anglican Church. In 1893 he was farming with his mother and brother Ernest at Brook Farm, Tortworth. Within sight of Brook Farm was Mount Pleasant Union Chapel and this church seems to have been important to Shield for the rest of his life.
The church was founded in 1813 and rebuilt in 1843. Seven years later ‘The Church Goer’ visited Tortworth and wrote the following about the relationship of the Earl of Ducie with the Congregational Church at Mount Pleasant:
‘Not far from the family seat, and on an eminence called Mount Pleasant, is a Dissenting Chapel; and to this, as I passed, people, principally his Lordship’s tenants, were crowding, the earl and the countess being amongst the congregation, for the purpose of watching and praying, as some witty person in the neighbourhood used to say – to watch for their dependents and pray for themselves; for the earl expects assort of feudal followership in matters of faith as well as territorial tenure.
I should have guessed, by the gloomy and severe expression of the people’s faces as they passed me, that they were not answering the cheerful Sabbath summons of the old church chimes… but when a powerful nobleman, the hereditary owner of the whole parish, able and only too ready to command the obedience of his tenants, makes it a point to throw his weight, influence, and example, into the side of Dissent, and against the parish Church and the parish clergyman, it is not much to be wondered at that, while the Dissenting Chapel is full, the ancient place of Established worship is comparatively deserted…’
The Reverend William Dove was minister of Mount Pleasant until he died, aged fifty-six-years, in 1855. The Earl of Ducie, his great supporter, had died two years earlier but his widow continued at Tortworth Court until her death in 1865. The Ducies were committed to furthering non-conformity in the area and they are also remembered for establishing in 1836 the Whitefield Example Farm, assisted by their energetic agent, Mr John Morton.
James Shield Eley married Mary Bennett at Mount Pleasant Chapel, Falfield, on 13th April 1896. His bride was the thirty-four-years-old and he was twenty-nine. She was the daughter of Charles and Ann Bennett who were devout members of the church and farmed at Falfield Green. Mary’sister, Lucy Bennett, wrote and published hymns and religious poetry.
Walter Eley wrote of his visit to Shield and Minnie at Brook Farm, Tortworth in 1900:
‘Next day (Wednesday) I was up early and wanted to pick a nice lot of blackberries to take back with me, which I did. About 15 lbs. It was a beautiful morning and as I picked the blackberries a robin came and sang to me and followed me along the hedge. From 6.45 to 8.00 am I was at it, the air was beautiful and fresh, the morning sun so invigorating and bright, the Chorus of bird song and everything so placid and quiet, I did enjoy it and it gave me a good appetite for breakfast. After that meal and morning worship we went and removed cattle troughs from one field to another. I again had an hour at the berries and again after dinner until we had to get ready for a tea and meeting at Woodford, a village between Newport and Stone at a small Baptist Chapel. I was particularly delighted because it was an offshoot from Thornbury Chapel, for which Chapel I have thanked God many times.
A gentleman from Thornbury took the chair at the Public Meeting after the tea. I was one of the speakers with Mr. T. King, cousin Shield, and others. We had a delightful time. When we came out of it, it began to rain, a dark, dismal night, that fine rain that wetted you enough before you know it. We had walked there and we had to walk back. We turned down a lane from the main road across some fields, dark, damp and dismal. I could not see the path, I nearly fell over a calf. Cousin Shield just missed an old horse that was standing still in our path. We had a lively time slipping and sliding about in the mud and grass and especially then getting over the gates. I was glad to see some lights again and to feel the warmth of the fire. I must confess that I was glad that I did not live at the farm in the winter. But we have to take the rough with smooth and it is a blessing that as a rule things are more smooth than rough.’
