yeovil people

john & John Hubert Barnsby

 Father and Son Watch and Clockmakers of Middle Street


John Barnsby was born in Sandwich, Kent, around 1779. It is not known when or why he moved to Yeovil but in 1801 he married Sarah Dodge (1781-1832) at Brympton, the parish adjoining Yeovil. John and Sarah were to have around six children, all born in Yeovil; Sarah (1804-1889), Thomas (1806-1862) recorded as a Yeovil Watchmaker in 1846, John Hubert (1806-1833), William Ebenezer (1811-1844) recorded as a 'SIlversmith & Jeweller of Middle Street' in the Somerset Gazette Directory of 1840, James (1816-1878) and (possibly) Joseph (d1818).

Sarah died in 1832 and in 1834 John married Odcombe-born Harriett Down at St John's church, John would have been aged 55 and Harriett 45. They were certainly living in Yeovil in 1834 when their only child, John Hubert, was born.

Pigot's Directory of 1830 listed John Snr as a 'Watch & Clock Maker of Middle Street' and in the 1841 census (by which time John was aged 72, Harriett was 62 and John Hubert was 17) they were listed in Middle Street and both John Snr and John Jnr gave their occupations as 'Watch Maker'. Harriett listed hers as Dress Maker. I have not been able to exactly identify the house/workshop/shop but it was just east of Dean's Court by two or three buildings (see that page for a map and the photograph below) and the family would have been living there during the cholera epidemic of 1848-49.

John Barnsby (most likely father and son) was listed as a 'Watch & Clock Maker of Middle Street' in the Somerset Gazette Directory of 1840, Hunt & Co's Directory of 1850 and Slater's Directory of 1852.

An example of a long-case clock made by John Barnsby Snr is shown above left (courtesy of Roger Barnsby),



A few evenings since as a watch and clock maker of Yeovil, named Barnsby, was sitting in his shop at work. Some daring thief thrust his hand through a pane of the window and ran off with three watches. He was pursued by Barnsby, who caught sight of the fellow, but in his haste he met with a fall, and the rascal escaped, losing his hat in the flight.

Cheltenham Chronicle, 9 February 1829.

John Barnsby died in Yeovil in the winter of 1857 and, as shown above, John Hubert Barnsby was a watch and clockmaker like his father so presumably took on the family business after his father's death. In the spring of 1858 John was married to Mary Ann Heskett (1839-1893), originally from Dorchester, Dorset. They were known to be living in Reckleford in 1859 (not today's Reckleford, but today's Market Street)  and by the time of the 1861 census John and Mary were living in Rotten Row (a slightly later name for today's Market Street) with their two children, one-year old Lydia and seven-month old Henry, together with John's widowed mother, Harriet. John gave his occupation as 'Master Watch Maker'. Harriet was to die in Yeovil in 1865. In 1865 John and Mary are known to have been living in South Street. They were to have a total of nine children, all born in Yeovil; Lydia E (1860-1863), Henry G (b1860), John Hubert (b1864), William Down (1865-1934), Alice Lydia (1867-1944), Albert Edward (b1869), Frederick (1872-1962), Kate (1875-1968) and Rosa (b1879).

In the 1871 census John was more specific about his birthplace, which he listed as Houndstone. He gave his occupation as 'Watch & Clock Maker' and was living in Coronation Buildings off Addlewell Lane with Mary and five of their children (Henry, John, William, Alice and Albert). It is almost certain that Coronation Buildings was the home of John and his family, his workshop and outlet most likely remained in Middle Street although in 1875 John was listed as a Watch Maker of Bond Street in the Post Office Directory of that year. In any event the move to Coronation Buildings might suggest a poor change in fortunes for the family since the area was little better than slum dwellings.

Within two years however John moved his family out of Yeovil, perhaps to improve his prospects, and in 1877 was living in Summerhouse Orchard, Glastonbury. In the 1881 census, while living at 3 Summerhouse Orchard, Glastonbury, John described his occupation as 'Journeyman Watch & Clock Maker' - something of a come-down after the 'Master Watch Maker' of twenty years earlier. Living with him were Mary and seven of their children.

John and Mary remained at Glastonbury until in 1893 Mary died there (Note to genealogists -Glastonbury is in the Wells Registration District). In the 1901 census John was recorded as a 67-year old widower living at 27 Northload Street, Glastonbury. The final census record for John was in 1911 when he was recorded as a 78-year old widower and former Watchmaker at the Wells Union Workhouse. George died at Wells in the spring of 1917, he was aged 81.

Many thanks to Roger Barnsby for much of the above information.




This sepia-toned photograph looking east along Middle Street dates to about 1875 and is probably one of the earliest photographs of the Castle Inn, seen at left. The house and herbal shop of murderer Robert Slade Colmer was the three-storey building next to it - the building where the murder of Mary Budge took place!! The entrance to Dean's Court was the other side of the two-storey building next to it (to the immediate left of the man with the stovepipe hat resting against his hand-cart). Next are two small two-story houses and next again the three storey building is most likely the tenement part-occupied by John Barnsby since the sale particulars below describe it as 'Modern-built'.


Courtesy of Roger Barnsby

A notice placed in the 18 June 1845 edition of the S&H Mercury, advertising the auction of the Middle Street property part-occupied by John Barnsby. John and two of the other named tenants were still there in 1851.


Courtesy of Roger Barnsby

The head and clock face of the long-case clock photographed above left.


In this photograph of 1950 the rear of Victoria Buildings stretches across the bottom of the photograph, seen from the slopes of the hill behind, and Park Street runs across the top of the photograph, while glove factories fill the space in between. Immediately above Victoria Buildings is the long terrace of former houses known as Coronation Buildings (home to John and Mary in 1871) but by the time this photograph was taken Coronation Buildings were the leather and gloving workshops of Parker, Brooks and Long.