The Foxlee family

Manor Farm house in 1973

The Foxlee family were tenants of Manor Farm, Ayot Little Green, for most of C19th, and members of the family are buried in both the old and new churchyards. In the old churchyard there are a wooden grave marker and three headstones together commemorating 10 members of the family; a further five are commemorated by three headstones in the new churchyard. No family is memorialised more in our churchyards.

Joseph Foxlee (1752-1817)

The first of the Foxlees at Manor Farm was called Thomas. He was baptised as “Thomas Rowley” at St Mary’s, Welwyn, on 31 October 1779 – the rector added a note “the illegitimate son of Sarah Rowley … reputed father Joseph Foxley”. His parents were Joseph Foxlee (1752-1817) and his wife Sarah Rowley (1752-1824), whose marriage took place on 8 November 1779, shortly after the baptism of Thomas. The rector added a note to the marriage entry that Sarah was a “supposed widow”. The church registers for Welwyn show the spelling “Foxley” for all entries at that time, although in the marriage register Joseph signed his name “Foxlee”.

Joseph and Sarah Foxlee went on to have another seven children, all baptised in Welwyn:- Joseph in 1781, Mary in 1782, Sarah in 1784, Jonathan in 1785, Elizabeth in 1789, William in 1791, and lastly Job baptised in 1796.

Although Joseph was born and baptised at Wheathampstead he got married at Welwyn, all his children were born there, and both Joseph and Sarah were buried there. Welwyn can perhaps claim an even stronger association with the Foxlee family than can Ayot St Peter and, as we shall see, the Welwyn connection continued well into C20th.

Thomas Foxlee (1779-1854)

Thomas Foxlee had two wives, both of whom he married in London. First he married Frances Benton (b 1771) on 6 January 1803 at St Martin in the Fields. They had four children before Frances died in 1815. The last of these children, Frances Sarah, was born at Ayot St Peter in 1810. The first child Thomas was born in London in 1804, but buried in Welwyn as an infant. The other two children were born at Welwyn (Eliza Anne 1805 and William 1808), which is also where Frances died and was buried.

Thomas remarried on 10 August 1817 at St Andrew’s, Holborn. His bride was Mary Thompson (b 1794). Between 1819 and 1836 Thomas and Mary had nine children, all of whom were born at Manor Farm, as follows:- James born 1819, Sarah 1821, Thomas 1823, Mary Ann (baptised as Marianne in 1824), Martha Jane 1826, Hannah 1829, Richard Thompson 1830, Emma 1834 and lastly John who was born and also died in 1836 (buried in Welwyn).

The birth of Frances Sarah in 1810 suggests that Thomas Foxlee took up the tenancy of Manor Farm at or shortly before that date, and certainly his second marriage was spent entirely there. Despite this, when Thomas died in October 1854 he was buried at Welwyn, presumably in order to be among his ancestors. His widow Mary died a year later and she too was buried at Welwyn, presumably alongside her late husband. Neither burial is marked by a headstone.

When the tithe apportionment and map were drawn up in 1838 Lord Melbourne was the owner of Manor Farm and Thomas Foxlee was the occupier. The farm comprised 14 parcels of land totalling 29 acres 2 rods and 24 perches and was assessed for rent-charge payable to the rector of £7 9s 6d. Six fields were in arable cultivation and the rest of the farm was used for grazing. In the 1841 census the farmhouse was occupied by Thomas and Mary Foxlee together with their seven children aged from 16 to seven. Ten years later the farm was loosely described as of 30 acres, and Thomas was employing two labourers and also his sons Thomas (27) and Richard Thompson (19). The eldest son and daughter (James and Mary Ann) had left home but the other three daughters (Martha Jane, 25; Hannah, 22; and Emma, 17) were still living with their parents at the farm.

