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The Townsends of the Hop Villages

(Blacksmiths, Publicans and everyone a ‘James’)

It all started when a visitor appeared fairly early one morning at the door of the Tarrington vestry just as  the priest, John Watkins was setting up for a Communion service that was to start within the following ten minutes. Of course, not being of the right gender for multi tasking, John made a poor job of listening to the visitor’s query whilst attending to his preparations.

Did John know where the Townsend grave was? – a funeral in the 1960’s?  – , he was just a boy but remembers being there? –  an elderly aunt who lived in the thatched cottage near the pub. He had a painting of the cottage and had John  heard of the artist, Gilbert Spencer RA., the younger brother of Sir Stanley Spencer?

In his defence John claimed that the visitor assured him that he would leave his contact details in the visitors’ book and that he would send a copy of the painting. In the event neither happened and the extent of the missed opportunity to add a rather special piece into the jigsaw of Tarrington’s past became increasingly clear. 

A subsequent article in the village magazine telling the tale and linking the missing cottage picture to two other paintings by Spencer of Tarrington held in the Hereford Art Gallery, created interest but no actual result.

After the months passed and nothing was heard, the writers decided to see if it were possible to work out who it was who died in the sixties at Foley Cottage  and in what direction the missing painting might have gone.

The first bit was relatively easy from checking the electoral role and the burial register. Although he had not been entirely sure himself, our visitor must have been looking for the grave of Rose Margaret Townsend, who was buried in 1961 and whose last home was indeed Foley Cottage.

You could be forgiven for thinking that it would be fairly easy to work forwards from there but in reality, it seems easier to go backwards than forwards and sometimes it’s necessary to go backwards and come forwards again down a slightly different branch. It’s also a great temptation as one goes back and forth in time, to travel up several blind alleys and to pop down other paths simply because they looked interesting. All of that has featured in what is described below.

We discovered a story of Blacksmiths, publicans, five generations of men called James and finally, a rather lovely picture of a Foley cottage.

Our enquiry took us back to James Townsend (1820-1904) who was born in Sollershope Herefordshire.  As a young man, in 1843 in Saint Swithen’s church Worcester, James married Susannah Jones (1823-1893).

They made their home in Bosbury, which is where their first child, Thomas, (the first child of fifteen), was baptised in 1844,  their home address at the time of his baptism in Bosbury church was given as ‘Martins’.

All of the children were baptised in Bosbury. The next recorded address was given as ‘The Crown Inn’’ Bosbury. This is a bit of a puzzle; in a list of the landlords of that former public house, available on the excellent Bosbury history website, there is no mention of a family of that name and so the nature of the Townsend’s residence there is unclear.

Over the years between 1844 and 1868, Vicars of Bosbury were kept busy baptising the babies of James and Susannah Townsend. During that time they  were  ‘lapped’ when their eldest daughter, Mary,  gave birth to her first child, Isabella.  

In all of the family’s baptismal entries at Bosbury, James’ occupation is given as a ‘blacksmith’ and returning to the Register’s column for place of residence, it is interesting to note the  variations in the  family’s address, ‘Martins’, ‘The Crown Inn’, ‘Village’ or ‘Bosbury’. We might assume that this is either because different clergy recorded the home address in different ways from each other or on different occasions or because the family’s home address did change within Bosbury.

So we know that in 1871 when James was 49/50, he was a blacksmith at Bosbury, but there are at least three possible forges to choose from, Pow Green, the middle of the village and Staplow); his sons James, Frederick, William and Edwin were assistant blacksmiths at what must have been a busy forge. Other sons in turn also became blacksmiths, with some leaving to start or continue work in other forges elsewhere in the surrounding villages.

By the time of the 1901 Census, Ernest Townsend b 1868, the youngest son, was a blacksmith at Bosbury and there is some evidence that this was Staplow.

(On the Bosburyhistoryresource.org.uk/bosbury-pictures, as well as the photo of ‘The Forge Bosbury’, there is one of Ernest and his family dated 1901. This was donated by Iain & Jane Baird; there are a few more of the Townsends.

Having started the story with possibly the most fecund couple in Bosbury’s history, our focus for this short history moves on to the second eldest son, another James.

This James (1859 – 1929), had married Emily Harriet Bozier Mainwaring – (1851-1913), a girl who had been born in London, the wedding took place in Bosbury Parish Church in 1874; together they had six children.

At  some point between 1876 and 1880  James and his young family left the Bosbury Forge and moved to a forge just inside the Tarrington parish boundary; this is not the forge  that most of us know situated just behind the Tarrington Arms, but the other Tarrington forge,  which was on the site of the garage by Durlow.

Later in life, possibly in some sort of gradual process, James mixed his work as blacksmith with a new business of  becoming the tenant or owner the Trumpet Inn at Pixley about half a mile further down the road. Thus it was that in the 1891 census he was described his occupation as Blacksmith/ Publican but ten years later, it seems that he had hung up his leather apron and in the 1901 declared himself to be a Publican.

