The Edwards Family

July 11, 2005

“It was James, and all those wives caused so much confusion” so said a member of the Edwards family, speaking of James Edwards (1777-1843). He had married four times. His first wife, Dinah Hunt (1780-1810), had four children, and his second, Abigail Spinney (1780-1830), had six. Thus the Edwards family name became very well known in Fontmell Magna for many generations. They were carpenters, joiners, wheelwrights, bakers and shopkeepers, and through marriage were connected with many other local names, such as Monckton, Lush, Stainer, Hart, Bridle, Lawrence and Tapper.

Methodist Chapel, village shop,malthouse and maypole

Methodist Chapel, village shop, malthouse and maypole

So we tend to think of two branches of the family, Dinah’s and Abigail’s. Dinah’s son Jeremiah (1809-1870) was a wheelwright with three children, George, Ellen and Martha. George’s son William married his cousin Abigail Hart, and they kept Fontmell Magna Post Office for some years. In the picture you can see the village post office to the right of the Methodist Chapel. Martha married Arthur Stainer, the tailor whose story you can read elsewhere on our website.
Abigail’s sons Robert (1816-1892) and William (1818-1876) both became carpenters. Robert was a Master carpenter, employing workmen, and did well,

Robert Edwards

Robert Edwards

living at Myrtle Cottage and working in the attached workshop. He also bought property in and around the district. He moved into a fine Victorian villa he had built in the village called Knapp House (later

Knapp House

Knapp House

Wesley Villa and finally Westlea). He never married, but his cousin Elizabeth Spinney kept house for him. The Edwards family were staunch Wesleyan Methodists, and Robert had been a Sunday School teacher at Compton Abbas Chapel and at Fontmell where he had paid for the building of the Sunday School adjoining the Chapel, the land for this having been purchased from Sir Richard Glyn in 1873. Robert also paid for the Chapel Porch, erected in 1887, the cost of which is recorded as £47 10s 8d.
Knapp House was the venue for many Chapel Meetings,

Meeting at Knapp House

Meeting at Knapp House

and on some occasions large gatherings of people would congregate on Robert’s front lawns for a photograph.

William married Mary Lush and their

Edwin and Elvira Edwards

Edwin and Elvira Edwards

son Edwin (also a carpenter) later moved into Knapp House where he and his wife Elvira lived for over 40 years. Village carpentry covered a wide range of tasks, including the making of coffins. Edwin had some gruesome tales of corpses he had had to deal with. He had two sons. Harry became a Methodist minister and Robert, known as Bert, (1881-1966) became the village baker.
He and his wife Bessie Stainer lived in the thatched

The Bakery, 47 Church St

The Bakery, 47 Church St

house opposite the Parish Church making bread in the old way, bundles of hazelnut faggots burned in the brick oven, ashes raked out and the bread baked in the heated area, any spare heat left after bread baking was often used baking pies or cakes for villagers, particularly at Christmas time. There is a local newspaper cutting (unfortunately undated) which reported that ‘On Saturday evening above 70 families in this parish received from Mr. Robert Edwards a Christmas present, in the shape of about 2 lbs of tea, 1 lb of sugar and 1 lb of currants. It was loaded in his van, and taken round and presented at each door.’

Baker Edwards' bread cart

Baker Edwards' bread cart

The bread was delivered for many years by horse drawn van. Bert usually kept two horses, there was Tinker, and Bob, and at one time Mary, of whom they were so fond, that she ended her days in retirement in the orchard.
Later, when the family purchased a motor van, it was the eldest

Bert and Tom Edwards

Bert and Tom Edwards

son Tom who always drove it, as his father never learned to drive. Howard Edwards (1918-2004) the younger son was brought up in the bakery, but worked for a number of years for Rutter’s, the solicitors in Shaftesbury, before serving overseas in HM Forces during WWII for six years, returning there afterwards. Some years later he moved to the Midlands and married.

Howard Edwards

Howard Edwards

There are no Edwards living in Fontmell Magna now. The older members all lie quietly in the Churchyard. The younger members live elsewhere, as do their children and grandchildren. Yet Fontmell Magna still seems to draw them back again at times, if only to visit. Howard Edwards sums it all up in his account (published by the Archive Society in 2003) in his ‘Childhood Memories of Fontmell’: ‘The whole excellence of the place at the edge of the vale and just off the edge of the chase came to me a few years ago during a visit to my cousin the tailor (Harold Stainer in Mill Street). Both he and his sister had been called away to the village and I was for a short time left in the house alone where his work lay as he left it on the cutting out table in his shop. It was a still warm afternoon in autumn, the windows were open and I could hear the stream running fast at the edge of the garden and hens clucking and bees around the flowers in the garden. This was the house where my mother ran and played as a child and the foundations of which I understand my grandfather Arthur Stainer had helped to dig at its rebuilding when he was a boy. It stands adjacent to the stream where centuries ago the first settlers found the never failing water supply they needed and where countless families have now lived on. At such a time it is easy to feel part of it all.’

Author: Mary Edwards