Henry Cross

BORN: Fritwell, Oxfordshire, England, 1792.

CHRISTENED:Fritwell, 6 February, 17921

DIED: Chipping Norton, 18622


Both Henry's parents, William Cross and Mary Hopcroft, were born in Fritwell, a small rural village between Bicester and Banbury, some 10 miles north of Oxford.

Henry's mother's family, the Hopcrofts, was one of the oldest in Fritwell. There is a mention of a Philip de Oppercroft in 1279; by the early 16th century there were five Hopcroft households in Fritwell, some of them fairly prosperous. The family thrived throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, although it had declined by the early 19th century.3

By comparison, the Cross family were newcomers to Fritwell. Henry's grandfather, Thomas Cross, was born in Enstone, about 10 km to the west, moving to Fritwell to marry Henry's grandmother, Mary Scasbrook, in 1758. The marriage, on 12th July 1758, was recorded in the parish marriage register. An image of the original entry, signed by Thomas and Mary, can be viewed here.

Henry's parents, William and Mary were married in the local church in 1787, and their marriage was also recorded in the parish register. Unlike their parents, who signed their own names, William and Mary could only sign the register with "their mark", an X. This record can be viewed here.

Henry was William and Mary's second child, and oldest son. Church records show he was christened Henry Francis in the local St Olave's church on the 6th of February, 1792.

Unfortunately we know almost nothing about the family, what work William did or their standard of living. The children may have attended the local school which was opened about 1795 and held in the vicarage barn. We do know that Henry left Fritwell as a young man, probably to find work and on May 6th 1813 he married Eunice Ward in St Nicholas Church in the village of Chadlington.

His wife Eunice was born in Chadlington in 1793. At the time of her marriage she was 20 years of age and still considered a minor, and the parish register notes she had the consent of her parents to marry.4 However, since she was also about four months pregnant with their first child, they were probably happy to give consent. The child was born in September and named Cornelius.5

At the time, Henry had been working as a labourer, although we don't know what specific work he was doing. But work in Chadlington must have been scarce, or Henry was sick or injured and uanble to work, because the family became destitute and dependant on the town for financial assistance. It was not an auspicious beginning for the family.

Unlike today, in the early 1800s support for the poor and sick was the responsibility of local towns with money coming from the Church or from generous beneficaries. Resources were always limited and towns were reluctant to appear too generous for fear of attracting more needy people than could be supported. Some towns excercised considerable control over who settled in the town in order to keep down expenditure on poor relief.6 It seems as though Chadlington was one of these, since in February 1814, the town's Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor declared that Henry and Eunice were not legally entitled to remain in Chadlington and ordered that they return to Henry's birthplace of Fritwell. A copy of the document is available here.

We don't know if the family was actually "conveyed and delivered" all the way to Fritwell as required by the good people of Chadlington but it seems as though the family was living in Finstock, not far from Chadlington, by early 1815, where their second child was born. She was named Dorcas, but died after four weeks in April 1815.7

The family lived in Finstock for the next ten years and Henry's and Eunice's next five children were born there: Deodatus, Eden, Augustine, Zachariah and Charlotte. Finstock did not have its own church until 1840 so all the children were christened in St. Mary's church in nearby Charlbury. Each child's entry in the parish register at St. Mary's has Henry's occupation listed as labourer.8 While this term is too general for us to have a good idea of what Henry actually did from day to day, we at least have some idea of where the family stood in the social order. We can assume the family was not well off. Rural labourers were among the poorest paid workers and most vulnerable to reductions in wages as farming became more mechanised during the 19th century. It would have been an advantage to have five sons. While their early years might have been spent at school, they would have been working at eleven or twelve, or even younger to bring in what money they could.

Sometime after Charlotte's birth in 1824 the family moved to the parish of Enstone, thus returning to the birthplace of Henry's grandfather. Enstone is a collection of hamlets, some quite small, and it's not clear exactly where they settled. In the beginning they probably settled in Enstone village where Richard (who seems to have been known as Barnett throughout his life), Noah and Elijah were born. They were christend in St. Kenelm church in Enstone.9

The entries in the parish register for these three children show that Henry worked as a stonemason. We can't be sure how long he was a stonemason for, but it was at least for the five years between the birth of Barnett in 1828 and the birth of Elijah in 1833, and possibly for quite a bit longer. This represents a step, albeit modest, up the social and financial ladder. Then sometime before 1837, the family moved to the tiny hamlet of Lidstone, just two kilometers from Enstone, where Henry became publican of the Shrewsbury Arms. Their last child, Lot was born in Lidstone in 183710 and Lidstone remained their home until the death of Eunice in 1852.

The 1841 England census shows that six children were still at home: Eden, Zachariah, Barnett, Noah, Elijah and Lot. The older children, Cornelius, Deodatus and Augustine were no longer living with their parents. Nor is Charlotte mentioned. Augustine had married Rebecca Bowers the previous year and at the time of the census, they were living in Northampton.11 However, at the time of writing, the whereabouts of the others hasn't been established.