Thomas Foxlee died at Manor Farm on 15 October 1854, having been the tenant farmer for some 44 years. In his will made on 3 December 1852 he left everything to his wife Mary, who obtained a grant of probate on 20 December 1854. Mary died on 24 October 1855, leaving a will made on the date of the grant of probate. She appointed her son Richard Thompson Foxlee and her son in law Samuel May (husband of her daughter Mary Ann) as her executors. She left her estate to her seven surviving children equally but if they could not agree how to divide the estate in this way it was to be sold and the cash proceeds distributed. Evidently it was difficult, and perhaps impossible, to achieve an equal division without a sale, and accordingly an auction was arranged to be held at Manor Farm at noon on Friday 26 September 1856.

Thomas Foxlee (1823-95)
Thomas Foxlee and Harriett (née Blow)

Four days after the auction the second son, Thomas, married Harriett Blow at Welwyn. He must already have taken on the tenancy of Manor Farm, and either bought in what he needed at the sale or used his share of the proceeds to furnish his house and farm. He and Harriett had 11 children at Manor Farm baptised between 1857 and 1870 as follows:-Harriet Blow 1857, Thomas 1859, Fanny 1859, Herbert 1861, Eliza and Edward (twins) 1862, Alberta 1865, Phillip 1866, Arthur 1867, Ernest 1869 and Frank 1870.

In the 1861 census we find Thomas and Harriett at the farm together with their first three children – Harriett Blow, Thomas and Fanny. Living with them was Harriett’s widowed mother Catherine Blow (75) and visiting them was Catherine Sparks (11), who was a daughter of Harriett’s sister Mary Catherine Blow and her husband Nathaniel Sparks.

By 1871 Thomas and Harriett had had all 11 of their children, and the entire family of 13 were living at Manor Farm. Farming is notoriously subject to fluctuations from good to bad times, and in 1879-80 Thomas suffered a very serious setback when he became bankrupt. The London Gazette of 10 February 1880 contains a notice to Thomas’ creditors to prove their debts with James Chalkley of Welwyn, the trustee under the liquidation. James Chalkley operated the corn mill on the River Mimram at the southern end of Mill Lane. Thomas must eventually have succeeded in obtaining his discharge because he carried on farming until his retirement.

The broken headstone of Thomas Foxlee (1823 to 1895), his wife Harriett (née Blow) and their childen Frank Foxlee and Harriett Blow Foxlee

In 1881 the farm had grown from just under 30 acres to 48 and, instead of employing a man and a boy as previously, Thomas was then employing two men. Of his daughters, Harriett Blow had become a certificated schoolmistress and her sister Alberta was a pupil teacher. Their sister Fanny was a dressmaker. The two eldest of the seven sons, Thomas (22) and Herbert (19), had left home. In 1891 Thomas had retired, and he and Harriett were living at Manor Farm with their son Edward (28) as head of the household. Edward described himself to the enumerator as ‘farmer, dairyman, poulterer and tea and coffee dealer.’ Edward’s sister Eliza and brothers Arthur and Ernest were also living at Manor Farm. On census night (Sunday 3 April) six-year old Harold Royson Foxlee was visiting the farm; he was the son of Richard Augustus Foxlee (1854-1924) and grandson of Thomas Foxlee’s elder brother James (1820-92) and emigrated to Canada, where he died in 1974. Edward surrendered the tenancy in favour of William Welsh in late 1893 – a newspaper advertisement in September of that year announced the sale of surplus farming stock and furniture, on the instruction of Mr E. Foxlee, “who is leaving”. Presumably the other stock and equipment was sold to the new tenant. This ended the connection of the Foxlees as residents of the parish but they clearly retained a strong affection for it.

The grave of Thomas Foxlee shortly after his death in 1895. The partly visible grave on the left is for Thomas and Harriett’s two nieces Agnes Mary and Amy Hester Foxlee

On 12 February 1895 Thomas Foxlee died at Albion House, Welwyn. He was buried in the old churchyard on 15 February by Rev Henry Jephson and a fine headstone was installed over the grave, with a matching kerb to demarcate its edges.

