This is a somewhat epic tale of a family who didn’t leave a small area of fertile Somerset, until the Americas called and the railways arrived. Even now, the surname is more common in Somerset than anywhere else in the world. They had a confusing tradition- calling a son of each family “Joseph”. In fact, it would be easy to get lost in Josephs and sorting out which boy belonged to which father is a time consuming activity, one which many people have confused further by publishing incorrect family trees.
This is the story of five of them, who were all born and brought up within a few miles of each other. They all came from relatively prosperous farming families which leads me to assume they were well fed and had the chance of an education. Although being called “Joseph Griffin” could have led to something of an identity crisis, another locally occurring Christian name was “Goodenough”, so they probably felt lucky to have got plain old Joseph!
The first Joseph isn’t the first ever Joseph Griffin, but he is the first it is possible to find out much about. He was born the year his father died, 1747, in Clevedon, a seaside town near Bristol. He married in 1767, a local girl called Mary Hollyman (another surname it is hard to escape from in that part of the world!) and successfully farmed in the parish of Congresbury, a parish in the hundred of Winterstoke, said to have been founded around 700 AD. It wasn’t difficult to obtain farm land here, the fields were small and it had an unusual custom-“CONGRESBURY, A singular custom of distributing annually the common lands by lot in single acres, hence called Dolemoors, formerly prevailed in this manor.” From The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)
But until the 1820s, the area was flooded for up to three months of the year, losing stock and making arable farming particularly hard.
Joseph and Mary had two sons, Joseph (of course!) and John and three daughters, Nancy, Mary and Sarah.
His son Joseph marries Hannah Wall in 1791 and they have five sons, Joseph (born 1795). Thomas, George (born 1803), James and William and seven girls Mary Ann, Ann, Eliza, Temperance, Hannah and Jane. The name “Temperance” perhaps suggests the kind of people the Griffins were!
Joseph (born 1770) and John (born 1772) both become farmers nearby. So it perhaps was not surprising that aged 65, Joseph decides to have a roup of the contents of the farm and to shrink his part of the business. The contents tell much about the family at this time. They are producing cheese and cider, have a selection of stock and they have a lot of furniture, some of it mahogany, which none of the family is in need of.
Joseph Griffin, despite cutting the size of his farm, was still active in Congresbury, making sure that law and order was kept by being a member of the “Congresbury Association for the Prevention of Depredations”
It wasn’t until 1839 that the Rural Constabulary Act allowed county areas to establish police forces if they chose to at a local level; so until then it was up to local groups of people to enforce the law locally to them. John Griffin is a member of a similar group in Clevedon.
By 1810, the younger Joseph has taken over the reigns of the committee, although resident in nearby Clevedon.
“CLEVEDON, a parish in the hundred of Portbury, in the county of Somerset, 11 miles W. of Bristol. It is a railway station of the Great Western line, and is resorted to in summer as a pleasant watering-place. The town is situated on the cliffs at the mouth of the river Severn, commanding a fine view of the channel. It was called Clevedun by the Saxons, from the cliff (cleve) terminating at this point in a valley (dun). It contains a lecture-hall, public baths, numerous hotels and boarding-houses, and is well lighted with gas.The living is a vicarage* in the diocese of Bath and Wells, in the patronage of the Bishop of Worcester. The tithes are commuted for a rent-charge of £500 per annum. There are two district churches, both of which are perpetual curacies, viz. Christ Church, in the patronage of trustees, and East Clevedon, in the patronage of Sir A. H. Elton, Bart. The parish church, dedicated to St. Andrew, is an ancient building in the mixed style, with monuments. Christ Church is a modern stone building in the early English style. The church at East Clevedon, dedicated to All Saints, is a fine edifice, in the decorated style. The Plymouth Brethren, Congregationalists, and Society of Friends have places of worship. There are National and infant schools, as well as those of the British and Foreign Union, and a servants’ school, supported by ladies. The charities produce about £24 per annum. Clevedon Court, the seat of Sir A. Hallam Elton, Bart., is a fine specimen of the Elizabethan style of architecture. Here are exhausted lead-mines, and the refuse ore is often found near the surface. The air is so mild in winter that the most delicate plants may be reared, and the village is consequently well suited as a residence for invalids. The poet Coleridge once resided here.” The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)
Clevedon and Kenn are very close together in modern terms and the Griffins appear to have had pockets of land throughout the area. Joseph of Congresbury died in 1811, followed by his wife Mary in 1813.
Although I cannot identify the exact location of their house at this point, the photo of farm is typical and possibly was a Griffin farmhouse.
