The Broseley Legges

Broseley, home to my earliest known Legge ancestors sits on the banks of the river Severn directly opposite the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site, in the county of Shropshire.

The first mention of the name Legge or its variants in the Broseley St Leonards parish registers was on 16 Oct 1651 when Richard Legge and his wife Jane baptised the first of their ten children.

Richard is most likely the son of Francis and Beatrice Leg who was baptised in the neighbouring parish of Much Wenlock on 1 April 1627, and I wonder if the unusually named daughter Bettredge was actually Beatrice and her name incorrectly recorded in the parish registers. Alternatively the name could be a clue to the identity of Jane who I know nothing about.

Broseley Pipemakers

Broseley was well known as a centre of excellence for the manufacture of clay tobacco pipes and Richard and his sons are documented to be amongst the first producers of the famous “Broseley”

As my Broseley ancestors were also known to be pipemakers, it is likely that I am related to Richard and Jane and I suspect they may have been my 8th great grandparents but have yet to find the evidence to prove it.

Manufacturing in the 17th century was a cottage industry with individuals working at home and Richard most likely had his own clay moulds and a kiln to fire his pipes. He would also have stamped them with a unique mark to identify himself as the producer.

Remnants of pipes bearing the mark of a number of different Legge pipemakers can be found in the Broseley pipework museum. Amongst them are pipemarks bearing the name of two or three Benjamin Legges who I believe to be my ancestors.

My brother and I visited the village a few years back and found the museum on Legges Hill, but unfortunately it was closed.

Hopefully, I will get back there one day for a visit when it is open.

The Five Benjamin Legges

1. Benjamin son of Richard and Jane?

The name Benjamin Legge is recorded in the Broseley parish registers for the first time on 3 March 1702/03 when Benjamin Leg and his wife Mary baptise a baby boy also called Benjamin.

This father and son, I believe are my 6th and 7th Great Grandfathers but more evidence is probably needed before I can be absolutely certain.

Although I have seen many on-line trees where Benjamin the first is recorded as a son of our original Broseley Legges, I have not found a baptism for him or any other real evidence to prove or indeed disprove his parents were Richard and Jane.

He could possibly have been born between Richard and Janes last two children in 1772, which would make him 30 when his son was born. This seems a little late for what appears to be a first child, but as I do not know where or when he married there may have been other children.

Assuming Jane was twenty one when her first child was born she would have been in her forties when her last two children were born so the gap in her children’s births could equally be due to a miscarriage or still birth. Janes assumed age also makes it unlikely although not impossible that Benjamin was born after her youngest recorded child.

Do family naming patterns provide a clue?

Our early ancestors tended to use the same names generation after generation and it was common practice to name a first born son and daughter after their paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother, but it was not a hard and fast rule and many of my ancestors like countless other families chose to name their first born after themselves and subsequent children after their parents.

Benjamin would go on to name two of his children Richard and Jane but whether they were named after their grandparents we may never know.

First though came two daughters named Mary presumably after their mother. The first was born in 1705 but sadly died before her second birthday in 1707.

With high infant mortality in the 1700’s and a limited pool of names to choose from, couples often gave more than one child the same name as Benjamin and Mary did when they baptised their third child Mary in 1708.

Benjamin’s second marriage

Three years after giving birth to her daughter, Mary died, leaving Benjamin a widow with two young children to care for.

As was often the case with widowed fathers it appears Benjamin re-married as within 17 months of Mary’s death a Benjamin and Eliza were recorded in the parish registers as the parents of Richard who was baptised in St Leonards Church in 1712.

Two burials on the same day

Benjamin and Elizabeth welcomed a second son named William in 1714, but their joy was short lived as both boys died a year later and were buried together on 1 Aug 1715.

Another Benjamin or an error in the registers and a mystery William.

Following the burials of Richard and William in 1715, there were a couple of entries in the registers that caused some confusion. First a Benjamin and Mary baptised a son Richard in 1716 and then William a son of Benjamin and Elizabeth was buried in 1728.

I can’t be sure but I think the name Mary was probably written in error and Richard was another child of Benjamin and Elizabeth as was William who may have been baptised in the nearby parish of Bridgnorth in 1720.

In addition to the four boys, Benjamin and Elizabeth had two daughters, Sarah in 1723 and Jane in 1726.

Widowed for a second time

Elizabeth died in 1731 leaving Benjamin once again on his own with a young family. This time however he does not appear to have re-married, and may have enlisted the help of his elder children to look after their young siblings.

Benjamin lived for another seventeen years and was buried in the parish church of St Leonards in 1748.

He was survived by at least two of his nine children (Benjamin and Sarah) and four grandchildren.

2. Benjamin son of Benjamin and Mary

His grandchildren were the offspring of his son Benjamin who had married Sarah Powis in 1726.

Widowed like his father

Like his father, Benjamin was left with a young family to care for when his wife Sarah sadly died in 1743.

