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Fisher in Wiltshire

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Introduction

This page is devoted to my FISHER ancestors - the origins of the name, who they were and where and when they lived. Since I have some information about other related FISHERs, mainly siblings of ancestors, I may later create a separate page for them, linked from here, when I can find time to do it.

The genealogical data in these pages is accurate to the best of my current (at the time of writing) knowledge. This means it is of very variable reliability, since sources at one extreme are 100% certain (e.g. I know who I married, where and when, and the identity of my parents) to the mere rumour level, such as LDS data extracted from the IGI and Ancestral File, and reminiscences of elderly relatives, some now deceased. Anyone wishing to make any use whatever of this information is therefore strongly advised to contact me for source details.

It is perhaps worth pointing out at here that Fisher is a very common name, so a link is very unlikely unless you can see here a definite connection to an individual or at least to the same geographical area. My Fisher ancestors (so far as known at the time of writing) all lived in a fairly small area of north-east Wiltshire and adjacent south Gloucestershire (all within 20 miles of Swindon).

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Origins of the name

The surname Fisher, according to Hanks & Hodges: "A Dictionary of Surnames", has three different origins (other authorities I have consulted give only the first):
  1. English occupational name for a fisherman, from Old English fiscere and Middle English fischer.
  2. English topographical name for someone who lived near a fish weir on a river, from Middle English fisch or Old English fisc (meaning fish) plus gere meaning weir or apparatus.
  3. Jewish (Ashkenazic) occupational name for a fisherman, via the modern German Fischer and Yiddish fisher.

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Variants of the name

Fishman is a variant of the first of the above three originals.

The third of the above sources leads to several variants: Fischer, Fiszer (Polish), Visser (from Dutch), Fishler, Fischler, Fisherman, Fishfanger and Fischfanger.

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Eric James (Jim) Fisher (1936-Not Yet!)
The story of my life (so far) is given in excessive detail on my Biography page.

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Harry Fisher (1908-1976)
My father was born in the hamlet of Coate, on the outskirts of Swindon (but in the parish of Chiseldon), on 24th May 1908. His mother's sister, Daisy Barnes, travelled from her parents' home in London to be present at the birth (she told me this herself in 1981).

Fisher family home in Coate

Their family home was one of a row of thatched cottages (photo 81,807 bytes) near an old public house (now replaced by an ugly modern building) called the Spotted Cow.

 

Harry Fisher as a baby

This photo (63,972 bytes) (an enlarged portion of the one above) shows my father as a baby in his mother's arms standing outside their home in about 1910. The child standing is his older sister Elsie, who as an adult married and moved to Thetford in Norfolk.

 

Harry Fisher as a boy

This one (34,282 bytes) shows him as a boy - it is enlarged from a studio photo of him with his sisters.

 

 

 

Lethbridge Road School Clarence St. School He attended school in Swindon, walking the two miles or so each way. I believe he at first went to Lethbridge Road School (first photo left - 215,698 bytes) but just before the age of 8 transferred to Clarence Street School (second photo - 202,224 bytes), where he remained until his formal education ended at the age of 14. I still have some of the books he was awarded as prizes for obtaining the top marks overall in end of year internal examinations. On leaving school he received a standard certificate (which I now have) to record his time there. It says:


BOROUGH OF SWINDON

EDUCATION COMMITTEE

Clarence Street SCHOOL

Boys' DEPT.

CERTIFICATE OF CHARACTER

Name of Child Harry Fisher
Date of Birth 24 May 1908
Address 84 Albion Street

Standard, or corresponding Class in which
the child was working at the time of leaving
... Ex Vii
School

Time spent in above-named School April 1916 - July 22
Regularity Excellent
Punctuality do ---
Diligence do ---
Conduct do ---

Remarks (if any) Should prove a very reliable useful boy.

Signature of Head Teacher J.J. Stafford

Date 21 Aug 1922


One day in 1916, when he was about 8 years old, as he walked home from school across the fields, he met a man who told him a house was on fire in Coate. He arrived to find his own home, as well as his neighbours', was destroyed.

Remains of Fisher family home after the fireThis photo (56,899 bytes) was taken shortly afterwards. The identities of the people in the photo are not known, but they are thought to be sightseers. Apologies for the quality of the photo - it was taken by an amateur in the early days of popular photography.

