Roberts family source page to this article ...
Smyth/e - Smith connection pageThe Smyth family of Stapleton, Bristol
This was a seat of Smyth of Bristol and Ashton Courtthe Smyth family of Ashton Court, Bristol.

During the eighteenth century, the male line of this Smyth branch became extinct twice (and again in the nineteenth century and ended (officially at least) in the twentieth century) but was first "rescued" when Florence Smyth, born in 1701, (heiress and daughter of Sir John Smyth (d. 1726) and Elizabeth Astry) married (later, Sir - 1st Baronet of the second creation) Jarrit Smith of Evesham and Bristol, as her second husband.

Jarrit Smith was a prominent Bristol lawyer and a steward to the Earl of Bath's estates - which included property at Wrington in Somerset. He also had shares in four privateers (licensed pirate ships) and connections with the West Indies and the slave trade. He was the first Ashton Court "miner" of coal.

Their eldest son, Sir John Hugh Smyth (born in 1734) was the 2nd. Baronet of the second creation. He married (1757) Elizabeth Woolnough. Sir John Hugh Smyth died in 1802 just two years after his brother, Thomas Smyth, Esq., of Stapleton, whose son, Hugh Smyth, became heir to the title and estates of the family, seated at Ashton Court.

As an aside of interest, this will is of note - with thanks to "sjk", who is related to Mary Freeman. She was the wife of the transcriber's 1st cousin, 8th removed.

FREEMAN, Mary - of Bristol, widow.
"To be buried St. Thomas Church in Salisbury in the same vault where my late husbands Mr. Samuel PRIGG and the Rev John GIBB are"; I am seized of the manor of Norton otherwise Norton Male Reward in Somerset;   I have only one child - Elizabeth PRIGG of "not right mind";   nephew Shute ADAMS of Fleet St., London;   Henry DURBIN, chymist;   John WILLETT and George TYNDALL, gent of Bristol;   In trust of my daur in case she happens to be restored to her right mind and happens to marry;   The Rev John CHENEY son of the late Doctor CHENEY physician of Bath;   Mrs. ADAMS wife of my nephew Shute ADAMS;   god daur Mary Shute ADAMS daur of my said nephew;   godson Master COMPLIN son of Richard COMPLIN of Bristol;  
Mrs. Smith late Miss WOOLNOUGH and wife of John SMITH, Esq.;   Property in Whitchurch, Stretton Week, Stanton Drew,   Queen Charleton, Somerset, St. Phillips, Jacobs and St. George, Gloucs.,   Bedminster Somerset, St. Mary R and St W. in Bristol;   Elizabeth PRIGG the daur and her sister who is deceased;   kinsman John WILLETT of Bristol;   Thomas PRIGG my late husband Samuel PRIGGs brother;   James BERNARD nephew by the mother of my first husband of London, Esq.;   Samuel PRIGG dcsd.
[Proved 17 Nov 1760 - PCC; Ref FHL#92832 - PCC/1760:Folio 423]

Thomas Smyth of Stapleton was born in 1740. He married Jane Whitchurch in 1767 and died in 1800. His eldest son, who became the 3rd. Baronet, Sir Hugh Smyth, born in 1772, married (1797) Margaret Wilson.

Sir Hugh Smyth is said to have had "no legitimate children" by which it must be inferred that he left a child or children born outside the marriage. One such child was probably named Richard as "Provis" (qv following) later claimed to be "Sir Richard Smyth".

Sir Hugh died in 1824. His brother, John Smyth, became the 4th Bt. but he died (1849) unmarried and without children. This lack of a legitimate heir gave rise in later years (1852) to what was called the "Thomas Provis affair". In the meantime, Thomas Smyth's daughter, Mary Smyth, of Stapleton had married (1798) Benjamin Way and it was through her offspring that the line was "rescued" for the second time.Click here for more information. Ashton Court, Bristol. Original image courtesy of Patricia Minot

In September 1852, Arthur Way was steward of Ashton Court for his under-age nephew, (later Sir) Greville Smyth. A man claiming to be Sir Richard Smyth (son - illegitimate, according to pedigree qv - of the late Sir Hugh Smyth) insisted the estate and another at Stapleton belonged to him. According to Way’s journal, “Sir Richard” told him: “I wish you to discharge the household as my own servants are coming here, and I request you will hand me the keys of the Mansion. But you need not hurry, sir, I will allow you two hours to take your departure.” Way immediately accused the visitor and his solicitor of attempted daylight robbery and ordered them to leave the house. They refused and servants carried them out by the arms and legs and dumped them in the drive.

