This page was compiled by Trevor Stewart
The Wythes family of Ravensden House originated from Worcestershire, in the villages around Hadson (could be Hadzor) and Claines. There is certainly a Francis Wythes recorded as Churchwarden of Claines in 1685 when he and the other Churchwardens gave a new bell to the church there. They appear to have been land owners but sometime in the early 19th century got involved in engineering and also developed an interest in the burgeoning railway industry.
George Wythes, son of Thomas, a farmer at Hadson (Hadzor?), was born there in 1811 and it was he, who with a partner Joseph Jackson, set up the firm Wythes and Jackson, who became major railway contractors for India. They also went on to be heavily involved in the building of the railways in Argentina and South Africa and with their new found wealth, Wythes in particular also became a major investor.
By 1836 George had moved to London and in July of that year at St. Marylebone he married Fanny or Francis Wagstaff. He was of that Parish she was from Droitwich, Worcestershire, a town close to Hadzor.
The couple then moved around with his railway construction work and in 1841 at Portslade near Brighton, while George Senior was building the new Brighton to Shoreham railway, their only son George Edward was born. He was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge and in 1866 at Kingston Upon Thames he married Catherine Jemmett, daughter of a London merchant. In 1869 his now wealthy father purchased Copped Hall near Epping for his son and his wife while settling at Bickley Hall, Bromley himself. George and Catherine subsequently had two sons George Edward and Ernest James. George Edward Senior also became a railway contractor but he died in 1875 comparatively young. His two young sons then went to live with their Grandfather at Bickley. Four years after their Grandfather died there in 1883, George Edward Junior sadly also died at the early age of just 19. Ernest James therefore became an extremely wealthy man having inherited two estates. He married Alise Thorold a member of the aristocracy in 1894 and they had three daughters. On receiving his inheritance it seems he began a lavish lifestyle spending freely, purchasing yachts, travelling and making improvements to Copped Hall. He became High Sheriff of Essex in 1901, a J.P. and also was awarded the C.B.E. Although living in Essex he maintained an interest in the Bickley Hall estates in Bromley and gifted a monument to the Wythes family in St. George’s Church, Bickley.
There is a newspaper report in 1843 concerning the opening of the railway branch line at Kelvedon near Chelmsford which tells of the celebrations in the village because of the coming of the trains. George senior had paid for a major party for his contractors and staff and given them all a day off with plenty of ale and food to mark the occasion. It goes on to say that George was an excellent master ‘’who already in his just 32 years of life had amassed a considerable sum of money.’’
What the relationship was between George and Francis Wythes of Ravensden born 1816 also in Hadson, (Hadzor), has not yet been determined, but clearly Francis was not a son - possibly he was a nephew, or a cousin.
The place of birth is the same, Francis (shown as a railway contractor) was also at Kelvedon in April 1841 and he similarly worked in India and other places overseas and made sufficient money himself to enable him to purchase Ravensden House. There has to be some close connection but this just does not appear to have been detailed anywhere!
In late 1841 in Halifax, Francis married Sarah Ann Aspinall a local Yorkshire girl. Maybe Francis was building railways in the area ? The couple had a daughter, Jane born in Stafford in 1850 before they moved into Ravensden.
In 1850, Francis had purchased Ravensden House from the Executors of the Estate of the late John Mackay a Lawyer, and in the 1851 Census, Francis, Sarah and Jane were shown at Ravensden, he ‘’as a farmer of 99 acres and employing ten labourers.’’ The family were also rich enough to employ four servants who lived in the house. The couple had two more daughters Sarah Ann (born Ravensden 1851), Louisa (born Ravensden 1853) and a son Francis Aspinall (born Ravensden 1857). By 1861 the holding had increased to 300 acres, employing 15 men and 8 boys.
The early years of the 1860’s were a particularly sad time for the family, however, as eldest daughter Jane had died just after Christmas 1860 aged just ten years and was buried in Ravensden Churchyard. Her youngest sister Louisa died in May 1863 also at the age of just ten years, leaving just the children Sarah Ann and Francis to complete the family.
In October 1872 Sarah Ann married Thomas Aspinall of Yorkshire (note the name), at Ravensden and they moved away to Brighouse in that county. After his early death she married again in 1893 at St. John the Baptist, Halifax to a William Grandage.
Francis senior, Sarah’s father died in May 1878 at the age of 62 years and was interred at Ravensden.
At St. Georges Hanover Square, London on 3rd. February 1876, Francis Aspinall Wythes married Florence Jenner, the daughter of a London lawyer. She is shown in the Church Register as being ‘’a minor,’’ born Annerley, Surrey, and he was only 18 or 19 himself. There was much unusual about this marriage, not least the ages of the couple, for according to the Register of Births, Florence Elizabeth Jenner the daughter of Thomas Jenner a lawyer was born in Annerley, Surrey in the middle of 1866. That would of course mean that she was only ten years of age when she married. In fact on 2nd February 1876 she did sign a Marriage Bond stating ‘’that she was eighteen years of age and that both her mother and father were deceased.’’ Francis signed the same Bond swearing that he was ‘’21 years of age or more,’’ which of course he could not have been with a date of birth of 1857. The only other female Jenner to be found born around the suggested date was Elizabeth Florence Jenner born in Kensington (not Annerley !) in 1856, but if this were her it would have meant that she would have been 20 or even 21 at the time of the marriage and therefore the Bond would not have been necessary.