Later Shield gave up farming and he became an Agent for Motor Oil and then for Lister Mill Separators. He was a respected local preacher and he was associated with Mount Pleasant Chapel at Falfield as well as Thornbury Baptist Church and the chapels at Woodford and Newport. He was also associated with the Hop Pickers Mission and on his grave there is a plaque that says ‘From the Hop Pickers Mission – 34 years of Faithful Service – Rev. 14:13’
David Tandy has written in his book ‘And did those feet…’ something of the history of the Woodford Baptist Chapel:
‘This chapel originally started 1882, and its last service was the 13th November 1977. During its lifetime the chapel had been extended in 1910 and 1926. The chapel became united with the Thornbury Baptist Church in 1908. Over its life time the family names connected with this chapel were- East, Elliott, Hale, Rees and Roberts. Others from Woodford, Stone and the surrounding area included, Mr Eley (a preacher from Whitfield)…’
Shield Eley made his will on 4th May 1944 and died on 2nd January 1945 aged seventy-one-years. He was buried at Mount Pleasant Chapel. Pecuniary Legacies included £100 to Gloucestershire Congregational Union for Falfield Chapel; and £50 each to Thornbury Baptist Church and Hereford Hop Pickers’ Mission and £25 each to J.W.C. Fegan’s Homes, Scripture Gift Mission, British & Foreign Bible Society and London Missionary Society.
Shield Eley’s elder sister, Florence Caple, who died at Kendleshire in 1933, was also buried at Mount Pleasant. She left £100 to ‘God’s work viz Muller’s Orphanage, Ashley Down’ – Muller ‘The Robber of the Cruel Streets`.
JAMES ELEY THE SADDLER 1805-1861
The publication entitled ‘A Sense of Place – An Anthology of Berkeley’ contains a brief history of the beginnings of the Berkeley Union Chapel. From this we learn that the opening service of the Berkeley Union Chapel took place on 3rd May 1836. Prior to the founding of the chapel by William Jarman Cross, Pastor of the Baptist Church at Thornbury, there had been a number of house meetings of Baptists and Congregationalists held in and around the Berkeley district. In 1832 Mr Cross brought these various meetings together in one meeting in the Town Hall when given use of the premises by Lord Segrave, later Lord Fitzhardinge. The hall was licensed on 1st June 1832 for Baptist and Congregational services and preachers took the services in turn. The meetings grew and the premises became too small so it was decided to acquire land adjoining so as to erect a purpose-built chapel.
The foundation stone was laid on 28th May 1835. A trust deed allowed both Baptists and Congregationalists to be joint members of the church and for the pastor to be of either persuasion. When built it was said to be able to sit about one hundred worshippers. This church became largely Congregational but the history of Thornbury Baptist Church refers to the start of the work at Berkeley begun by the Minister, Mr Cross, in 1835. Their were even plans to erect a memorial window to Mr. Cross in the Berkeley chapel. The British School was connected with this church and was established for the education of boys in 1840 and the education of girls two years later.
Returning to James Eley, the Saddler of Berkeley, he became a Member of the Berkeley Union Chapel and led the band there before the organ was installed.
Walter Eley wrote of his family:
‘Father was a native of Thornbury, where Grandfather, Grandmother, our Aunts Elizabeth and Martha and Uncle Thomas lived. I have heard Father say he could just remember his mother, she having died when he was about 9 years old, to quote the date taken from her grave in Thornbury Baptist Chapel graveyard 16 July 1814 aged 51.
‘I suppose large families were fashionable in those days, at all events we were a large family and these are the names of us all:
Elizabeth born 1 April 1831 married Joseph Bennett
James born 11 February 1833 married Fanny A Campling
Martha born 31 October 1834 married Oliver G. Marling
Mary born 6 September 1836 married Walford Durrant
Sarah Ann born 19 July 1838 married George Chesterfield
Henry born 18 April 1840 married Harriet Collins
Edward born 25 November 1841 married Mary Yeatman
Walter born 21 November 1843 married Rebecca Randle and then Alice Weston Sanders
Alice born 13 March 1846 and died when she was 19 years old
Emily Grace born 5 January 1848 married George Greening
Fanny born 25 October 1849 married Henry Dearlove
Lewis George born August 1851 and died when 19 months old
There is little peculiarity in us as a family – first was a girl, then a boy, then 3 girls, then 3 boys, then 3 girls, and then a boy.