There were further ugly confrontations between the occupants and the claimant, who made his home in St Vincent’s Priory, in Sion Hill, Clifton, a suburb of Bristol. There is an old story that the Priory was built over a cave used by Roman Catholics for secret masses in times of persecution.

“Sir Richard” - Thomas Provis - even circulated all the Smyth tenants, calling upon them to pay their rents in future to him, and there were rumours that he was preparing to take Ashton Court by force. Way engaged three policemen and armed the servants. His journal states: “Had all the men mustered at Ashton Court, loaded the guns with swanshot and had the garden pikes brought into the house and dispersed them ready for use.” The attack never materialised and the whole issue was resolved in 1857 at Gloucester Assizes where “Sir Richard” was unmasked as Thomas Provis – a former horse-thief. This false claim to the extensive Smyth Estates at Ashton Court meant his transportation to Australia.

See also Thomas Smyth on the site of the Minot family. Trish Minot has collated a wealth of Smyth family geneaology and emphemera and references in detail the lineage and closing years of the Smyth dynasty of Ashton Court, Bristol.

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Described in 1868 (The National Gazetteer) as being a parish "in the hundred of Barton Regis" within the county of Gloucestershire, Stapleton - the village, as it was then, was about two miles north-east of the city of Bristol. It sat atop the South Gloucester and Somerset coalfield. In the north runs a ridge some two hundred feet high. The river Froom (Frome) used to cross the parish and was an integral part of Stapleton and its neighbouring parish of Fishponds, created as a separate entity in about 1830. Modern transport networks have long since seen the Frome degraded. The Gazetteer goes on to state that "The Wesleyans have a chapel, and the Baptists two. Hannah More (celebrated "blue stocking" activist, abolitionist (slavery) and writer) was born here in 1744, and died in 1833. Heath House, Stoke Court, Stapleton Grove, and Stapleton House are the principal residences, besides several others."

Information about this area in the modern era, relates that it was originally part of the old Kingswood Forest which became gradually reduced until it was downgraded in status to a "Royal Chase". It extended "some 6 miles north east of Bristol and covered the present day St.George, Upper and Lower Easton, Bitton, Hanham, Oldland and Brislington, together with parts of Stapleton and Mangotsfield parishes."

John Penny - author of the above information, states:

"The Manor of Barton, comprising an area of about 6 square miles, was one of several within the Forest of Kingswood, and was so called because it was attached to Bristol Castle and under the direct authority of its Constable. There was the Barton proper, just outside the castle walls which acted as an area of supply and provision for the castle (today's Old Market Street area of Bristol), as well as the rest of the parish of St. Philip & Jacob (later St.George, Upper and Lower Easton), Mangotsfield and part of Stapleton parish. As the whole area was Crown Land, it was described as "Barton Regis", a title which was later given to the new Hundred, (Clifton, Stapleton, Mangotsfield and St.Philip & Jacob parishes) carved out of Swineshead as the population increased."

The Smith/Smyth family of Francis Smith and Martha Roberts were baptised at St. Philip and Jacob. In terms of Roberts family genealogy, the following may also be significant. This grave inscription may be found at Kings Stanley in Gloucestershire.
14 July 1807

John Penny continues:

"Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 Henry VIII granted the Priory of St. James and its lands to one Henry Braine, [als. Brayne] a wealthy London merchant tailor, an agreement which also gave him the right of presentation to the vicarages of the parish churches of Stapleton and Mangotsfield, Stapleton paying him 2 lbs and Mangotsfield 1 lb. of wax yearly. By the time of Elizabeth I Stapleton Manor was in the hands of Richard Berkeley of Stoke Gifford and from his heirs passed down to the Dukes of Beaufort, who by the mid-nineteenth century were the largest local landowners."

