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James Zebedee Turle


Part 2: Marriage – the first twenty five years (1838 – 1863)

1838 was a busy year for the Turle family and the country in general.

On 28 June 1838 Westminster Abbey saw the Coronation of the young Queen Victoria and the same year Disrali, unsuccessfully, stood as the parliamentary candidate for Taunton[1] and there were great celebrations to mark the opening of the Grand Union Canal through to Tiverton.

James Zebedee Turle was working as a musician and an innkeeper in Wilton. Another innkeeper in the village was Thomas Godfrey[2]. James Zebedee and Thomas’s sister, Mary Ann had been courting for some time when on 29 December, the nineteen-year-old, James Zebedee went to see Rev. Henry Bower to apply for a licence to marry Mary Ann. He swore that their fathers had agreed and there was no reason why they could not marry and the licence was duly issued.[3] Two days later, on New Years Eve the couple were married by Rev E T Halliday at the Parish Church in Wilton with Mary Ann’s brother Thomas and sister Jane as witnesses.[4] Celebrations most likely carried on into the New Year with much drinking, music and dancing.

North Petherton Church
North Petherton Church

Mary Ann was brought up in a close and loving family on a farm with her ten brothers and sisters. She was born in 1819, the same year as the future Queen Victoria and grew up in North Petherton, the fourth child of William and Ann Godfrey who by 1839 were farming at Comeytrow Farm in Trull. Mary Ann was already pregnant when they married and their first child, Ellen was born in 1839. Ellen was baptised at All Saints, Trull on 2 February 1840 shortly before her brother Philip was born and subsequently baptised in the same church on 1 March 1840 by the Rev. Geb. At that time James Zebedee was making a living as a musician, probably a violinist like his father and grandfather, and would no doubt have been interested in Franz Liszt’s visit to Taunton in 1840 when he played the piano at the Assembly Rooms.

In 1840 the much loved Rev Henry Bower died and on 20 May Rev. James Cottle came from the neighbouring parish church of St James as the new incumbent at St Mary Magdalen’s. He enthusiastically set about raising funds and organising a major restoration of the church over the next few years.

March of the following year saw the birth of Mary. James Zebedee and Mary Ann were living in Galmington in Wilton and Mary Ann may have been unwell after the birth as two months later Ellen and Philip were being looked after by their grandparents, Philip with James Zebedee’s parents and sister in Upper High Street, Taunton and Ellen at Mary Ann’s parents’ farm in Higher Comeytrow.[5] Also living with Mary Ann’s parents, William and Ann Godfrey, were seven of their own children and two teenage agricultural labourers, Robert Slocombe and Thomas Rigg.

All Saints Church, Trull
All Saints Church, Trull

A few months later Mary Ann's father became ill with croup, an illness often associated with diphtheria and more usually suffered by the young, which he may have caught from one of his children. On 29 November 1841 he died at the age of only 56 - a huge blow for his wife and young children. Thomas was present when his father died and later registered the death. William was buried on 3 December in All Saints at Trull.[6] Mary Ann’s mother still had young children at home to care for and James Zebedee and Thomas Godfrey probably helped on the farm in the months after William’s death.

On 9 November 1841 Queen Victoria had given birth to a son, the first male heir to throne to be born for nearly eighty years. Prince Albert Edward was created Prince of Wales on 4 December and to celebrate his christening a cwt of coal and 2lb of bread was delivered to each householder and 4lbs of bread to each lodger within the borough of Taunton. On February 1, 1842 Mr Turle (most likely Richard, the grocer, who was very involved in assisting the parish poor)[7] helped with the delivery to the parishioners. James Zebedee and Mary Ann probably did not receive the coal and bread because they were living in Bishops Hull but James Zebedee’s parents, Jim and Mary, may have been lucky as they were then living in Upper High Street in Taunton. James Zebedee was supplementing his income as a musician[8] with farming[9] and Mary Ann was again pregnant. On 19 May 1842 she had another daughter whose birth was registered by James Zebedee on 23 June before a name was chosen. When she was baptised by Rev Rawling in Bishops Hull on the 10 July they named her Eliza.

In the same month The Bristol and Exeter Railway was opened and the engineer, Brunel, came to Taunton on the first train.

Turle's shop
Turle's shop, Taunton

James Zebedee’s daughter, Mary, was suffering from atrophy, a wasting disease caused by poor nutrition so Mary Ann was quite likely one of the many eager customers at Richard Turle’s[10] grocery shop on Monday 17 October 1842, when he opened for sale several casks of pickled pork and beef bought from America. Although it was not best quality meat it was sufficiently good and very cheap, at 3 ½ d per pound for the beef and 4 d for the pork, to make a nourishing meal for her young family and a pleasant addition to the predominantly bread diet.[11] Unfortunately it did not help her daughter, Mary who died aged only 21 months on 11 November. She was buried in Bishops Hull.

