2 Bishops, 7 weddings and 9 funerals

A story of 2 Bishops, 7 weddings, and 9 funerals – the struggle of life and love in the 19th century.

If you’re not a fan of Hugh Grant films, then don’t worry – today’s blog post is actually a story of a struggle for life and love in the 19th century.

As the title suggests, this probably isn’t going to be the most cheerful thing you’ve read today.

Only just a few weeks ago, some incomplete ‘parked’ research into two ancestors of mine (a father and a son), had suddenly moved from two male ‘Ag Labs’ in Cambridgeshire whose wives predeceased them, leaving them with several children, to two men who between them, married a further 5 times, and traveled across three counties.

I’d previously parked these two: John Bishop and his son Simpson, as the names connecting to ‘John Bishop’ in the small group of villages that he lived in, were all very similar and seemingly overlaping.

Similarly, Simpson Bishop occasionally appears as ‘James’ or ‘James S Bishop’ or variations on ‘Simpson’ (eg. Simson, Samson etc).

Whilst trawling through the Soham registers, I decided that I needed to map this puzzle out, so took each event with similar names and close dates and used a kind of card-sorting technique with post-it notes, each carrying a name, date, and event.

Breaking down a complicated set of names and dates using 'card sorting' via Post-Its.
Breaking down a complicated set of names and dates using ‘card sorting’ for John Bishop’s timeline via Post-Its on a wall.

Having written all the names and event dates onto the post-its, I used each piece of evidence in turn to get them into order. The baptism, marriage, and burial registers were useful, as well as census returns.

Also invaluable here, was to keep an eye on the witnesses at marriages – as these also helped sort the events into an order.

With this done, and post-its on my wall, i realised that I’d just grown some new branches where I thought there were none.

Bishop #1: John Bishop (1795-1868)

John Bishop was born on 1st May 1795 in the Cambridgeshire town of Soham. He was the second of the eight children of Joseph Bishop and his wife Elizabeth (née Clements). He was also my 5x Great Grandfather.

Like his father, John worked in agriculture – a manual labour in the dark, flat, rich and fertile fenland that surrounded where he lived. In 1818, when he was about 22 years old, he married 24 year old Elizabeth Simpson (also of Soham) and the couple settled down to life together.

It’s pretty clear that at the time of marriage, Elizabeth was already pregnant with their first child, my 4x Gt Grandfather, Simpson Bishop.

Soham St Andrew's, Cambridgeshire. Photo: Steve Day via CreativeCommons.
John Bishop would become a frequent visitor to Soham’s St Andrew’s Church. Photo: Steve Day via CreativeCommons.

With Simpson being born in the latter part of 1818, the couple remained in Soham, where they went on to have a second son, John, in 1823.

Elizabeth fell pregnant again in 1825, this time with the couple’s first daughter, but by the time that she (Elizabeth) was born in 1826, her parents’ lives were about to change for the worse. Seemingly, either during or shortly after baby Elizabeth’s birth, Elizabeth, the mother, died. She was just 34.

She was buried at Soham on 11th June 1826, on the same day as her daughter’s baptism. This left 31 year old John Bishop as a widowed labourer with three young children in need of his care.

The grief must have consumed him, but it didn’t stop there – by the August, baby Elizabeth followed her mother to the grave.

Five months later, in January 1827, John walks down the aisle of Soham church with his second wife, Elizabeth Saunders. She fell pregnant shortly after their marriage, but again, bad luck was set to strike. Elizabeth gave birth to baby Elizabeth Saunders Bishop in 1827, but again, it appears that Elizabeth died during or shortly after childbirth. She was buried on 23rd October 1827 at Soham, once again – the same day that her baby Elizabeth was baptised.

Sadly, within a year, this baby also followed her mother to the grave. John, at the age of 33 had married twice, been widowed twice, fathered four children, and buried two of them.

Four months after his second wife died, John returned to church, this time to marry Sarah Leonard, who was fifteen years his junior on 8th February 1828. Their first child, Henry Bishop, was baptised at Soham in April 1829.

Thankfully both he and Sarah survived, with Henry going on to move from the fens of Cambridgeshire, getting married, and moving to Great College Street in Islington, London by the 1880s. John and Sarah continued to have three more children; Mary (who died as an infant), William (who survived and lived next-door to Henry in later life), and Sophy (who died as an infant).

