Monday, May 27, 2013

Early Olney Ancestors - Pulloxhill

Please note: Ross Olney is the keeper of the Olney family tree.  If you have information that needs to be corrected or added top please email Ross -

You can order your own hard copy of  "The Family of Charles and Martha Olney" by clicking on -

If you wish to contact the author of these Olney Family Archives blogs with corrections or further information please email Joy Olney -

These blogs have been written as another way of sharing the Olney family history with those interested.  They do not cover all branches.  My interest primarily is with the "David" Olney branch, with parents Charles & Martha Olney.

Peter and Joy Olney were fortunate enough to visit England in 2007 and visited many of the churches, places, houses and villages written about in the books by Keith Collyer and A.Gordon Keys.  More recent generations in Australia are also included in the Olney Family Archives blogs.

Pulloxhill, in Bedfordshire where many Olney famillies lived

The following extracts are from "The Family of Charles and Martha Olney compiled by Keith R.Collyer Page 16 - 18.

"By 1801 Francis Olney had moved to Pulloxhill in Bedfordshire. The family remained here for almost one hundred years, during which time their descendants gradually dispersed. 

Like most of the other parishes mentioned earlier, Pulloxhill was an ancient village, dating back to before the Norman Conquest. The great Doomsday Book of 1086 shows it was held by Roger and Rhiwallon from a Nigel d'Aubigny. In the 1700s there was a gold mine in the area, which had petered out by the time Francis arrived.    

Francis married Elizabeth Irons in 1801.  Like so many of the villagers at that time, neither Francis nor Elizabeth could write so they marked an "x" after their names, as written by the Parish Priest.  The Priest's handwriting you can see is rather shaky - he probably was getting on in years!  This may also account for his mis-spelling of both Olney(Oney) and Irons (Ions).  Things like that don't make the researcher's job any easier!  These were perilous times in England.  George III was insane and his son, George IV, was acting as Regent.  England was locked in a death struggle with France, led by Napoleon.  Napoleon had conquered most of Europe and held it in his iron grip but the British ruled the seas.  Napoleon, like Hitler in World War II, made the fatal mistake of attacking Russia rather than attempting an invasion of England.  Consequently Napoleon, like Hitler and the Germans, was beaten by the Russian stubborness and the hellish winter, and it was England, under the "Iron Duke", Wellington, who invaded the continent and destroyed France's dreams of conquest. 

We learn little of Francis' early life except that the local Land Tax Assessments of 1817 show him as being ten pounds ten shillings in arrears (which he paid in 1818). 

What was the village like? Fortunately, the Census started in England in 1801 (although the early ones only provided population totals) so we can compare the population from 1801 to 1881. The censuses provide a wealth of information, which can bring to life the world of 150 years ago.

Pulloxhill, although small, could boast of a "suburb". The tiny community of Greenfield (which lacked a Parish church) was included in the figures. The population grew from 317 in 1801 to 703 in 1861 and then declined, reaching a low point of 529 by 1881. After 1821, the discrepancy between males and females is significant, however by 1881 they were almost equal again. Probably many of the males had gone elsewhere looking for work; some as far as the colonies. But for single women it was hard to find work elsewhere, so they remained.

The census also gives us an interesting picture of the occupations of the day. Let's look at the "work force" in 1851. Most of these terms are familiar, but a word of explanation on a few of them. 

A cordwainer was a leather worker or shoemaker. The word was becoming archaic and perhaps the two were older men who still used the earlier term. A sawyer sawed lumber into planks. The straw plaiters were women and children who, up to the end of the 1800s, made straw plaits for the factories at nearby Luton. Bundles of bleached straw were sent to them by the manufacturers, and they were made into plaits in different patterns, called by charming names like 'Brilliant', 'Diamond', 'Wisp', 'Shortcake' and many more. The straws first had to be split to the required size with a bone or steel tool fitted with minute blades - a tool so small that it seems wonderful that fingers roughened by housework could ever have used it.

Sevenpence or eightpence a score was paid for the simpler plaits, and rather more for the complicated 'Brilliant' design. This may not strike us as a generous reward for such delicate work, but, even at such rates, a fast and capable plaiter could sometimes make more in a week than her husband could earn by his regular work on the farm.

