James Parnell was born on 8th August 1790, the 11th child (and 8th son) of Hugh Parnell, a Thornbury attorney and his wife, Ann (nee Osborne).

Like his own father, James had a large family.  We know from the baptism records of his children that James was a carpenter and that his wife was called Hannah.  We can however find no record of  James getting married until 1842, long after the birth of several of their children.

James and Hannah finally ‘tied the knot’ at St James Church in Bristol on 12th December 1842.  Hannah was baptised as Hannah Parnell Clark – the illegitimate daughter of Mary Clark – on 9th June 1805 (born on 3rd May 1805).  When Hannah married James Parnell in 1842 she used the name of ‘Hannah Clark’.

The 1840 Tithe Survey shows James was living at 14 St Mary Street, Thornbury.  The 1841 Census also shows him in this house.  James was a carpenter aged 50 living with his wife, Hannah a dressmaker aged 35 and their children: Alfred and Ann, both aged 15, Hugh aged 9, James aged 6, William aged 4 and Elizabeth aged 6 months.

Of their children, we know Alfred was baptised on 15th April 1824, James baptised on 15th June 1829, Hugh baptised on 18th March 1832 and William baptised on 28th May 1837.  We don’t know when Ann or Elizabeth were baptised.  Following the census they also had Frances baptised on 9th May 1843 and Thomas baptised on 19th October 1845.

It is interesting to note that in his last will and testament, James made special mention of Alfred who was an executor of the Will and Ann who had become the wife of Thomas Bevan.  He arranged for all his infant children to share in his estate, both legitimate and illegitimate children.  He noted that William was an illegitimate son, and that “my illegitimate children, Hugh Parnell, James Parnell and Elizabeth Parnell, by my said wife before my marriage with her” and that Frances and Thomas were born by Hannah since their marriage.  

By the 1851 Census the Parnells had moved to The Coombe, near the Workhouse.  James was shown as a retired carpenter aged 60, living with his wife, Hannah was aged 45, and children Hugh aged 19, William aged 13, Elizabeth aged 10, James junior a tailor’s apprentice aged 16, Frances aged 7, and Thomas aged 5.

James died on 26th January 1858 aged 67.  We know that Hannah continued to live in The Coombe and in the 1861 census Hannah is shown there as a widowed fundholder aged 54 living with her children: Hugh an agricultural labourer aged 29, Frances a dressmaker aged 17, William an agricultural labourer aged 23, and Thomas aged 15. There is no sign of James Junior.

James appeared to own a number of properties in Thornbury, presumably inherited from his father.  In his Will, James had allowed Hannah to live in their house until her death or until she re-married.  In September quarter 1864, Hannah married again and following this the properties he owned were sold off.  In 1865, the devisees of James Parnell arranged the sale of the house at The Coombe described as a substantial and well built dwelling house comprising parlour, kitchen, back kitchen, wash-house, cellar, pantry, 4 bedrooms, pigsty, stable, productive garden and paddock of arable land containing in the whole by estimation 3 roods 24 perches.  There is a good supply of hard and soft water.  Another property of James Parnell’s in Chapel Street, occupied by John Trayhurn, a tailor, was also put up for sale at the same time.

Hannah married again in 1864 – her new husband was a widower, William Stephens, a master mariner and the son of Charles Stephens, a labourer.  It is interesting to note that in the same quarter Hannah’s daughter, Frances, married William’s son, Jonah.  Following her marriage Hannah moved out of The Coombe and settled in Ham Lane, Oldbury.  Hannah died aged 77 and was buried on 20th April 1877.  She was buried in the same grave as her first husband, James Parnell.

