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James Zebedee Turle


Part 1 - The early years 1818 - 1837

In 1819 in England George III was still King of England although his final bout of madness had meant that his son, later to be King George IV, had been Prince Regent for the last eight years. After a period of war England was victorious but at home there was much unrest. Many people had no employment and were hungry. The government tried to repress the uprisings and in Manchester 11 people died and hundreds were injured at Peterloo when the yeomanry tried to break up a mass meeting calling for parliamentary reform (16 Aug 1819). The discontent caused by the effects of unemployment and hunger were widely felt and the town of Taunton in Somerset was not spared.

Taunton was an ancient and busy market town in the hundred of Taunton-Dean in Somerset, about 150 miles from London. In the early nineteenth century the town, situated on the banks of the River Tone, had a population of about 8500. The market house and town hall dominated the centre of the town with the three main streets, North Street, East Street and High Street meeting in front of the market house. Taunton comprised the parishes of St James towards the north and St Mary Magdalen towards the south with the parish of Bishops Hull reaching into the centre of Taunton from the village of Bishops Hull.

St Mary Magdalen, Taunton

On 7 January 1819, in the parish of St Mary Magdalen, the Turle family gathered happily in the parish church to celebrate the baptism of the first child of James, usually called Jim[1], and Mary Turle. The vicar, Reverend Clapp had died the previous October and a new vicar had yet to be announced so the baby was baptised, James Zebedee, by the visiting Reverend Townsend. Jim and many members of the family, including the baby’s grandfather, Joseph[2], were musicians and so the celebrations were most likely a noisy affair with singing and dancing, probably at the family home in East Street, Taunton.

East Street was one of the main thoroughfares in the town, a mixture of shops and residential properties. Jim was a barber as well as a musician so it was most likely that they lived above or behind the barber’s shop. He may have still dressed a few wigs for the more elderly inhabitants who hung on to the old ways but mostly his tasks were hair cutting and shaving. Some barbers also pulled teeth but by this time they no longer performed surgery as they had in the previous century. Often barbers’ shops in the early 1800s were hangouts where low characters got together to tell smutty stories, discuss malicious scandal and gossip. They often had posters of the local boxing heroes stuck around the shop walls. Goldsworthy[3] describes the walls covered with amusing prints of prize fights, bull baiting and wrestling as well as indecent prints. It was definitely a man’s world, a place where respectable women were not welcome and dared not enter. The hours were long and Sunday working was often necessary to serve the working men whose employment prevented them coming in at other times. Often the barber would sell some of the many strange lotions and potions to remedy hair loss or grey hair, probably taking commission on the sales to supplement the low income.

When not working in the barber’s shop Jim earned money as a musician, probably a violinist like his father and grandfather. Musicians in the 18th and early 19th century could make a very good living by playing in concerts and at private parties, giving lessons and composing short pieces of music. For example in 1760 one versatile professor in Bath was making a respectable living of £500 per year[4]. Certainly Jim’s cousin, William Turle, a Professor of music[5], must have been making a good living to be able to afford to live in The Crescent, a street built specifically for the wealthier gentlemen of the town. In his will, in 1830, Jim’s father left an estate of about £300 whilst his grandfather, also a violinist, left around £200 when he died in 1805. Another of Jim’s cousins James and his brother Robert were composers and organists of Westminster Abbey and Armagh Cathedral respectively and they made very good livings as musicians within the church becoming greatly respected members of their communities. However, some of the traditional rural musician jobs were dying out as more churches installed organs and thus no longer needed the fiddlers, cellists and other musicians who accompanied the choir in the gallery at services. Thomas Hardy, himself a violinist, gives a description of the dying days of a Dorset choir band in his book, “Under the Greenwood Tree” and in his biography “The Early Life of Thomas Hardy” he says that he often went out in the evening “with his fiddle under his arm, sometimes in the company of his father as first violin and uncle as ‘cellist, to play country-dances, reels, and hornpipes at an agriculturalist’s wedding, christening, or Christmas Party”. Musicians were still in demand as teachers and for social occasions such as dances, jigs, parades, weddings and funerals but the opportunities were less than in the past and many had to supplement their musical income with other work.