The Roberts family was historically linked to the Brayne family by marriage, although Martha's line appears not to have experienced the kind of success achieved by her cousins.

"Shortly after, in 1564, the Kingswood Chase was separated from Barton Manor, when Edward VI granted the lordship of the Manor of Barton to the Earl of Pembroke and William Clark ... neither Pembroke or Clark making any claim upon the Chase itself. The manor was then held briefly by Sir Maurice Dennis before passing to Thomas Chester in 1610 ..."

Lady Catherine Grey ... aboutThere is clearly some historical confusion here since Edward VI was not the monarch in 1564. Elizabeth (a Boleyn) Tudor was queen by this date. In 1564, however - if this date is the correct one - the Earl of Pembroke was William Herbert (1st Earl), as he had been (just) under King Edward VI - so, whilst the monarch or the date may have been confused, the man is the same. He was married to Anne Parr, sister of Henry VIII's queen, Catherine Parr. Their son was Henry, Lord Herbert - 2nd Earl from 1570-1601. He was first married to Catherine Grey (sister of family pawn, Lady Jane Grey, the "nine days queen" and ancestor in the maternal line of this Family Vault - for further information, use image link) but the marriage was later dissolved and he married Catherine Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury. Catherine died childless and he subsequently married (in 1577) Mary Sidney, sister of Sir Philip and niece of the Earl of Leicester. She was a patron of many poets whilst her husband was mainly involved in political affairs - succeeding his father-in-law (Sir Henry Sidney) as Lord President of Wales in 1586. Like many nobles of his era, he maintained a company of actors (Pembroke's Men) - contemporaries of William Shakespeare. Phillip Herbert, 4th Earl, married Susan de Vere, daughter of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - cousin and favourite of the Queen (Elizabeth) and favourite of many as "rival" writer of the Shakespeare plays. For a light-hearted but important genealogical journey in this connection, see The Private E-mails of William Shakespeare by David Drew-SmytheThe Private E-mails of William Shakespeare.
Thomas Chester was of the same family into which John Roberts, styled as "of Bristol and Wysterley" married. His wife was Mary Chester, daughter of William Chester of Bristol. A later Earl of Pembroke (William Herbert) was one of the patrons and dedicatees of a book by Captain John Smith of Lincolnshire - associated with Pocahontas ... Captain John Smith - True Travels, Adventures and Observations - published in 1629. John Smith (originally from Lincolnshire) was the founder of Jamestown, Virginia.

"The final separation of the Bristol Castle from Kingswood Chase came in 1631 when, by Charter, Charles I made over Bristol Castle to the Mayor and Burgesses of the City of Bristol. After this we find the Chase prey to all comers in regard to cutting down wood, coal mining, quarrying stone and pasturage for cattle and horses. By 1652 the area of Kingswood Chase was standing at 3432 acres and by 1670 it had been unofficially divided into a number of so called "Lordships" or "Liberties", land claimed totally without any authority by the Lords of the adjacent Manors and other local landowners. Of these, the two in the western part of the chase were the largest, Sir John Berkeley's "Liberty" covering that part lying in Stapleton parish and Thomas Chester's covering the present day St. George Parish (formed 1753 out of St. Philip & Jacob) ..."

A survey of Kingswood Forest was undertaken by John Norden in 1615 - as decreed by James I. His report declared -

"Claymes do swallow up the whole forest ... [denying the king] ... coal mines and all other proffites altogether carryed from His Majestie by unknown rights. The coals yearly taken within the whole of the forest are deposed to be yearly worth clearly about £200, but by relation they are esteemed to be worth about £500 per annum at the leaste ... "


"Also ... are dayly coales digged by one Player, [the prominent Bristol family] the generalle farmer of the coales within the whole forest, but the judgement considered it were fit he were inhibited from digging."

