We don’t know much about the earlier occupiers of the property.The early land tax records show that when it was owned by James Eley in 1800 it was occupied by George Clutterbuck. Similar records for 1809 and 1814 show that William Clutterbuck was living there, and in 1819 and 1821 the tenant was William Isles. John Hall was the tenant in 1822 and John Swayne was there in 1823. We don’t know enough about any of these people to identify them.
James Rice – James is listed as being the occupant of the house in the land tax records of 1824 and 1825. We suspect that James is the father of the George Rice who took over the property in 1826. If this is the case, he was a cordwainer, married to Diana with whom he had at least 13 children. We don’t know where James and Diana went to live after 1825. James died aged 72 and was buried on 7th January 1838. In the 1841 census Diana (Dinah) was living in Horseshoe Lane, but we don’t know which house. She died aged 75 and was buried on 22nd December 1844.
George Rice – the land tax record of 1826 shows the house had been taken over by George Rice. We assume that George was the son of the previous occupant, James Rice. There was the birth of a George Rice on 14th October 1800, the son of James Rice and his wife, Diana.
All the land tax records between 1826 and 1832 show George was still living in the house. He and Hester continued living there until at least 1861, probably until their deaths in 1869 and 1866 respectively. The 1840 Tithe Survey shows George as the occupant of the house owned by Martha Eley. The 1841 census shows George was butcher aged 30 living with his wife, Hester, also 30, and male servant, William Smith aged 16. The 1851 census shows George was living in the same house. He was now shown as a butcher aged 45 living with Hester aged 45, a niece Clara A Williams aged 13 from Newport, Monmouthshire and a nephew Thomas Rice an errand boy aged 17.
George was elected as an officer assisting the Town Mayor in the execution of his duties. George’s role was that of ‘Carnal’ who presumably had some responsibility for the monitoring and control the quality of meat sold by the butchers. We know from newspaper reports that he was one of the two carnals appointed in 1859 and 1862. Another newspaper article in 1858 reported that a bull from the nearby market ran into George’s shop on The Plain and George ‘by sundry persuasive “taps” on the bulls head caused him to back out without doing any damage’.
In 1861 they were still listed as living there – George was a butcher aged 52, Hester was 53. Note – both their ages appear to have varied a lot in the census records. Their ages in the burial records however match those shown on their grave in St Mary’s Churchyard. Hester died aged 68 and was buried on 16th December 1866. George died on 6th July 1869 aged 68 and was buried on 12th July 1869.
William Court Smith – the 1871 rate book and the 1871 census shows that William took over the occupation of the house from George Rice. William was a tailor aged 56 living with his wife, Emma aged 53 and their children, William Court Smith a tailor aged 21, Ellen aged 18 born in Marylebone, Middlesex and Thomas Cox Smith aged 14 also born in Marylebone.
William Court Smith (shown in the photo on the right) was baptised in Thornbury on 23rd March 1814. He was the son of Thomas Smith, a tailor and his wife, Sarah. We are grateful to a descendent of the family, Helen Parry, for sending us a copy of William’s marriage record. He married Emma Gayner at St Augustines the less Church, Bristol on 13th October 1835. Emma Gayner was baptised on 23rd April 1817, the daughter of Charles Gayner, a baker and his wife, Ann. The photo on the left below shows Emma.
The 1841 census shows William was working as a tailor. William and Emma were living in the High Street with their two children: Charles aged two and Eliza aged five. The baptism records of their children show that the family were living at Olveston at the time of their baptisms, although both were baptised in Thornbury, Eliza on 19th June 1836 and Charles on 11th July 1838. Eliza died aged 7 and was buried on 4th June 1843.
A record in Gloucester Records Office shows that at some time between 1833 and 1844 William was declared bankrupt.
By around 1850/51 the family had moved to London – the 1851 census shows they were living in Union Street, Marylebone. William was working as a tailor aged 37 and living with Emma and their children: Emma aged nine, George aged six (surprisingly described as a tailor!), Eliza aged three and William aged one, all born in Thornbury. By 1861 William and the family had moved to 17 Woodstock Road, Shepherds Bush. They were now living with their children: Charles a tailor aged 22, Emma aged 19, George a tailor aged 16, Eliza aged 13, William aged 11, Ellen aged 8, Thomas aged 4 and Frances aged 5 months.