Elizabeth Griffiths – My Sixth Great Grandmother

Six years after the death of his first wife Sarah, Benjamin appears to have married Elizabeth Griffiths in 1749.

Elizabeth, who I believe was my 6th great grandmother, was the daughter of Michael and Esable Grifis baptised in 1713 at the parish church in Broseley.

Benjamin and Elizabeth had one known child, my fifth great grandfather who they named Benjamin in 1751.

3. Benjamin son of Samuel and Mary

In 1711, seven years after my 6th Great Grandfather was born Samuel, youngest son of our first Broseley Legges, Richard and Jane, together with his wife Mary baptised a son called Benjamin.

Was he named after his uncle, my 6th great grandfather Benjamin, I wonder?

Married to his first cousin

Our third Benjamin married Mary Darby, daughter of his Aunt Jane Legge and William Darby who was baptised in St Leonards in 1714.

After their marriage in 1734, Benjamin and Mary had nine children baptised in the parish church.

Three burials in five days

Heartbreakingly, Benjamin and Mary had to bury three of their young family during the course of five days in 1751.

Nine year old Benjamin was laid to rest on 28 May, while Susanna aged 13 and John aged four were both buried on the 1 June.

4. Benjamin son of Benjamin and Elizabeth Griffiths

There are some on-line records that indicate the child Benjamin who died in 1751 was the son of Benjamin and Elizabeth who was baptised the day prior to the burial on 27 May, rather than the son of Benjamin and Mary.

Unfortunately as neither the mothers name or child’s age were recorded on the burial record, I cannot fully disprove this theory, but I believe that Benjamin and Elizabeth’s son survived into adulthood and went onto marry my 5th Great Grandmother Susanna Taylor in 1779.

Why do I think this?

Firstly there are the notations “aff m 4 Jun” on Benjamin’s burial record and “Aff m 4” on the records of Susanna and John, which indicate a close family member of the three children swore an affidavit on 4 June confirming they were all buried in wool as required by the law of the time.

A coincidence maybe, but the Benjamin who married Susanna Taylor had a child in 1787 who he named Michael Griffiths Legge, making it more likely that it was the son of Benjamin and Elizabeth Griffiths who survived.

Benjamin and Susanna had five other children baptised in Broseley between 1780 and 1790 .

Sadly, like some of our other Legge families Benjamin and Susanna had to endure the loss of two of their young sons (Thomas and Michael) who were buried within a few days of each other in November 1787.

The surviving siblings would grow up in a fast changing world as the industrial revolution gathered pace and England moved from producing goods on a small scale in rural cottage industries to mass production in factories and mills. This led to migration away from small towns like Broseley to the rapidly expanding industrial centres of the Midlands and Lancashire.

The move to Gloucestershire

While other Broseley residents migrated to the Midlands Benjamin and Susanna chose to move their young family to Gloucester, possibly travelling by barge along the river Severn which was an extremely busy trade route at the time.

Why the couple chose to move is not clear but as a maker of the world renowned Broseley pipe he is likely to have used the Severn trade route to distribute his goods and may have felt basing himself in Gloucester would be better for his business.

Benjamin and Susanna went on to have three more children baptised in Gloucester St Nicholas but all sadly died as infants.

There is also strong evidence to suggest they had two other children, Benjamin, my 4th Great Grandfather and Susanna who do not appear in either the Broseley or Gloucester parish records.

Benjamin Legge Pipe Maker of Gloucester

Benjamin lost his wife Elizabeth in 1813 and then…

On the 8 Sept 1822, shortly before his death and burial in Gloucester St Nicholas on 26 Sept, “Benjamin Legge, of the city of Gloucester, Pipe Maker” wrote his last will and testament in which he made bequests to his daughters Isabella and Susan, and his sons Paul and Benjamin of Cheltenham.

How do we know this is the Benjamin who moved from Broseley to Gloucester?

A year after his fathers death Paul signed the Gloucester St Nicholas parish register as a witness to the marriage of his sister Susanna.

Later in 1841 he can be found on the census living in Gloucester with his sister Isabella, and at the same address ten years later he is recorded as having been born in Broseley.

5. Benjamin Legge son of Benjamin and Susanna

It is also well documented (1851 census and naval records) that my 4th great grandfather Benjamin was born in Broseley around the same time as the world famous Iron Bridge was being constructed less than a mile away in the late 1770’s.

Credit: Civil engineering: the iron bridge at Coalbrookdale, with a ship sailing beneath. Engraving. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

We also know from naval records that his mother was called Susanna and that she was living in Gloucester in 1807 when she received part of her sons wage.

Later records relating to his children also prove he was living in Cheltenham when his father died in 1822.

Benjamin’s Naval Career and Family Life

I will be writing about my 4th Great Grandfathers life in more detail in future posts, so do visit again or follow the blog for stories about his naval medals and life as a Greenwich Pensioner amongst others.

Sources and Citations

In the mean time check out the Legge Family tree where you will find links to the sources and citations for the records referred to in this post.

Other Resources

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