We spent a lot of time trying to unravel the confusion caused by the fact that there were two men called Francis James Williams living in Thornbury in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, both born around the same time. One of these was a sanitary inspector and surveyor, the other a seedsman and assistant overseer. To make matters worse, one of them was a registrar of marriages and the other the deputy registrar of marriages! Click here to read about the Francis Williams who was a seedsman.
Francis was born in the St Paul’s area of Bristol in 5th November 1844, the son of William Williams, a mason and his wife, Ann. Ann was working as a grocer in the Census of 1851 when the family lived at Spring Street, Bedminster in Bristol. By 1861 the family had moved to a ‘yard with no name’ in Ship Lane, St Mary Redcliffe in Bristol. Francis now aged 16 was working as a mason in his father’s employ.
Francis Williams married Elizabeth Willey in Bedminster on 25th December 1867. He was 23 years old and the son of William Williams. Elizabeth was the daughter of Robert Willey and she was was 22 years old having been born on 1st September 1845. Before they came to Thornbury the 1871 census shows that they lived at 5 Francis Place, Bedminster. He was working as a mason and they had a daughter Laura aged two, and an unnamed baby (who we assume was later christened Robert) aged one month.
We believe that Francis J Williams appeared in the 1877 trade directory with the address of John Street (an address that included Pullins Green at that time). The family were certainly living in number 9 Pullins Green at the time of the 1881 census. This showed Francis was aged 36, a surveyor and an inspector born in Bristol. His wife Elizabeth aged 35 was also born in Bristol. They had six children at this time; Laura aged 12, Robert J aged 10, Frederick William aged 7 (born 10th May 1873), all born in Bristol, and Clement aged 5, Phillip aged 3 and Frances E aged 1, all born in Thornbury. Little Frederick was noted as being ‘dumb but not deaf’ and being an ‘imbecile’. This unkind description was given to a whole range of conditions and we assume that Frederick had learning difficulties of some kind. The words ‘Deformed spine’ are noted underneath, possibly applying to Frederick but possibly applying to Clement. They had another son, James Griffiths Williams, born 31st January 1882 who died 9th August 1883.
They didn’t stay in Pullins Green very long. The Thornbury trade directory 1889 shows Francis as a sanitary inspector and registrar of marriages and in the 1891 census shows the family living at the house which later became known as 60 High Street. The 1885 rate book shows that he had already moved to the High Street by that date. Francis was shown in the 1891 census as a surveyor and sanitary inspector aged 46, with Elizabeth, Frederick W aged 17 classified as ‘dumb’, Clement aged 15, and Philip aged 13, and Frances E aged 11. Sadly young Frederick William died that year aged 18. He was buried at what is now known as the United Reformed Church on 1st June 1891.
The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post of November 5th 1892 shows that Francis James Williams had moved to Chapel Street. We believe that this was actually what later became 2 Chapel Street. The article in the newspaper asked for contractors and others to tender for providing and laying about 100 yards of cast iron water main (including excavating) and also for providing and fixing a stand post in the town of Thornbury. Francis James Williams of Chapel Street Thornbury was the surveyor at this time.
In 1894 Alfred Burchell the owner of three cottages in Chapel Street was ordered to abate a nuisance by emptying a cesspool and preventing its re-occurrence. Francis in his capacity of “Inspector of Nuisances” visited these properties almost directly opposite his home on several occasions and reported that their condition was “injurious to health” and a recurrent problem. He visited the properties with Dr Bond the Medical Officer of Health and managed to get an order prohibiting the houses from being used for human habitation until changes were made. This must have been a controversial decision in the neighbourhood.
According to a trade directory of 1895, Francis has taken on another role as Secretary of the Independent Order of Oddfellows. The Oddfellows is one of the largest and oldest friendly societies in the country. It evolved from the medieval Trade Guilds and established groups all over the country, meeting in pubs and church halls. It is a social and care organisation which raises money for charities but also arranges social events to provide opportunities for making friends.
In 1898 it was reported in the Bristol Times that the Council were going to instruct Crossman & Co to conclude an agreement for a public right of way to the Cossham Hall over Mr Francis Williams’s yard. This right would be extinguished on the death of Miss Saise when another entrance to the the Cossham Hall would be constructed.
On November 26th 1898, the Bristol Mercury stated that the surveyor Mr F Williams had reported to the Thornbury Guardians meeting that “the West Gloucestershire Water Company had commenced to lay the water to the workhouse entrance and asked the Board for instructions for getting the mains brought up the private road to the buildings”. This is part of the long struggle in Thornbury to give the town clean water. Read about the piped water supply.
In 1901 Francis and Elizabeth still lived in Chapel Street with their family. He was a 56 year old surveyor and sanitary inspector. Their son Clement now 25 was a coal and builder’s merchant. Their daughter Frances E was aged 21.
Although Francis Williams did not appear to own his own property he was not without funds. We have a record of a mortgage for a cottage in Gillingstool in 1903 loaned to Edward Fowler (mortgagor) by Francis James Williams sanitary inspector (mortgagee).
On 1st October 1904 at St Mary’s Church Francis and Elizabeth’s son Clement, then aged 29 married Beatrice Louisa Barrett aged 27 and the daughter of a shipwright George Isaac Barrett.
In the 1911 census Francis James Williams aged 66 was still a sanitary inspector who had been married for 43 years. He and his wife had had seven children of whom five survived. Elizabeth Williams his wife was 65. Their daughter Francis Elizabeth Williams aged 31 and single assisted her father as clerk.
The records of what is now known as the United Reformed Church show that Francis James Williams died in January 1925 aged 80. His address at that time was Chapel Street. Francis’s son, Clement, died in 1927, a victim of the influenza epidemic. Elizabeth also died in 1927 on 23rd January.
The probate record shows that Francis James Williams of Chapel Street in Thornbury died 6th January 1925 and that probate was granted in Gloucester on 19th March to Philip Williams sanitary surveyor, Laura Williams and Elizabeth Williams spinsters. His effects were valued at £4036 19s 9d.
Philip Williams became a sanitary inspector like his father. The 1911 Census shows that he lived at Wells St Cuthbert in Somerset aged 32 and that he was still single. The Western Daily Press dated 25th September 1936 published a notice of Laura Williams’s death. She had been the superintendent of the General Nurses’ Association and Home for Trained Nurses at Richmond Hill, Clifton.