The house has been rebuilt, using the original walls which in places inside still show scorch marks from the fire. The appearance is very different, mainly as a result of using less fire-prone materials than thatch for the roof. You can see more photos of Coate, including the cottage as it is today, in the Coate section of my Wiltshire Places web page.

84 and 85 Albion Street After the fire the family moved to Albion Street, Swindon, initially to number 98 and later to number 84 (shown here with number 85, the red brick front of which looks more like the original - photo 38,419 bytes), where his mother died in 1922 and his father in 1941.

 

In those days, most of the more able children at about age 11 took what was called a scholarship examination, passing which entitled them to entry to the local secondary school, with the possibility of obtaining formal academic qualifications known as Ordinary School Certificate at age 16, and for the more successful minority the Higher School Certificate at age 18, passing which was a prerequisite for entry to most universities. His father refused, despite the entreaties of his school teachers, to allow him to take the scholarship examination, because acceptance of a place at the secondary school would have involved a commitment to keep him at school for an extra two years, to age 16. His father was determined that he would leave school and begin earning his living at the earliest possible moment, when he reached age 14. His resentment at being deprived of a better education was compounded some years later when his (much) younger brother was permitted to do just that - and the fact that the brother (in his very prejudiced opinion) made little of the opportunity made it all the worse. [The brother in fact was only 18 years old when World War 2 started, soon enlisted in the Royal Air Force and returned after the war suffering from tuberculosis (and a permanent invalid), but nevertheless married and successfully raised and supported his family - as his daughter has just reminded me.]

On leaving school he was at first employed by a wholesale newsagent named C.H. Witts of 35 Curtis Street, Swindon. I have Mr. Witts' letter, dated 26th February 1923, recommending him to his next employer, Messrs. Compton & Co., after eight months service in some unstated capacity.

Messrs. Compton & Co.'s business was the manufacture of uniforms for bus companies and for all three major armed forces, but he learned in some way the trade of carpenter, although he did not serve an apprenticeship and had no formal qualifications. Compton's used wooden work benches, so I would guess he was involved in building and/or repairing them. He spent the rest of his working life employed by various building firms, mostly in the Swindon area, although he spent some time in each of Wellingborough, Northamptonshire (I think that was in the mid-1930s), and High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire (between my birth in January 1936 and my brother's in July 1937, which both occurred in Swindon). During much of World War 2 he was employed for most of the time on repair work in cities subject to heavy bombing raids, especially in Coventry and later London, returning home to Swindon only at weekends. He did have at least one spell working locally; at one time he supervised work being done by prisoners-of-war, and during either the same period or another while working locally he spent much of the night-time on the roof of Swindon Mechanics Institute keeping watch for fires, presumably in the expectation of incendiary bombs. I think he was rejected from service in the armed forces because of his extremely short sight (inherited from his mother).

His final job was as general foreman in charge of the building of a big new school at Purton, a village about four miles west of Swindon, a task to which his expertise in building large complex roofs made him particularly well-suited.

Christ ChurchHe married my mother, Winifred Alice MORGAN, on 7th August 1935, very much against her parents' wishes, at Christ Church, Swindon. They were better at judging character than she was.

 

 

86 Tydeman Street My parents produced three children in all, myself on 17th January 1936, my brother Ralph Sydney Fisher on 18th July 1937 and our sister Kathleen Winifred Fisher on 3rd December 1945. They were living at three different addresses, all in Swindon, at the times of these three events. In January 1936 the family home was at 86 Tydeman Street (photo 35,769 bytes), in the Gorse Hill area. After returning from High Wycombe, we were living at 67 Dixon Street when my brother was born (both births took place in the Victoria Hospital in Bath Road). I remember spending Christmas 1938 with my maternal grandparents because we were then in the process of moving house to 10 Campden Road, in the then newly built Walcot area, and this is where my sister was born about seven years later. My parents lived there for just over 37 years.

The building of the Purton school, mentioned above, was approaching completion when he suffered the first of a series of heart attacks which immediately ended his working career. He was able to attend the official opening ceremony for the school, but gradually lost the use of his legs as the blood circulation in them deteriorated, and he finally died on 3rd February 1976.

