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Thomas Biddle

Eric Trudgill    -    31 January 2016

Thomas Biddle, husband of Abigail, was the travelling razor grinder who fought and killed John Lamb, a travelling chair bottomer in Duns Tew, Oxf in 1808. He was surely son of the Thomas and Eleanor Biddle who baptised an Amy in Banbury, Oxf in 1765 (tinker of Shipton, Glos) who married William Pearce, traveller, in Banbury in 1783), a Mary in Ratley, Wks in 1773, a Rebecca in Wormleighton, Wks in 1780, and either an Eleanor or the James, son of Eleanor (vagrant), baptised in Launton, Oxf in 1795, who married an Elizabeth.

Thomas and Abigail christened eight children in a small area close to Banbury (like Duns Tew, Ratley, Wormleighton and Launton): Penelah in Enstone, Oxf in 1805 (daughter of Thomas and Annah); John in Gt Tew in 1808 six months before the fight with John Lamb down the road; a short-lived Thomas in Long Compton, Wks in 1811; a short-lived Susanna in 1814 and a James in 1815, both in Whichford, Wks; another Susanna in Enstone, Oxf in 1817; Henry in Wolford, Wks in 1819; and Priscilla in Sutton under Brailes, Wks in 1823. To these we can surely add the famous Rebecca (named after her aunt) born in Oxfordshire about 1809, who married Isaac Sherriff, christened all their children (including an Eleanor) close to Banbury (one in Enstone), and whose second marriage was witnessed by Thomas and Abigailís daughter Susanna.

John Biddle, baptised in 1808, married Jane Ward (baptised in Banbury in 1822 base-born daughter of Jane, traveller) in Deddington, Oxf in 1842, and christened six children in Banbury: Henry in 1846 aged about three, who married an Emily, and christened at least three children in Banbury; Susan in 1846 aged about one; Eliza in 1848; Betsy in 1852; Thomas in 1856 with his uncle John Ward as sponsor; and John junior in 1866 aged about seven.

Rebecca Biddle, born about 1809, married Isaac Sherriff son of John and Mary, baptised in Brafield, Northants in 1808, and christened six children close to Banbury: Esther Sherriff in Glympton, Oxf in 1833, who married successively Edward Gregory (a chimney sweep) in 1852, Thomas Mole (a chair bottomer) in 1861, and Hercules Smith, christened in Banbury in 1833, son of Joseph Smith and Susanna Ward (perhaps sister-in-law of Estherís uncle John Biddle); Naomi and Eliza Sherriff respectively in Enstone in 1834 and Tredington, Wks in 1836; Mary Sherriff in Stretton on the Fosse, Wks in 1838, who married Josiah Boswell, son of John and Mary Ann, in Paulerspury, Northants in 1875; Henry Sherriff in Tysoe, Wks in 1841; and Eleanor Sherriff in Halford, Wks in 1845, who married (as Helen Sherriff daughter of Ann Biddle) an elderly widowed gorjer, James Green in Shutford, Oxf in 1868, and had three Green children, Thomas Henry, Emma and James Henry.

James Biddle, baptised in 1815, probably married an Anne and christened an Eliza in Beckley, Oxf in 1845, travelling tinker of Leafield, near Witney, Oxf. Susanna Biddle, christened in 1817, married William Moles and christened a short-lived Caroline Moles in S Newington, Oxf in 1843, with her siblings John (plus his wife Jane) and Rebecca as witnesses, and had a Jane Moles born in the Banbury RD in 1858; Susanna subsequently married a Thomas Ward, baptised in Banbury in 1836 son of Elizabeth, and not surprisingly, given her age, had no issue by him. Of the families of Thomas and Abigailís other children I know as yet nothing.

Rebecca Biddle, however, with her husbands and children, makes up for a lot. In 1846 her husband Isaac Sherriff was sentenced to death at the Oxford Assizes for murdering a George Mobbs in September 1842, along with Rebeccaís brother James Biddle. Isaacís sentence was commuted to transportation for life after a petition was sent to the Home Secretary signed by eminent citizens of Banbury, not to mention the trial judge, jury members and the High Sherriff. James Biddle was transported to Australia and died there in 1851, but Isaac was allowed to serve his time in various hulks and prisons in England before being released in 1865.

