Roadworks outside Coombe Cottage

The Tithe Terrier of 1696 mentions that the land at the “Comb (that is) belonging to the Earle of Stafford has not in the memory of man paid any tythe hay to the parsonage nor anything in lieu of meadow to the Viccar.” This seems to indicate that Coombe Cottage was built on land belonging to the Earl and therefore was originally outside the Borough of Thornbury itself.

The earliest document in the deeds of Coombe Cottage is a Declaration by George Motley dated 29th June 1850.  This is to support the title of Elizabeth Mills to a cottage and garden at the Coombe and says that more than 50 years ago George Smith late of Thornbury and his wife Elizabeth nee Lewis –

dwelt in a cottage or tenement built by the said George Smith on a small piece of ground enclosed by him from the waste land of the Parish and Manor of Thornbury aforesaid at a place called the Coombe on the Eastward side of the Bristol and Gloucester Turnpike on or near the present Union Poor House.  That about fifty years ago the said George Smith enclosed another piece of ground adjoining the former also part of the waste and built another cottage or tenement thereon when he pulled down the former cottage and went to live in the newly built cottage and the two small pieces of ground being thrown into one formed the then and present garden to the said last mentioned cottage.”

Bothy back of Coombe cottage

Bothy at back of Coombe Cottage

It is interesting that George found it necessary to build a second house so soon after the first.  At this stage we do not know why this happened.  It is possible that George had built something very rudimentary with an enclosure just to get the right to own property on what was waste or common ground.  Having established his right he may have felt able to build a more substantial home.  Equally the erection of a second house might explain why there is a smaller property or “bothy” at the back of Coombe Cottage.

The statement by George Motley that the second house was built “more than fifty years ago” means that the second house must have been built around 1800, probably a little earlier and that there was a cottage on this site earlier still.  The first house is unlikely to have been earlier than the 1770s or 1780s as George would not have been born until about 1754.

George Smith married Elizabeth Lewis on 24th February 1794.  On March 26th 1797 they had a daughter also called Elizabeth who was baptised on April 9th of that year.

The memorial inscription in the churchyard of St Mary’s Church in Thornbury shows that George Smith died in 1811 aged 57 and his wife Betty died in 1818 aged 62.

Elizabeth Smith junior married Joseph Mills the son of Michael and Esther Mills on 16th February 1817.  It would seem that Elizabeth and Joseph Mills then inherited Coombe Cottage.  The Property is numbered 301 on the Tithe Map which was drawn up between 1838 and 1840.  This confirms that Joseph Mills owned and occupied the cottage.

It would seem that Joseph Mills died about this time.

The 1841 Census appears to show that Elizabeth Mills was now living in what was called “Combe Cottages” with Jacob Mills, whom we now know to be her brother in law.

Jacob Mills was one of the twin sons of Michael and Esther Mills.  The twins were born on 9th November 1797 but the other twin, Isaac, died aged only 10 months and was buried on 16th September 1798.

We understand that Jacob Mills had only recently returned from overseas having been discharged from the Army with pension on 31st August 1840.

Janet Kerr, a descendent of Jacob Mills, has kindly contacted us and given us details of his history.  On 28th July 1817 he had joined the 76th Regiment of Foot at Reading at the age of 19.  From the 2nd August 1817 he was said to be at the regimental depot at Albany on the Isle of Wight.  On 15th April 1818 he embarked on the transport ship “Sarah”.  In 1819 he was at Kingston and by 1820 he arrived at Quebec.  By 1824 he had served a year at Amherstberg and received extra pay for completing seven years.  In September 1825 he was promoted to corporal.  He was promoted to sergeant in December 1827.

In about 1828 Jacob was stationed in Ireland where he seems to have married and had two sons, one of whom George, was born in April 1830 in St James parish Dublin.  He was known to have served at Clogheen, Carrick, Cashel and Templemore.   In October 1832 he was promoted to colour sergeant.

In 1834 they embarked on two ships for the West Indies.  The two wings of the regiment split, one to St Lucia and one to Dominica.  In 1835 he seems to have sailed to Grenada and Barbados. Jacob Mills was on the troop ship ‘Columbia’ with two children who were listed as George Mills and what was possibly Jacob Mills junior.  There was no mention of Jacob’s wife who may have died in Ireland.  In 1835 Jacob was reduced first to sergeant and then to private.  He was in confinement for a military offence.

In 1838 both wings of the regiment embarked for Demerara.  In February 1839 the regiment (still in Demerara) was attacked by yellow fever which went on until the September of that year.  One hundred and twenty two died including twelve children and two women.

