2 to 8 rock street retouched

2 to 8 Rock Street

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The photograph above shows the row of four houses, numbered 2 to 8 Rock Street. Number 8 was the furthest house in the row on the right side of the photo.

We have had great difficulty in identifying the occupants of the house in the 19th century census records so we have not attempted to do so until we get some other supporting sources.  The history of the occupants shown is therefore based largely on what people have been able to tell us, backed up by church records, electoral registers, school records etc.


William Bendall – in the 1880 rate book and the 1881 census, the house is occupied by William Bendall.  The census shows that William was a labourer aged 45 from Thornbury, his wife Mary Ann aged 50 from Bristol and their children: William H aged 15 and Sarah Ann aged 13.  The 1887 Rate Book suggests that William was just moved into 6 Rock Street.  Click here to read more 

Thomas Purnell – the 1887 and 1890 rate books show the house was occupied by Thomas Purnell.  Click here to read more

William Thomas Webb – the 1891 census shows that the house was occupied by William Thomas Webb, a chimney sweep aged 29 from Charfield and his wife, Clara aged 24 from Dursley and their children: Sidney aged 3 and Rose aged 2, both born in Wotton Under Edge.

In September quarter 1887 William had married Clara Ricketts in the Dursley area.  In 1871 Clara was living with her grandparents, William and Louisa Smart in Mitre Road, Wotton Under Edge.  After moving to Thornbury William and Clara had more children: Ernest baptised 27th April 1892, Thomas William baptised under the name of William on 18th March 1894 when the family address was the Workhouse and Annie baptised on 7th August 1898.

We know from a newspaper report in the Bristol Mercury around 1894 that William and Clara appeared in Court.  They were wearing in ‘Workhouse garb’ so were presumably living at the Workhouse at the time.  They were charged with neglecting their three children, Sydney aged 6, Ernest aged one and a half years and Rose aged 4 in a manner likely to cause them unnecessary suffering at Crossways.  Clara was discharged and William was sent to gaol for 14 days with hard labour.

By 1901 they had moved to Blakes Avenue (in a house later known as 6 Crispin Lane or one of the two little houses which then adjoined it).  William was a general labourer and he and Clara were living with their children: William aged 7 and Annie aged 2.  They may have been living in this house in 1900 as Louisa Webb, a daughter of William Webb, a labourer, died and was buried in Thornbury Cemetery on 21st August 1900.  His address given in the burial register was John Street.

In 1904 when ‘Willie’ transferred from the National School to the Council School, the family’s address was Mrs Powell’s Lodging House (59/61 St Mary Street), but he soon left school to go to the Workhouse.  When he returned to school in 1906 the family address was Bath Road, but Willie left in 1907 to go back to the Workhouse.  Another son, Bertie was born on 22nd November 1901.  He started at the Council Upper School in 1911 when the family were living in Bath Road.  In the electoral registers of 1918 and 1921 the William Thomas and Clara are listed as living in Upper Bath Road and in 1921 William Thomas (Jnr) is also living there.  The younger William Thomas died in 1922 aged 26.  He was buried in Thornbury Cemetery on 27th June 1922.  In 1923 William Thomas died aged 60.  The Gazette reported his death saying that William was a well known local character who worked as a hostler at the Plough Inn yard in Thornbury.  He had started work tethering horses on market day when he was seen to fall and medical help was summoned.  He was removed to his home but died the same evening.  He was buried in Thornbury Cemetery on 16th June 1923.

We know from the 1926 rate book that Clara is then living at the house which became 14 Upper Bath Road so this may have been the family address earlier.  Clara died in 1927 aged 63.

Caroline Screen – in 1901 the house appears to be occupied by Caroline Screen, a charwoman aged 40 from Berkeley and her two children: Albert aged 10 and Gertie aged 7, both also born in Berkeley.  Click here to read more about Albert & Caroline

In the 1900s, we have only been able to identify one family, that of Edgar Williams, who lived in the house from about 1913 until the house was demolished in the early 60s.

Edgar Williams – Edgar was born in 1863, the son of Mark Williams, a carpenter of Alveston and his wife, Lucy.  In the 1871 census he was living with his parents in Alveston.  The 1881 census shows Edgar had become a carpenter like his father and was living with his widowed father, six siblings and an aunt at Alveston Down.  By 1891 he had moved away to live with his widowed aunt, Mary Hopkins, who was carrying on her husband’s coach building business.

In 1899 Edgar married Mary Ann Humphries.  We suspect she was the daughter of Joseph Humphries, an agricultural labourer and his wife, Elizabeth who were living in Earthcott Green in 1871.  Edgar and Mary Ann had two children: Frank born in Alveston 4th August 1899 and Lucy born in Olveston on 10th February 1906.