On 29 Jan 1820 when James Zebedee was two years old King George III died. The king had suffered periodic attacks of insanity and the last attack ten years earlier had proven permanent and so by the time of his death his son had already ruled as Prince Regent for nine years. His love of England had made King George III a very popular king, nicknamed Farmer George because of his keen interest in agriculture and his death would have been read about with sadness.

Following the death of King George III Parliament was dissolved and a General Election called. It was one of the most severe contests the town had seen. The voting started on Thursday March 9th and continued for 14 days, with the exception of Sundays, and finally closed on 27 March. Alexander Baring, one of the previous members, and John Ashley Warre were eventually returned. Although Henry Seymour was not elected on this occasion he did go on to represent Taunton six years later.[6]

Later that same year Mary’s uncle, Robert White, died in Dorchester. In his will he left Mary £5[7]. Mary’s father Herbert White had been christened in Dorchester on 18 October 1761, the fifth child of Robert White and Honor Jefferys[8]. He was living in Weymouth when he married Ann Mitchell on 13 November 1786 in Wyke Regis. Herbert’s occupation is likely to have been a tiler and plasterer like three of his brothers and possibly his grandfather. Herbert was the first of the brothers to die and was buried in All Saints Church in Dorchester on 5 June 1810. Herbert and Ann had four children, Mary, Eleanor, John and Ann who were all remembered in their uncles’ wills. Mary and Jim were married on 31 August 1817[9] at St Peter’s Church in Dorchester with Mary’s brother John as one of the witnesses, the others being Betty Wilson[10] and Elizabeth Turle, probably Jim’s aunt and mother respectively.

Some time in the 1820s Jim and Mary moved to a house in North Street next door to the Fleur de Lis. This inn was commonly called the Jackass Tavern, because of the large numbers of donkeys which were often seen tied up outside when the brush sellers brought their wares into town[11]. James Zebedee’s grandfather, Joseph, as well as playing the bass viol and violin, was the innkeeper at another inn, the Dove Inn[12], his grandmother, Elizabeth Greenfield had died before he was born. James Zebedee was unusual in not having any brothers or sisters. He may have been a lonely child but he did have cousins living locally, the children of his Uncle Richard. Richard was a cabinet maker who also lived in North Street. He married Sarah Brice on New Years Eve 1817 and they had a large family of eleven children born between 1818 and 1839[13].

James Zebedee learnt his music skills at home from his father and grandfather but he could write his name and so probably had some formal education. In 1822 there were several Sunday schools in Taunton. There was a charity school in Middle Street “for 80 boys and 50 girls, who receive a plain education and are annually clothed”[14] which was attached to St Mary Magdalen Church. The Madras School in Holway Lane, attached to St James’ Church, had about 120 scholars and there were Sunday schools associated with Paul’s Meeting House in Paul Street, the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Upper High Street and the Calvanistic Baptist Chapel in Silver Street.

The 1820s was a time of building and modernisation. By 1821 gas lighting had been installed along some of the main streets in Taunton and this made going out at night a lot less hazardous. The Taunton Gas Light Company had their inaugural meeting on May 17, 1816. The company was set up with a capital of £4000 and the shares were to be £20 each.[15] From 1823 they operated from a works in South Street. A new market house was built in 1822 and the Bridgewater and Somerset Canal opened in 1827, it was twelve miles long with four locks.

Mary’s uncle, William White died early in 1828. William was a tiler and plasterer with a shop in Dorchester. In his will he left Mary an annual income of the interest on two hundred pounds to be paid after the death of his wife Eleanor[16]. Eleanor died six year later and so presumably Mary received a small income each year thereafter.[17] The will specifically stated that the money was for her own use but Jim and Mary were not rich and it is quite likely that the money was spent on necessities.

Spring 1828 was particularly bad for coughs and colds as is often the case when warmer weather follows a mild winter. There would be no ice-creams the following summer as the unusual mildness of the weather had prevented sufficiently solid ice from forming but the summer weather turned out to be miserable and so the desire for ice-creams less. On Tuesday 8 July 1828 the worst ever thunderstorm flattened some of the stalls at the annual North Town pleasure fair.

Five days later, on Sunday 13 July 1828 there was a charity concert in aid of the Taunton and Somerset Hospital at the parish church in West Monkton. Jim and Mary may have taken young James Zebedee to the concert to hear Jim’s cousin, William opening the new organ and playing several pieces on it. Another of Jim’s cousins, Robert, the organist at Armagh Cathedral was also visiting and sang several hymns as well as playing duets with William.[18] The rain continued for three further days causing huge floods. The further flooding and heavy thunder storms caused the harvest to be ruined and thus the food in the market became more expensive later in the year.