The only person in the village who had what we might consider as an “establishment" was the Curate, with two maids, a cook and a servant. Sometimes the census takers were unconsciously cruel. A young lad's occupation is given as "cripple"! Those who are today called senior citizens, if unemployed, were "paupers". We only find one pensioner and one person of independent means. Most males without a trade (or farm) were labourers. The only other occupation shown was "scholar" but the census taker was rather casual on this; sometimes showing an infant in this category. Some occupations we have grown to expect are missing. No doctor - probably they would have to travel to the nearest large town (such as Luton) for medical help. No lawyers (perhaps a blessing in disguise). But things haven't totally changed, three public houses and a beer retailer in a village of under 700.

To return to Francis and Elizabeth Irons, we see they had ten children. Their first child William was born about 1802 and became a farmer in Hexton, Hertfordshire. Their second child Charles (the subject of this book) was christened on 2 April 1804. Next came Francis, christened on 16 December 1806 at Pulloxhill, but living/working at Hexton when he died at age 20 years. He was buried at Pulloxhill. Note: Hexton, although in Hertfordshire, is only 3.1 miles south east of Pulloxhill, Bedfordshire.

Then came John, born in 1809, who first married Sophia Carter then Mary Potter. The first daughter, Mary Anne, born 1811, married Richard Gudgin. Next appears Bet (probably Elizabeth) who married John Fossey, and Louisa who married James Neal. Then Joseph who married Ann White, followed by Phoebe who had a daughter Sarah Phoebe in 1840. The 1841 census shows Phoebe and her daughter living with Phoebe’s parents. Phoebe married George Flood on 15 November 1841. Last came James who married Elizabeth Evans.

Elizabeth (nee Irons) died 1 February 1828. Francis remarried in 1835 to Hannah Arnold, a widow.

Let's turn to the censuses to see the occupations of the family members. In the 1841 census, we have Francis a butcher and Hannah a Plaiter. Charles, who had married Martha Purser, was a labourer with seven children at that time. James, 18, was a labourer living with Thomas Abbott and family. 

We can get a fairly good idea of what a butcher’s shop was like in those early days from the illustration shown. The carcasses of cows, pigs, chickens, etc. hung on hooks outside the shop front. There was, of course, no refrigeration and in the summer the meat would be crawling with flies. The floor of the shop would be covered with sawdust to soak up the blood. Many of the villagers would keep a pig of their own, bringing it to Francis to be slaughtered and cut up when the time arrived. From this they would get their bacon, hams, sausages, black puddings and other meat".
W.J.Wallis  (Peter's side of the family) Taken mid 1800s. Similar to Olney family butcher's shops.
The following extracts are from "The Family of Charles and Martha Olney" compiled by Keith R.Collyer Page 18 - 19.

"John Olney had married Sophia Carter.  They had three children: Francis, George and Louisa.
However things went ill with them. Francis died at two months, George at two years and Louisa also died at two years. John remarried on 25 December 1836 in Spitalfields, London to Mary Potter. The Census shows that they were living in their own home with their son John aged 5. John their first-born, died in 1845 aged 8.

This may seem like a terrible mortality rate but the reality is that life in a rural area was hard, medical assistance scanty and periodic epidemics wiped out many of the children. Only the hardiest survived. As mentioned earlier, childbirth was hazardous and many of the men were left widowers. 
 Below is a list of all Olney burials between 1823 and 1878 at Pulloxhill.
 1823 Elizabeth 3 years, 1825 Ann 10 months, 1827 Eliza infant, 1827 Francis 20 years, 1828 Elizabeth 45 years, 1828 Francis infant, 1833 George 2 years, 1833 Sophia 34 years, 1835 Louisa infant, 1845 Mary Ann 8 years 10 months, 1845 John 8 years, 1848 Emily 5 years 4 months, 1849 Phoebe 9 months, 1850 John A. 11 months, 1851 Phoebe 6 months, 1856 Francis 79 years, 1856 Frederick 3 years, 1860 Charles 6 years, 1861 Elizabeth 16 years, 1863 Elizabeth 37 years, 1864 Sarah Ann 4 years, 1867 Thomas 61 years, 1873 Hannah 77 years, 1874 Sarah Elizabeth 16 years, 1874 Emma Jane 11 years, 1877 Louisa Jane 16 years, 1877 Lavinia 9 years, 1878 Charles 5 years.  We have no reason to believe that Olney family members died sooner than anyone else. The average age at death was 14.9!  Of the twenty-eight who died, three-quarters (21) were 16 years or younger. It is hard, if not impossible, for most of us to picture how the parents must have felt, watching their children die before their eyes with no way of helping them.