The six children of James and Emily are:

Olive Isabella b. 1874

James born 1876

May born 1880

Susan born 1883

Rose born 1885

Emily born 1890

We  know that James of the Trumpet Inn died in 1922  but we do not know where he is buried. His wife Emily Harriet Townsend died before him in 1913 aged sixty two years and she is buried in Tarrington in the older of the two family plots.

We know a little about some of the children; more about some of the others.

Olive Isabelle was born and baptised in Bosbury in 1874; sadly she died on 14th December 1880 aged only six years. By then of course the family would have included her younger brother and sister James and May. The forge was in the parish of Tarrington and so Olive Isabelle was buried in  Tarrington churchyard.  Her paternal grandmother died only four months after young Olive Isabelle and she was buried with her granddaughter..

James born 1876  (see below)

May born 1880-1959. She was born and baptised in Tarrington. She never married and is buried in Tarrington. She ran the Pixley post office which was just over the road from the Trumpet Inn; a part of what had been Mainstone Farmhouse. In the farm house in the 1950’s there was a hand water pump and a priests’ hiding hole.

Susan born 1883-1967 married Harry T. Hilliard in 1918. It seems that almost as soon as they said goodbye to their wedding guests after the service in Ledbury church, they left for America. She appears to have been the only child of this family who flew the Herefordshire nest. Susan and Harry had  one son, Henry Townsend Hilliard born 1919 as well as a daughter Rosemary who was born in the following year. Susan and her husband did rather well in America and he started what, in one more generation, became an industrial empire connected to ship building. Within two years of their arrival in America they had their own home and were employing a chauffeur and a cook.

Susan made several return journeys to England by ocean liner. The last trip appears to have been made in 1941 on the Ship ULUA.

Susan and her husband both died in Texas. The empire continues to flourish and a little search of the internet reveals a great deal of evidence of all this. Many descendants have names as middle names and surnames of ‘Townsend’, ‘Mainwaring’ and ‘Hilliard’ but we know nothing of what they might know of their family history.

Rose Margaret was born 1885. She never married and had no children. She gave thirty years service as Churchwarden of Pixley and later in life retired to Foley Cottage in Tarrington. Gwyneth Williams a life long member of the Tarrington congregation, remembers Rose as a quiet woman at Foley Cottage as does John Lane, only a boy when she was the next door neighbour.   By the time of her death Rose left an estate valued at £2,420 to her youngest sister Emily. She died and despite that long association with Pixley church, she is buried in Tarrington in the same family grave as her parents and her sister May.

Emily born 1890 was baptised in Tarrington on 23.2.1890. She was unmarried in 1959 when she was named in her sister’s will. As a young woman certainly up to 1911 she was helping with ‘house duties’ presumably in the Trumpet Inn.

The four sisters taken in 1937 (from left to right Emily, Rose, May and Susan)

James is missing from this family occasion having died some fifteen years earlier. We do not know whether this photo was taken on a particular family occasion and nor do we know whether the sister Susan returned with an American accent but once again, out of this family, we follow the path of the son James (1876—1922).

James attended Tarrington School and in 1890 he was awarded a certificate showing that he had passed his ‘seventh standard’. To be still at our village school, aged 14 in 1890 might suggest that he was an able pupil. Having grown up, seeing much of the hostelry trade, James became the owner of the Feathers Hotel in Ledbury but this was probably not until after he had fought in both Boer Wars. He had enlisted in 1901 in the Imperial Yeomanry. After his service we believe that he received a Chelsea Pension but we do not have details of any disablement incurred in the wars. Perhaps his relatively early death, aged only forty six, was an indication of his poor health. He married a Ledbury woman, Dora Blanche Barnett in 1907. There was a son, James Bennett Townsend born in 1910 as well as an adopted daughter, Joyce who later took up pineapple farming in South Africa.

Following James’ early death, (leaving an estate worth £6,956.0.3d., Dora continued to run the Feathers and in retirement in 1939, she was living with her daughter in a house called ‘Granta’ at 33 Bank Crescent Ledbury. At some point she moved to join Joyce in South Africa but returned to England in 1956 in poor health to stay with her son, James Bennett Townsend who lived at Little Gadesden Nr Berkhampstead Hertfordshire;

Dora died only a few days after her return and she is buried in an unmarked grave in Ledbury Cemetery. She left an estate worth £387 4\- 

The reader will not be surprised to hear that son James Bennett Townsend born in 1910, had a son called James Robert Bozier Townsend who was born in 1949. This makes him the fifth James, one in each of five consecutive generations of the family.  

We made contact with James only to find that he too had lived in Little Gadesden all his life and was the proud owner of the painting of Foley Cottage Tarrington  painted by Gilbert Spencer RA in the 1960’s.

We are grateful to him for all of his help in preparing this short family history, not withstanding that we hope that the next time he visits a church, he signs the visitors book!

Foley Cottage, Tarrington Gilbert Spencer RA 1961
copyright James Robert Bozier Townsend 2020