However this marriage lasted only a few months anyway as in November 1877 Francis was formally granted a divorce on the grounds of the adultery of his wife with a certain John Lawrence Hawkins and the marriage was dissolved. In the Petition Francis claimed to have lived with his wife after their marriage but he said that in June 1876, just five months after the wedding, she had gone abroad with Hawkins and that when they had returned about a month later, they had set up home together in Putney. Interestingly, and despite signing the Bond, he was now claiming to be only 19 years of age, and so he had to be represented in these proceedings by his father acting as his Curator or Guardian.
On 6th January 1880 at St. Mary’s Church, Bedford, Francis married secondly Gwendoline Maria Jessop. The entry in the Church Marriage Register records that she was a spinster but that he was ‘’the divorced husband of Florence Jenner.’’ Gwendoline who had been born at Waltham Abbey was a daughter of much respected Bedford solicitor, Leverton Jessop who lived in Cauldwell Street but had an office in Mill Street. They moved into Brook Farm next door to Ravensden House where in 1881 Francis was a farmer of 85 acres, and a brickmaker employing 10 men and 3 boys.
It seems that Wythes had also taken over the brickworks south and west of Ravensden Crossroads which are recorded as being in operation in 1858.
He owned these until 1875 when they were leased to a Benjamin Litchfield. This particular manufactory made a yellow brick very similar to those used in the building of the Blacksmiths Arms Public House.
After the death of her husband, Sarah Ann Wythes the widow of Francis, continued to live in the large Ravensden House but it appears that her son Francis and his family may have moved in with her sometime after the 1881 Census on which they are still shown as being at Brook Farm. Sarah Ann died in January 1885 and is buried with her husband at Ravensden.
Francis and Gwendoline had two children Francis Vivian born 1880 and Claude Aspinall born 1885. In the 1891 Census the family are now at Ravensden House with four servants and Francis is shown as being a J.P. living on his own means. He took a particular interest in the village school. Francis Vivian aged 10 years was in 1891 away visiting his now widowed Aunt Sarah in Yorkshire, but youngest son Claude aged 5, was at home. Annie Jessop (single –sister-in-law) and Charles Jessop (visitor), both born Waltham Abbey, were also staying with the family at this time
By 1901 both sons were away from home, Francis Vivian was obviously following the family interest in iron, railways and engineering as he is an apprentice engineer boarding with a metal moulder in Jarrow, County Durham. Claude was away at boarding school in Cheltenham.
On 27th August 1908 at the Chapel of the Good Shepherd at Jarrow Grange, Francis Vivian married Nora Kingsley Fellows. They had one son Francis Ernest and in 1911 mother and son are living in County Durham but father must have been working away.
Claude left School at Cheltenham and immediately joined the army as a Lieutenant in the 4th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment. In 1911 he was serving in India.
When the Great War broke out Claude was still based in India and Burma but the regiment returned to England in February 1915; by mid-March Wythes had been promoted to Captain and both he and his regiment were on their way out to the Dardanelles. After the landings at Helles the Worcestershire’s were trying to press inland but when they reached the village of Krithia they met fierce resistance and Captain Wythes aged 29 was among the 2000 British casualties to die on 28th. April 1915. His body was never recovered but he is commemorated on the Helles memorial in Turkey and on the family tomb in Ravensden Churchyard.
Wythes family grave at Ravensden churchyard (photograph by Trevor Stewart)
Claude’s brother Francis joined the Royal Engineers early in 1916 and was promoted to Temporary 2nd Lieutenant in October of that year. He survived the war and died in 1944. However, neither the death of his wife Nora, or his son Francis Ernest have been found.
Once more though there are somewhat unusual circumstances surrounding members of this family. A Legal Notice appears in The London Gazette dated 4th May 1943 which reads ‘’Notice is hereby given that by a deed poll dated the 25th day of November 1940 and duly enrolled in the Supreme Court of Judicature on 21st. Day of April 1943, GLADYS IVY WYTHES of 151, Cambridge Park, Twickenham in the County of Middlesex, Spinster, a natural born British subject renounced and abandoned the surname of Evans and assumed the surname of Wythes.
Dated the 27th. day of April 1943.’’
During the second quarter of 1944 at Brentford, Francis Vivian Wythes actually married Gladys Ivy Wythes and so the change of name was not in itself felt enough for the couple, who then chose to marry.
Francis died on 7th July 1944 at Thanet in Kent although his home was still Twickenham and Gladys died 6th April 1977 also at Twickenham.
Gwendoline Wythes the wife of Francis Aspinall Wythes died at Ravensden in January 1924 aged 66 years and Francis himself died in the village in 1942 aged 85 years. He is not listed on the Wythes tomb and it appears that this was the end of the family link with the village.
On his death the Ravensden House property was sold to a Mr. Edmonds but he died within a few months and the house was then requisitioned by the government in 1944 for the use of the Women’s Land Army for the duration of the war.
Another important village family over many years are the Wiles. An interesting side story exists about the spelling of the name Wiles. The family have always argued that their name was originally spelt Wyles but that the Squire, Mr. Wythes, insisted that they change this because it was so close to his own name and easily confused. Hence Wiles!
There does indeed appear to be some credence to this story since a glance at the Registers of Ravensden Church reveals that up to approx. 1852 the name Wyles was indeed spelt with the ‘’y’’ but it then for some reason changes to ‘‘i’’, apart from one branch of the family who clearly refused to change and eventually left the village!