Physically he was a strong man, about 5 feet 9 inches (1.75 metres) tall, medium build, with particularly muscular arms. His dark hair gradually turned white with age, but he never showed any sign of baldness (unlike me!). His hearing was very keen until his later years, when he refused to accept the fact that it deteriorated significantly. He always (in my memory) wore glasses to correct his severe short sight, and I think I can just about remember when he had all his rotting teeth removed and replaced by dentures (I'm not sure about that - it may have been simply the replacement of one set of dentures by another).

He was a heavy smoker, sometimes going periods of rolling his own cigarettes but usually buying them, and several times he made attempts, with various aids, to give it up. However, he drank alcohol only in moderation, and I never saw him, or heard of him, ever being the worse for drink.

My father was undoubtedly a very intelligent man, frustrated by his lack of a suitable education, but his main, serious, character defects were a vicious temper and a total intolerance of the merest whisper of dissent at or even questioning of his word on any subject by any of his family. Normal discussion of any subject was therefore impossible (any discussion of any subject by anyone was derisively referred to as "arguing the toss"). I never remember seeing him actually strike my mother, although on at least two occasions he threw a whole, freshly cooked, meal at her, each time leaving stains on the wall! My brother and I were not so lucky - he made frequent use of a leather belt in response to misdemeanours, real and imagined, and I well remember one occasion when he reacted to something I said (quite innocently) by pushing into my face a brush he was using to apply creosote to some fencing. On another, while working in the garden, he again reacted unexpectedly to something I said, this time by kicking me - I was not much hurt by the kick, but he managed to break his toe in doing it, despite his heavy shoes (I was then in my mid-teens).

On the other hand, he always put his family first, especially at Christmas time, and despite serious poverty was always willing to find money to help his children when he perceived a real need.

If anything, my brother suffered more at his hands (and voice) than I did - I was something of a favourite, held up to my poor brother as an example of how he could be better. Comments made about anyone were always critical and negative - I don't remember my father ever praising anyone (except a pet budgerigar!) for anything. None of his children mourned his death.

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Joseph Fisher (1878-1941)
My paternal grandfather was born 13th March 1878 in the village of Wanborough, a few miles east of Swindon. The census of 3rd April 1881 shows the family address as The Marsh, Wanborough, an area of Lower Wanborough where an ancient and important chapel had once been situated.

By trade he was a bricklayer, so he would almost certainly have been employed by one or more of the local building firms in the Wanborough/Swindon area.

On 30th June 1906 he married a London girl, his cousin Martha Jane BARNES, at the parish church of Chiseldon, another village close to Swindon. The marriage certificate says that his father's name was James Fisher (it was actually James FOX), a falsification presumably intended to hide his illegitimacy, and that Coate (a hamlet then right on the edge of Swindon but within Chiseldon parish) was the place of residence of each of them; that is where they lived (with his parents for at least some of that time) until their house was destroyed by fire in 1916.

84 and 85 Albion Street He moved then, with his family, to 98 Albion Street, Swindon, and later (between autumn 1919 and autumn 1920) to number 84 in the same street, where he lived until his death (from a stroke) in November 1941. This photo (38,419 bytes) shows numbers 84 and 85 Albion Street, together with parts of numbers 83 and 86. The red brick front and sash windows of number 85 most closely resembles the original design of all these houses.

They had four children in all. First was Elsie, born 27th March 1907, then Harry, born 24th May 1908 and third the mystery woman, named Doris. Doris appears on one photograph of the three children together, clearly several years younger than my father, but I have been unable so far to trace her birth. A family friend tells me she was in the same class at school (Clarence Street), which suggests she was born about 1911 or 1912. I believe she later married and moved to Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk. Fourth, born in 1921, Edwin (known as Ted).

Following the death of his wife in 1922, his half-sister Margaret FOX moved into the family home. My grandfather clearly needed her help to bring up the baby Edwin as well as to help with the older children.

Joseph Fisher My grandfather always refused to be photographed, so the only pictorial record of him is from the occasion when he couldn't resist peeping from the doorway when a photo was being taken of me in his garden. This photo (70,443 bytes) is an enlargement of the section where he half appears (the original section from which it was scanned measures only 1/4 inch by 1/2 inch). The photo was taken in 1938, in the rear garden of his house in Albion Street. I was only five years old when he died, and have little memory of him.