Father was not a strong man by any means and his sedentary habits did not improve his health. I can remember him as a delicate man needing care and attention in every way. In 1860 his health began to fail him. He went to the Isle of Wight that year to recruit his failing strength but he came home little or no better. Then followed in the ensuing spring and summer a long illness of some months duration, culminating in his death just after 2 o’clock on the afternoon of 3 September 1861. We buried him with his father, mother and sisters in the Baptist Chapel graveyard, Thornbury. I was only a lad of 16 at the time but I remember him as a good, kind father doing his best for his large family, and his children rise up and call him blessed.
It has always been a source of satisfaction to me that I did my best for him during his long illness. Often sleeping in his room to minister to his wants at night, giving mother a rest. Dear old Dad. I can remember the evening of his death going to the top of the garden, having a good cry and resolving I would do my best and work for mother.’
James Eley was baptised at Thornbury Baptist Church on 20th January 1861 and was described as transferring ‘from an independent church’ – presumably the Berkeley Union Church. His will was made on 3rd July 1861 and he died two months later. He was buried at Thornbury Baptist Church and his estate was proved at less than £450.
His widow, Mary Ann, remained in Berkeley living in the High Street until she moved to the home of her youngest daughter in Bristol where she died in 1877. Her mortal remains were taken to Thornbury Baptist Church for burial. Their tombstone reads:
James Eley of Berkeley who died 3rd September 1861, aged 56 years
Also Ann Eley, his widow who died 19th July 1877, aged 67 years
Also Alice Eley their daughter who died 7th March 1865, aged 19 years
Also Lewis George Eley their son who died 11th March 1853 aged 1 year 7 months
Henry Eley became a Saddler and took over his father’s business in Canonbury Street, Berkeley before he moved the business to Cotham, Bristol sometime after 1867. He was a trustee of Thornbury Baptist Church from 1871. Henry was a saddler and harness maker and in the 1901 census return and was living at 86 Colston Street, Bristol. Henry was described as a sixty-year-old saddler and local preacher. Having died on 10th June 1916 his mortal remains were laid to rest at Thornbury Baptist Church.
Henry’s sister Martha and her husband, Oliver Marling, were instrumental in building Sharpness Union Chapel.
Extracts from the Reminiscences of Frank George Marling:
Berkeley Union Chapel
‘As a family we were attached to the Union Chapel, Berkeley. I remember attending the infant class where we were taught words made by the assembling of single letters which were made to slide into place on the inside of the lid of the box containing them. The infant class was held in the vestry, which was then a large room at the rear of the Chapel, since then pulled down to make way for a schoolroom and a small vestry, etc. Years after, when I was a grown man, I heard that the Infant Teacher who taught me as a child, had enquired after me. Alas, I have forgotten her name, and my stay in the Infant class is but a faint memory. One teacher remains outstanding, a Mr. King, a blacksmith – a big, brawny man, but so gentle and kind and of so impressive a manner. Another teacher in whose class I was for a time, brought his printed lesson book to school and read the lesson notes to us. I thought nothing of him as a teacher. I envied my brother who was in the Senior boys’ class, taught by the minister at that time, a Mr. Robinson.
The Rev. Robinson came to our house to tea one day. He was a very jolly man of early middle age, and fond of a joke. I had developed a big appetite after my illness (typhoid) and Mr. Robinson said, “Why, Frankie, where ever do you put it all?” To which I promptly replied “In a bag, Sir.” The way he threw back his head and roared with laughter was a sight to see…’
Sharpness Union Chapel
‘Religious services were held during the construction of the Docks in a tent. In quite early days after the opening of the Docks, services were held in a wooden room alongside the Dry Dock, a Sailors’ Missioner from Bristol frequently conducting same. Then a lady provided a corrugated iron structure at the end of Dock Row, and the services were continued there. Services of an evangelical nature attended by the inhabitants quite freely irrespective of their religious denomination. Soon after this the St. Andrew’s Waterside Mission became interested in the work, and eventually the oversight and direction of the services was handed over to the Vicar of Berkeley, and a Dock Chaplain was appointed, whose stipend of £150 a year was contributed in equal proportions by the Sharpness Dock Company, St Andrew’s Waterside Mission, and the Vicar of Berkeley. The services had by now become definitely as laid down by the Church of England, and those who were Nonconformists no longer felt at home in same. This led to a movement for a nonconformist place of worship, and my Father and others approached the Union Chapel, Berkeley, who decided to build a branch chapel at Sharpness. Just at that time a field at Oldminster was offered for sale in building plots, and the Chapel Committee secured a plot on which was built the first temporary Union Church. Houses were built forming a little centre, and the newly built place was named “Newtown.” I have dealt with the history of the Sharpness (Newtown) Union Church in my booklet entitled “The First Fifty Years of Sharpness Union Church, 1880-1930”, which I wrote in 1930 at the request of the Minister and Deacons, so there is no need to repeat it here.’