In 1843 James Zebedee and his family were living in Tangier, Bishops Hull. The parish of Bishops Hull was very large reaching from the village of that name into the centre of Taunton including the prosperous Castle Green area. However, the part known as Tangier was the low lying damp and dismal area near the river previously called Rats Island. It was here that Herbert was born on the 24 September the following year. When Mary Ann registered Herbert a month later she described James Zebedee as a labourer.

Mary Ann’s mother had given up the farm at Comeytrow and was living in Ruishton.[12] She was worried about the future of her young family following William’s death and in September 1843 she decided to write a will. Matthew was only twelve years old and William was fourteen neither were yet trained in a trade and nineteen-year-old Henry was still in his apprenticeship. As well as individual legacies, Ann left £5 to her daughter, Louisa, for Henry’s shirts and stockings until his apprenticeship finished and named Louisa and her husband, George Sercombe[13], as executors and trustees for the legacies of the two youngest boys.

Ann lived to see another granddaughter, Elizabeth Ann, born to James Zebedee and Mary Ann, in November 1844 but died the following month on 13 December [14] in Bishops Hull of apoplexy, what we now know as a stroke. She may have had a minor stroke the previous year which prompted her to write her will. Her family including her son-in-law George Sercombe[15] were with her. She was buried in Trull ten days later[16] , aged only 52.

James Zebedee may not have been so musically talented as his more famous cousins but farming and labouring did not suit his artistic manner either. He may have gone to work with his Uncle Richard[17] to learn the skills of cabinet making. By 1843 James Zebedee was working as a cabinet maker, at last he had found a job that suited him and he was to spend the rest of his working life in the furniture trade, firstly as a cabinet maker and later as a French Polisher.

Bishop's Hull Church
St Peter and St Paul Church, Bishop's Hull

In July 1845, the three-year-old, Eliza started coughing. In the damp environment of Tangier and the close proximity of the new gas works a cough was probably quite common but Eliza’s got worse and the peculiar ringing noise of the cough associated with croup must have brought back memories of her father’s final illness and made Mary Ann fearful for her other four children. On 17th Eliza died and she was buried in Bishops Hull on 23 July. The other children survived this scare. Another daughter, Mary Jane was born the following February, but two months later it was obvious that she was not thriving. A doctor was called but on 23 May Mary Jane died age just 3 months and she was buried in Bishops Hull on 31 May 1846.

The market traders in Taunton had been putting up the prices of their goods and in 1847 the people had had enough and rioted in protest. James Zebedee and his family were living in a poor lawless area on the outskirts of Taunton and probably bought their food in the market. The increased prices would have affected them but there is no record of whether James Zebedee was one of the rioters. Against this background of unrest Mary Ann had another child, a healthy baby boy that they called James, born on 14 March.

In September 1848 Mary Ann had another daughter whom she named Mary. James Zebedee was still working as a cabinet maker but had been learning French Polishing and by the time Harriet was born in January 1850 James Zebedee was describing himself as a French Polisher. Rev W J Redfern at St James’ baptised Harriet on 8 April[18] but by then she was already seriously undernourished. Three weeks later she too died of atrophy.

On the night of the 30 March when the 1851 census was taken, James Zebedee, Mary Ann and their six surviving children, Ellen, Philip, Herbert, Elizabeth Ann, James and Mary, were still living in Tangier, Bishops Hull. Mary Ann was heavily pregnant and six weeks later, on 18 May, she gave birth to William.

From early in 1851 there had been much in the newspapers about the big international exhibition to be held in London later in the year. As a cabinet maker and French Polisher James Zebedee may have been interested in the section that was to be for the exhibition of fine furniture, John Steevens, a local furniture maker, had even entered a cabinet showing off his exquisite skills. When the exhibition opened on 7th May the local newspaper covered the event in detail and no doubt whetted the appetites of the local people. Excitement turned to disappointment, though, when details of an excursion to the exhibition were advertised. It was very expensive, twenty-seven shillings and six pence for First Class and twenty-one shillings Second Class, there was not enough time in London and too little time to plan. This was too expensive for James Zebedee and others thought the same because when the train left for Paddington at half past four in the morning there were only two people from Taunton aboard. Later in the summer more excursions were organised to enable the visitors to stay a few days in London before the return journey. The fares for these excursions were around twelve shillings and six pence. Nearly 2000 people went on the September excursion – perhaps James Zebedee was one of them.

On 26 June 1852 another daughter, was born and she was also named Harriet. She was baptised by the curate, Rev. W M Adams, at St James’ parish church on 1 August.[19]

Two years after Harriet, Eliza was born on 21 June 1854. Within months Mary Ann must have realised that she was pregnant again. Not only was pregnancy a physical drain, especially with so many young children to look after, but it was also a financial drain and there must have been times when Mary Ann really did not want any more children. The oldest children were already working and so bringing in a little money and fifteen-year-old Ellen could help with the younger children but still life must have been difficult.