Albion House was the name given to one of the terrace of houses at the north end of what is now Church Street but was then known variously as High Street, Church Street or North Street. In the 1901 census Albion House was occupied by Edward Foxlee (by now 38 and a grocer rather than a farmer), his widowed mother Harriett and a female domestic servant. Next door to them lived Harriett’s nephew George Blow, a builder, and his wife and son. Two doors further south lived Edward’s younger brother Arthur (33, grocer’s assistant), his wife Eliza and their infant son Arthur Edward. Presumably Arthur was assisting his brother in his business.

Church Street, Welwyn, 2019 – Albion House was probably no. 31 – the white house occupied by Mimram Vets
Harriett Foxlee (née Blow)

Harriett died aged 96 on 9 May 1924. Her burial in her husband’s grave was conducted by the rector of Ayot St Lawrence on 13 May, following which her name was added to the headstone. She had been living at Beckenham with her son Edward and his wife Rita Annie Fuller.

Job Foxlee (1796-1862)

In 1851 Thomas and Mary Foxlee and their family at Manor Farm were not the only Foxlees living in the parish. Thomas’ younger brother Job, who had been baptised at Welwyn on 6 March 1796, had married Ann Burchmore at St Albans on 21 February 1819. Their first matrimonial home was at Ayot St Peter, although their first child William was baptised in Welwyn in 1820. The second son George was born in 1821 and baptised in Ayot St Peter. They had a daughter Caroline baptised in 1824, then in the September of that same year Job’s mother Sarah died at Ayot St Peter but was not buried here. Job and Ann then had a daughter Sarah in 1827 before moving to Hatfield, where they had twin sons Charles and John in 1831. They came back to Ayot St Peter and had two further sons, James in 1834 and Richard in 1837.

When the tithe map was drawn up in 1838 Job and his family were not resident in the parish. They were probably living at Welwyn because at the time of the 1841 census Job and Ann were listed at Welwyn Hill with their five youngest children. This was the name of the road up from the White Hart to what is now the Steamer public house. There were dwellings at the foot of the hill by the junction with Hertford Road and also at the top where the Steamer and its car park are found today and the Foxlee family must have occupied one of these properties.

By 1851 they were once again back at Ayot St Peter. Job, an agricultural labourer, Ann, James and Richard were living in a newly-built lodge on the right hand side of what are now the Ayot St Peter Road gates into Ayot Bury (which at that time was the rectory). Their son George had by now married, and he and his wife Mary Ann and their son Frederick were living in the other rectory lodge located on what is now School Lane. This small dwelling seems to have been demolished in the 1860s.

The wooden grave marker of Job Foxlee and his wife Ann (née Burchmore)

Job and Ann were still living at the rectory lodge in 1861. Job died aged 66 on Thursday 28 August 1862. He had been riding on the top of a load of hay but fell from the cart onto his head. Dr Horatio Bubb came up from Welwyn but there was nothing he could do to save Job. Charles Times, a Hitchin solicitor and the coroner, convened an inquest in the parish on Saturday 30 August, where the jury returned a verdict of accidental death. His burial in the old churchyard on Monday 1 September by Rev Edwin Prodgers junior was the first of the many Foxlee burials. In 1871 his widow Ann was living at the Horse and Jockey public house (now 5 Ayot Green). She died aged 82 in 1878 (probably at the same address) and was buried alongside Job on 5 December by Rev Henry Jephson. Over these two graves in the south-west corner of the old churchyard is the last of what were once a large number of wooden markers. It is a notable survivor. When the churchyard was surveyed in 1976 it was recorded that there was faded lettering on the north face but unfortunately all trace of the lettering has now disappeared.