In July 1829 Joseph Neal Sewell a blind giant from Lincolnshire was buried in St Mary Magdalen churchyard. During his life Sewell had made a living by being exhibited in public, at exhibitions and touring shows, but lately had made friends with a Taunton man called Mr Bromsgrove. He was reputedly staying with another friend, Mr Luxton, when he died and in accordance with his wishes he was buried in the local churchyard. Many people visited the huge and hence unusual grave on the North side of the tower.

General Elections in Taunton, like many other places at the time, had a history of being corrupt and rigged or just incompetently organised. It was not uncommon for the various contestants to supply large quantities of beer in the hope of buying some votes. Unfortunately this frequently caused drunken brawls and much fighting and rowdy behaviour. In Taunton pot-wallers were allowed to vote. These were inhabitants of the town who boiled their own pots on their own hearths. This excluded hospital inmates, paupers etc. Voting was a very public affair where the voters were asked to publicly declare who they supported at a polling booth erected for the purpose. Goldsworthy[19] recalled the occasion when Jim Turle questioned the validity of Bill Frost’s vote. He objected because the door of Bill Frost’s house was not in the borough. Those who knew the area of Shuttern agreed. When Frost insisted that he left his house through a door in the borough, two voters, one from each side were sent to check the claims. They returned with the news that a new door had been knocked out during the night and Bill Frost had indeed left through this new door into the borough that morning. The vote was allowed.

On the 13 May 1830, Joseph, the grandfather of James Zebedee was unwell and, expecting to die, arranged for someone to write out his last will for him, possibly one of the witnesses, William Lockyer or John Ash. Although a musician and innkeeper Joseph had never learnt to read and write. He died just over a month later, on 16 June[20], just after his sixty-sixth birthday. May had been cold and wet but by the time of the funeral on 23 June there were severe thunder storms. The twelve-year-old James Zebedee may have joined his father and other family members to hear the ceremony performed by Rev. Bower[21] and witness Joseph being laid to rest in St. Mary Magdalen churchyard. When Joseph’s will was read the following month Jim had been left £50, two bass viols, all his father’s violins except one which he called his “best” violin, three silver table spoons and six silver tea spoons. Jim’s brother Richard received his money, plate, household goods and furniture and the “best violin” was left to 10-year-old William, Richard’s son. The total value of the estate was less than £300 but still a substantial amount for the time.

Just three days after Joseph’s funeral, on 26 June 1830, the newspapers were full of the news of another death, that of King George IV.

After the death, on 18 July 1831, of the seventy-two-year-old composer and organist, Thomas Greatorex, James, Jim’s cousin, succeeded as organist at Westminster Abbey. Two months later, on Thursday the 8 September, William IV was crowned at Westminster Abbey. It was a considerably more subdued ceremony than that of his brother just ten years earlier. James may have played the anthem on the organ as the King and His Royal Consort Queen Adelaide led the procession up the nave into the choir at the beginning of the service or possibly he led the choir in the singing.

When James Zebedee was 14 years old his parents had a daughter. Elizabeth Ann was baptised by the good tempered and cheerful looking[22] Rev. Henry Bower on 12 January at St Mary Magdalen Church[23]. Goldsworthy[24] describes Rev. Henry Bower as a jolly, outspoken, good-tempered parson who enjoyed entertaining his friends and never forgot the poor. Neither was Rev. Bower strict about music and dancing and probably joined in the celebrations following the baptism. James Zebedee most likely attended the baptism and the celebrations, probably playing some of the music. At 14 years of age he would already be working, possibly with his father as a barber or as a musician.

The same year the first of the great Reform Bills was passed. It attempted to reform the potentially corrupt and unfair voting systems. For Taunton this meant that some of the voters, “the potwallers” that is those who could boil their own pots on their own hearths, were no longer allowed to vote.

In 1835 Disraeli put up for election as Member of Parliament for Taunton but was defeated. [25]

On 20 June 1837 William IV died and once again Jim’s cousin James, was probably called upon to play the organ for the service.