The 1871 census shows that the family had moved back to Gloucestershire and were living at 2 The Plain, Thornbury. By 1876 the family had moved to 14 The Plain. Their son, William, died aged 28 and was buried on 4th December 1877. In the 1881 census William was described as a tailor and draper aged 66 living with Emma and a domestic servant, Alice Hurn aged 14 who was born in Rudgeway.
We have been given a newspaper cutting by Mrs Elizabeth Cochrane which explains that Hubert John Thomas of Oldbury on Severn was apprenticed to William Court Smith in 1887. He was only apprenticed for three years, after which time he was apprenticed to William’s son Thomas Cox Smith. This may be an indication of the time that William retired from the tailoring business. William paid Hubert one shilling (five pence) a week during the last year of his apprenticeship for working 7am to 7pm in the summer and 8.30am to 8.30 pm in the winter with one hour for lunch. On Saturdays he finished early – at 6pm, summer and winter alike.
In 1891 William and Emma were still living in the house with Emma Powell, a domestic servant aged 13 from Tytherington. Emma died on 2nd December 1891 aged 74. William carried on living in Castle Street. He died on 25th March 1900 aged 86. Click here to see a collection of family photos of the Court Smith family
Of their children:
- Eliza – baptised in Thornbury on 3rd November 1847. We came a cross an amazing article about Eliza printed in the Fitzroy City Press in Victoria, Australia on 4th September 1915. The article says “Mrs. Eliza Davies, who is regarded as the new prophetess and queen of Divine Messages for all Nations. Mrs. Eliza Davies’ maiden name was Eliza Smith, and she was born in Thornbury, Gloucestershire, England. When a young girl she married Frederick Yorke Crane, merchant, of the City of London, England. On his death, she married John Davies, at Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and on coming to Australia, resided for many years at Numurkah, being in business as cordial manufacturers. Mrs. Davies has had many remarkable visions during the past 6 years, relating to the great events of the world for which she was born to warn and emphasise the way to save“. Eliza married Frederick Yorke Crane in Kensington area of London 1865. In the 1871 census they were living at the Red Lion & Bull, Finsbury, London where Frederick was shown as a licensed victualler.
- Thomas Cox Smith – was born in Marylebone in 1857 became a well known tailor in Thornbury. He ran his business from Porch House in Castle Street where he died in 1942. Click here to read about Thomas Cox Smith
George Gayner Smith (shown in the photo) – was born in Thornbury on 1st May 1845. He became a tailor whilst living with his parents in London, but returned with them to Thornbury in the early 1860’s. On 1st May 1865 George married Emily Mary Plunkett at St Marys Church, Marylebone. Their address at that time was 8 Adam Street West, London. Their first child, Mary Emily was born in London in 1866, but their second, Florence Ann was born in Thornbury on 2nd March 1867. They didn’t stay long as their next two children were born in London. In April 1881 George and his family sailed for Australia on the SS Lusitania. George started work as a tailor’s cutter in Melbourne, but in 1883 he became a licensed bookmaker and he became well known at Flemington, the local racecourse. In 1909 George was diagnosed with cancer and decided to sail home for treatment in England. He never completed the voyage and died whilst sailing in the Red Sea on 3rd July 1909. George was known as a flamboyant person. He wrote a novel called ‘Satan’s Child’ in which he used the names of his family members as the characters. He entered sketches in local art exhibitions. His lasting legacy were the homes he had built. He became a major property developer in Malvern where he lived. Four of these homes were named after horses. He had a 10 room house built in 1900 which he named ‘Park House’ and this had three acres of land enclosed by fences. Other house names included ‘Gloster House’ and ‘Berkeley’. The area where he built several houses was named ‘Gaynor Court’. He created a stir in 1906 when he arrived in the USA. The Government Inspector was rather surprised to find that the ‘rather shabbily dress’ person travelling in steerage class described himself as ‘a gentleman of leisure worth $50, 000’ and was able to proof this statement by producing drafts, bills of exchange and notes of that worth.
