This photo shows two houses in Thornbury now numbered 7 and 9 St John Street. The house on the left is number 7, the one of the right is number 9.
The history of the two houses is closely linked, and from the front appearance of these two houses it is easy to imagine that they were once one house. Recent owners have also told us that there are several aspects of the houses construction which support this suggestion.
We were surprised however to find that the building has been split into two houses for a long time, going all the way back before 1840. The 1840 Tithe Survey shows that the building was then two houses, and the deeds from 1850 onwards refer to the ‘two messuages’.
We are extremely fortunate to have seen the deeds of the number 9 and very grateful to Chris and Helen Milne for sharing them with us. They give us almost complete picture of the owners of the house since it was built and provide a useful source of the names of the occupants which linked to the various census and other records produce the history we have produced here. The oldest indenture in the deeds was dated 1850. However we were lucky to have found an earlier indenture at Gloucester Records Office which relates to this property. This indenture was dated 23 September 1807 when Thomas Rolph, the surgeon, sold the two properties to John Powell, a mason for £63.
The 1807 indenture also gives us a tantalizing glimpse of an even earlier history of the houses – it refers to “All those two messuages or tenements hereto before in one messuage or tenement wherein Peter Park, carpenter deceased then and for many years previous to and at the time of his death inhabited and John Mabbett and Jane Davis single woman afterwards dwellt and wherein the said John Mabbett and John Simons do now dwell”.
So this confirms that there was indeed one house on the property and this must have built quite a bit earlier than 1807. The one house was divided into two messuages before John Powell acquired it and he either undertook a significant ‘makeover’ or demolished and rebuilt them at some time after 1807.
In 2019 Thornbury Museum acquired a new set of deeds and we were able to link these documents to the property at 11 St John Street through the references to Peter Park who had been living next door prior to 1788. These showed two other earlier occupants of the property at 7 & 9 St John Street. Daniel Thurston was there in 1688 and Edward Thurston in 1720. We can’t be sure that here was a house there at the time.
The deeds treat the ownership of the two houses (7 & 9) as one up to 6th May 1941. This is interesting as it means that for a century and a half after the property was divided into two houses they was still being bought and sold as one property. This seems to be because the owners of the two houses treated them as an investment to get income from rents rather than as their homes.
Thomas Rolph – Thomas was a a surgeon and a member of the important Rolph family who owned a lot of land around Thornbury. Thomas sold the properties to John Powell on 23 September 1807 for £63. Click here to read about the Rolph family
John Powell – John bought the properties from Thomas Rolph on 23 September 1807 for £63. It appears that at the time of the purchase, there were two houses already on the land, converted from an earlier single residence. The deeds say that John “erected and built two houses on the site or place whereon formerly stood two messages or tenements heretofore in one messuage”. However looking at the frontage and roofline, it does not appear that that he totally demolished the existing buildings, but more likely that he modernised and improved the existing ones.
John Powell died on 18th July 1849. By his will dated 8th September 1847, he gave his properties to Ann Powell who was described as a ‘single woman’ for her lifetime. The indenture dated 21 March 1850 says that at the time the will was written (in 1847), Ann was then residing with John, but she had since deceased. John’s heirs were now his nephews and nieces: Mary Ann Coleman who lived with him at “Wellbourne” William Coleman railway porter of Highbridge, James Coleman, grocer of St Pauls, Bristol, John Coleman beerhouse keeper of St Pauls, Gloucestershire, Louisa Park, widow of Thornbury, and Thomas Liddiatt, cordwainer of Thornbury. His trustees sold the two properties to William Knapp, ironmonger of Thornbury for £130. Click here to read more about John Powell
William Knapp – acquired the property from the devisees of John Powell on 21 March 1850 for £130. He never lived in either of the properties, but continued to let them to tenants. William is listed as the owner in the 1859 Rate Book. On 15th July 1861 William sold various properties, including the two houses in St John Street, to Mark Crossman Meredith and his wife, Mary Anne Harding. Mary Ann was William Knapp’s daughter. Click here to read more
Mark Crossman Meredith – Mark and Mary Ann Meredith acquired the properties on 15 July 1861 when they bought them from William Knapp. Mary was baptised on 2 December 1829, the daughter of the previous owner, William Knapp and his wife, Ann Harding. Mary had married Mark in Thornbury on 8th May 1851. Mark was the son of Edward Meredith, farmer from Alveston. Click here to read more
Mrs Mary Ponting – Mary acquired the property when she bought it for £140 on 21 February 1896 following the death of her parents. The Rate Books of 1899 onwards that we have seen reflect the fact that Mrs Ponting owned both these houses. Mary was born in December quarter 1857, the daughter of Mark Crossman Meredith and his wife, Mary. She married Edward John Ponting in the Chipping Sodbury area in June quarter 1888. Edward was baptised on 21 April 1859, the son of George Ponting, a relieving officer, and his wife, Marianne. Click here to read more
In 1881 Edward had been living with his parents in Castle Street, where his father was working as a water bailiff and gardener. In 1890 Edward went bankrupt with unsecured debts of £355 4s 10d. He had been operating as a plumber, glazier and gas fitter for about 10 years. He had set up the business with £30 capital, but he had borrowed a further £300, of which almost £200 had been spent on his house. He blamed his situation on insufficient capital and high expenses connected with County Court proceedings. In the 1891 Census Edward and Mary were living at 20 High Street with their daughter, Beatrice Valentine Ponting baptised on 11 March 1889. Edward was working as a plumber and gasfitter. In 1901 Edward was listed as a plumber (shopkeeper) in the High Street. He and Mary had three more daughters, Mabel aged 9, Hannah aged 7 and Sophia aged 3. The 1911 Census shows Edward, Mary, Hannah and Sophia still at 20 High Street.