Henry's occupation is listed in the census as Labourer indicating he was no longer at the Shrewsbury Arms. The other men listed in the census were described as Agricultural Labourers, so this may be an indication that Henry didn't work on farms. However, in a place as small as Lidstone it's difficult to know what non-agricultural labouring would be available although there were a number of mills powered by the Glyme River that passed through the area, including a local corn mill and a bone mill a short distance away in Chalford. Or he may have worked further afield. In 1852 it was reported that there were 8 farmhouses, a corn mill and about 20 cottages in Lidstone, so it wasn't a big place, as it remains today.12

Augustine seems to have been the first to have produced grandchildren, with the birth of Charlotte in 1842, no doubt to the great delight of Henry and Eunice. Even though Augustine's family lived in Chipping Norton, it would have been close enough for family vists. In 1845, Zachariah was married to Mary Ann in St. Kenelm church in Enstone13, and had their first child soon after. More conveniently, they and their following children remained in nearby Enstone. 14

The 1851 England census shows us that only Elijah and Lot were still living in Lidstone with their parents. Henry was employed as a "vermin destroyer" and the two boys, aged 18 and 14 at this time, may have helped their father. This would have involved looking after the dogs and ferrets used for catching rats and learning how to use nets and poison. As the two youngest, there was probably a close bond between the two boys. Certainly, when Lot heard of Elijah death in 1891, he expressed sadness that he hadn't seen his brother in such a long time: "If Elijah is gone I am the only one of the old stock. I have often wished to see my past brother again."15

Eden died in January 1853, aged only 28 and leaving two children.16 Soon after in May, Eunice also died, aged 61. Her death was reported in Jackson's Oxford Journal:17

DIED May 23, at LIDSTONE, Oxon. aged 61, Eunice, the wife of Mr. Henry CROSS, leaving eight sons to lament her loss.

While we don't know the details of her funeral and burial, it was common practice to pay a small fee to the sexton of the parish for the church bell to be tolled: three tolls for a man, two for a woman and one for a child. It was widely believed in the old days that the sound of bells prevented evil spirits from snatching the soul of a dead person before it could reach the haven of heaven. One of the bells of St Kenelm Church was inscribed, "I to the church the living call, and the grave do summon all".18 Following her death, the family would have kept the coffin at their house and unclosed for a long as possible while friends came to pay their last respects. Then the coffin was probable carried to St Kenelm Church in a walking funeral, with her sons taking turns with friends to carry the coffin, and the rest of the family and friends following behind. At most funerals, bread, cheese and beer was provided for the bearers before the start of the funeral procession, and after the service was ended, food was shared with the returning mourners.19

After the death of his wife, Henry moved to Chipping Norton. He suffered from ill-health in the later years of his life and was cared for by Augustine and his wife Rebecca. In his will, drawn up in 1859, he gave instructions for "reasonable allowances to be made to my son Augustine Cross for services rendered by him and his wife in the transaction of my business during my illness and their personal attentions for my comfort."

Henry's will shows there had been a considerable improvement in the family's fortunes since those destitute days in Chadlington. Over the years Henry had accumulated enough wealth to own three freehold properties in Lidstone. How he managed this is not entirely clear. Strangely, Lot is not mentioned in the will. Lot emigrated to New Zealand a year earlier, in 1858. We don't know if they had a falling out, or if Henry gave his youngest son his inheritance before he left to begin a new life on the other side of the world. Charlotte is not mentioned either, but we have no record of her death.

Presumably Henry's ill-health continued, and he died in Chipping Norton in 1862, aged 70.


  • Oxfordshire Parish Register Transcripts for Fritwell. Oxfordshire Family History Society, Bicester Reg. District Vol 2. CD No: OXF-BIC02.
  • FreeBMD England & Wales, FreeBMD Death Index:1837-1983 volume 3a, page 423.
  • Lobel, Mary D. (ed) 'Parishes: Fritwell', A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 6 (1959), pp. 134-146.
  • Oxfordshire Parish Register Transcripts for Chadlington. Oxfordshire Family History Society, Chipping Norton Reg. District Vol 3. CD No: OXF-CN03.
  • ibid.
  • For a further discussion of the "open"/"closed" typology and its affect on relief of the poor see Byung Khun Song, Parish typology and the operation of the Poor Laws in early nineteenth-century Oxfordshire. Agricultural History Review, Vol 50, Part 2, 2002. pp 203-224. Also available online at www.bahs.org.uk/50n2a4.pdf
  • Oxfordshire Parish Register Transcripts for Finstock. Oxfordshire Family History Society, Chipping Norton Reg. District Vol 3. CD No: OXF-CN03.
  • ibid.
  • Oxfordshire Parish Register Transcripts for Enstone. Oxfordshire Family History Society, Chipping Norton Reg. District Vol 3. CD No: OXF-CN03.
  • ibid.
  • The 1841 Census shows Augustine and Rebecca living in Northampton.
  • Gardner, History, Gazetteer & Directory for Oxfordshire (England), 1852. An extract, covering Enstone, is available online here
  • Oxfordshire Parish Register Transcripts for Enstone. Oxfordshire Family History Society, Chipping Norton Reg. District Vol 3. CD No: OXF-CN03.
  • The 1861 Census shows the family living in Enstone in 1861
  • Lot's letter to his nephew Charley, written shortly before his death in 1891.
  • Oxfordshire Parish Register Transcripts for Enstone. Oxfordshire Family History Society, Chipping Norton Reg. District Vol 3. CD No: OXF-CN03.
  • Jackson's Oxford Journal. May 28, 1853; Issue 5222.
  • Stewart, Shiela. Lifting the Latch; Life on the Land. Day Books, 2006. p14.
  • Horn, Pamela. Labouring Life in the Victorian Countryside. Gill & Macmillan. 1876. p196.
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Dan Cross: dcross@slingshot.co.nz Ph: (09) 6290052