Jacob embarked for Europe on the Prince Regent September 1840.  He had been discharged with a pension having served twenty four years at various ranks from corporal, sergeant to private.  His discharge papers and service record state that he served nine years in Canada, six and a half years in the West Indies and four months in Bermuda as well as the time he spent in Ireland.

We believe that one of Jacob’s sons died in the yellow fever outbreak in Demerara but interestingly he seems to have decided to leave the other son, George, in the charge of the Army in Bermuda.  George was made a drummer boy at eleven years one month.  George seems to have thrived in the army’s care and he enlisted properly at 19.  After a varied and interesting army life during which he married and had four children at different places he was discharged at his own request with pension in Burnley in 1869.  George and his wife went on to have three more children.  We do not have any evidence that Jacob ever saw his son again after leaving him in Bermuda.

We do not know how many households there were in Coombe Cottage in the 1841 census.  There appear to be two people living with Elizabeth and Jacob Mills – John Putley a labourer and William Greenwood of independent means and both aged about 30 years.  There is another household and the address for both is given as “Comb Cottages”.  In the second household are William (whose surname we are unable to decipher but could be Simmons), a yeoman aged 27, Mary Turner a farm servant aged about 20 and Mary Woodman of independent means aged about 30 years.  It is possible that these people were living across the road in the house later known as The Coombe.

The 1851 census shows that Elizabeth Mills was a widow of 54 and a washerwoman.  Jacob Mills her widower brother in law was a Chelsea pensioner.  Elizabeth had two lodgers, Thomas Smith a widower of 71 from Almondsbury who was a carpenter and Richard Arnold an agricultural labourer who was a married man of 47 from Oldbury.

The 1861 census says that Elizabeth and Jacob were married.  We are grateful to Janet Kerr who has sent us a record confirming that Elizabeth Smith, the widowed daughter of George Smith, married Jacob Mills on 11th February 1850 at Temple in Bristol.  It is interesting that as she was his sister in law their marriage could have been illegal.  The Marriage Act of 1835 made such a marriage illegal when previously it had merely been discouraged.  This remained the case until the Deceased Wife’s Sister Act of 1907.  In the 1861 Census Jacob and Elizabeth were both aged 63 and Elizabeth was still a laundress and Jacob a Chelsea pensioner.  They had a visitor Elizabeth Authers aged 59 from Cromhall.  William White a scholar aged 11 was a lodger with them and Hannah White a 23 year old dairy maid was also described as a visitor.  Jacob Mills died in the December Quarter of 1862.

The 1871 census shows Elizabeth Mills as living ‘near the Union Poor House’.  She is widowed and aged 74.  In a separate household but possibly also in that house is Elizabeth Authers aged 62 who was a former dairy maid.

Elizabeth Mills died on 9th May 1872 aged 75 years.  Her will dated 23rd February 1872 describes her as “of the Coombe” and is signed by her mark.  The will is a simple one and makes it clear that it was read and explained to Elizabeth who devised and bequeathed all her estate to Bryant Jenkins Burchell.  Bryant was baptised 5th April 1818, the son of Daniel Burchell and his wife Hester (nee Jenkins).  We do not know of any connection between Bryant and Elizabeth Mills.  We have no explanation as to why the property was left to him rather than Elizabeth’s nephew (and possibly her step son) George Mills or his family.

The 1881 census shows that the house is occupied by John Goodman aged 55 a labourer from Lackington in Wiltshire with his wife Ann aged 55 and from Thornbury.  This census confirms that there were two households at Coombe Cottage and a 46 year old labourer from Thornbury called George Harford also lives there.

The owner of the house, Bryant Jenkins Burchell, died on 15th December 1888.  In his Will dated 22nd April 1872 Bryant appointed Henry Anstey and Henry Hume Lloyd as trustees to sell the residue of the estate.  A Conveyance dated 25th March 1889 shows that Frederick Burchell bought the property for £74 which was then in the occupation of John Goodman.  Frederick Burchell was the brother of Bryant Burchell and he was living at The Coombe, a larger house across the road from the Union Poor House and Coombe Cottage.  Frederick farmed 10 acres and employed three men and a boy.  At that time Coombe Cottage was described as a cottage and garden containing 11 perches.

John Goodman.  The 1890 rate book and the 1891 census shows that John Goodman was occupying the house.  The census shows John was aged 65 and a labourer lived in a four-roomed house with his wife Ann aged 72.

The 1894 rate book indicates that the house was then vacant.

