When the Head family emigrated into Corsham, all the way from many earlier generations a few miles down the road in Box, they came en-masse and they brought their Bath Stone yard with them. My paternal great-grandfather, James was born in 1841 in Box Hill, in the very year that the Box Tunnel opened, where his father had a flourishing stone contracting business in a yard next to the family’s house. James and his wife Sarah had 7 surviving children, who all went to Box School until they were old enough to join him in the family business, which he inherited on the death of his father.
As the business prospered towards the end of the 19th century, and certainly by the time of the 1881 census, James bought a bigger yard at the bottom of South Street in Corsham and they moved to a house in Paul Street. The story goes that the oldest son Albert ran away to sea, but all the other sons moved with their father to Corsham. The family attended the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Pickwick Road and it was there, when they were children, that my grandfather, George, met his future wife Florence, when they passed notes to each other hidden inside their hymn books!
Florence must have also had stone dust running in her veins as her father Henry John Lucas started work in the Bath Stone Firms as an office boy when he left school, working his way up to be Managing Director of the Yockney and Hartham Park Stone Company, whose offices were on the Pickwick Road. Henry had a great talent for figures and became a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants and a Fellow of the Incorporated Secretaries Association. He also spoke Esperanto fluently and was very clever at shorthand, giving lessons at Pitman’s College in the evenings and somehow also finding the time to be a lay preacher at the Wesleyan Chapel. When he was 19 he married a lady called Sarah Cox whose parents had a coal business in Shirehampton and they bought a house on the Bath Road in Pickwick, which is now an antique dealers. Sarah was delighted with the house, until the day that they employed a gardener to dig over the garden, only to discover that it was full of human skulls and other remains. They’d had no idea that it had once been a Quaker Burial Ground! Sarah absolutely refused to live there and it was sold, and they moved to a house opposite the Flemish Buildings in the High Street, “near the horse trough”, which I think is likely to be Number 71, near the Mayo Memorial.
Florence, my grandmother, was born in 1879 and trained to be a teacher at the Claremont College near Gastard, worked in the Corsham Infants School and obtained her certificate to be a Head Teacher at the age of 21 in 1900. She married my Grandfather, George that November in the Wesleyan Chapel and then joked that instead of being a Head Mistress, she’d become Mistress Head! They first lived at the bottom of South Street, near the Head Stone Yard where my Aunt Winifred was born in 1902. The business won stone work contracts in London, including I believe work on Southwark Cathedral and so George and his young family moved to Stockwell to supervise it. They returned to Corsham with another daughter Elsie, who had been born in London, built Grove Villas and they later settled in Home Lea, at the very top of South Street (Number 1), in 1907. Another daughter, Dorothy arrived in 1909 and then my father, David, very much a late arrival, in 1922.
Home Lea at the time had a huge garden, stables for 2 horses and a long field that ran right down to the bottom of South Street behind all the houses. There are family memories of keeping pigs, chickens and haymaking in the field. The family had a grey pony called Kitty and every morning she pulled the carts of stone in the yard, but in the afternoons my Grandmother would harness her up to a little ‘governess cart’ and take her daughters out for rides around the countryside and up to Hartham Park. Sometimes they went to Bath, but the pony was frightened of the trams and the wheels would get stuck in the tram lines, so they would leave the pony at a farmhouse which stood on the crossroads at Bathford and go on by tram.
In 1914 the war came and the men in the stone yard were called up, the stone trade slackened and no houses were being built. The yard struggled on with just the older men.
My grandfather’s calling up papers arrived, but at his medical they found his heart was too weak to fight and he was made exempt. However he got a job in the ammunition factory of Stothert and Pitts in Bath and as he was on the Town Council at the time he offered to resign. However, the Council excused his attendance and they also suspended further elections until after the war was over, so all the Councillors kept their seats. The family history says he was one of the founders of the Corsham Bowls Club around 1909 and after the war there’s a record of him supervising the building of Corsham’s War Memorial in 1921.
There are so many other stories and branches of the family that I’m still fitting the jigsaw together and always on the hunt for new pieces of it. To end this article though, here are some snapshots, which might trigger some other memories. There’s Ernest Head who married Gertie Smith from South Street and then lived, I think, in Broadmead on the way to Gastard. Ernest was evidently a well known cricketer playing for Corsham, although he’s not mentioned in the history page of the Club’s website, but the story I’ve had passed down is that a gate to the Cricket Ground on Station Road was given in his memory.
One of my grandfather’s brothers was Edwin, although he was always known as Ted, who married Jinny Greenman from Box. They lived in Hastings Road and had 3 daughters. One daughter was Edith who was a piano teacher and died in 1980 aged 81 years old. Nora, ran a sweet shop in the High Street next to Spackmans the Grocers and the third daughter, Georgie, married Donald Gale of Priory Street and then lived in The Tynings.
Another brother of my grandfather’s generation was Charlie who specialised in the masonry around windows and arches. He was married to Rose who was the School Teacher at St Mary’s Church School in Broughton Gifford. They lived in Hastings Road and she opened her own school, The Lyndhurst Private School for Boys and Girls, in Grove Road, where she became my Dad’s first teacher.
So the Head Count is a big one, over 75 ancestors known to me already back to the early 1700s and there must be links over all that time with so many other Corsham families. Families with names such as Sanger, Vezey, Tiley, Rate, Dancey, Dolman, Greenman, Bradfield, Light, Bateman, Baker and of course, my Grandmother’s family, Lucas.
I’m happy to share our family research so far, and I’m still digging, especially working on the story of Corsham’s stone mining heritage and of course my own family’s minor, but fascinating part in it, with so many other families, including the development with the Gibbons family of Strenic stone, still seen today around Corsham.
I’d love to help tell all their stories. Do email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you know any!