The faces of history – Thomas Winchurch 1787 – 1856

When I asked my father, Francis Victor Winchurch, about the handwritten entries in our nineteenth century Winchurch family bible, I had no idea of the research that I would be setting in motion over the following fifty years or so !

One of the most interesting entries is this one:

At this stage, we knew that my grandfather, Percy Walter Winchurch, had been born in Aston and that he was the second youngest of Benjamin and Eliza Winchurch’s eight children.

Percy had also referred to the Winchurchs as coming from the ‘Black Country’ (the industrial area centred around Dudley in north Worcestershire) and we knew that the family had kept a public house, the Cross Keys at 45 Upper Windsor Street in Aston. There was also a family history of glass making, from the 1780s, continuing through four generations  to Frederick, one of Percy’s elder brothers, who was a glass blower until his retirement in the nineteen thirties.

Dad set out to find more about the Winchurch family and that task expanded to occupy much of his time until his death in 1997.

One of the first searches was to find out more about Thomas and Ann, Benjamin’s parents. Thomas’s birth was relatively easy, knowing his age at death (from his death certificate)

The birth of a Thomas Winchurch, son of Paul and Sarah Winchurch baptised at St Thomas, Dudley on 6 May 1787 fitted very well.

It was a source of surprise to me that a few generations could take one back so far in history. I remembered Percy vividly up to his death in 1953, when I was ten years old. The idea that HIS grandfather was born in 1787 was a bit of a shock.

When Dad moved on to find out more about Thomas and Ann, things became a little more difficult. The only marriage record that seemed to fit, was that of Thomas Winchurch and Ann Shakespeare in Tipton on 25 March 1820. The complicating factor was that they were described on the marriage certificate as ‘widower’ and ‘widow’ respectively.

There was, however, a record of a marriage between Thomas Winchurch and Mary Holt in Dudley on 8 May 1808, when Thomas would have been 21. Thomas and Mary had a daughter, Sarah, who was baptised on 24 July 1808, but who subsequently died in Dudley in 1810.

Another Sarah was born to them and baptised at St Thomas, Dudley on 24 March 1811 (it was common practice at this time of high infant mortality to re-use names in this way).

At this point, Dad found no more records of Thomas and family in Dudley.

The assumption that Mary died and widower Thomas was the one who married Ann Shakespeare (widow) in Tipton in 1820 was rather a leap of faith at the time, but has formed the basis of his and my subsequent research.

A couple of days ago, following up on a question from Elizabeth, my wife, about details of my mother’s death in 1993 I was looking at copies of the family death certificates that I have and glanced at that of Thomas Winchurch (who died in 1856). For some reason I noticed the name of the person reporting his death; Sarah Littleford, who was present when he died. Wondering why it had not been a member of his extended family, a thought struck me;

Sarah WAS a family member  !

click to enlarge

On line, I very soon found a Sarah Winchurch marrying James Littleford on 6 April 1828 at St Martin’s in Birmingham.

Sarah and James had four children, Henry and John, born in the 1830s and two daughters born in the 1840s, Mary Ann and Eliza.

Mary Ann was the only child to have two first names and they are the names of her mother, Mary and stepmother, Ann !

So, after all these years, it looks as though I have found confirmation of Dad’s research.

I only wish he was around to share the discovery.

The Timeline

Thomas Winchurch was born in 1787. The son of Paul Winchurch and Sarah (nee Shaw). Paul was a glassmaker and his eldest son Thomas followed into the trade in Dudley.

He was twenty-one when he married Mary Holt at St Thomas’s Dudley. Mary was probably about twenty and their daughter Sarah was born only two months later and baptised at St Thomas on 24 July 1808.

Sadly Sarah did not reach her second birthday and was buried at St Thomas on 30 May 1810.

Another Sarah was baptised in the same church on 24 March 1811 and she appears to be the only child who survived from their marriage. Her mother, Mary died in November 1812, when Sarah was only eighteen months old.

In the meantime, Ann Brooks (or Brook) had been born in Dudley in 1793. The date and place are certain from census returns, but the maiden name of the Ann who married Thomas Winchurch in 1820 is less so.

The only Shakespeare marriage to an Ann that fits is that of Joseph Shakespeare to Ann Brook at Clent on 24 November 1812. Ann would have been about 19 and Joseph about 26.

The probable reason for the marriage of a couple from the Black Country at Clent church is interesting.

Until the 19th century, Rowley church was a chapel of ease belonging to the parish of Clent. The distance between the two (some 5 miles or 9 kilometres) gave rise to much inconvenience, particularly with the growth in the population of Rowley.( They were eventually separated by a Private Act of Parliament in 1841). The Vicar at Clent had a habit of insisting that Rowley couples went to him at Clent for a marriage rather than him going to Rowley to perform the service. Clent was a long walk away and some people chose to “live” in Halesowen parish and get married there rather than go to Clent.

If this is indeed how Ann came to be Shakespeare, her life was full of sad events during the next few years, as the following records indicate


Baptism 10 Feb 1815 – Lucy d. of Joseph and Ann Shakespear (sic) of Netherton, Nailor

Burial     18 Aug 1816 – Lucy Shakespear, Dudley. 2 yrs.

Burial     11 Feb 1818 – Joseph Shakespear, Dudley. 31

Two years later on 25 March 1820 Ann Shakespeare and Thomas Winchurch married at Tipton with Henry and John Horton as witnesses. Presumably nine year old Sarah was present to see her father marry Ann

On 20 June 1820 Hannah Winchurch daughter of Thomas and Ann was baptised at St Thomas Dudley.

Sometime between June 1820 and December 1821, they moved to Birmingham, almost certainly making use of the growing canal network between the Black Country and Birmingham which also helped the glass making industry to move east to Aston. Although glass making in the West Midlands is mainly associated with the Stourbridge area, it was an important Birmingham industry as well. Eighteen glass works were established in Birmingham in 18th and 19th centuries, mostly alongside canals, which were ideally suited to carry the bulky fuels and raw materials required by this industry and its heavy and fragile products.

St James the Less (Birmingham) from Bishops Transcripts

Hannah d of Thomas and Ann Winchurch, Love Lane, buried  30 Dec 1821 1½  years

So, Thomas, his wife Ann and (presumably) daughter Sarah (now ten years old) were living at Love lane where five children were born between 1821 and 1829. The youngest, as the family bible entry records was Benjamin, born on 3 December 1829.

Lord Street and Love Lane led into one another, so were in effect the same street

The year before, seventeen year old Sarah Winchurch seems to have decided it is time to leave, because she married James Littleford on 6 April 1828 at St Martins in Birmingham.

In so doing she removed herself from easy access by family history researchers.

Until today !

11 March 2011

This story has a sad ending. James died in 1887 and the only death record I could find that closely matched was Sarah Littleford aged 70 (our Sarah was 78) in 1889.

Her death certificate reveals that she died from ‘senility and bronchitis’ in the Workhouse Western Road Birmingham on 20 August 1889.

I am guessing that Sarah was incapable of remembering her age accurately.