Sidney Alfred Parsons and his Ancestors

Richard Parsons, “fflaxman” of Wincanton, and his descendants

Richard Parsons, the flax merchant and linen weaver from Wincanton who died in 1682, was very probably related to the Parsons families of Kington Magna in Dorset among whom was a near contemporary also called Richard Parsons who was a five-times great-grandfather of Sidney Alfred Parsons.

Richard lived and worked in Wincanton in Somerset for most of his life but may well have been born in Kington Magna.

Wincanton, marked on the map by a red cross, is a small town in the south-west of England. It lies in the far south-eastern part of the county of Somerset, very near to the border with Dorset, and not far from the border with Wiltshire. It was than, and still is, on the road from London to Plymouth. The population of Wincanton today is less than 5,000. Much of the area had originally been forested (forming part of Penselwood forest) but by the middle of the 17th century most of the trees had been cleared and converted to pasture for dairy farming or beef fattening, and orchards (Somerset is famous for its cider). Also by the middle of the 17th century, a weaving industry was beginning to develop, with silk, wool and linen weavers settling in the town. Wool came from the sheep on the nearby downlands and flax, from which linen was made, was an important crop in South Somerset. Wincanton is on the River Cale and Kington Magna is situated on a hilside overlooking the river valley a few miles downstream.

That part of England was badly affected by the Civil Wars. For example, in 1645 the Royalist General Digby, with 1200 horse and dragoons, was stationed near to Wicanton. He “took altogether about 100 prisoners, 300 horse, and 300 arms, chiefly of Colonel Popham’s and Colonel Morley’s regiments, and with them two colours or cornets of horse, one being Master Wansey’s, which had on it for a motto - ‘For lawful laws and liberties.’ The royalist party returned to Bruton that night”. Impressed soldiers were exercised within in the parish of Wincanton in 1640, and the Royalist Prince Maurice and his regiment of horse were there in 1644. (According to a contemporary source, Prince Maurice’s was "accounted the most active regiment in the army, and most commonly placed in the out quarters and where hardly one week passed in the summer half year, in which there was not a battle or skirmish fought, or beating up of quarters".)

The first Civil War ended in 1646, and in that year Richard Parsons, still quite a young man, went into business with George Vyning. The Vynings were a local family but George’s father had become a Merchant Tailor in London. Together, Richard and George bought a house and workshop in South Street, Wincanton from George’s father. George was a clothier and Richard was a woollen weaver. Several other members of the Vyning family were involved in the enterprise, but in 1657 Richard (who by now had concentrated on flax dressing) became the sole owner.

The house which Richard Parsons and George Vyning bought was in South Street, Wincanton, and the house known as Old St. Audrey’s, shown in this picture, may very well stand on the same site, but the original house was extensively repaired, or rebuilt, probably after the disastrous fire of 1707 which destroyed much of the town center. Richard Parsons and John Vyning would have used the house to manufacture cloth and as a retail outlet.

Many years later, in 1734, the house passed into the hands of a certain William Parsons of Horwood from William Parsons of Charlton Musgrove who was probably a son of Richard’s grandson Francis.

Richard Parsons was clearly a wealthy man and in 1656 he bought a farm in South Petherton, near the village of Horsington. The farm had a tenant, Christopher Wadman, and Richard must have bought it as an investment and for the income which it brought. The Parsons family and the Wadmans had an association which lasted for several generations.

Richard used the distinctive mark shown on the right to sign his business documents.

Several records of Richard Parsons’ business dealings still exist. For example, the document, part of which is shown below, relates to the sale of a farm which he owned jointly with John and Gertrude Dowding (his son-in-law and daughter). Note the florid style which was usual in legal documents of the time.

The document begins as follows:

“THIS INDENTURE made the seventeenth day of Aprill in the ? year of the Raigne of our Sovereign Lord Charles the Second by the grace of God of England Scotland and France and Ireland King defender of the the ffaith yet the thirtiete Annoq Dom 1678: BETWEEN John Dowding of Kington Magna in the County of Dorsett yeoman and Gertrude his wife and Richard Parsons the elder of Wincanton in the county of Somerset fflaxman of the one parte And Robert Wadman of South Cheriton within the Parish of Horsington in the said county of Somerset yeoman John Williams of South Cheriton within the Parish of Horsington aforesaid and John Bradinge of ? within the Parish of Bruton in the said county of Somerset gent of the other part”.

The document was originally in two parts, one for the sellers and the other for the buyers. The two parts were cut apart with a wavy line so that if they were later brought together, the shape of the cut could be used to confirm that they were, in fact, parts of the same agreement. Hence the name indenture because an edge was indented.

