John Taylor Parsons was born in Marston Magna in Somerset on the 7th of October 1845. Marston Magna is between Yeovil, Sherborne and Wincanton, near the border with Dorset. John’s ancestors had been farmers and businessmen in that area for at least six generations, since the time of the Civil War. His earliest known Parsons ancestors were from a small village called Kington Magna which is in North Dorset.
John was Sidney Parsons’ father and he was a great-grandfather of the present author.
The family were not well off. Even though Edward was the eldest son of a wealthy farmer who lived in the manor house, he had received no legacy when his father Charles Parsons died. Charles’ will did not say why and the reason will probably always remain a mystery. Edward lived the life of an ordinary working man. He worked as a gamekeeper, a labourer and, in later life, a gardener.
John grew up in Marston Magna. He probably attended the National School there which was built the year before he was born; the building still stands by the corner of the road that leads to Queen Camel. By the time he was 15 years old he had been apprenticed to a boot maker.
John had three brothers (Isaac, James and Henry) and four sisters (Elizabeth, Jane, Mary and Martha). Another sister, Jane, died while she was still a baby.
Southampton had experienced a period of rapid growth during the late 18th and early 19th centuries and the opportunities to be found there must have attracted ambitious people from miles around. Marston Magna is about 55 miles from Southampton. The first of John Parsons’ relatives to move to Southampton was his sister Elizabeth who came with her second husband William Sly, who became manager of the St. Mary’s Hotel at 65 East Street.
John’s brother Isaac was the next member of the family to move to Southampton. He had married the village school mistress in Marston Magna and they had a child but she left him, taking their son, to work as a lady’s maid for an elderly widow in Weymouth. When Isaac came to Southampton he became the landlord of the Surrey Hotel in Orchard Road.
John Parsons arrived in Southampton in about 1870 where at first he lived with his sister Elizabeth Sly and her husband William at the St. Mary’s Hotel. In the 1871 census he described homself as a boot maker but within a couple of years he also took over the management of a public house in Chantry Road.
The last of John’s siblings to move to the Southampton area was his brother James who went to live in Bishopstoke where he worked as a coachman and groom. He married Margaret Rogers, who had come from Mottisfont in Hampshire and had an illegitimate son called Frederick. James and Margaret had no children of their own but Frederick eventually adopted the surname Parsons. James died in the Southampton Infirmary in 1914.
On the 16th of March 1872, at St. Mary’s Church, Southampton, John Parsons married Harriet Eliza Boyes. His brother-in-law, William Sly, and Harriet’s half-sister, Rosa Barnett, were the witnesses. (Rosa Barnett, née Boyes, was a widowed seamstress who had a young child.)
John and Harriet’s wedding was announced in the Hampshire Advertiser as follows: “On the 16th inst., at St.Mary’s Church Southampton, by the Rev.W.W. Perren, John, fourth and youngest son of Mr.Edward Parsons, yeoman of Marston Magna, Somerset, to Harriett Eliza, fourth and youngest daughter of Mr.Wm. Boyes, timber merchant, &c., of Crowd Hill Farm, near Bishopstoke, and granddaughter of the late Mr.John Boyes, yeoman, Owslebury, Hants. No cards.”
Note the reference to Harriet’s grandfather, John Boyes. He had become a something of a national celebrity in the 1830s when he, although himself a farmer and an employer, had been transported to Van Diemen’s land for supporting farm labourers who were demanding higher pay but was then, like the Tolpuddle Martyrs a few years afterwards, pardoned following a campaign by many prominent people. Among his supporters were William Cobbett, the parliamentarian and author of the best-selling book “Rural Rides”, and Lord Palmerstone, who later became Prime Minister.
The picture on the left shows John Parsons (1845 to 1925), the Southampton publican.
As well as the Blue Boar, where his two sons were born, John kept the the Saracen’s Head in Albert Road, the Victoria and Albert in Orchard Lane, the St. George Hotel in Bridge Street, the Freemantle Hotel in Park Road, the Portswood Hotel in Bevois Valley Road, the Fish and Kettle Tavern in French Street, and the Burton Ale House in Orchard Lane. John’s last pub, in which he settled for many years, was the Salisbury Arms in French Street.
John lived a colourful life and his pubs were distinctly lively. He often made appearances in court which were reported in the local newspaper. At times he kept firearms in his pubs - a revolver and a ‘pocket pistol’ were stolen from him at the Blue Boar. In later life he is known to have kept bulldogs, and to have carried knuckledusters.
John was often involved in assault cases, either as the victim or as the accused. On several occasions he was prosecuted for selling alcohol out of hours. The magistrates were, on the whole, sympathetic to him and he was often found innocent. The most serious charge against him was that, in 1900, while he was landlord of the Burton Ale House, he allowed prostitutes to operate from his pub. For this he was convicted and fined £2.
