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The Stowell Family
of Shipham, Somerset

Mining and Development
The Stowell Family
Modern Shipham


Shipham is a Mendip village on higher ground north of Cheddar and east of Winscombe. Originally a mining village, it has an unusual layout of roads and lanes due to the haphazard way the mines were dug. Now an attractive and peaceful place but surrounded by signs of the previous industry.

The Stowell family lived and worked in Shipham from at least 1715 but I can only speculate from where they came. There is a parish of Stowell near Wincanton and a hamlet of Stawell near Bridgewater but these may have no relevance. It is said that with the decline of the Cornish tin mining industry, men came to the Mendips to find work as lead and calamine (zinc carbonate) miners. So could the Stowell family come from Cornwall?

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This is a photograph of part of Shipham village and the surrounding area

This photograph shows Shipham village and its position in the landscape.

The National Gazatteer of Great Britain and Ireland in 1868 described Shipham as :

"A parish in the hundred of Winterstoke, county Somerset, 3 miles N. of Axbridge, 7 from Yatton railway station, and one mile S.E. of Churchill. Bristol is its post town. The village is situated among the Mendip hills, and on the turnpike road from Bristol to Langport. A large portion of the inhabitants are employed in agriculture. The substratum abounds in minerals, and calamine, zinc, and lead mines were formerly in operation. ....."

"The church, dedicated to St. Leonard, was erected in 1843, and has a tower containing five bells. The register dates from Elizabeth's reign. There is a National school for both sexes, in which a Sunday school is also held. The Wesleyans and Baptists have each a place of worship. The Dean and Chapter of Wells are lords of the manor. Fairs are held on the 27th April and 17th November, chiefly for cattle."

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Mining and Development

This is a photograph showing a large depression several metres across, in a fields next to the village
One of the many mine shaft remains
This photograph shows just how large some of the mine shafts were.

The following extracts were taken from

"The Village and Industry of 18th Century Shipham"

compiled by Derek Venn in 2007 for Shipham History Society.

"Shipham folk were farmers in mediaeval times, herding sheep and cows, with their buildings around the Church and village wells."

"Lead had been found in the vicinity since Roman times, but in 1566 calamine was found ........ with the forming of the Bristol Brass Company in 1706, calamine now came into high demand although lead was still mined. Where one found calamine, one found lead. In the late 1730's another company, William Champion & Co, opened up in Bristol producing metallic zinc ...... Shipham and its neighbouring village of Rowberrow became the heart of the calamine boom."

"Families from all over the country flocked to Shipham to mine calamine and share in this lucrative but demanding trade."

"The Manor of Shipham and mineral rights were held by the Dean and Chapter of Bath and Wells. Some of the land was leased to copyholders and leaseholders. ........ The Manor also allowed miners to apply for permits to mine calamine and build their cottages on the common. The authorities struggled to assert control throughout the century over the development of the village, with illicit cottages popping up higgledy piggledy over the Common."

"The local historian, Collinson, in 1791 describes Shipham as having:-
....upwards of 100 mines, in the streets, in the yards and in the very houses."

"Shipham at one time had four calamine ovens. (All that remains today is an oven - the 20ft chimney having fallen in a storm in 1984 - in the grounds behind the Court House.) The landscape was scant of trees, as the wood was used to fire the ovens. the air was heavily polluted with the smoke and fumes from these ovens."

"The Manorial Courts still complained of illicit building on the Commons. The miners' cottages, built on top of their claims, filled in the open space until the Common was reduced to narrow lanes and alleys meandering around and between the mine shafts and randomly placed cottages to give this village the distinctive plan it has today, quite unlike any other Mendip village."

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The Stowell Family

The earliest member of the family, whom I have found in the Shipham parish registers, is John Stowell - possibly written as Stawell. He was born in the late 17th century but where is not known. He died in 1731 in the adjoining parish of Rowberrow. I have discovered very little about him other than he married Charity and had at least four children. John in 1715, Charity in 1718, James in 1721 and Elizabeth in 1723.

A little more is known of the son John who was baptized in 1715 at Shipham and died in the same parish at the age of 85 - a very good age for the time. What he did for a living is not known but he was probably a miner or a labourer.
In 1736 at the age of 21 he married Ann Lakings at the parish church.

This is a photograph of Shipham Parish Church
Shipham Parish Church
The photograph shows the present church which was built in 1843 on the site of the original.

Ann died in 1779, twenty years before John. Their six known children were baptized in Shipham.
1736 Sarah
1739 John
1742 James
1744 Henry
1748 William
1750 Ann

In his old age, John was very poor and possibly in ill health. On 29th October 1786, at the age of 71, he was paid 6d, for a doctor, out of the Overseers of the Poor accounts of the parish.
During 1787 and up to 1790 and again in 1794 and 1795, he was paid three shillings a week from the same account. Then in January the next year he was given a shilling towards a pair of shoes and in July one shilling and sixpence for another pair. In December he received "half a hundred of cole". The following year he was paid to buy a shirt and a new sheet. Right up to his death in 1800 he was given help.

