Edward Leighfield of Wootton Bassett (a FACHRS challenge)

This is a research project I carried out for the Family and Community Historical Research Society 2019 collaborative mini-project, which was themed around gardeners. Each mini project lasts a year. I was allocated Edward Leighfield (1831-1905), a market gardener from the town where I live, Wootton Bassett.

Edward was very interesting to research, not least because he had no descendants of his own to remember him. However, the Leighfield surname is well established in Wootton Bassett with digitised records dating back to 1761.[1] There are no earlier mentions of the name in lists of clergy, mayors, or the Victoria County History.

Edward Leighfield was the son of Alexander Leighfield, a labourer, and Sarah Leighfield nee Newth, who were married in 1817.[2] Alexander and Sarah lived in Wootton Bassett their whole lives.

Edward was probably born in late 1831 and was baptised at St Bartholomew’s and All Saints, the parish church of Wootton Bassett, on 18th Dec 1831.[3] Edward was the ninth of twelve children. The children were as follows:

  • John Leighfield, baptised in 1818, married Anne Titcombe in 1838.
  • William Leighfield, baptised in 1820, no subsequent records found.
  • James Leighfield, baptised in 1821, at home with his parents in 1841, no subsequent records found.
  • Walter Leighfield, baptised in 1822, died in 1840 aged 18 years.
  • Elliott Leighfield, baptised in 1824, imprisoned in 1842 for six months for stealing coal, died in 1845 aged 21 years.
  • Ann Leighfield, baptised in 1826, at home with her parents in 1841, married John Arman in 1849.
  • George Leighfield, baptised in 1827, at home with his parents in 1841.
  • Alexander Leighfield, baptised in 1829, at home with his parents in 1841.
  • Edward Leighfield, baptised in 1831, at home with his parents in 1841.
  • Charles Leighfield, baptised in 1834, at home with his parents in 1841.
  • Harriet Leighfield, born in about 1836, baptised in 1838, at home with her parents in 1841.
  • Hannah (aka Ann) Leighfield, born in 1839 baptised in 1840, at home with her parents in 1841, died in 1841.
  • Mary Anna (aka Mary Hannah) Leighfield, birth possibly unregistered, baptised in 1842, married Simeon Franklin in 1861.

By 1841 Alexander and Sarah were living in Buthay with nine of their children.[4] The two eldest, John and William, were not listed with them, and to date I have not been able to find their whereabouts. Alexander was working as an agricultural labourer, and it is likely that they were a relatively poor family. Buthay, which is behind the church, is now part of Church Street.[5] Most of the houses in Buthay were simple cottages rented by poor labourers.

By 1851 the family were living in The Barton.[6] Only two children were still living at home, Edward and his sister Mary Hannah. Edward was now 19 years old and was working as an agricultural labourer. Also living with them on the day of the census were two of Alexander’s grandchildren, Frederick and George. In 1855 Edward’s mother Sarah died.[7]

In 1861 the family were still living in The Barton.[8] The family members were the same as in 1851 with the addition of another grandson, also called George, and a lodger, George Sadler. Three Georges in one house! Edward was still working as a labourer in 1861, and Mary Hannah was described as a housekeeper, probably because she was keeping house for her widowed father, brother, and nephews. Edward appears in the Poll Book in 1868, still living in The Barton.[9]

Edward married Sarah Ann Bradwell on 5th Jun 1869 at the parish church.[10] Both of them signed the register with a cross, showing that Edward could not write. Edward was about 36 years old, and neither he nor Sarah had married before. Edward gives his own occupation, and his father’s occupation, as haulier.

Edward probably left The Barton on his marriage. In the 1871 census Edward and Sarah were living at an unnamed public house in Hunt Mill Lane.[11] Edward’s occupation was given as inn keeper and haulier. I have found no evidence to show what kind of goods Edward or his father transported, but Edward’s move to Hunt Mill suggests that they were timber hauliers at the nearby Vastern sawmills.

Although Edward’s inn was unnamed in 1871, it was undoubtedly the same one that he occupied in 1881, a beer house later named the Skew Bridge Inn. It was so named because it stands beside the Grade II Listed bridge designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel which crosses the railway at an angle. The inn was a small property of only one storey, which mainly served the navvies working on the railway line and the workers at Vastern sawmill.

The Skew Bridge Inn is the building next to the letters W (well) and B H (beer house). Map generated from ARCHI UK Search © OpenStreetMap contributors, National Library of Scotland

The Skew Bridge Inn still exists today but has been derelict for many years and is now very dilapidated.

Skew Bridge Inn photographed by Sheridan Parsons 2019

In the 1875 Post Office Directory Edward was listed as a beer retailer in Hunt Mill Lane.[12]

In the 1881 census Edward and Sarah were listed at the Skew Bridge Inn (this was the first occasion that it was named).[13] Edward’s occupation was given as a beer house keeper, and for the first time, as a market gardener.

In this era in the Wootton Bassett area it was typical for landlords to keep a smallholding where they could grow produce and keep pigs, chickens, and milking cows. The produce was sold to customers, and sometimes the innkeeper would undertake local grocery deliveries. It is likely that this was how Edward operated his business, particularly as he is known to have had a pony and trap (see below).