Frederick Goulding.  The 1899 rate book shows that Frederick Goulding was now living there.  In 1891 Frederick had been a blacksmith lodging with John West and his family in the High Street.  Frederick was aged 24 and born in Gloucestershire.  In the rate books of 1894 and 1899 Frederick was living at 38 Castle Street.  The 1901 census shows that his full name was Frederick W Goulding and that he came from Hawksbury.  There is a record of a marriage of Frederick William Goulding to Sarah Gibbons in the Chipping Sodbury registration district in 1892.

The application for their son Frederick Charles to join the navy which he signed in 1918 shows that the family lived in Reading.

The census of 1901 confirms that the family had moved to Reading and and that Fredrick’s wife Sarah was aged aged 34 and from Glamorgan.  At that time they had three children: Doris E aged 8 and Frederick C aged 3, both born in Thornbury and Alfred aged 11 months born in Yate.

Charles Stinchcombe.  The 1901 census appears to show that the occupants were Charles Stinchcombe, a carter aged 30 and his wife Annie a 30 year old laundress from Wotton under Edge who had a lodger, Thomas Osborne, aged 11.  The Stinchcombes were in the house until at least 1904 and appear in voter’s lists of that year.  By 1907 they had moved to Mutton Lane (now called Crispin Lane).

Frederick Burchell.  The owner of the property, Frederick Burchell, died on the 5th of September 1905.  In his will dated 15 January 1901 he appointed his wife Edith Burchell and his sons Frederick Henry and Edward Burchell the trustees.  Edith Burchell died 13th July 1907.  On 5th November 1907 there was a sale by auction of Frederick’s property.  This included Coombe Cottage as well as various properties in St Mary Street, Horseshoe Lane and Pullins Green and a house at Crossways.   Click here to read more about Frederick and his property.

Elizabeth Godsell.  A Special Drainage Rate Book of 1905 says that the house was owned by the Representatives of the late Frederick Burchell and occupied by Mrs Godsell.  At the time of 1891 Census Elizabeth Godsell was living in a three roomed property on the other side of the road, to the south of the larger house now called The Coombe.  In 1891 Elizabeth was a 45 year old widow living with her son, Charles, aged 16 and born in Wotton Under Edge.  In 1910 rate book Elizabeth was living in 7 Bath Road.

A Catalogue dated 1907 referring to the sale by auction of Frederick Burchell’s estate says the house was previously let at £11 per year but is now void and says that the property is a house and garden which has five rooms and “a pigstye and outbuildings “and a “good well of water”.  Again the land is said to measure about 11 perches.

A Conveyance dated 12th March 1908 shows that Frederick H Burchell an accountant and Edward Burchell a saddler conveyed the property to the Guardians of Thornbury Union for £155.  The conveyance refers to the cottage, garden outbuildings and premises some time since in the occupation of John Goodman but now void.

Henry Morris – the 1910 rate book and the 1911 census show that the cottage was then occupied by Henry Morris.  Henry was listed as living in Gloucester Road in the 1909 Voters List and 1916 Prewetts Directory so he was presumably living here during that period period.  The 1918 electoral register shows that he was called James Henry Morris and his wife was Helena.

James Henry Morris was born in 1868 in Leigh, Worcestershire.  He was the son of Zachariah Morris and his wife Emma nee Fawkes.  In 1893 Henry married Helena Hiatt.  The 1901 census shows them living with Helena’s mother, Emma, in Clapton in Gordano.  Henry was working as a gardener.  He and Helena had adopted a son, Henry John Weekes, who was aged 3 and born in Bristol.  The 1905 rate book shows Henry had moved to Thornbury and he was living at 1 Horseshoe Lane.

The 1911 census shows Henry was working as a labourer for a monumental mason, presumably for Frank Kelson Howell who had his business next door.  The house was occupied by Henry, Helena and their adopted son, Henry Weeks.

The family are not listed in the Thornbury 1921 electoral register so appear to have moved away, but Henry’s death is recorded as registered in Thornbury in 1930 aged 75.  Helena’s death was registered in Long Ashton in 1934 aged 67.

Percy Reeves.  About 1921 this house became the home of Percy Reeves and his family.  Read more about Percy Reeves

In 1929 as a result of Local Government Act, the property was transferred to Gloucester County Council.  Presumably this was a result of the transfer of responsibility to the County Councils.  In April 1974 the property was taken over by Avon County Council who took over the County Council’s responsibilities in the Thornbury area.

On 29th September 1974 the property was transferred from Avon County to Northavon District Council.

It was subsequently sold by the Council and has become privately owned once again.