Moving to 1851, there were quite a few changes.  Francis, still a butcher, was living with his second wife Hannah. His youngest son James had married Elizabeth Evans in 1848, and with their two children, was living with Francis. He too was a butcher. This Census was highly important since this time they asked for the place of birth for each person. It was from this that we were able to trace Francis back to Harpenden.  Charles had emigrated to Australia with his wife and 9 children in 1849".

The following charts  are from "The Family of Charles and Martha Olney" compiled by Keith R.Collyer Page 20 and 21.
Francis & Elizabeth Olney's Children and Grandchildren & 2nd wife Hannah Arnold

Martha Purser's Ancestors

 I acknowledge and give credit to the copyright work of Keith R. Collyer (desceased) in his book "The Family of Charles and Martha". Pages 16 - 21.

Peter and Joy Olney, Darren & Fiona Olney-Fraser and their three children visited Pulloxhill in 2007. We were keen to retrace the steps of our Olney ancestors. We went to the Church to get some leads.

Francis Olney (1778 - 1856) came to live in Pulloxhill when he married Elizabeth Irons (1783 - 1828) in 1801.  All of their 10 children were born and christened in Pulloxhill, Bedfordshire from 1802 - 1823.

St James Church in Pulloxhill taken 2007

We could not find any Olney headstones at St James Church in Pulloxhill

Peter contemplates inside St James Church in Pulloxhill 2007
Locals suggested we go down to No.5 High Street because that gentleman has lived in Pulloxhill all of his 87 years. Hubert Vass was born in No.5 and he remembers that his parents came to live at No.5 after George and Lavinia Olney, (the 2nd son of John & Mary Olney) in 1920, the year he was born.
George and Lavinia Olney brought up 10 children in this small thatched roof cottage in Pulloxhill.

George Olney 3 June 1842 - 15 November 1920
Lavinia Olney (nee Evans) born 1842

No.5 High St, Pulloxhill. Home of George & Lavinia Olney until 1920, now Hurbert Vass owns it.
Hubert & Elspeth Vass' home Pulloxhill 2007

Peter Olney and Hubert Vass chatting in the lounge 2007

Lounge Room at No.5 High St, Pulloxhill 2007
Dining Room - note low ceilings

Up stairs to 3 bedrooms - steep stairs, low ceilings
Bedroom No.2

Bedroom No.1
Bedroom No.1

Hubert Vass' 1930 Rolls Royce that he still drove at 87 years of age

Hubert was thrilled to meet us.  He gave us some old photos as momentos of the days when George and Lavinia Olney lived in Pulloxhill (George died in 1920).

High St, Pulloxhill from Church.  Greenfield Road coming in on left, 3rd house down on left is Olney's house.

High St, Pulloxhill.  Olney's house 3rd house on left.
View of pond, now Village Green with Olney's house top right

Coat of Arms Pulloxhill, Bedfordshire where many Olneys lived from 1801

Old Smithy's house overlooking Village Green  Pulloxhill 2007

Did an Olney family live here? "The Shelter" Pulloxhill 2007

Or perhaps here? Pulloxhill 2007

Which Olney family lived here? Pulloxhill 2007

Did Olneys live at "Stanley Lodge"? Pulloxhill 2007
Peter and Joy Olney, Darren, Fiona, Michael, Sarah & Matthew Olney-Fraser enjoyed lunch at "The Chequers Inn" in Pulloxhill in 2007.

"The Chequers Inn" Pulloxhill 2007
Lunch at "The Chequers Inn" Pulloxhill 2007

Peter Olney and Darren outside "The Cross Keys Inn" in Pulloxhill 2007

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