Just nine months after having Eliza, Mary Ann gave birth again, on 29 March, to Emma. James Zebedee was then a journeyman French Polisher, having completed his training.[20] He did not have the money to set up his own business so was employed by a furniture maker in the town.

On Tuesday 14 August the foundation stone for new shire hall was laid. The town was decorated by zealous inhabitants. The highlight of the day for the townspeople was the procession. At 12 o’clock officials, inhabitants and visitors all assembled on Castle Green and a procession formed. At 1 o’clock the procession started accompanied by the 1st Somerset Militia band and the Royal Marine Band. Everybody was out on the street, local dignitaries, tradesmen and inhabitants all walked together from the Castle Green through the main streets of the town to watch the ceremony on the site where once stood a large residence called The Grove.[21]

James Zebedee and his father had another opportunity to get the viols and violins out when on 14th October the following year James Zebedee’s sister, Elizabeth Ann, married a cordwainer, Edwin Lawley, in St James’ Church in Taunton. Edwin was the son of Anthony Lawley, a wooden-clock maker, a skill he most likely learnt in his native Germany.

On 29 Feb 1856 Mary Ann gave birth to Jane followed, just over a year later, by another son, Alfred. He was initially a healthy baby but at four weeks old he became ill, a doctor was called but despite his efforts Alfred died two weeks later on 15 May of an unidentified infantile disease . The same year James Zebedee became an uncle when his sister, Elizabeth Ann, gave birth to a healthy daughter who they named Edith Mary Lawley.

Cottages Canon Street
Cottages in Canon Street, Taunton

Mary Ann was 40-years-old in 1858 and on 21 April, less than a year after Alfred’s death, she gave birth to her seventeenth child, a girl she called Louisa. Childbirth was always a dangerous time for women and as Mary Ann got older the worry must have become greater. About this time the family moved across the river to Canon Street probably because the ever growing family needed a larger home. Canon Street was in the parish of St James’, a road of mostly living accommodation, some of the houses dating back to the previous century. On one side was the old Priory and grounds which at that time were being used as a collar works employing a large number of the town’s young women.

1858 also saw piped water in the town and the laying of the foundation stone for the new tower for St Mary Magdalen Chuch and the associated celebrations – the tower's inaugural celebration took place four years later in 1862.

Tragedy again visted the family in the summer of 1859 when Elizabeth Ann, James Zebedee’s sister, died in Taunton leaving her two year old daughter in the care of her father Edwin Lawley. Elizabeth was only 27 years old.

Another healthy son arrived for James Zebedee and Mary Ann - Henry, was born on 25 Feb 1860 but in the following December two-year-old Louisa developed a cough and a low fever. It was probably nothing to worry about at the time as the winter months usually brought coughs and colds. After a week or so the tell-tale whooping noise as she struggled to breathe brought fear to Mary Ann when she realised that Louisa had a very dangerous and infectious disease. Christmas and New Year was a very sad and tense time as Mary Ann watched the other children for the signs of Whooping Cough whilst nursing Louisa. In the crowded conditions it is likely that some of the younger children also caught the illness. Henry was less than a year old and there were four girls under the age of eight living in the house. If the other children did catch the whooping cough at this time they recovered from it but Louisa was not strong enough to fight the disease and, two days into the new year, she died.

On the 7 April 1861 when the census enumerator called at Bartlett’s Buildings, Canon Street James Zebedee, Mary Ann and ten of their children were recorded. It must have been a very noisy and busy household with such a large family living together. Ellen was probably becoming eager to leave home and start a family of her own instead of helping with her young brothers and sisters, in fact she may have already been “walking out” with a young gardener, Henry Gibbines. Ellen was working as a house servant as was her younger sister, Elizabeth Ann. The thirteen year old, James had already started learning the skills required to be a cordwainer, a trade in which he would remain all his life. Mary was an errand girl. William, Harriet, Eliza, Emma, Jane were at school and there was the baby Henry.[22]

James Zebedee’s cousin Thomas had been in the 1st Somerset Militia for a number of years and may have encouraged Philip to sign up in about 1858 or 1859. Philip continued living in Taunton for a year or so but he had left home by 1861, the first to leave and this was probably greeted with mixed feelings by his parents. On the practical side it was one less mouth to feed but also as Philip was working, it meant less income to the family budget. On the emotional side Mary Ann must have been a little sad as her eldest son left the family home to make his own way in the world. He was living in Bristol in 1862, 89 miles from Taunton but still with the 1st Somerset Militia On 12 May 1863 he was discharged from the militia as his term of duty had expired. He possibly travelled to America for a short while before eventually settling down in Aston in Warwickshire.