John was not the only Stowell to need parish help. Between 1798 and 1801, Ann, Arthur, Arthur's wife, Charles, Farmer, George, Henry, Paul, Thomas and William - all Stowells - received assistance. This sorry state continued at least until 1823 at the end of the records found. This may, in part, be due to the cost of the Napoleonic Wars and a series of poor harvests which led to high food prices and scarcity. Very many people were starving.

John and Ann's son John, the third John in this line, who was baptized in 1739, was a labourer and married Hannah Pim in Shipham in April 1760. Only three of their children are known.
1762 Charles
1764 Samuel who died at the age of 15
1773 Sarah

John died in 1823 at the age of 83 - another long life.

Charles the son of John and Ann was baptized in 1762 and married a Sarah. I have discovered five of their children who were baptized in Shipham.
1783 Hannah who died in 1790
1786 Sophia who married John Shipston in 1807
1790 Thomas who died at the age of 61
1795 Hannah who married Josua Phippen in 1815
1798 Paul

Charles, who's occupation is unknown, died in 1821 at the age of 60.

The son Thomas was baptized in 1790 and married an Anne. Eight of their children were.
1811 Charles
1813 Thomas who died in 1839
1816 Hannah who had a daughter, Betsy, in 1837
1818 John who died in 1822 at just three years old
1822 Frank
1831 Sarah
1837 Mary Ann
1837 John

In 1837 Anne died at the age of 47, possibly during or just after child birth, which was not an uncommon occurance at that time.

The Tithe map and apportionment of about 1840 for Shipham gives the following;

"Land owner; Stowell Thomas: Occupier; Stowell Thomas: Plot Number; 97: Description of Land and Premises; Hovel: Area; 2 p". The "p" stands for perch which is quite small being about 160th of an acre. It is an interesting thought that my ancestor owned a hovel.
However I also found that Thomas Stowell was occupying a house and garden at plot 117. Also living at the house was John Woodbury who was the informant at Thomas's death in 1851. In 1871 John was living with his wife Hannah, adjacent to an unmarried 34 year old pauper Betsey Woodberry and her 13 year old son John. I wonder if they all lived together with Thomas Stowell?

In 1841 Thomas was a lead ore miner in Shipham but by 1850 he was a labourer. When he died in 1851 he was then working as an agricultural labourer.

Thomas's youngest son, John, was the last of the line to be born in Shipham. At some time between 1841 and 1850, he travelled to Pillgwenlly near Newport in Monmouthshire, Wales. He probably walked to Bristol from where he caught a boat to Newport; I suspect he was attracted by the prospect of work.
In 1850, when occupied as a labourer, he married Mary Ann Brown at Mount Zion Chapel, Newport. Mary Ann had been born in Pill near Bristol in Somerset and had moved to Pillgwenlly during the same period as had John.

At this time Pillgwenlly had a population of about eight thousand and was expanding rapidly, largely due to an influx of poor Irish families. The general conditions of the place were very poor. Housing and sanitation in many areas were appalling, with diseases such as cholera being common. However, with the docks, railways and industry expanding, work - though poorly paid - could often be found.

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Modern Shipham

Shipham now is an attractive and peaceful village of narrow entwined lanes. It has become a popular retirement location.

This is a photograph of a lane with flower decked hedges
A Shipham Lane

The modern houses are clustered around the older properties near the "square" and church. There are two public houses and a handful of shops and a garage. At one end of the village is the village hall.

This is a photograph of The Penscot Inn
The Penscot Inn

The population of Shipham in 2001 was 765. Many of the inhabitants are older retired people but others travel to surrounding towns for work. The village is near to the main A38 road but retains an unspoilt rural charm.

This is a photograph of a pond surrounded by wild flowers and lush vegitation.
A Roadside Pond

There is a number of historic buildings in the village apart from the church and includes the Toll House which is now a private residence. It was a toll house for the turnpike road from Bristol to Langport.

This is a photograph of the single story, cream painted stone toll house. It stands at a road junction.
The Old Toll House

Mining and calamine smelting has long since ceased but there are indications that Shipham was once an industrial village. The names of some of the roads give clues; Hollow Road, Barnpool, Hind Pitts and Comrade Avenue are examples. The Miners' Arms is obvious. To the east of the village by Shipham Hill are the gruffy fields scarred with hollows which were mine shafts and mounds of spoil, now overgrown with grass and shrub. The word "gruffy" probably comes from the "gruffs" which were regular mine shafts connected by long underground galleries.

This is a photograph of part of the gruffy fields, showing the hollows and mounds all around.
Part of the Gruffy Fields

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