John Luce – the 1876 rate book shows the house and shop were occupied by John Luce. There were more than one John Luce in Thornbury at that time and we are not sure which one lived here.
The Balls – the 1880 rate book shows that Eliza Balls was living at 2 The Plain. The 1881 census shows Eliza was trading as a feather dresser aged 40 and living with her son, Percy aged 13 and her sister, Lucy A Boucher described as a housekeeper aged 38.
Eliza Nightingale Boucher was born in Bristol in 1840. She was the daughter of John Boucher and his wife, Eliza (nee Bryant). Following John’s death in 1842, her mother married James Vaughan, a druggist, in the Clifton area of Bristol in 1844. The 1851 census shows John and Eliza Vaughan living at the house which later became known as 1 The Plain in Thornbury. James was a druggist aged 38 living with Eliza aged 30 from Bath, daughter-in-law, Eliza Boucher aged 10, daughter Selina aged 6, and a servant, Ann Cook aged 16. The 1861 census shows them still living in the same house. They were now living with their daughter, Selina a milliner aged 16, step-daughters, Eliza and Lucy Boucher aged 20 and 19 respectively and niece, Emily Clark a dressmaker aged 16 from Bristol.
Eliza Nightingale Boucher married Charles Balls in Bristol in 1866 and they had a son, Percy James William, born in 1866. We don’t know what happened to Charles as Eliza continued to be shown as ‘married’ but Charles was not listed as living with the family in any of the censuses. The 1871 census shows Eliza Balls and her son, Percy, were living with James and Eliza Vaughan at 1 The Plain. By 1880, Eliza Balls had now moved next door into number 2 The Plain, a house which was owned by her step-father, James Vaughan and which seems to have been bought for Eliza to use. The 1881 census shows Eliza was a feather dresser aged 40 and living with her son, Percy aged 13. A trade directory in 1889 lists Mrs Eliza Ball as an ‘ostrich feather cleaner’ at The Plain.
The 1891 census shows Eliza had become a tobacconist and she was living with her son, Percy, who was now a clock and watchmaker aged 23 and her sister, Lucy Boucher aged 48. A trade directory in 1899 lists Mrs Balls as a confectioner and tobacconist on The Plain. Eliza died on 30th January 1901 aged 62.
On 30th January 1900 Percy married Laura Evelyn Hodges in Clifton Bristol. Laura was born on 14th April 1869. She was the youngest daughter of George Hodges and his second wife, Tracey (nee Staley). Percy and Laura had one daughter, Gladys Evelyn, born on 25th May 1900.
In 1901 Percy was a watchmaker and hairdresser aged 33 and he was living with his wife, Laura Evelyn aged 32 and their daughter, Gladys Evelyn aged 11 months, and his aunt, Lucy Boucher a drysalter and shopkeeper aged 58. A trade directory in 1904 lists Percy as a ‘jeweller and watchmaker, confectioner and tobacconist’. Percy and Laura continued living at 2 The Plain.
In the 1911 census Percy was described as a watchmaker. Percy died on 13th October 1912 aged 45. Laura carried on with the shop although she had to cut back on the range of services offered. In 1914 a trade directory lists Mrs Laura Evelyn Balls as a tobacconist on The Plain. The 1915 Prewetts directory and 1918 electoral register shows Laura moved to the High Street and she was still there in 1921. A 1923 trade directory lists Laura as a tobacconist in the High Street. The 1925 Valuation List and 1926 Rate book show this was the shop at 15 High Street which was taken over by her daughter, Gladys. Laura died on 5th December 1925 aged 56. The Gazette reported that ‘Evelyn’ had suffered from an illness for the previous nine years.
Gladys Balls ran a sweet shop and hairdressers at 15 High Street up until 1965 or later. Apparently she was known by some people as “Hairy Balls” because, when she served bull’s eyes and other boiled sweets, the hairs on her hands from her hairdressing could find their way on to the sweets! We have also been told that Gladys was a football referee although we have had this confirmed yet. She also had a fancy open topped sports car. Gladys never married and she died on 31st August 1969 aged 69.