Several decades later, Sir Baynham Throckmorton (family name sometimes seen as "Throgmorton") who was Charles II's commissioner and who owned a sixty year lease on the Chase made legal complaint that "... the said Lords of the Manor, having made a division of the Chase amongst themselves, and called them Liberties ... made 2,000 cole pits and other pits, and thereby spoil 500 acres of ground."

John Penny also has this note:

"Sections of the Manor of Barton were early divided into smaller manors and one of the first to be formed was Ridgeway or Rudgeway Manor, covering today's Royate Hill and Eastville Park area, which by the late 16th century was in the hands of the Smyths of Long Ashton."

For the following text, gratitude is expressed to Harry McPhillimy who is an environmental champion of the area today.

"St Werburghs

What is now called St Werburghs used to be part of an estate named 'Asslega'. This later became known as Ashley. Asslega comes from the Old English 'aesc' (an ash tree) and 'leah' (a wood). In 1170 the lands of Ashley were given to the Monks of St James Benedictine Priory. In 1544 Henry VIII 'privatised' the Priory's land and sold it to Henry Brayne. The estate was gradually broken up until 1626 when Thomas Walker, who owned Heath House Estate, bought the neighbouring former priory lands. He also bought 'a certain hill and land called Northeway'. It is presumed that this is the hill which was later called Netherways and later still, Narroways.

Question: The name Thomas Walter has also been seen written as owner of the Heath House Estate at this time - which is correct? Walker or Walter? If WALKER is correct, might this be a Walker of the same Stratford family as Henry Walker - contemporary and friend of William Shakespeare? Henry Walker's sister married John Smith, Ironmonger of Stratford.

In 1767 the Smyth family of Ashton Court came into possession of the whole area. They were still in ownership when the Railways were developed in the mid 1800s. It was in this period that the topography of Narroways Hill and St Werburghs was dramatically altered with the construction of deep cuts and huge railway embankments.

Recently the 12 acre open space which is Narroways Hill has been under threat of development. However local people, through the formation in 1996 of the Narroways Action Group, have managed to keep Narroways Hill an Open Green Space in the inner-city. With recent actions such as this and the success of the protection gained for near-by Royate Hill it is clear that local people want to retain the few open green spaces which remain in East Bristol. With this in mind the 'Free The Frome!' campaign to create an environment/history cycle/walk way through the Frome/M32 corridor is in line with local current thinking."

It is a matter of some confusion for researchers to find that Kingswood (an area stretching from Wotton under Edge) - for some one hundred and fifty years, associated with "Gloucestershire" - was historically a small island of land deemed to be part of the county of Wiltshire - yet totally surrounded by Gloucestershire. It was not until the mid 1800s that this quirky situation was altered. Given its original isolation, it is an important factor in Smith/Smyth family research. The following should be noted:

The Smyths of Nibley, Gloucestershire ... original line from Lincolnshire John Smyth (d. 1641) of Nibley in Gloucestershire (Steward to the Lords Berkeley and an active promoter of the Virginia plantations in America) was of a Lincolnshire line of the family Smith/Smyth - of Humberstone. He was born in Leicestershire and married to a Gloucestershire woman by the name of Mary Browning. They had five sons and four daughters. Their third son, William Smith (1625) is described as being "of Kingswood, Wiltshire". William Smith of Southfield, Kingswood, Wiltshire, married (1646) Catherine Martin, sole daughter and heiress of Richard Martin of Nibley. They, too, had several children: William Smith, John Smith, Margaret Smith, Mary Smith, George Smith, Richard Smith, Sarah Smith and Thomas Smith - the last child - being born in about 1664. He was christened on June 3rd. 1665 in Kingswood.

Perhaps this is the beginning of the Smith/Smyth line of the area which later produced a Thomas Smith/Smyth (Bristol cooper) whose son, Francis Smith/Smyth/e (born 1807) - also a cooper - married Martha Roberts, (born 1808)

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