Richard Thompson Foxlee (1830-1909)
On the left is the grave of Richard Thompson Foxlee and his wife Mary (née Johnson) and on the right the grave of their two young daughters Agnes Mary and her sister Amy Hester Foxlee

Between Job’s burial in 1862 and his widow Ann’s in 1878 there were, sadly, two Foxlee infant burials in the old churchyard: first there was Agnes Mary in 1868 and secondly her sister Amy Hester four years later. These girls were daughters of Richard Thompson Foxlee and his wife Mary Johnson, who were married in Staffordshire in 1860. Richard was born at Manor Farm in 1830 and was the seventh child of Thomas and Mary Foxlee. He made his living as a gardener in Chelsea and Fulham. The couple had two other daughters before Agnes and Amy, namely Emma Florence (1862-1931) and Alice Bertha (1864-1937). Mary Foxlee died in December 1895 and was buried in the old churchyard less than a year after the burial of her husband’s elder brother Thomas; Richard himself died in 1909 and was buried with his wife (although oddly this event is not recorded in the burial register). The two headstones of the four members of this family stand side by side.

Descendants of Thomas and Harriett Foxlee

Of Thomas and Harriett’s 11 children, five stayed in England. As we shall see, one was buried in the old churchyard and four in the new. All the other children emigrated to the then colony of Queensland in Australia. The first to depart were Thomas and Herbert, who left Plymouth on board the Sir William Wallace on 4 December 1879 and arrived at Rockhampton on 12 March 1880. This explains their absence from the 1881 census. Next to go were Fanny and her brother Philip, who reached Cooktown on the Merkara on 26 May 1884. Frank followed on the Dorunda, arriving at Mackay on 5 August 1890. The final emigrant was Ernest, who reached Queensland on 28 September 1906 on board the Ormuz. Philip and Ernest remained single but the other four emigrants married and between them had 23 children. The first to die was Frank in 1919, by which time he had had four children. Frank’s death was commemorated on his father’s headstone in the old churchyard because it occurred before his mother Harriett’s death in 1924.

A Foxlee family group in Charters Towers around 1906. This picture shows the five sons of Thomas and Harriett (née Blow). In the back row, L-R, the second person is Ernext Foxlee (b.1869) and the seventh is Philip Foxlee (b.1866). In the 3rd row, the first person is Thomas Foxlee (b.1859), the sixth is Herbert (b.1861) and the seventh is Frank (b.1870)
The sixth sibling who emigrated – Fanny Foxlee with her husband Frederick Kable at Tamworth NSW in the 1920s

The Australian Foxlees were initially concentrated in and around Charters Towers, and later they became associated with the town of Proserpine. At Charters Towers the family owned a two-storey house which they called Ayot Lookout. It was apparently built by a shadowy figure called Smith, who took his own life before he was able to occupy his new house. The Foxlees retained ownership until after the Second World War. In the main street of Proserpine there is a commercial building called the Foxlee Building, indicating that the family were prominent there also. Herbert Foxlee (1861-1949) had a son Herbert Walter (1886-1948), whose son Toby (1920-85) had the distinction of being the front gunner on one of the Lancasters (P for Popsy) of 617 Squadron which took part in Operation Chastise (the raid on the Ruhr dams) on the night of 16/17 May 1943. Toby’s son Simon Oliver (b 1958) lives in Scotland. There are now five generations of Australian Foxlees, who are still concentrated in Queensland although also found in other States.

The last Foxlee burial in the old churchyard was of Harriett Blow Foxlee, eldest daughter of Thomas and Harriett. The ceremony was conducted by Rev Henry Ryland on 29 April 1933. She died aged 75 at the house at Harpenden which she called Ayot and shared with a poultry farmer called Frank Moore. Ayot was demolished in the early 1970s and the site is occupied by a house called 52 Roundwood Park. Harriett’s was the last name engraved on the headstone erected over Thomas’ grave in 1895. Sadly, it has fallen and the six pieces of the broken stone lie where it fell. It is to be hoped that members of the family will organise its repair and reinstallation.

The grave of Edward Foxlee in the new churchyard at Ayot St Peter
The grave of Arthur Foxlee and his wife Eliza Harriett (née Stalley)

The first of the five Foxlees to be buried in the new churchyard was the last farmer at Manor Farm, Edward. We have seen that, having surrendered the tenancy, he became a grocer at Welwyn, sharing his house with his widowed mother and with his brother Albert a couple of doors away. He married Rita Annie Fuller at St Albans in 1913. By 1924, when his mother died, he and Rita had moved to the Croydon area. Edward died at St George’s hospital (then at Hyde Park Corner) in 1936 and was buried on 18 April by Rev Henry Ryland.