Many of John’s customers were German seamen, or emigrants passing through Southampton on their way to America, and John had some knowledge of the German language.
In the 1870s many emigrants from Germany passed through Southampton on their way to the New World. Criminal gangs of Germans preyed on them, robbing and swindling them. The situation got so bad that German immigrant organisations in America advised potential migrants to avoid Southampton. A mentally disabled man, Heinrich Beehler (John called him Henry), joined one of these gangs, but in 1873, he was arrested and imprisoned. He was released early because of his mental state. John Parsons took him under his wing, ensured that he was properly fed, and used him as a tout to encourage passing Germans into the Blue Boar. While looking for customers one day in 1874, Henry was arrested and prosecuted for loitering with intent. John spoke in his defence, telling the court that he employed him as a waiter. Henry promised the court he would leave Southampton but he did not do so, and he was prosecuted for touting several more times.
In June 1874, on the evening of an election day, there was a riot in East Street. The rioters forced open the door of the Blue Boar and broke some windows. John barricaded his pub, called for police assistance, and stood outside, with his brother Isaac (who kept the Surrey Hotel), to protect it. When the police arrived they apparently mistook John for a rioter and a constable attacked him with a truncheon, injuring him severely. His life was thought to be in danger and he was under the care of a doctor for several weeks. PC Daniel Coleman was tried for the assault but, despite there being several witnesses who saw the assault and recognised the policeman by his number, evidence given by a police inspector persuaded the magistrates to acquit him.
Despite its lively reputation, the Blue Boar, while John Parsons was its landlord, was also used for respectable functions. In May 1874 the Hampshire Advertiser reported that a Foresters’ Dinner was held there with many dignitaries present, including the Town Clerk.
“Yesterday (Tuesday) evening a dinner was held at the Blue Boar Inn, East-street, in connection with Court lrsquo;Sir Bevois’ (No.1920) A.O.F. The court-room, in which the repast was laid out, was neatly decorated with flags, evergreens, and flowers, the banner of the Court, and sashes of the Order. The catering reflected credit on Host Parsons.”
In 1875, John’s brother Isaac left his own pub and moved to the Blue Boar Inn where he became John’s assistant. But he fell ill with hepatitis and, after suffering for six weeks, died there on Christmas day.
The Hampshire Advertiser reported that John Parsons was badly hurt in a crash on the evening of the 18th of August 1876:
“FATAL ACCIDENT NEAR BISHOPSTOKE - John Parsons, landlord of the Blue Boar Inn, yesterday hired a horse and trap of Mr. Goddard, Guilliaume-terrace, and drove to Fair Oak to see some friends. On returning in the evening when between Fair Oak and Bishopstoke he gave a lift to a respectable man, name unknown. Shortly after they came into collision with a horse and cab belonging to Mrs. Russell, of Bishopstoke, and both men were thrown out, and the trap smashed to atoms. The stranger was killed on the spot, and Parsons very much hurt. The latter was sent by train to his home at Southampton.”
In January 1883 John was involved in a fracas at an organised pigeon shoot in Totton. While he and the other participants were shooting in Testwood Park a local man, Mr. Andrews, was just outside the boundary, also shooting pigeons. John said he shot a pigeon and, at the same time, so did Mr. Andrews. A bird fell near the boundary and both men claimed it. Mr. Andrews said that John Parsons then attacked him. According to his lawyer “it came so near attempted murder that his client was only alive through providential escape”. The case, which was heard at Lyndhurst, had several hearings and continued until May. Luckily for John, the witnesses contradicted each other and the magistrates eventually decided to acquit him.
In 1887 John Parsons became involved with an Italian showman, Rudesindo Roche, who was showing a troupe of performing wolves in London.
John was to provide food and accommodation for the Italian’s family at the Portswood Hotel, and accommodate the wolves in the hotel’s garden. According to the Italian, John was also to provide a band for the performance. On the day, the performance was not a commercial success. Rudesindo said this was partly because John had failed to provide a band and the wolves objected to the music from the German band which he himself managed to find at the last minute. He also complained about the quality and quantity of food that John had provided at the hotel. The Italian refused to pay his bill in full and the two parties sued each other. After Mr Roche made a lengthy and impassioned outburst in broken English, in which he declared he would never visit Southampton again, the magistrates awarded £11 to John Parsons and refused Mr. Roche’s claim.
In August 1891 John was prosecuted when his dog bit an old man, even though it was muzzled. The newspaper said:
“BITTEN BY A MUZZLED DOG - John Parsons, of the Free House, Orchard-lane, was summoned for having, on the 17th July, allowed his dog to be at large without being properly muzzled. The dog, whilst wearing a leather cage muzzle, had bitten an old man on the leg. Defendant was fined 5s and costs - 13s 6d in all.”
