On the 9th April 1656, several tenants in Widcombe were questioned by officers from the Court of the Public Exchequer about the disposition of local lands, tithes and various other religious and parochial matters. Depositions were taken from both Thomas and his son Tobias. Thomas was recorded as ‘a husbandman, aged about eighty years or thereabouts’ (born ~1576). When asked if he knew the parish and for how long, Thomas deposed that he “doth knoweth the pish [parish] of Lyncombe & Witcombe and hath knowen it by the space of threescore Yeares” suggesting that he had moved into the village in about 1595 when he was twenty years old. Somerset parish records show that he had applied for permission to build a cottage in Widcombe in 1615, being then about forty years old with five children.
Thomas’s son Tobias, who also gave evidence, was said to be ‘a husbandman, aged forty-eight years or thereabouts’, which matches well to his baptismal date. Intriguingly, he showed something of his life when he said “that for five of six Yeares last past hee did sheare for the said Mr [Robert] Fisher fifty or three score Sheepe one Yeare with another whereof the said Mr Fisher did ordinarily buy neare one score about Trinitytide or Midsomer to fatt”. He added that Mr Fisher had also bought wool from him worth about £3 10s a year. When asked about certain religious matters, Tobias had said that before the new parish clerk Mr Long arrived in Bath, the parishioners of Widcombe had prayers read to them each Sunday and on two other weekdays besides. The Sacrament had been administered every Easter and they had enjoyed a sermon about once a quarter. Now they had no Sacrament and only sporadic Divine Service. His tone had suggested that Tobias was upset by these changes and clearly, from reading other depositions, the villagers had all felt somewhat abandoned. Catching such a personal glimpse of an ancestor’s thoughts in the mid seventeenth century is fortunate indeed.
So, Thomas Orchard, born in about 1576, was the father of Tobias, who was born in about 1607. Tobias had a son, also named Tobias, who was born in about 1644. The younger Tobias married Elizabeth and they had a son Thomas, who was baptised on Monday the 29th February 1672 in the church of St Thomas à Becket. Thomas married Elizabeth BRIGHT in Bath Abbey on Thursday the 16th February 1696; the couple had at least five children baptised in the Abbey, meaning that the family had moved from the village of Widcombe into the centre of town as this church serves only the small parish of St Peter and St Paul. One of Thomas and Elizabeth’s sons was Joseph, baptised in early March 1698/9, who became a peruke maker. He fathered William who continued the family hairdressing business in Abbey Green together with wife Eleanor and son Walter. Another of Thomas and Elizabeth’s sons was John, baptised in the Abbey on Sunday the 30th May 1706. John married Sarah ARCHER back in his home village of Widcombe and they had five children of which one (Charles) was my ancestor – William Orchard, the man who named himself William Archard and had descendants who stayed in Widcombe for at least three generations.Tobias and Elizabeth Orchard had another son called Joseph who was baptised on Thursday the 5th May 1678 in the church of St Thomas à Becket. Joseph married Ann (surname unknown) who may have come from Monkton Combe, a village about three miles south of the city. In any event, the couple clearly settled there as they had the births of their nine children recorded as being in the village. The family were Quakers. One of their sons, Jacob, was born in 1724; he married, moved into town and became a baker and gingerbread maker. He was the father of Isaac and Abraham.
So, this is the family tree of Thomas Orchard of Widcombe. His descendents had diverse occupations including a solicitor, cabinet makers, upholsterers, auctioneers, coachmakers, hairdressers, pawnbrokers, tailors, outfitters and local councillors. Many of them were non-conformists, embracing Quaker, Baptist and Methodist beliefs. Of all these many people, I have the image of just one of them, my great great grandmother Laura Ann Archard, wife of Edwin Ridout.