The Still Family of Fontmell Magna

February 25, 2007

INTRODUCTION
During 2006 our website received many enquiries about Fontmell antecedents, and several from descendents of the Still family. With their approval, we put them in touch with each other. It soon became apparent that their family stories revealed a vivid and detailed account of aspects of the village history which broad generalizations cannot provide. And so we asked them if they would be willing to contribute to a collective narrative.

Lurmer Street

Lurmer Street

The records of members of the Still family in this village are very extensive. There is a possible mention in the Fontmell Magna Lay Subsidy Rolls for 1327 and 1332, but because the text is in strange mixture of Latin, French and old English, we cannot be certain. There are frequent references to Still during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Entries vary in spelling between Still, Styll and Stylle. Agnes Still, a widow, and John Still appear in the 1525 Subsidies (taxes); John and William are listed in the 1539 Muster Rolls; Alice, a widow, paid Subsidies in 1594; John, Richard and Robert signed the Protestation Returns of 1641; James, Richard, Robert and William all paid the Hearth Tax in 1664; Wills were made by John in 1653, William in 1673, Richard in 1696, James in 1699, Katherine in 1737, and Martha in 1765; James took out leases in 1728, 1736, and 1745; and another James paid rates for the poor of the parish in 1759 and 1772 and was assessed for Land Tax in 1798.; Charles also paid poor rates in 1772.
Iain Parsons’s examination of the Fontmell Parish Records for the 18th century reveals no less than 34 Still marriages between 1714 and 1798. Among the names thus linked to Still were Bradley, Messer, Pike, Wareham, Lawrence, Morgan, Leat, Dibben. Sharp Witteridge, Garrett and Barnes. There were also several Still – Still marriages.

Gossip Tree

Gossip Tree

The number of tax-payers, lease holders and wills suggest that at least some elements of the Still family were reasonably prosperous during this period. However, social, economic and political changes in the 19th century gradually created difficulties for rural communities such as Fontmell Magna. The village population in 1801 was 628 rising to 876 in 1841, but by 1901 it had fallen to 506. The fall in numbers continued until it reached its lowest figure of 448 in 1931. The number of Stills reflects this pattern. In 1841 there were 52 in the parish, but only 17 in 1901. They had dispersed to other parts of Britain and to places abroad.

GEORGE STILL AND THE NEW ZEALAND CONNECTION
George Still, born 25 June 1765 at Fontmell Magna, was the son of Annah (or Johanna) Still (1748- ?) and according to a bastardy bond dated 11 September 1765 the father was George Frampton. The Poor Law records for that period show that an examination warrant was issued for Johanna Still and a Midwife appointed for Johanna Still, and for ‘fetching woman’. In the same year payments were made for a coffin, shroud and burial for John Still and one pound in weight of dowlas, – a coarse type of linen – and sheeting to Harry Still, a boy.
George married Hester Bradley (another Fontmell family of

Old forge and cottages opposite to the chapel and post office.

Old forge and cottages opposite to the chapel and post office.

long standing and which is still represented in the village today), They had eight children, the youngest of whom was Rachel (1810-74). She married John Jenkins (1805-74) on 2 January 1830 in Fontmell and they had 13 children over 26 years to 1856, including two sets of twins. John was a blacksmith and worked in the village throughout his life. Two of their sons, Giles and Charles Martin, also became blacksmiths and the family has retained its presence in the village until the present day. John and Rachel’s first-born child was Louisa or Lucy (1830-85) who married Henry Parsons in 1848, an ancestor of Iain Parsons, one of our contributors.
The story now moves away from Fontmell. Rachel’s and John’s first set of twins were Rhoda (1836-1904) and Eliza (1836-44). Rhoda married Henry Green (from Tollard Royal in Wiltshire) on 10 December 1861 and they and their seven children decided to start a new life in New Zealand. They had left England on 25 October 1875 on board the Hudson, a voyage which took nearly four months. Henry was selected from the passengers as the schoolmaster on booard. After a couple of weeks spent in the barracks in Napier they went by scow (a flat-bottomed lighter) down the coast southwards to Porangahau, Hawkes Bay. There was very little settlement in this area and the family would have had to make a clearing and set about building a shelter to live in and digging gardens to support themselves. Sadly Henry died in September 1876 just eight months after arrival. Rhoda was left with a young family to support and family stories say she was a midwife. However, her death certificate in 1904 records her as being a charwoman. The seven children all survived, married and went on to have 51 children amongst them. Robyn Williams who lives in Auckland, New Zealand and is George’s 4 x great granddaughter, supplied this story.