On Christmas day in the year 1893 John’s father Edward Parsons died in Marston Magna. John’s sister-in-law Margaret Parsons, the wife of his brother James who lived in Eastleigh, was with him.
John and his wife Harriet had four children. Their first, William John Leonard, was born in July 1874 at the Blue Boar Inn. Their second child was Ernest George Archibald. He was born in March 1876 but died only six weeks later. Then came another boy and they named him Sidney Alfred Francis; he was born on the 3rd of March 1877 exactly one year after his brother Ernest. Harriet fell pregnant again in 1881 but the child, an un-named girl, was born prematurely and did not survive.
John’s eldest son William never married. As a young man he was a bookmaker. In October 1899 he and his friend, Francis Booth, were convicted of frequenting and using a public space in Hoglands Park, Southampton, for the purposes of betting and bookmaking. They were each fined 20 shillings. Theirs were the first convictions under a new bye-law for the suppression of street betting. In later life William kept a lodging house at 11 French Street, next door to his father’s pub, the Salisbury Arms.
Sidney, John’s younger son, worked in the docks but then joined the Imperial Yeomanry to fight in the Boer war. On his return to Southampton he worked as a steward and married Dorothy Bennett whose father was a coachman. Sidney and Dorothy emigrated to Australia with their son Reginald in 1908. But the family returned to Southampton in 1920 and by then they had six children. After their return from Australia Sidney worked as a barman.
John’s wife Harriet died of bronchitis on the 14th of February 1921. She was 68 years old.
Just over two and a half years after John’s wife had died, his son William also died. The date was the 17th of August 1923 and the cause was pulmonary tuberculosis. Less than a month after that, on the 13th of September, John’s daughter-in-law Dorothy (Sidney’s wife) died of pneumonia in the Southampton Isolation Hospital. And just one year later, on the 27th of September 1924, Sidney himself died of heart disease at the Royal South Hants Hospital. Sidney and Dorothy’s children were left as orphans.
William had left an estate valued at £1896 11s 11d, which was a considerable amount at the time, and his father inherited it. Three months after Sidney had died, just before Christmas in 1924, John made a will which used the money to provide for for his six orphaned grandchildren. It was to be used for the benefit of the children until the youngest of them reached 21 years of age and then the remainder was to be divided equally between them. John also left £25 to an employee of his called Elizabeth Carr. He appointed his friend James William Perren of 73 St. Andrews Road Southampton, who was a sheriff’s officer, to be the executor and trustee of his estate.
John Parsons died of heart disease on the 21st of January 1925 in his pub. His son Sidney’s mother-in-law, Rose Bennett, was present when he died.
A notice of John’s death was published in the Southern Daily Echo on the 23rd of January 1925. It read: "Parsons — At Salisbury Arms Hotel, West Street. John Parsons, aged 82 years, Funeral Old Cemetary, Monday next, 2.30 pm."
Ancestors of John Parsons
Great-grandfather — William Parsons, a publican and landowner who lived in Holton in Somerset, but had been born in Kington Magna in Dorset
Great-grandmother — Mary Parsons née West, baptised in 1753, the daughter of a farmer from Stowell in Somerset
Great-grandfather — Giles Jukes, who came from a village near Gillingham in Dorset
Great-grandmother — Elizabeth Jukes née Hill
Great-grandfather — Charles Taylor, who was born in Somerton in Somerset but lived most of his life in High Ham
Great-grandmother — Catherine Tucker, who came from High Ham in Somerset
Great-grandfather — John Bond, who came from High Ham which is near Langport in Somerset
Great-grandmother — Anne Bond née Read
You are free to make use of the information in these web pages in any way that you wish but please be aware that the author, Mike Parsons, is unable to accept respsonsibility for any errors or omissions.
Mike can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The information in these web pages comes from a number of sources including: Hampshire County Records Office, Somerset Heritage Centre; Dorset County Records Office; Southampton City Archives; the General Register Office; several on-line newspaper archives; several on-line transcriptions of Parish Register Entries; and several on-line indexes of births, marriages and deaths. The research has also been guided at times by the published work of others, both on-line and in the form of printed books, and by information from personal correspondence with other researchers, for all of which thanks are given. However, all of the information in these web pages has been independently verified by the author from original sources, facimile copies, or, in the case of a few parish register entries, transcriptions published by on-line genealogy sites. The author is aware that some other researchers have in some cases drawn different conclusions and have published information which is at variance from that shown in these web pages.
Copyright © 2013 Mike Parsons. All rights reserved.