James Zebedee’s parents, Jim and Mary, were now living in Concord Place at number thirteen. Between numbers eleven and twelve there was the entrance to the silk factory. It must have been a very busy street as a large number of townspeople worked at the factory including most of the residents of Concord Place. For the unskilled, the silk trade was the main employment in the town, introduced around 1780 following the decline of the wool manufacturing trade. Men, women and children all worked at the throwing mills on relatively poor pay. Jim was 73-years old and still describing himself as a musician. There were two other families living at number thirteen, Charles Gray, a silk finisher, and his wife Maria and James Crawley, a labourer, his wife Sarah and his young daughters Eliza and Anne.[23] There were also silk throwsters living in East Street and Tancred Street where James Pearsall and Company made their silk embroidery thread for use all over the world.

The year 1861 ended with the death, from typhoid fever, of Price Albert at Windsor Castle. His popularity had increased since the success of the 1851 exhibition and on 14 December the country joined their Queen in mourning the untimely death. Queen Victoria had been devoted to Albert and relied heavily on him for advice, many wondered what the future now held.

Exactly a year and a day after Louisa died of whooping cough, on 3 Jan 1862, Mary Ann gave birth to her nineteenth and last child. She was also named Louisa. Three months later on 10 March the family celebrated the marriage of James Zebedee’s and Mary Ann’s eldest child, Ellen, to Henry Gibbines[24] . The marriage took place at St James’ with the Rev. William Thomas Redfern conducting the ceremony and their friends Thomas Jess and Caroline Barber as witnesses. Henry Gibbines was a gardener like his father, William Gibbines, and may have come from his home town of Sampford Arundel to work for the same family as Ellen when she was a house servant.

On Friday afternoon, 6 November, 1862 there were flags and banners decorating the street and the bells were ringing. Bands played to greet the train which arriving at 1:30 from Bristol carrying Captain Speke, the man famous for discovering the source of the Nile a few years earlier. He was on his way to Ilchester but broke his journey to give a speech at a special luncheon arranged for him and it was an excuse for the towns people to celebrate.

A smaller celebration took place on new year's eve, 1863, when James Zebedee and Mary Ann Turle celebrated their silver wedding anniversary - 25 years of sharing their lives and the joys and sadnesses of their large family - now it was time to enjoy the grandchildren!


References and Notes

[1] Tory, Benjamin Disrali became Prime Minister 1868, and 1874-80. A favourite of Queen Victoria
[2] Thomas Godfrey, his wife Ann and their son were recorded as the innkeeper and his family at the Travellers Rest in Wilton in the 1841 census .
[3] Marriage Licence Allegations, D\D\CM 1838, Taunton Record Office
[4] Marriage certificate
[5] 1841 Census, film at National Archives FRC )
[6] Parish Register, microfiche at Taunton Record Office, Obridge, Taunton
[7] Taunton Courier 2 Feb 1842
[8] Bishops Hull Parish Register, microfiche at Taunton Record Office, Obridge, Taunton
[9] Eliza’s birth certificate
[10] Most likely Richard Turle, grocer, in Fore Street.
[11] Taunton Courier 19 Oct 1842 - Monday 17 October 1842, Mr Turle opened for sale several casks of pickled pork and beef bought from America of which he sold upward 8 cwt in the course of a few hours at 3 ½ d per pound for the beef and 4 d for the pork. The poor inhabitants were eager customers. The meat is in chunks or pieces from 3-5 lb and though not in the prime condition in which it may be expected when more recent arrivals and prompter sales occur, the quality, particularly that of the pork, was sufficiently good to content the humbler purchasers.

[12] Ann Godfrey’s will dated 27 September 1843, Somerset Record Office, DD/ED 210/61.
[13] George Sercombe, a farrier, Note: Jane Godfrey, William and Ann’s eldest daughter, and her husband James Wills, named her eldest child George Sercombe Wills
[14] Ann Godfrey’s will dated 27 September 1843, Somerset Record Office, DD/ED 210/61.
[15] George Sercombe died in 1850 aged only 35.
[16] Trull Parish records microfiche at Taunton Record Office, Obridge, Taunton

[17] Richard Turle 1790-1867, cabinet maker and sheriffs officer, brother of Jim Turle

[18] St James parish registers, D\P tau.ja 2/1/17, Taunton Record Office

[19] St James parish registers, D\P tau.ja 2/1/17, Taunton Record Office

[20] A French Polisher (journeyman) according to Emma’s birth certificate.

[21] See 7

[22] UK 1861 Census
[23] UK 1861 Census
[24] A gardener, son of Henry Gibbines, a gardener. Witnesses Thomas Jess (age 20 living in Mill Lane in 1861 and went to live in London, Bethnal Green by 1871) and Caroline Barber (1851 age 10 living in Bridge Street) – Marriage certificate

Updated 20 January 2008