Their son, Frank George Marling was born in 1863 and became Secretary of Sharpness Docks, Pilotage Agent and Agent for the Capital and Counties Bank. He became a Founder Member, Deacon, Sunday School Superintendent, and Secretary of Sharpness Union Chapel. When he retired in 1931he and his wife moved to Esk House, Coombe Terrace, Wotton-under-Edge.
‘In 1879, when I was sixteen and a half I commenced Sunday School teaching at Pitbrook Sunday School, transferring to Sharpness in February 1880, when the latter was opened. In 1929 I was given the National Sunday School Union Diploma for fifty years continuous Sunday School service. The Sharpness Union Church was opened on 25 January 1880 and on the following Sunday a Sunday School was started. The Rev. W.J. Humberstone was the Minister at Berkeley and became automatically Minister of Sharpness. On 29 February the first communion service was held, and at that service I was amongst those received into Church membership. I remained a member until February 1932, when, with my wife, I was transferred to the Church at Old Town, Wotton-under-Edge. From the latter we were transferred on 4 March 1934 to Southgate Congregational Church, Gloucester. From the first I took an active part as teacher in the Sharpness Union Chapel Sunday School, and in 1893 was appointed to the position of Superintendent, a post which I held until the end of July 1929 when I left Sharpness on retiring from business. It is impossible to tell a hundredth part of one’s experience and activity in the Sunday School, of the hundreds of boys and girls whose careers I watched from their earliest infancy till they grew up, some of them into grandparents!’
Frank George Marling married his first cousin, Sarah Catherine Eley at Mount Pleasant Chapel, Falfield, on 7th September 1893. She was a granddaughter of Thomas Eley of Morton and he was a grandson of James Eley of Berkeley.
Extract from the Reminiscences of Frank George Marling:
‘We first met when I was four years, four months old, the first week in May 1867, and I have a vivid recollection of same, but as Kate was then only just past her second birthday (being born on 17 April 1865) she does not remember it. My Grandmother, who then lived in Berkeley, had occasion to go to Thornbury about some property of her late husband, and asked my Mother, also then living in Berkeley, to go with her – Mother took me. We drove in a dog cart driven by my Uncle Henry, who had taken over the saddlery business formerly carried out by my Grandfather (his father, James Eley) in Canonbury Street, Berkeley. I remember the white railings at the side of the road leading up to Bevington, so that shows we took the route through Hill. Next I remember seeing the Maypole at Moreton, and Uncle saying “A few days ago they were dancing round the Maypole.” Then I remember being in a house in Thornbury at the bottom corner of High Street as you turn round for Gloucester, and looking out of the window across “The Plain”, and seeing people fetching water from the pump there. When we were ready to start for home someone said “Why not call at Moreton and see cousin James?” James was a first cousin of my mother and Uncle Henry, and kept a farm at Moreton, which was near Thornbury. I remember the left hand turn in the lane, then a big pond on the right overhung by a big tree (walnut, I think), then the garden gate and path up to the house (a double fronted one). As we walked up the path we could see through the right hand window on the ground floor, where in that room was cousin James’ wife sitting on a chair with a baby on her lap (this was Shield, the eldest boy). I was sent out to play with the two little girls, those would be Florrie (three the previous February) and Kate (just gone two), the first girls I ever remember seeing. They took me into their “house”, the interior of a huge hedge of box, hollowed out in the centre where was a bare branch on which I sat and jogged up and down. We did not see cousin James as he was out in the fields and did not come in whilst we were there. I do not remember anything about the drive home.’