The grave of sisters Eliza and Alberta Foxlee, last survivors of the 11 children of Thomas and Harriett (née Blow)

The next burial was of Edward’s brother Arthur, who died at his home at St Albans in 1948; shortly afterwards his widow, Eliza Harriet Stalley, died at the matrimonial home. Arthur was buried on 30 January 1948 and Eliza on 30 December 1949. There followed the burials of the last two survivors of the 11 children of Thomas and Harriett Foxlee, namely the unmarried sisters Eliza and Alberta. Eliza was buried on 22 June 1954 and her sister on 9 March 1955. The four funerals in 1948-55 were all conducted by Rev Jim Davies and they represent the final link in the long chain connecting this family to the parish of Ayot St Peter from 1810 onwards.

Descendants of Job and Ann Foxlee

This marriage produced six sons and two daughters. Nothing has been discovered about the eldest son, William, who was born in 1820. The second son, George (1821-1900) married and had eight children. Caroline (born in 1824) married and had nine children, while her sister Sarah also married and had five children. Caroline’s married name was Rance and Sarah’s was Hamilton. Of the twin sons, Charles joined the Royal Marines and died unmarried in 1864. John died in 1888, also single. The penultimate son, James, married and had three children. The final son, Richard, was born in 1837 but is, like William, an enigma. Apart from Job and Ann themselves, no member of this family was buried at Ayot St Peter. Presumably there are descendants alive today who might retain an interest in the parish where they spent much of their childhood and adolescence.

Earliest Foxlees

The farming family were not the first Foxlees to have a connection to the parish. It is recorded on page 64 of volume III of A Victorian History of Hertfordshire (1912) that in mid-C15th the moiety or half-manor of Westington was inherited by Margery, daughter of Margaret Westington. Margery married Thomas Foxlee, and their daughter Elizabeth Foxlee conveyed it in marriage to her husband Thomas Uvedale. Thomas died in 1474, and his second son William Uvedale seems to have sold the moiety to Thomas Rogers, by whom it was held in 1487. By 1750 the moiety had been purchased by Sir Matthew Lamb, whose grandson was Queen Victoria’s first prime minister, the second Viscount Melbourne. In 1832 Lord Melbourne was able to purchase the other moiety, Ayot Montfitchet, and thus reunite the ancient manor of Ayot St Peter, which had been divided into the two moieties since early C14th. Whether there was a sanguinary link between the Foxlees of C15th and C19th is unknown and probably unknowable.

Manor Farm was the home farm of the Westington moiety. The equivalent in the other moiety was Place Farm (nowadays called Ayot Montfitchet). Both former farmhouses are private residences with no farming connections.

Foxlee family trees online

Some publicly accessible family trees suggest that the parents of Joseph Foxlee (1752-1817) were Jonathan Foxlee and Mary Element, who were married at Wheathampstead on 18 October 1742; that the first son of this couple was called Thomas; and that his birth (in 1736) preceded his parents’ marriage by six years. Following their marriage the couple are supposed to have had two more sons and a daughter between 1748 and 1755. Both Jonathan and Mary are supposed to have been born in 1708, so that Mary was giving birth at the age of 47 in 1755. On 7 January 1776 a Jonathan Foxley was buried at Wheathampstead and it is presumed that the deceased was the husband of Mary and father of Joseph and his three siblings. ‘Mary Foxley, a poor woman,’ was buried at Wheathampstead on 8 September 1776 but no further information is available. It is hard to know how much credence can be given to this sequence of events. There must be some suspicion of confusion between generations.

A Foxlee family tree has been created in the course of writing this history and it is publicly accessible on Ancestry.co.uk. It currently includes 285 people and 91 marriages.

Manor Farm today – now an attractive family home

More images of Manor Farm can be found here

Peter Shirley, 31 May 2019