On 16 Feb 1884 the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard reported that Edward had used an unlicensed horse and trap to carry a passenger.[14]

WOOTTON BASSETT PETTY SESSIONS

Saturday – (Before the Rev F Dyson, chairman, H N Goddard, Esq., and D Archer Esq.) – Excise Prosecutions

Edward Leighfield, market gardener, of Wootton Bassett, was summoned by the Excise for using his horse and trap otherwise than in his trade. The case was proved by Mr. Wagstaff, Inland Revenue officer, stationed at Wootton Bassett, who stated that on 27th December last he saw defendant with a passenger in his trap, defendant having no license to carry the same. – Defendant called a man named John Atkins, as witness in his behalf, but he did him more harm than good. – The magistrates thought the case proved and fined defendant 30s. including costs.

On 14th Feb 1885 the Swindon Advertiser and North Wilts Chronicle reported a horse deal case in which Edward was a minor witness. He was referred to as ‘innkeeper of Skew Bridge’.[15]

On 5th May 1888 the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard reported that the licence of the Skew Bridge Inn had been transferred from Mr Edward Leighfield to Mr Samuel Gray.[16]

In the 1889 Electoral Register, Edward was listed living at a dwelling house in Hunt Mill Road.[17]

In the 1891 census Edward and Sarah were listed at an unnamed property at Hunt Mill.[18] By now the new inn keeper Samuel Gray was at the Skew Bridge Inn, listed there with his wife, three children and a lodger. Based on the listing order of the census, it is likely that Edward and Sarah lived at a property next door to the inn. (There are no nearby properties today). Edward’s occupation was given as market gardener, neither employer, nor employed, indicating that he was self employed and worked alone. He may have provided produce to the inn, but this is purely speculative.

In the 1901 census Edward and Sarah were again listed at an unnamed property at Hunt Mill.[19] Edward is still listed as a market gardener working on his own account. The resident at the next property listed was George Jefferies, also a market gardener working on his own account. The next neighbour beyond this was a timber haulier, Charles Rawlins, which lends support to the idea that Edward was formerly a timber haulier.

Edward and Sarah probably moved back into Wootton Bassett between 1901 and 1904. It seems likely that Edward was no longer young enough or fit enough to run his market gardening business.

Sarah died on 7th Jan 1904 at Beamans Lane, which consisted mostly of small rented cottages. She was buried on 11th Jan 1904 in Wootton Bassett Cemetery, grave plot 60. She was listed as the wife of Edward Leighfield, a market gardener.[20]

Edward died almost exactly a year later, on 6th Jan 1905 at the local Union Workhouse in Purton.[21] He was buried on 10th Jan 1905 at Wootton Bassett Cemetery.[22] He was not buried in the same grave as Sarah, but in grave plot 41a.[23] With no ancestors to correct the record, he was listed as a farm labourer.

Edward and Sarah had no children, and left no direct ancestors.


[1] Banns of John Leighfield, accessed via Find My Past.

[2] Wiltshire, England, Marriages, 1538-1837, accessed via Ancestry.

[3] Wiltshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, Chippenham, Wiltshire, England; Reference Number: 1235/12, accessed via Ancestry.

[4] 1841 England Census, Class: HO107; Piece: 1179; Book: 14; Civil Parish: Wootton Bassett; County: Wiltshire; Enumeration District: 4; Folio: 25; Page: 43; Line: 8; GSU roll: 464197, accessed via Ancestry.

[5] Note that houses in Wootton Bassett were not numbered until 1914.

[6] 1851 England Census, Class: HO107; Piece: 1834; Folio: 132; Page: 37; GSU roll: 220981, accessed via Ancestry.

[7] Wiltshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre; Chippenham, Wiltshire, England; Reference Number: 1235/20, accessed via Ancestry.

[8] 1861 England Census, Class: RG 9; Piece: 1273; Folio: 107; Page: 26; GSU roll: 542787, accessed via Ancestry.

[9] UK, Poll Books and Electoral Registers, 1538-1893, accessed via Ancestry.

[10] Wiltshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1916, Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre; Chippenham, Wiltshire, England; Reference Number: 1235/25, accessed via Ancestry.

[11] 1871 England Census, Class: RG10; Piece: 1885; Folio: 60; Page: 8; GSU roll: 830860, accessed via Ancestry.

[12] 1875 Post Office Directory of Hampshire, Wiltshire & Dorset, page 665, accessed via Ancestry.

[13] 1881 England Census, Class: RG11; Piece: 2022; Folio: 84; Page: 14; GSU roll: 1341488, accessed via Ancestry.

[14] Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard, 16 Feb 1884, via BNA British Newspaper Archive.

[15] British Newspaper Archive.

[16] British Newspaper Archive.

[17] England & Wales, Electoral Registers 1832-1932, Archive: The British Library, Archive reference: SPR.Mic.P.181/BL.W.86, Image number: 232, accessed via Find My Past.

[18] 1891 England Census, The National Archives of the UK (TNA); Kew, Surrey, England; Class: RG12; Piece: 1587; Folio: 107; Page: 20, accessed via Ancestry.

[19] England Census, Class: RG13; Piece: 1911; Folio: 101; Page: 10, accessed via Ancestry.

[20] Wootton Bassett Town Council website, http://www.twachronicle.com/archive/wootton/burials/book1/pge00106.jpg.

[21] & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915, accessed via Ancestry.

[22] England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1916, Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre; Chippenham, Wiltshire, England; Reference Number: 1235/21, accessed via Ancestry.

[23] Wootton Bassett Town Council website, http://www.twachronicle.com/archive/wootton/burials/book1/pge00109.jpg.

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