Edward died in 1926 aged 67. Mary was listed in the 1926 Rate Book as the owner of the two properties. Mary was a widow living in the High Street when she died on 3rd February 1927. In her will dated 23rd June 1897 she had appointed her executors as Thomas Meredith – farmer of Earthcott Green and Edward Meredith. Edward pre-deceased Mary Ponting, so it was Thomas Meredith who was left to sell the two properties for £200. The purchaser was Mrs Mary Bell.
Mrs Mary Bell – an indenture dated 13th July 1927 conveyed the property from Thomas Meredith to Mrs Mary Bell, wife of George Thomas Bell of Gillingstool. Mary was born on 17th April 1874, the daughter of George Ball, a farmer in Morton and his wife, Hannah. Mary married George Thomas Bell in Thornbury in March quarter 1913. George was born on 20th February 1868, the son of George Bell, a farmer in Lower Morton and his wife, Ann. In 1891 George had been a general labourer living with his widowed mother. In 1901 he was a wood box maker boarding with Charles Reeves in 5 St John Street. In 1921 Mary paid £150 to buy a house and garden in Gillngstool and they moved to live there until their deaths.
George died on April 15 1941 aged 73 years. He was buried in Thornbury Cemetery and his burial record describes him as a retired box maker. Mary Bell died aged 75 years on 1st April 1950 whilst she was living at Southview, Gillingstool. In her will dated 10th November 1941 she appointed her executors as Harold George Ball and Ernest Ball. Harold was a Minister of Religion living at 157 Finlay Road, Gloucester and it was him who sold the property to Frank Leonard Smith for £225 on 24th May 1950.
Kathleen Irene Saunders – A conveyance dated 6 May 1941 shows that Mary Bell sold the westernmost of the two messuages (number 7) formerly in the occupation of W.H. Williams to Kathleen Irene Saunders. Click here to read more
We do not have any information about the owners of No. 9 since the Saunders family.
Frank Leonard Smith – Frank bought the property for £225 on 24 May 1950. Frank and Augusta Smith moved into 9 St John Street around 1929 and the family were to live here for almost 70 years. They were a well known couple in Thornbury and many older Thornburians have stories about “Granny” Smith.
Frank’s death certificate shows his birthday as 23 November 1901, and the Council School records show Frank Smith with the date of birth of 19 November 1901. However his birth under the name of ‘Leonard Frank’ was not registered until the first quarter 1902 and he was baptised on 2nd March 1902 as being the son of Leonard and Elizabeth Kate Smith who were living at 21 Rock Street (previously known as the Severn Stars).
Frank married Augusta Annie Livall in March quarter 1925. Annie Augusta Livall was born on 17th October 1901, the daughter of Edwin Livall, a labourer and his wife, Catherine Elsie who lived in Tytherington. Augusta was baptised in Tytherington on 1st December 1901.
Their daughter Doreen Elizabeth Elsie Smith was born on 21 July 1925 and baptised at St Mary’s Church on 2nd September 1925 at which time the record shows that the family’s address was St Mary Street. Their son George was born on 19th April 1927.
The electoral rolls indicate that Frank Leonard and Augusta Annie Smith were living in the house by 1930. Certainly the school records show that when their daughter, Doreen, was enrolled in 1929, the family address was already St John Street. Another daughter Shiela was born in 1931. The youngest boy Edward Ben was born 28 August 1935 and another daughter, Frances Jean was born in 1942.
The register compiled in 1939 in preparation for the war lists six people living in the house. Four of these are ‘blacked out’ so only Frank and Augusta are visible. Frank is described as a builder’s labourer.
Frank Smith’s occupation was described in various documents as a builder or bricklayer. We believe he worked for Tucker Brothers. We have been told by Jeff Watkins (a cousin of Augusta) that Frank was an excellent footballer. Apparently Frank was known as “Yacky” Smith. We have been told that this was because he liked to talk.
Their daughter Doreen became a Post Office worker when she left the Council School and in 1950 she married Albert William Jenkins of the Nook, Rudgeway who married Christopher Davis a carpenter from Berkeley in June 1962. We have been told that both sons became policemen. George seems to have emigrated to Australia but Edward worked for the police dog unit in Stroud.
Frank Smith died aged 75 on 8th March 1977 at Frenchay Hospital. His widow continued to live in the house and when there was a fire in the tyre warehouse in Sawmill Lane in 1992 her evacuation featured in the Gazette.
“Widow Augusta Smith aged 90 whose garden in St John Street backs on to the tyre yard said ‘It was a terrific sound, just like thunder but it didn’t stop. I looked out of the bedroom window and could see flames leaping up over my house. Then I heard some one shouting ‘Get out, get out’ and I was taken to safety over the road.”
Their daughter Doreen and her husband Albert Jenkins lived at 22 Castle Street until the early 1960s, when they moved to Alveston. Augusta Smith later went to live with her daughter in Alveston, where she died aged 100.
Chris and Helen Milne – Chris acquired the property on 29th May 1998 following the death of Augusta. Chris runs the Blackthorn Centre School of Photography where he specialises in the areas of wildlife and religion. He also organises trips for photographers to the major game parks of East and Southern Africa and the Indian Sub Continent.
About 2008 they moved to 4 The Close and let the house out to tenants for a few years until they sold it in 2010.