Sunday, 31 May 2015

Purles of wisdom... Part 1

One thing I especially like about family history, is what else you learn along the way about other aspects of history, particularly on subjects you'd not ordinarily go out of your way to research.

     Richard Mott Viner, born 1809      
           Eliza's eldest brother     
This was the case with an ancestor of my husband's, Eliza Mott Viner, born in 1824 in Bath. The "Mott" part of her name dates back to a maiden name from the previous century in a place called Ogbourne St Andrew, in Wiltshire and continues to pop up as a middle name in different branches of the family for the next 150 years, which has often been extremely useful for making connections.

But I digress. The Mott trail is a different story altogether. This one centres on the family into which Eliza marries, and their connection with bows and arrows, and all things archery or, if you prefer, toxophily - a new word on me and the start of my education on the subject.

Sadly, I don't have a photograph of Eliza, only of her eldest brother Richard, taken in 1875, aged 66.

Eliza married William Frederick Purle, in Bath in 1844. William, born in 1821, was a "manufacturer of archery", as was his father, James Purle.

William and Eliza appear on the 1861 census, living at 4 Somerset Buildings in Walcot, Bath,

along with their children, Frederick aged 15, Alice 11, Laura 9, Harry 6 and Walter 3. William's occupation is recorded there also as a manufacturer of archery and it looks as though 15 year old Frederick is apprenticed to the trade.

William is also listed in the 1860-1865 Bath Post Office Directory as one of the city's archery dealers, at the same address as in the census, along with others: John Fare, S.C. Silverstone and Joseph Somerton, all trading in different parts of the city. It's noted that both our William and Mr Fare, as well as dealers, were also manufacturers and teachers.

An advertisement for his wares appear in the Bath Chronicle & Weekly Gazette, during 1864 and 1865, as well as in the Western Daily Press, Bristol, in 1865.

But it appears that William Purle only traded in Bath for a relatively short period in the 1860s.

During my initial research about the Purle family as archery manufacturers, I came across a mention of a particular arrow being made by "Purle of London". Indeed records suggest that William and Eliza left Bath for London immediately after their marriage, as their eldest son, Frederick was born in Marylebone a year later, in 1845, and their daughter Alice's birth was also registered there in 1850.

At this point, however, things begin to get confusing.

Despite William citing his birthplace on the 1861 census as "Somerset, Bath", he appears on the 1841 census, aged 20, living in London, with his father James and mother Elizabeth, and being born in the county of Middlesex. James is also apparently Middlesex born, though Elizabeth is not. William's occupation isn't given but his father James is recorded as a "bowyer" which is backed up by an entry in the 1841 edition of The London Post Office Directory as being "Purle James, bow and arrow maker" at 15 Stephen Street, off Tottenham Court Road.

There is a baptism record of a William, parents James and Elizabeth Purle in St Anne's, Westminster in 1821 which would seem to confirm his birthplace is London and not Somerset, but this James is recorded as being a coachman, rather than a bowyer. Is that because he'd not yet begun his career as an archery manufacturer or is this a different James? A James "Wilson" (possibly William?) Purle of around the same age, shows up on the 1851 census in Marylebone, Middlesex as being born in "Somersetshire", with wife Elizabeth (born 1801 in Herefordshire), and with sons Henry, Charles and Robert. Frustratingly, James's occupation is not noted. Henry is a carpenter, Charles is a coach trimmer and Robert is learning the same trade. Of course by now, their elder son William (if this is indeed our William's parents) is married to Eliza Mott Viner by now and living in.... where? Probably London, seeing as Alice was born there in 1850, though I haven't yet found the family recorded. The 1851 London census does have gaps, so perhaps this is the reason I've failed to track them down.

As to William's assertion in the 1861 census that he was Bath born, while it's not impossible that he was born in Bath and baptised in London, it may be that he felt that as he was trading in the city, it was commercially prudent to present himself as being a local!

So was William and Eliza's return to Bath an attempt to expand the trade beyond London? Was it something to do with Eliza's family, the Viners? It's worth noting here that it was around the 1860s that Eliza's brother, Richard Mott Viner (pictured above) moved to London with his family along with his parents Richard and Mary Ann Viner. Richard was a carpenter and Richard Mott was a tailor. Exact dates as to when they relocated are difficult to establish because both the 1851 and 1861 census lists seem to be missing many of the relevant Viners and Purles!

And so back to London once more, it seems, (for the moment, anyway) and evidence that the Purle's reputation in the archery trade was flourishing. Arthur Credland, the editor of the Journal of the Society of Archer-Antiquaries, tells me that a certain James Duff (1870-1935) who had nearly fifty years' experience in archery, making longbows and arrows with the famous makers of the 19th century, said in his book on the subject: "During all the many years I was in London, the finest arrow maker known to me was Harry Purle."

It so happens that Eliza and William did have a son called Harry - Harry Richard Purle, to be exact, born in Leamington, in 1855. In fact there appears to be a key link back to Leamington - the two younger sons of William and Eliza's were born there.

Interestingly, in September 1860, there was a "group" baptism of all the Purle children except for Frederick (whose baptism had already taken place in Marylebone), in Leamington Priors (see left). So why here? Was archery big in Leamington and they'd moved there for the trade? There's certainly a street called Archery Street and I also came across an illustration of an Archery Competition in 1852 which took place in Jephson Gardens, a location renowned for entertainment of all sorts.

On contacting the Leamington History Group, their secretary kindly replied to inform me that, yes, Leamington was a major centre for Archery in the mid-Victorian period and for many years the National Championships were held there.

So did the Purle family supply the famous toxophilites of Leamington? Did they move there only for commercial reasons or did they have other links to the town? And another critical question came to light just as I thought that Eliza and William's son must be the famous Harry Purle, mentioned in James Duff's book, when I stumbled upon the death of Harry Richard Purle in 1881, aged only 26. What happened to him - did he have a nasty accident with a bow an arrow?

I'm afraid you'll have to wait for Part 2 to find out, as for now my investigations continue...

If you want to look up ancestors who had a trade, a selection of Trade Directories of several areas of the country can be accessed online at Leicester University's Special Collection 


Regular readers of this blog know that the distinguished Mr C J Vincent, pictured left, is a mystery man in the centre of my search-n-find radar.

The good news is that thanks to an online Q&A session with Ancestry Hour a couple of weeks ago, Tom of Forces War Records, identified (from his cap-badge in the photograph) that our man served in WW1's Tank Corps. This
has given me an exciting new line of enquiry, though, as ever, it's slow progress.

But as soon as there's something worth reporting, you'll be the first to know!