We are not sure who occupied the premises at 2 The Plain after the Balls. Our next clue is two photographs, one taken during the peace celebrations following the First World War. This shows that the shop was called ‘Marshalls‘. We don’t know anything about the Marshalls and would love to hear from anyone who does!
Fred Church – the 1923 trade directory shows Fred Church had moved into the shop and was trading as a confectioner. He continued to run the shop for about forty years trading in sweets, tobacco and biscuits.
Fred was born in the Newbury area on 5th October 1881. He married Florence Harrison Stone in Brighton in 1909. They were living in Gillingstool in the 1921 electoral register. A Gazette of 1937 carries a letter from him addressed at his premises on The Plain. The letter puts Fred forward as a candidate in the parish elections. His motto he says will be “Progress with Economy.”
George Excell wrote in the Parish Magazine in 1984 that ‘Fred would don a spotless white apron and would dash from one side of the premises to the other serving on the one side sweets and chocolates and the other fresh vegetables and fruit’.
The photo on the right shows Fred and Florence at the time of their Silver Wedding in 1934. Florence Church died on 28th July 1939 aged 60. Fred re-married – this time his wife was Margaret Dolman whom he married in 1940. Fred and Margaret carried on living at 2 The Plain until at least 1961. Fred was a member of the Society of Thornbury Folk and was their deputy treasurer for a few years in the early 50’s.
Dorothy Gubbins – the 1965 electoral register shows the shop was occupied by Dorothy Cecilia Gubbins. She ran the shop selling a wonderful range of sweets for about five or six years.
We have learned from her step-grand daughter that Dorothy was born in Guernsey. According to her age on her marriage certificate she was born about 1912. She was the daughter of Ernest Edward Guilliard and his wife, Ada. The 1911 census shows Ernest was a plumber who had been born in St Helier, Jersey about 1876 and that Ernest, Ada and their children were then living in St Peter Port, Guernsey. We understand Dorothy’s parents moved over to Bristol when she was young. She worked in a famous department store in Bristol and in the end became head of a section. The marriage certificate shows Dorothy as a buyer in a retail drapers and that she was then living at Eastville in Bristol.
On 15th August 1953 Dorothy married Leonard Gubbins in the Methodist Church, Fishpond Road, Eastville Park, Bristol. The photo on the right is believed to be Dorothy, presumably at the time of her wedding. At the age of 41, Dorothy was much younger than Leonard. He was a commercial traveller and obviously used to go to the store where they met. He brought her back up to Palmers Green, Middlesex after their marriage. Leonard died in the September quarter of 1959 aged 65 and Dorothy later moved to the sweet shop in Thornbury. She lived above the shop and became famous in the area for her sweets. Dorothy moved away from Thornbury and she died in Weston Super Mare in 1982 aged 70.
Kenneth and Joan Whittall – the 1970 electoral register shows the house and shop was taken over by Kenneth and Joan Whittall. We remember that they continued to call the shop ‘Dorothy Gubbins’ after its previous owner and they continued selling the same range of sweets. When Mrs Whittall was interviewed by a member of the Museum in the 80’s she mentioned that the shop must have once been a barber’s shop because when she had had floor repaired the builders found a large number of cut-throat razors underneath (see Percy Balls above).
An article in the Church Magazine in 1984 noted that the Whittalls came to Thornbury with their four children in 1965, having just spent 5 years in Ghana where Ken was employed as an engineer. They first lived in Castle Street and Ken worked for the C.E. G. B. Liking Thornbury, they bought the sweet shop on The Plain and moved in to live over the shop. The shop was divided into two sections, one for confectionery and the other for pipes and tobacco. Both Ken and Joan were members of the Pipe Club of Great Britain. Although she did not smoke, Joan, once as a joke, entered a pipe-smoking competition. Much to her surprise she came second and was featured in an HTV news programme smoking a pipe whilst walking down the High Street. Joan was involved as a member of the Arts Festival Committee and Local Advisory Committee at the Sheiling School.
In recent years, the shop has been used by a variety of businesses including the Mole Hole, Castle Computing and Bradford & Bingley Building Society and then remained vacant for several years.