JEREMIAH STILL AND THE ESCAPE FROM RURAL HARDSHIPS

Pipers Mill

Pipers Mill

Jeremiah Still (1810-62) was probably the son of Ann Still, born in 1791 in Fontmell, and who, like her great-granddaughter, Jane, appears not to have taken the conventional path of acquiring a husband before producing offspring. Ann was probably the daughter of Stephen Still, (b. 1765) and his wife, Rebecca. Stephen was the son of Jacob Still (1734-1785) and Mary Wareham (1736-84). Jeremiah married Mary Rideout (born in 1812 in Compton Abbas) in 1831. Their children were George (1834), Eliza (1837), Jesse (1839), Charles (1841-44), Charles (1845), Henry (1848), William (1850), Tom (1855) and Caroline (1857). Jeremiah was an agricultural labourer and he turns up in the 1851 census, living at Piper’s Mill with the miller, Joseph Lawrence, who also farmed 15 acres. Next door lived yet another branch of the family, Samuel Still (born about 1807) and his wife Sarah (born about 1811 in Compton Abbas), who in 1861 had five children, George, Ellen, Eliza, Tom and Elizabeth.
19th century Dorset was very much a rural and farming

Cottages in Lurmer Street

Cottages in Lurmer Street

community. It was labour-intensive, but with very low wages generally, so living standards were poor. Dorset and Shropshire were the two worst counties in England for poor sanitation, living conditions, and hygiene. So the Still family from Fontmell had these problems to bear, just as their friends and neighbours alike. In October 1862 Jeremiah hanged himself after a drinking session. Very sad as it is today and, although he lived in a beautiful area (unlike most deprived people today), the pressures he felt may have been similar – low income, poor living conditions and a family to feed. He could neither read nor write.
Jeremiah and Mary’s eldest son George married Elizabeth Mockridge, who came from East Orchard. Their ten children were Jane (born 1860) Edwin (1862), Eli (1865), Ellen (1867), Henry (1870), Samuel (1872), Frank (1874), Flora K. (1876), Fanny (1878) and Midian (1880). George, like so many of the numerous Stills in the village, was an agricultural labourer. One is inclined to wonder how any land could have been cultivated around Fontmell Magna without the toil of all the Stills and this very fact most surely explains why, in the latter years of the 19th century, almost all of them vanished from the area, as British agriculture went into its long decline.
George and Elizabeth’s eldest daughter Jane Mockridge Still

Bedchester crossroads and chapel

Bedchester crossroads and chapel

– she used her mother’s maiden name as well as her father’s – was only twenty and unmarried when she gave birth to May Margery in Shaftesbury, and not in her mother’s home in Bedchester. This may perhaps be explained by the fact that the baby was ‘illegitimate’ (in Victorian terms), her mother being sent away from home to give birth. Jane’s mother could hardly have adopted the new baby as her own, as sometimes happened, because she was having another one of her own at the time! The idea that Jane might have been thrown out of the family home in disgrace is reinforced by the fact that, at the time of the 1881 census, Jane and her baby daughter were recorded as being in the home of her young uncle, Tom Still, a shoemaker in Bedchester, his wife, Ellen, (née Hext), their young family and Tom’s brother, Charles, and his sister, Caroline. Maybe that was also the reason why Jane, some time later, left Fontmell Magna altogether and went to live in Southampton. She did eventually get married, to William Rigler, a butcher, who also came from Dorset, but there were no more children.
As we have seen, George’s (much) younger brother Tom (1855-1931) was a shoemaker (and later a carrier) and he and his wife Ellen (1854-1943) are buried in St Andrew’s church yard. Their children were Reginald (1877), Margaret (1879), Archibald (1881 – called Archie), Lilian (1887), and Stanley (1890).