James Zebedee was now nineteen years old and his teenage and bachelor days were about to end. 1838 would be a year of changes with the coronation of the new Queen of England and James Zebedee’s marriage to the young Mary Ann Godfrey.

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


References and Notes
[1] Recollections of Goldsworthy
[2] Parish Register, microfiche at Taunton Record Office, Obridge, Taunton. Will of Joseph Turle 1834.
[3] Goldsworthy
[4] English Society in the 18th Century, Roy Porter, Penguin 1991, p245
[5] William Turle Professor of Music, 1795-1834, first child of William Turle (1774-1824), a tailor and innkeeper, and Sarah nee Ball (1773-1843)
[6] The History of Taunton in the County of Somerset, originally written by Joshua Toulmin DD, greatly enlarged by the late James Savage and further enlarged by Charles George Webb in 1874
[7] Will of Robert White of Dorchester PRO ref PROB 11/631
[8] Mary's parents are Herbert White and Ann Mitchell married 13 Nov 1786 in Wyke Regis where Mary was born. Ann was under 21 when they married so her mother Christian, a widow, gave permission for the wedding and was present at the marriage. The only marriage for a Christian to a Mitchell that I have found was Robert Mitchell and Christian Palmer at Wyke Regis 26 August 1764. Ann was born in 1766. However I have not found the birth of Ann to Robert and Christian, only a daughter Mary, so that link is still a bit tentative but consistent. Herbert and Ann moved back to Dorchester before their second child was born.
Herbert's parents were Robert White and Honour Jeffreys of Dorchester His brothers John and William were tilers and plasterers , there were two other brothers Robert and Richard. A White and a Richard White joined the Volunteer Infantry Dorchester Company on 1 Mar 1797. Richard White was a tiler and Robert White was a surgeon who volunteered his services as a surgeon on the condition he did not have to bear arms. In 1799 they were earning one shilling a day for those days when they attended exercise and training, usually once a week. Richard was often sick and Robert rarely attended and it was not until 1799/1800 that he was paid anything but on 24 March 1800 the commanding officer Major William Bower started paying Robert the same as the other volunteers (even if he did not attend) as he gave his services as a surgeon free when there were accidents and a new system introduced by Bower required Robert to sign “sick notes” if the volunteers were to be paid for non-attendance at exercise and training days. On 24 September 1798 Major Bower had asked permission to pay Robert even if he did not attend parade and presumably this had been denied as in the year from 25 December 1798 to 24 December 1799 Robert attended and was paid for only two days. WO13/4297 Tentative: William White a tiler born around 1700 in Dorchester had at least 3 sons and 2 daughters. William the younger was a yeoman and responsible for Mary Seager being pregnant (Bastardy Bond). William the elder and Thomas Lock, a gardener, also entered into the bond. A Thomas Lock married Mary White, one of the daughters, Thomas White married a Mary Seager some years later and I think that our Robert White senior was the other son.
[9] St Peter’s Parish Records, Dorchester, Dorset Record Office
[10] Jim’s aunt
[11] Recollections of Goldsworthy
[12] Taunton Courier 16 June 1830
[13] Richard (1790-1867), Sarah nee Brice (1795-), children; Harriet (1818-), William Brice (1820-), Elizabeth (1822-1823), Thomas Brice (1824-1907), Sarah (1826-1833), Mary Ann (1828-), Elizabeth (1829-1829), Joseph (1831-1897), Fanny (1832-1832), James (1838-), Louisa (1839-).
[14] Pigot and Co, National Commercial Directory of Somerset, 1830
[15] One of the original committee was Mr Richard Turle, the grocer from Fore Street. As yet I have found no connection between the family of Richard Turle and James Zebedee’s family and any link would most likely be in the seventeenth century.
[16] Will of William White, tiler and plasterer of Dorchester PRO ref PROB 11/1737
[17] Parish Records at Dorset Record Office
[18] Taunton Courier16 July 1828
[19] Recollections of Goldsworthy
[20] Taunton Courier 16 June 1830
[21] Parish Records – burials St Mary Magdalen Taunton
[22] Recollections of Goldsworthy
[23] Parish records
[24] See 6
[25]Tory Benjamin Disrali became Prime Minister 1868, and 1874-80. Favourite of Queen Victoria or 1865 according to Wickenden

Photographs courtesy YourStories

Updated 23 April 2007