‘With the exception of the brief visit on 18 July 1877 I did not see Kate again until March (I think) 1881 when she came to stay at our house at Sharpness for a week. She was sitting on a chair on the left of our sitting room not far from the door when I went in, and directly we saw each other we fell in love with each other. I was too young and shy to say anything but we both understood. One night as I was going to bed we accidentally met at the bottom of the stairs and I kissed her hand. Strange to say, and to my great annoyance, it was Allan who had to go everywhere with her, to Berkeley and to Gloucester, and even to the station to see her off when she returned home. She was then living at Mireford Farm, Kingswood, near Wotton-under-Edge and had lost her father some years before from typhoid fever. We corresponded for a couple of years, and then Uncle Henry, then in business as a saddler in Colston Street, Bristol, invited us both to visit him and his wife for a week. I suppose he saw how things were, and had a serious talk with me, saying he did not think we ought to marry as we were too nearly related, etc. As I was then only 20, and I suppose easily persuaded, I gave up all thought of Kate, and ceased to correspond.
In the spring of 1893 I asked our choir at Union Church, Sharpness, if they would like to repeat a Service of Song that they had given at Sharpness, at a country place of worship. They were willing, I arranged with Shield Eley, who had the management of Stone Room (where I sometimes conducted services) to give the Service of Song there, he to take the choir. I arranged conveyance and took the choir over, and I did the reading. Shield brought his sister Kate, and seeing her again, unexpectedly, brought all my love back again, and I determined to try and win her.’
Of their children Ruth Marling married Rev Frank E. Quick M.A., a Congregational Minister, in August 1923 and her brother, Ken Marling, followed in the path of his Eley ancestors and became a Baptist. The following was said of him at his funeral in 1986:
‘He was brought up a Congregationalist as a young man, and he was associated for many years with Angel Place Congregational Church in Worcester. Their followed a number of ecclesiastical excursions of varied nature, and his spiritual pilgrimage was a remarkable one to say the least, embracing at one time the Christadelphian sect. His questing, open and adventurous mind was however not one which could be imprisoned or confined and, in 1954, he came to us at Abbey Road Baptist Church in Malvern and found in Baptist freedom and flexibility a climate much to his taste. He was a Deacon for almost twenty years, Sunday School Superintendent for several years, and Church Secretary from 1957-1969, one of the longest reigns as Church Secretary this century. It is difficult to exaggerate the contribution he made to Abbey Road and the impact he left upon us. Life has never been quite the same without him. He was a human dynamo, and his enthusiasm, good humour and transparent honesty and integrity won him universal affection. He still found time to hold office on the Malvern Christian Council for some time, and to be Treasurer of the Worcestershire Baptist Association for many years.’
To conclude this family story I am going to turn back to Sarah Eley, the youngest daughter of James Eley II and his wife, Ann, who was born in 1777. She lived for ninety-five-years and she must have seen many of the events that have been described in this article. She was described as a Fundholder and lived in the house that she had purchased from the late Thomas Harris in Harris’s Terrace, or Coombe Terrace, Coombe Road, Wotton-under-Edge. Her sister Mary, brother Thomas and cousin James Scarlett may also have lived with her at this address. She received £2,000 from the estate of her brother Thomas Eley and she was probably also a beneficiary of the estate of her cousin, James Scarlett, through her sister Mary.