Of their children:

Ann – in 1846, Ann married Thomas Bevan in 1846 and her life is described in more detail elsewhere on the website – click here to read more

James Junior – the 1851 Census shows James as an apprentice tailor aged 16.  In 1858 James was involved in some trouble in Bristol in which a sum of money was stolen from him.  Although he was the victim of a crime, the Bristol Mercury article dated 25th December 1858 shows James in a very bad light.  It gives the story the heading ‘A Yokel’ and refers to James as ‘one of the dullest witnesses we ever remember have seen produced in court’ and adds ‘the wonder in court seemed to be, not that he had lost his money, but that he had not been denuded of his skin’.  It explains that James was a tailor from Thornbury who had recently come into a legacy paid largely in £5 notes.  He went into Bristol with his mother, brother and some others to make some purchases and after they went home he stayed in Bristol for the evening to ‘see life’.  He went to the theatre and the following morning he went to the circus.  In the evening he ‘enjoyed himself’ and found himself in a coffee house where he remembers being pressed by a young lady to go upstairs and lie down on the bed.  He fell asleep and when he awoke next morning he found he had lost two £5 notes and some gold and silver.  Luckily for James, the police were able to arrest the lady and her accomplice and to trace the money stolen.

We cannot find James in the 1861 and 1871 censuses.  This is because he is away with the Army.  James was a Private in the 31st Regiment of Foot and he was stationed in China, Malta and Gibraltar and he appointed his widowed sister, Frances Stephens, to handle his affairs regarding the property at 3 Bath Road which his father had owned.

On 1st June 1865 James Parnell (jnr) appears to have agreed the sale of the property at 3 Bath Road.  It was to be sold to Isaac Budgett for £80, with Thomas Facey assisting Isaac with the mortgage.  However, with only £55 paid by Isaac Budgett, it appears that the purchase was not completed.  In July 1873, Thomas Wilson paid James Parnell the outstanding £25 and paid £11 to Thomas Facey to and so acquired the property.  When he retired from soldiering he went back to being a tailor.  He must have spent the £80 that he made from the sale of his property.

James was discharged from the army on 2nd October 1878.  Although he was the grandson of the wealthy property owner and attorney he seems to have had rather a dramatic decline in fortune and by 1880 he was in trouble.  An article in the Bristol Mercury dated 4th December 1880 reports that James, an army pensioner was charged with lodging in an outhouse belonging to Henry Honeyborne of Morton.  It was mentioned that James had been discharged from gaol about six weeks and during that time had only slept in a bed two nights.  He had been four times convicted of similar offences.  The magistrate thought he was an incorrigible rogue and expressed determination to commit him to the Quarter Session the next time he came before them.  He was sentenced to 3 months with hard labour.

The following year, 1881, he did end up in North Hamlet Prison in Gloucestershire.  The Petty Sessional Court shows that he had been charged with ‘lodging in an outhouse at Upper Morton on 20th March 1881 having no visible means of subsistence and not giving a good account of himself.  He was discharged on this occasion with a ‘promise of amendment’.  However a few weeks later he was back charged with being a ‘rogue and vagabond wandering abroad and lodging in an outhouse at Thornbury on 1st April 1881’.  This time he was sentenced to three months hard labour.  The 1891 census shows James as a pauper inmate in Thornbury Union Workhouse described as an unmarried tailor aged 59.  James died on 23rd November 1899 aged 65.

Hugh – also got in trouble.  In 1855 he was charged with feloniously stealing 2 sovereigns, one half sovereign and 3 half-crowns from Solomon Morgan and sentenced to 6 months in prison.  He was described as ‘Thornbury labourer aged 23, height 5ft 2.5 inches, dark brown hair, grey eyes, oval face and fresh complexion with burns on right arm and back of right shoulder’.  In 1860 he was charged again – this time for stealing 19 shillings from Daniel Hicks – and sentenced to a further 6 months hard labour.  In 1881 he was up before the Petty Sessional Court.  The record shows Hugh was an inmate of the Union Workhouse when he was charged with refusing to perform ‘certain tasks of work suited to his age, strength and capacity to wit scouring plates, knives and forks’ in the Workhouse on 29th June 1881 when requested to do so.  Hugh pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 14 days hard labour.

Frances– born on 9th May 1843 and was a dressmaker in the 1861 Census.  Frances married Jonah Stephens in the September quarter of 1864.  The 1861 Census shows that Jonah was then aged 22 and was the master of ship called the Blanche and was from Oldbury on Severn.  Jonah died on 5th January 1866 and was buried at Oldbury.  Frances remarried on 6 Aug 1878 at Westbury on Severn to a farmer – John Hopkins and lived at Westbury.