Richard’s wife was called Dorothy. They must have married during the reign of King Charles I but no parish register entry has been found so we do not know when or where the ceremony took place, nor do we know Dorothy’s maiden name. Richard and Dorothy had four children that we know of — sons called Richard, George and Francis, and a daughter called Gertrude.

Dorothy died in late December of the year 1680 and was buried in Wincanton on the 1st of January.

When Richard made his will in May 1681 he was living in Kington Magna. At that time he owned land in Churton (now called Cheriton, between Horsington and Wincanton), Batchpoole (between Kington Magna and Wincanton), and he held the lease of 30 acres in Frome Selwood (which is now just called Frome). He also owned two houses in Wincanton and held the mortgage of one in Frome which was occupied by Joseph Cogswell. Richard appointed his friend John Dowding and his son Richard as the executors. (John Dowding was either Richard’s son-in-law, or possibly his son-in-law’s father.) — Click here to see a transcription of Richard’s will.

Richard’s connection with Frome is interesting and, as yet, unexplained. Frome is about 15 miles from Kington Magna, several hours journey on horseback or by waggon or coach, whereas his other properties were all reasonably close to Wincanton. Note that he seems not to have owned the house in Kington Magna in which he was living when he wrote his will. Perhaps he was staying with his daughter Getrude Dowding and her husband.

Richard Parsons died in 1682.

In 1685, three years after Richard had died, the area was troubled by a rebellion. An attempt to overthrow the newly crowned King James II, who was a Catholic, was led by the Duke of Monmouth, an illegitimate son of Charles II, who claimed the throne for himself. The rebellion was based in the West Country and Monmouth was finally defeated in July 1685 at the Battle of Sedgemore in Somerset. Many of his supporters were tried in Taunton by the infamous Judge Jeffreys and sentenced to death or transportation to the sugar plantations in the West Indies. The trials later became known as the Bloody Assizes. In Wincanton eighteen local men were reported as supporters of Monmouth and six rebels were executed. Some of those men must have been known to Richard’s children.

Richard Parsons’s descendants

Known descendants of Richard Parsons and his wife Dorothy are:

•  Richard’s son Richard was baptised on the 19th of June 1636. As a young man he was for a while a constable and in 1656 he was attacked by John Vyning and a woman called Mrs. Norman whilst they were in a pub. John Vyning was the name of Richard’s father’s business partner — he might have been the attacker or, perhaps more probably, it could have been his son of the same name. Richard became a linen weaver by trade and lived in Horwood which is on the southern edge of Wincanton. In May 1665 he married a woman called Ann Over and they had two daughters whom they named Mary and Thomasin. In 1728 Richard and his brother Francis were named as trustees in the will of his brother George.

•  Francis was Richard and Dorothy’s second son. He became a shoemaker in Wincanton and married a woman whose first name was Joan. Richard and Joan had four children: Francis, John, Richard and Henry. He inherited his father’s house in South Street, Wincanton and eventually passed it down to his son Francis. In 1734 the younger Francis’ son William and his wife Jane, who lived in Charlton Musgrove, passed it on to a William Parsons of Horwood who might have been his son.

•  Getrude was baptised in the 28th of December 1643, She married John Dowding who lived in Kington Magna which was probably where her father had been born. Gertrude and John had no children. After her mother Dorothy died at the end of 1680 her father moved to Kington Magna where he probably lived with her and John until his death in 1682. Gertrude’s husband John died in November 1702 leaving his farm and most of his property to her (his will named Gertrude as his executrix). Gertrude died in Kington Magna over seventeen years later in May 1720 leaving her property to her younger brother George.

•  George was Richard’s youngest son. In 1682, when his father wrote his will, he with his wife Ann and their son George, were living in a house in Wincanton which his father owned. He was also left a house in Cheriton in the parish of Horsington which he was unable to occupy immediately. George and Ann had another child in Wincanton. They named him Solomon. But by September 1691 when their son Jeremiah was baptised they had moved to Horsington. Samuel was born in 1695 and in April 1698 they baptised Hester who lived for less than two weeks and was buried on the 17th. Their first son called George must have died, probably while they were still living in Wincanton, because when they baptised another son in June 1699 they named him George. In February 1700 George’s wife Ann died and a week later so did their son Solomon. About two years later George married again; his second wife’s name was Mary. George and Mary had three children called Solomon, John and Robert who were baptised in Horsington in 1703, 1705 and 1707 respectively. In 1720 George inherited his widowed sister Getrude’s property. When George made his will in 1728 he said that he was living in Cheriton and he appointed his brothers Richard and Francis as trustees. He died less than a year later and was buried on the 23rd of September 1729.

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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.

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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.