After 8 years of marriage to Sarah Leonard, John (now 41) was widowed again in 1836 – when Sarah was just 26 years old. She was buried in Soham on 17th October 1836.

Less than a year later, John appears to embark on his fourth and final marriage – this time to Martha Earith, 17 years his junior – on 7th August 1837.

However, 8 months later, Martha died, aged 26 years. There is no indication of whether the couple had a child, or whether Martha was pregnant, but it appears that after 42 years of life in the fens, John never remarried. He died in May 1868, aged 73 years.

Bishop #2 : Simpson Bishop (1818-?)

Sadly for Simpson, that oldest child of John Bishop and Elizabeth Clements above, he didn’t escape his own share of bad luck.

By the time that his father had remarried 3 times, and he’d witnessed the deaths and burials of 3 step-mothers, and three half-sisters, Simpson was 20 years old. A few years later, in December 1840, he married Elizabeth Taylor, also of Soham, and by 1842, they became parents to my 3x Great Grandfather, James Simpson Bishop (a nod to the baby’s grandmother). Six further children were born to the couple, during which Simpson worked as a labourer, and a malster.

During 1851, Simpson takes his family to Little Wapses farm in Twineham, Sussex (presumably as tenant farmers), but they return to Cambridgeshire by 1861, by which time Simpson has become a shepherd.

However, Elizabeth dies at some point between 1858 and census night in 1861, in her early forties. There’s a few certificate options here, so i’m busy looking for more clues (newspaper reports, marriage witnesses etc) before ordering a certificate. On 19th June 1861, at Newmarket Register Office, Simpson marries his second wife, Elizabeth Ellinor, a 36 year old daughter of a labourer from nearby Burwell.

Whilst researching, I jumped ahead to 1871 to see where Simpson and Elizabeth were, but couldn’t spot them. I eventually found widower Simpson and his four youngest children living in Reedsholme near Crawshawbooth, Higher Booths, Lancashire – and all employed by the local cotton industry at Reedsholme Works.

Reedsholme Works where Simpson took his family. Photo: Robert Wade via CreativeCommons
The remnants of Reedsholme Works, where Simpson took his family to work by 1871. Photo: Robert Wade via CreativeCommons.

Life would undoubtedly been hard for the Bishops at the mill, and maybe it wasn’t the new life that they might have originally bought into. By the time of this 1871 census, two of Simpson’s children that had joined him in Lancashire had married:

  • William to Sarah Swann, who went on to have at least 5 children, and at the time of the 1871 census are living in Little Marsden, Lancashire.
  • Ann Elizabeth to George Eve.

It even seems that in 1875, whilst the family were up in Reedsholme, daughter Keziah died aged 22. I’ll order her death certificate out of curiosity to see whether it was due to work – as on the 1871 census, she is noted as a ‘Cotton Weaver’.

I found that Simpson, returned to church when on 25th January 1868, he married his third wife Sarah Washington. However, she’s missing from the 1871 family group (presumably dead too), and it’s not clear whether Simpson is married actually on the folio.

Simpson joins Sarah in my research as ‘currently missing’ after the 1871 census, but I hope to find the final steps of his journey.

Did Sarah survive or did Simpson marry again?

A journey that I thought I’d finished with him and his father a long time ago, back somewhere in Cambridgeshire… but which then proved to take me through unexpected twists and turns.

Thanks for reading… I’ll post an update once i’ve got further with Simpson and Sarah, but in the meantime; have you ever used card-sorting to solve a family tree puzzle?

Do you have ancestors who worked at Reedsholme Works, or in the cotton weaving industry?

Leave me a comment below – as i’d love to hear from you.

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day – a celebration of motherhood.

Today is Mother’s Day here in the UK.

To mark this day, I thought I would share a few words about three amazing women in my tree.

Ann Bowers

Ann Bowers (1843-1889)
Ann Bowers (1843-1889)

Ann Bowers was born in 1843 in Wicken, Cambridgeshire. She was penultimate of the eight child of Henry Bowers and Ann Bailey.

Marrying labourer James Simpson Bishop in 1860, it wasn’t long before she began their family with the birth of their first child Ann Elizabeth Bishop in 1861. Over the next 26 years she bore another 17 children. It appears that two of these children died in their infancy.