The 1901 census shows that Edgar had become a wheelwright and carpenter and the family were still living in Alveston.  Their daughter, Lucy was born in Olveston in 1906, but Alveston was still their address when Frank started at the Thornbury Council Upper School in 1910.  The 1911 census shows them all living at 8 Rock Street.  The census describes Edgar as a wheelwright.

Edgar is still remembered as a ‘bit of a character’ – he always wore a bowler hat.  His trade was a wheelwright, but he is most remembered as being a scrap merchant and the yard and shed in Horseshoe Lane was always full of junk and piles of old newspapers.  He bought the property in Horseshoe Lane for £80 in 1924.  He had previously been renting what was then described as a ‘stone-built stable with loft over’.  The 1925 Valuation List shows the name of the occupant of the property as ‘Gilbert Williams’ – we can’t explain this.

The register compiled in 1939 in preparation for the war lists Edgar, Mary Ann and Frank as living in the house. Edgar was described as a ‘wheelwright and carpenter partly retired’ born on 4th June 1861.  Mary Ann was born on 23rd October 1863 and Frank was a gardener born on 4th August 1899.

The Gazette newspaper dated 6th May 1950 shows that Edgar had been charged with ‘failing to comply with a Nuisance Order made on 15th November 1949 to remove and dispose of a large accumulation of rubbish in and around his premises’.  He had been given 3 months to remove the rubbish, but no material improvement had been made.  Frank spoke on behalf of his father explaining that ‘he was over 86 years old and blind in one eye and that he had carried on a business in bottles and old iron for a number of years since his business of wheelwright had died out.  Since the Court Order he had disposed of as much as it was humanly possible to sell and he had only brought one lot to the premises, which had belonged to his brother-in-law who was turned out of his house.  The selling of this material was his and his father’s livelihood’.  The business must have continued because a sale notice for a ‘stone built shed or garage’ in Horseshoe Lane was put up for sale in May 1952 and it was still being rented by Edgar Williams.

One local person told us that Edgar used to pay them 6 pence for rabbit skins.  Another mentions being paid by Edgar for empty jam jars which were dispatched to one of the jam factories in Bristol.  Alan Brant who was a school boy at the time gave the Museum his memories of his early life in Thornbury in the late 1930s which included a nice little story about Edgar:

‘One man I recall with affection.  He was quite old and he had a small workshop in Horseshoe Lane which was on my way to school.  There were many old iron bedsteads which he cut into manageable lengths with a hammer and chisel.  I suppose the pieces were collected and melted down.  He wasn’t very tall and wore a leather apron and a bowler hat.  The hat had been black but it then had a green tinge about it and was rather battered.  When he was cutting the metal, he had tiny frames over his eyes which were covered with a zinc gauze.

One morning he beckoned me saying that he had a problem for me.  On the floor of the workshop was a wooden cartwheel which he had made.  Lying on top of the wheel was a metal tyre, a band of flat iron held together with a rivet.  He asked whether I thought the tyre was too small to fit over the wheel.  It plainly was too small, but the old man said it wasn’t and the problem was, how would he fit it over the wheel?  He said he would be there when I went home waiting to see if I had the answer.

I couldn‘t see any way the tyre would fit, and the old man was grinning, and his eyes were twinkling.  He told me that when metal becomes red hot it expands.  He would make the tyre red hot and it would become big enough to drop over the wheel.  My job was to pour a bucket of water over the wheel and watch the tyre tighten, pulling the segments of the wheel, and the spokes firmly in to place.  Of course, this is what happened.  It was a beautifully made wheel.  The timber he used was English oak, grown locally and seasoned at the timber yard just down the road.  What a kindly and clever man he was!’

Mary Ann died on 2nd December 1942 aged 77 years and she was buried in Thornbury Cemetery.  Edgar carried on living in the house with his son, Frank.  He died aged 90 and was buried in Thornbury Cemetery on 3rd February 1953.

Of their children:

Frank carried on living with his parents at 8 Rock Street and after his parents death.  At the time of the Town’s re-development in the late 60’s, the Rock Street houses had already been demolished, but Frank was shown as still being the owner of the shed in Horseshoe Lane.  He was shown as being a patient at a mental hospital, believed to be Coney Hill.

Lucy is shown as living with her parents in 1931 electoral register, but she is not with them in 1935.  In 1938 she was married to George Gray and they are living at Poulterbrook Farm (which was situated at the bottom of Daggs Allotments).  Click here to read more