 

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Elizabeth Fisher (1837-?)
My grandfather's mother probably never knew that she was in fact illegitimate. She was born just too early for civil registration of the birth, but the Wanborough parish record shows her baptism as the daughter ("bbd") of Martha Collyer on 7th May 1837. Martha married Joseph Fisher soon afterwards.

The 1841 census records her name as Fisher, living as a four-year old with her parents and two uncles in her grandparents' household in Wanborough. The address is given as "The North Side of Easter Town", but I have not yet been able to find where that is/was.

About 1860 she produced an illegitimate daughter, Ann, but I have no idea who Ann's father was. The 1861 census shows Ann as a one year old in her grandparents household, but without her mother. The 1871 census shows them both living in her grandparent's household, together with several of Elizabeth's younger brothers, one sister and her widowed mother. My father's aunt, Daisy Barnes, who knew the family, told me that Elizabeth used to feed poppy seeds to the baby Ann to make her sleep!

The 1881 census shows her living as housekeeper to widower James FOX, together with three children of his marriage and another three of her own, all marked as being sons of James! The three were named George, age 9, Joseph, age 3, and Henry, age 7 months.

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Maria Fisher (1849-?)
Maria Fisher, younger sister to Elizabeth, was born in Wanborough on 25th February 1849.

On 10th June 1872 she married John BARNES at St. Mark's Parish Church, Clerkenwell, Middlesex.

There were 13 children of this marriage, according to one of them Daisy Barnes, who I met in 1981. I have the names of only 10 of them, however, and no other information about some of those. The names I know are Emma (born about 1874), John (known as Jack, born about 1877), Martha Jane, Anne (born 19th June 1881), Joseph (born 12th October 1882), Edward (known as Ted, born 21 December 1883), Harry, Maria, Tom and Daisy (one of my informants, born 1892).

The 1881 census for 61 Kinglake Street, Walworth, Surrey shows her living with her husband, Emma (age 7, born Islington), John (age 4, born Islington) and Martha J. (age 10 months, born Newington), with her widowed mother also present as a visitor. By July 1892 the family had moved to 6 Herring Street, Camberwell.

Kinglake Street is a side road off Old Kent Road in what is now a part of south east London. The house is no longer there. Nor is Herring Street, Camberwell.

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Joseph Fisher (about 1820-?)
Joseph Fisher, my great great grandfather, was born about 1820 or 1821 in Wanborough, according to the information in the 1851 and 1861 census returns, but there is no record of his baptism in the Wanborough parish register (nor of his two known brothers).

Neither have I yet found a record of his marriage to Martha COLLIER. Assuming it happened, it must have been after the birth of their first child, Elizabeth in May 1837. The birth certificate of daughter Maria in 1849 indicates they were married by then, and the 1841 census records Martha as his wife. I think it was probably in 1838, but have yet to prove it.

Including the illegitimate Elizabeth, they produced at least 12 children. According to the various census records in which the family appears, they were Elizabeth (born 1837), Sarah (born about 1843), Edwin (born about 1847), William (born about 1848), Maria (born 25th February 1849), Edward (born 1851), George (born about 1854), John (born about 1857), Thomas (born about 1859), Henry (born about 1860), Jane (born about 1864) and Joseph (born about 1868). Like their parents, they were all born in Wanborough.

Joseph followed his father into the family blacksmith business in Lower Wanborough. The smithy was located close to where the Brewer's Arms public house stands today.

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John Fisher (1788-?)
This was my great great great grandfather. He was born son of a blacksmith in South Marston in 1788, but moved to Wanborough at the time of or before his marriage to widowed Elizabeth FOX (who was 11 years older than him) in December 1809.

Three children of this marriage are known to me at present, Joseph (born about 1820), Thomas (born about 1821) and James (born about 1826), but there are no records of their baptisms in the Wanborough parish register. I suspect he also had an older son John, because the baptism of a John Fisher, son of John (a blacksmith) and Mary, is recorded in the Wanborough parish register in 1824.

The 1841 census shows the whole family, together with Joseph's wife Martha and daughter Elizabeth, but I have not been able to find John and Elizabeth in the 1851 census. By the time of the 1861 census he had remarried to a younger Elizabeth (maiden name not known), who was born in Wroughton 33 years after her husband's birth.