Ann, who must have been exhausted from her continuous pregnancies and looking after an army of children, eventually succumbed to pneumonia in March 1889 and died aged 45 years. Her youngest child was just 2yrs old.

With a total of 16 living children, their labourer father would have struggled immensely to provide and care for them had it not have been for Sarah Farby (née Bowers) – Ann’s married and childless sister.

Sarah Bowers

Sarah Bowers was Ann’s (above) older sister. She married George Farby but the couple never had any children of their own. However, they lived close to the growing Bishop household and therefore Sarah helped Ann to care for her children, and upon Ann’s death in 1889, Sarah was there to help care for the children – the youngest, George Juble Bishop, being just 2yrs old.

As the family grew up and started having their own children and grandchildren, Sarah continued to care for them – earning herself the affectionate name of ‘Granny Farby’. She died just under 2 months after the death of her husband in 1920.

Sarah Elizabeth Giddings

Sarah, born in 1852, was the illegitimate daughter of Elizabeth Giddings of March, Cambridgeshire. The stigma that accompanied this fact will have worked against her and her mother from the moment that the pregnancy became known.

Sarah Elizabeth Giddings (1852-1925)
Sarah Elizabeth Giddings (1852-1925)

Sarah didn’t just face this hurdle in life – when she was 21 she lost her mother (aged 41-42yrs old). The following year (1874) she married James Martin and the couple bore their first child that year. In total, they had 12 children, but sadly, Sarah was to outlive 6 of her children, and 2 of their spouses.

Son Herbert died in a horrific train accident in France; Albert died in a German hospital; her daughter Emma and Emma’s husband both died in 1917 – leaving their orphaned daughter Mary.

Sarah’s 11yr old son William Martin died after an accident whilst working on a horse and cart in 1890;  her daughter Mary died on her day of birth in 1886; and her son Percy died within the first year of his life.

Sarah died in 1925 – a mother and a grandmother.

Wicken Methodist Church

Wicken Methodist Church has some names engraved on its foundation stones. Who was ‘H Bishop’?

Wicken Methodist Church
I’ve been asked to research one of the names on a foundation stone laid in 1910/1911 during the construction of Wicken Methodist Church, which is located on the High Street of this Cambridgeshire village.

Yesterday I headed off on the short 12 mile trip to Wicken to take some photographs of the Church and to see the stone for itself.

The stone reads:

“Laid in memory of H. Bishop by his grandchildren”.

There is also reference to a Mr J Bailey too – another of my ancestral names from this village, but for now, ‘H Bishop’ is my focus.

I think I’ve worked out who it was (no spoilers yet until I’m a bit more certain), but I’m now off to the Cambridgeshire Collection in Cambridge’s newly refurbished Central Library to wade through some 1910/1911 editions of the local newspapers. Hopefully I’ll find reference to the stone laying and also to the opening of the church.

The church celebrates its centenary in May 1911.

I’ll report back soon!

Surname Saturday: BISHOP

 Bishop is the 201st most common surname in the UK, a fall of almost 30 places from the 1880s. According to John Ayto (Encyclopedia of Surnames), the surname of Bishop originates from a person who was a servant in the house of a Bishop or from someone whose appearance or demeanour was similar to that of a Bishop.

I’ve managed to trace my Bishop ancestors back to the 1700s with the help of fellow researcher and distant relative Gerard Kelly.

My most recent Bishop ancestor was my Gt Gt Grandmother, Adelaide Bishop (born in 1877, pictured). She was the fourteenth child of a total of eighteen children of a James Simpson Bishop and his wife Ann (née Bowers) of Wicken, Cambridgeshire. With this many children it’s a wonder how the name has declined at all, but in this family alone daughters were most common.

James Simpson Bishop was born in 1842 in Soham, a place that unfortunately needs little introduction. However, for the 1851 census the family had moved to a farm at Twineham in West Sussex – an unusual move considering that very few families at the time moved much further than the next village. I can only assume that James’ parents took the family there for work – perhaps as tenant farmers. By 1858 the family had returned to Cambridgeshire and are living close to Soham in the village of Fordham, before moving again to Wicken.

The family remained around this area with many children marrying and starting their own families.