Archibald and Annie Still in 1958

Archibald and Annie Still in 1958

It is Archie that now demands our attention He was groom and married Annie Lane from Blandford. They had eight children in Fontmell and then in about 1922 moved to Worcestershire, partly due to his employer reducing his horses and replacing them with motor transport. New opportunities opened up for such Fontmell-originated families. As Eric Portman, Archie’s grandson has put it, ‘Education was better throughout the country for men, but for women like my mother Hilda (b1910) it was a case of being taught to be a good wife and mother, so ‘going into service’ at 14 (as my mother did) was the norm for a lot of young girls. Yes my mother could read and write and used money wisely but the chance of anything better was thought a waste. However by the time my sister Mary was 10 in 1956 she had the benefit of a grammar school education, afterwards working for the War Office in London and later in South Africa. Her daughter Caitlin went a stage further, graduating from Oxford in 2000 and is currently working in London for the British film board. I would be pleased to think that Jeremiah would welcome the better education for all, and maybe his life would have run its natural course if he too could have had better opportunities.’

John Sutton and Eric Portman, both descendants from Jeremiah, provided the evidence.

A PATRIOTIC DORSET FAMILY IN 1915
Alfred Still was born in Fontmell in 1864, the eldest son of William and Rebecca Still. William had come to the village from the local town of Wimborne Minster. Alfred married Lydia Lush in St Andrew’s Parish Church in 1886, but they do not appear in the 1891 census for Fontmell and may already have set up house elsewhere. Alfred became an assistant to a Friendly Society and an Insurance Agent. They had seven sons: William John (1887), Edgar (1888), Alfred Hugh (1890), Alexander (1891), Archibald Frank (1893), Thomas Reginald (1897) and Harold (1898). Edgar was the first to be married, to Lilian Stricland in 1908.

And then came 1914 and the Great War.

The Still Family in 1915

The Still Family in 1915

The boys ranged in age from 17 to 27. By 1915 all seven of them were serving in the forces. In June of that year their parents received a letter from the Privy Purse Office at Buckingham Palace, which read:
‘I am commanded by the King to convey to

The letter from the King 1915

The letter from the King 1915

you an expression of His Majesty’s appreciation of the patriotic spirit which has prompted your seven sons to give their services at the present time to the Army and Navy. The King was much gratified to hear of the manner in which they have so readily responded to the call of their Sovereign and their country, and I am to express to you and to them His Majesty’s congratulations on having contributed in so full a measure to the great cause for which all people of the British Empire are so bravely fighting.’
On the 9th July a collage of photographs of the seven sons and their parents was printed in the Bournemouth Graphic. The caption gave their names (top row from the top left) Alexander, serving with the 6th Hants; William, serving with the 1st Dorsets; Thomas, serving with the Royal Navy as a stoker on HMS Venerable; Archibald, serving with the ASC; (bottom row from the left) Edgar, serving with the ASC; Harold, serving with the 9th Hants Cyclist Corps; and Alfred, serving with the RGA in Malta. The proud parents are shown reading the letter from the King. They must have been extremely grateful that all seven sons returned safely from the war when many families were devastated by tragedy. However, Archibald was invalided out before the end of the war. It seems that he contacted appendicitis in France and was operated on in a field hospital under canvas. The operation was not a success and he was sent home in a pretty bad state, and in fact he never fully recovered.

This extraordinary and moving story was researched by Hazel Thorby, the granddaughter of Edgar, and great-granddaughter of Alfred Still.

THE LAST OF THE FONTMELL STILLS?
There are no Stills in the village now. So we wondered who the last Stills were, and as a result of making contacts through our website we came up with the possibility that they were Tom and Emily Jane Still. Tom was the son of John (born in Fontmell in 1842) and Ellen (born in Fontmell in 1844). John was a farm labourer living in a cottage in the centre of the village. Their children were William (1862), Samuel (1869), Tom (1873), George (1877), Beatrice (1882), and Harry (1885), all born in Fontmell. By 1891 William had married Sarah and they had a 5-year old son called Walter.

The Mount in Lurmer Street

The Mount in Lurmer Street

By 1901 Tom had become a brewer’s labourer at the Flower’s brewery in the village and he later married Emily Jane Pocock, born in 1880 in Kent. Sometime later they bought a new bungalow in Lurmer Street called The Mount (which you see here). Ian Hills, Tom and Emily’s great nephew, visited Fontmell with his family many times in the early 1960s and spent many happy summer weeks in the village. He particularly remembers the winter of 1963 with the deep snow and the difficulty getting to Fontmell. Regrettably, Tom had died in 1958, but great aunt Emily lived until 1968, and was buried in the Fontmell churchyard next to Tom.

The Still family had lived in the village for six centuries. Perhaps one of their descendents may eventually return and settle here again.

Authors: Ian Hills, Iain Parsons, Eric Portman, John Sutton, Hazel Thorby and Robyn Williams