Joseph Griffin’s daughters start to marry, an expensive business with so many of them, marrying into trades, oastlers and grocers. His son Joseph marries Louisa (?) and his son George marries Ann Stubbs in 1826. Both have sons called Joseph, Josephs’s son being born in 1833 and George’s son Joseph was born in 1831. From here, I am going to ignore 1833 Joseph, it gets too complicated and he leaves the area as an adult. Suffice to say he is very clever, continually winning prizes for English and Mathematics at school and becoming a successful mineral water entrepreneur.
George is a butcher and listed in various trade directories, from 1830 onwards as being in Clevedon and St Nicholas Street, Bristol. He seems to lead an unspectacular life, having five sons, including Joseph and two daughters.
The same summer the 60 acres he farms is advertised for sale and one has to wonder if the two things are connected.
The same Saturday that the sale of the land is advertised the hanging of one John Rowley for stealing potatoes is mentioned. Losing one’s life seems a huge punishment for stealing potatoes, their punishment was also for fire raising, although that is not mentioned in the Bristol Mirror. It was the last hanging on the site of a crime in England.
Land is still advertised as having been in the hands of the elder Joseph Griffin, as late as 1835.
In 1837, Joseph senior and sister Jane are listed as giving money for the building of Clevedon New Church. But both Farmer Joseph and his son, also Farmer Joseph, seem to have been chiefly interested in breeding enormous specimens of animal and enormous vegetables at Clevedon annual show, which starts in 1837.
In the Clevedon of this period, there is not only the annual summer show, but also the “Christmas Fare”, which reads as a vegetarian’s nightmare and takes place on Christmas Day, the annual holiday. It would seem, that even if you were unable to afford to buy the meat to eat, people cared to go and look at it. Quite the opposite of people today who often find the sight of meat hanging in a butcher’s shop a hard one to stomach!
In 1842 the newspaper states there are at the Clevedon Show “very superior apples, the Pound Pippin, (one weighing 22 ounces) by Mr Joseph Griffin” and two prize bulls at Clevedon show 1842 and in he wins a prize for the “best cwt of cheese” and at Christmas the best cwt of cheese and the second best bull. The Pound Pippen apple seems to be lost in the mists of time, but was clearly enormous. It being Cheddar producing country a cheese measured in a unit usually associated with sacks of coal is perhaps not so surprising! A “curiously fat lamb” is also mentioned!
The census of 1841 sees Joseph senior and junior and George all listed as living on the road “Clevedon to the Strode”, the Josephs as farmers and George as a butcher.
Joseph senior and his wife Hannah died within a year of each other, Joseph in 1845 and Hannah in 1846.
Hannah was clearly sorely missed by many, Joseph’s death seems not to have been announced in the papers. Joseph’s brother, John, dies in 1847 and it is left to his nephew Joseph to deal with his estate. On first reading it seems like a huge amount of land, but as seems to have been the case in this area, similarly to his father, John as many pockets of a few acres here and there. Each is named and so the advert makes charming and interesting reading. I am sure with more local knowledge it would be easy to identify where each is.
The Clevedon Show continued to grow in status and instead of money is presenting silverware by 1850 and Joseph the farmer continues to win it.
But it is here that I admit to being confused. By the census of 1851, George is no longer a butcher but had become a “labourer” (one assumes agricultural from the fact he is still in Clevedon) and Joseph had become the butcher, not a farmer. Is this something to do with their father dying? I don’t know. By 1861 Joseph had become a “labourer” too and is listed as that again in 1871 (he died in 1874) and George was still a “labourer” in 1861.
George’s son Joseph was a patient in a Bristol hospital in 1851 and it would seem romance blossomed, because his future wife was a nurse there at the same time. Despite scouring the newspapers, I cannot find why he was in hospital. All accidents seem to have been reported in the paper as they are admitted to hospital, so one must assume he is ill, not injured. The girl Joseph met was Ann Budd, born 1828 in Finchdean, Hampshire, the daughter of a blacksmith. They marry a year later, on 25th July 1852, in Bristol. But here things take an unexpected twist. You will gather from what you have read that Joseph seems, as far as one can tell, to have led a reasonably happy and stable life. What makes him take the action you will now read, it is impossible to guess.
Three years later his daughter Emily Jane was born in College Street and two years after that, their son Joseph Henry was born in Clifton, Bristol. They all disappear from the 1861 census, but between the births and the 1871 census, they move to Chesterfield, Derbyshire. The family story is that they delivered a coach for the Duke of Devonshire, but as yet I have found no evidence for that claim.
Joseph and Ann appear to have lived happily together, with the exception of another tragedy in 1880. Joseph placed an announcement in the local paper to say his father had died. He had a full family life, a good job as manager of a flour merchants and is remembered well, was loved by his family and died in 1902. Who knows what went wrong in August 1852. To read the rest of their story together, click here.