By this time Rebecca had taken another husband: in Granborough, Bucks in 1851 Rebecca Beddell (full age spinster, father deceased) had married George Davis (full age widowed tinman, father deceased). George, itís clear from his census data, had been baptised in Badby, Northants in 1810 son of Charles and Martha, and had married his cousin Amelia Butler (his witnesses in 1851 were Thomas Coburn, his ex-brother-in-law, as well as Susanna Beddell, Rebeccaís sister). It says much for Rebecca, George and Isaac, that they were found travelling together in S Newington in the 1871 census, along with Isaac and Rebeccaís daughters, Esther and Mary, and their families. It may say much too for Esther and Mary that they were found travelling together.

In 1871 Esther was with Ellen and William Gregory, the children of her first marriage, born about 1853-56, with Thomas Mole junior, the surviving child of her second marriage born about 1859, and with her third husband Hercules Smith, but with none of their children unless the Naomi Smith recorded as their granddaughter was actually a daughter. Hercules and Estherís Susanna, christened in Hook Norton in 1864, was close by in 1871 in Tadmarton Oxf with her grandfather Joseph Smith (Susanna married William Coleman in Wigginton, Oxf in 1880); their Sinamenti, born about 1866, and Joseph Henry, christened in Tadmarton in 1868 were elsewhere; and of course their Esther junior and Mazella had yet to be born (they were christened in Wigginton in 1872 and 1874 respectively).

In 1871 Estherís sister Mary was with her husband Josiah Boswell and her first four children, Frank, Coralina, Henry and Amadine, all recorded as Boswells. However, Frank was said by acquaintances to be a child of Mary by her first husband Hercules Smith son of Joseph or perhaps by Herculesí brother Joseph (a degree of friction between Mary and Hercules might explain the absence of his second family in 1871). Certainly Frank was christened in Chipping Norton, Oxf in 1858 as Francis Sherriff illegitimate son of Mary, while Coralina was christened in Spelsbury, Oxf in 1861 as Corallena Sherriff daughter of a travelling woman, and Henry was christened in 1865 in Bloxham, Oxf (where he claimed to have been born) as Henry Biddle son of John deceased and Mary travelling gypsy (Herculesí and Josephís grandfather Arkles Smith was John twice when baptizing children). Of Maryís four children in 1871 only Amadine was christened as a Boswell, daughter of Josiah and Mary (in Paulerspury in 1870).

Frank, moreover, was recorded as a Biddle in the census and when christening his children by Angelina Smith, baptised in 1869 daughter of Elias and Rosanna (Rosanna junior in Buckingham, Bucks in 1886, Coralina in Banbury in 1890, Sidney in Madresfield, Worcs in 1897 and John in Longford, Wks in 1909); Corallena was recorded as a Biddle when christening a Louisa in Paulerspury in 1879; Henry was recorded as a Biddle in the census and when christening his children by Rosanna Smith, Angelinaís sister, baptised in 1864 (Elias in Buckingham, in 1888, Francis in Filkins, Oxf in 1893 and Louisa in Madresfield in 1896); while John, missing in 1871 but probably born about 1863, was recorded as a Biddle in the census and at the baptism of his children by Lavinia (John junior in Crockenhill, Kent in 1889 hawker of Banbury, Nelson in Filkins in 1893 jointly with Francis son of Henry and Rose Hannah). Itís ironic that the most prominent descendants of Thomas and Abigail Biddle at the end of the 19th century took their surname from their mother Mary Sherriff, who had taken it from hers.

Iím grateful to Trevor Coleman, a descendant of Rebecca Biddle, for arousing my interest in this family many years ago, and to Keith Chandler for finding, as he has done so often, details that help to establish family structure and bring family members alive.

Copyright © 2016 Eric Trudgill