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George Fisher (1763-1847)
My great great great great grandfather was baptised in the village of Poole Keynes in December 1763. The parish register records his marriage in South Marston to Betty BRIDGES on 12th May 1785. The entry describes him as being "of Broad Blunsdon", so he was living there at that time.

The South Marston parish register records the following baptisms of children of this marriage: John (18th May 1788), Joseph (25th Dec 1789), Sarah (9th July 1790), Ann (21st December 1792), George (4th May 1794), Henry (23rd November 1800) and Thomas (21st November 1802). John, George and Thomas all followed their father in becoming blacksmiths.

Betty died in January 1819, and the following November George remarried, this time to Mary Cook in Broad Blunsdon. She gave him a daughter, Martha, born 18th December 1820.

Two Georges, father and son, are described as being the last blacksmiths in South Marston in Alfred Williams' book "A Wiltshire Village", (published in 1912) in which he describes them:
After mentioning a pond beside a branch in the road in the village centre, he continues, "Here also stood the village smithy, where we children used to peep in to see the man at the forge and anvil, to listen to the roar of the bellows and the ring of the metal, and watch the fiery, fizzing sparks swish out all round. Here toiled one George Fisher and his son of the same name, old George and young George, both men of great stature, tall, broad-shouldered, fat, heavy and ponderous. The old man was a smith of repute; the younger was fonder of the knife and fork than hammer, tongs and tools. It was seriously said, I remember, he ate so heartily, that he had to be greased and rolled after dinner. ... Old George lived to a good age and died suddenly; young George did not long survive him."
All trace of the smithy had gone long before the book was published, but Williams records that he helped with its demolition.

I at first suspected that Williams' memory, or his informant, was a little in error in saying the two Georges were the last blacksmiths in South Marston, since the 1851 census shows George senior's youngest son Thomas as the village blacksmith at that date, he being the head of the only Fisher family in the village. Thomas's son George (15 years old) is described in the census as being "employed at home", so I thought it might well be Thomas and his son George that Williams saw at work and confused with their predecessors. However, it has now been suggested to me, probably correctly, that the older George referred to in the book is the son of my great great great great grandfather, the younger one being a generation later. This would be logical if George took on the smithy after the death of his brother Thomas, but at present this is still conjecture. I do not know if there was a third generation George, nor do I know when Thomas died.

George (my direct ancestor) died in August 1847 and was buried at South Marston on 29th of that month.

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Jonathan Fisher (1730-1795)
The George described above was the son of Jonathan Fisher. Jonathan was also born in Poole Keynes, and was baptised there in December 1730. On 24th February 1760 he married Ann Jasper at South Cerney, her home village.

Jonathan Fisher plaque There is a plaque on the wall inside the church at Poole Keynes commemorating Jonathan Fisher. It records that he was for many years the parish clerk of the parish, and that he died on 9th February 1795. The plaque appears to be made of lead, and is elliptical in shape, measuring a little over 11 inches in length and 8 inches in height. It is one of the very few ornaments inside this small, simple church. Click on the thumbnail to see a larger image (36,308 bytes)

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George Fisher (1698-1763)
Jonathan's father was another George Fisher. He was born in Oaksey, Wilts. (which is only about a mile from Poole Keynes) in June 1698. He married Sarah Longford at Cirencester on 3rd October 1720. He died and was buried in Poole Keynes in 1763.

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Thomas Fisher
Thomas Fisher was the father of George. He and his wife Mary had a total of 10 children baptised at the parish church in Oaksey, Wilts.: Elizabeth (bapt. 18 Jan 1671/2), John (24 Feb 1673/4), Mary (19 Sep 1678), Thomas (24 Jul 1681, buried 18 Oct 1682), Catherine (21 May 1685), Robert (26 Jun 1688), Edith (20 Dec 1690), Martha (20 Jan 1693/4), George (7 Mar 1696/7, buried 23 Mar 1696/7) and George (26 Jun 1698).

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Acknowledgements

I am indebted to several people for leading me to the information about George Fisher (the South Marston blacksmith) and his ancestors, and particularly to Shirley Newman (another descendant of George) who did most of the original research and found the link with Poole Keynes.

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