F.G. Marling later wrote:
‘We had long known that our Great Aunt Sarah Eley once lived in Coombe Terrace. I remember when she died because my mother had £50 under her will. Your mother saw her funeral procession pass the top of Morton lane on the way to Thornbury. We also knew that Selina Presley had lived as companion with Great Aunt Sarah. Selina died about two and a half years ago but her sister Nelly Presley still lives in High Street where her late brother George and the sisters had a business. We knew too that somehow the Presleys were related to the Eleys. Also that the Foxwells were related to Eleys, but how we could not fathom. So we determined to seek out Nelly Presley. We found she was ill all last year and never expected to come downstairs again. But here she was – 79 – a little frail woman, but sprightly and mentally capable and very pleased to see us. Yes, Selina lived with Miss Eley the last ten years of her life, she lived next door but one to Esk House and was 95 when she died. ‘
Sarah actually died on 18th May 1872 and she was buried at Thornbury Baptist Church with her sister Mary and her brother Thomas. The tombstone reads:
Mary Eley died November 23rd 1838, aged 66 years
Thomas Eley, died December 7th 1839
Sarah Eley, died May 18th 1872, aged 94 years
THE FOUR BROTHERS
The sons of James Eley, the Saddler, kept in close touch, and made several tours together – this generation, fortunately for us, was photographically minded and among many prints left to us are groups of Henry, Walter, James and Edward, inscribed as “a memento of a visit to Gloucestershire, when they met at Bristol and visited also Clifton, Thornbury, Morton, Tortworth, Berkeley, Sharpness, etc, together 17 September 1900.” Here is an extract from that account:
‘An Account of a Meeting of the Four Eley Brothers in Gloucestershire on 17, 18, 19 September 1900’ by the Youngest, Walter Eley’
‘By going through Morton we had missed The Crossways where our old cousins Jane and Henry Shepherd lived. We were very fond of old Jane – a diminutive talkative old lady who occasionally used to visit my father and mother. Noted for making a good cup of tea she always called Father “Jums Alay.” The old lady used to say “If ee waant a good cup of tea, Jum Alay, you must put the taa in the Poot.” Henry used to come sometimes, well I remember him, a tall, gaunt man with a cast in his eye, hob nail boots with his trousers about an inch above the top of his boots showing white cotton stockings.
Henry used to eat and drink everything set before him and smoke his pipe like a puffing steam engine. Late in the afternoon Henry would say “Well, Cousin Jums, I must be gwain, got anything to ge me afore I doo.” Henry used to cultivate a small field attached to the house and would do nothing else. The story goes on one occasion a neighbouring farmer wanted his help to get in the harvest, and his sister Jane urged him to go saying the money would buy him a good pair of boots which he just then badly needed. “He goo to wurk to buy boots not he, ge me the muney and I’ll go, but he wasn’t gwain to wurk to buy boots we the muney, not he,” and Henry would not go.’
‘Our father’s town. We had all heard of it soon as we could remember, knew some of the names of old inhabitants from hearsay, and it was our delight to visit in our youth. Our grandfather, grandmother, uncles, aunts with cousins, many lived and died and were buried here. They all slept in the Baptist Chapel graveyard with our own father and mother, our sister Alice and our youngest brother Lewis George.
We called on cousin Emma Bruton, who with her brother Eli Bruton are the only two members of the old family left. Eli lives in Oldbury on Severn some five miles from Thornbury. We did not see him as he was unable to come to Thornbury that morning, but he sent his son to meet us. As boys we knew their father and mother James Bruton and his wife, good worthy folk. They and some of their children lie in the Chapel graveyard. We chatted with Emma of the old day folks and their times, and she had kindly provided refreshments for us. “I be so glad to see ee all again and such smart men too” was her comment on our personal appearance.
We then walked down the High Street, I suppose to the Plain at the bottom, had a good look at the house on the corner where grandfather and mother lived, and afterwards our aunts Elizabeth and Martha. I never saw them, but father was very fond of them. On their deaths these two houses became the property of my father. Then we visited the old Baptist Chapel and graveyard. A sacred place to me, the resting place of those who have established and maintained the service of God according to their consciences in this little meeting place. 1805 is the year marked on the outside gable, but it must have been established years before that. I have in my possession documents relating to the rebuilding or enlarging of the Chapel dated…(not entered in this book).
We entered the building, stood on the spot where we had all stood, felt a great reverence for the place, and thanked God for it.’
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