When I started to trace my family tree in 1992 I had no idea that, over 12 years previously, I had moved back to my roots. I was fortunate that my ancestors mainly originate from Essex and finding them in the B.M.D
indexes and Census was relatively straightforward.
I found out quite early on that my Gt. Grandfather was born at Clap Bridge Farm, Bocking, Braintree, Essex in 1874, (even though I’d been told he was born in London).
My Gt. Gt. Grandfather was Head of Clap Bridge Farm from 1865 when John Foyster, my Gt. Gt. Gt. Grandfather died. John Foyster ran the farm from 1851. I lived only 25 minutes away from Braintree. I couldn’t believe my luck.
In those days finding people on Census Records, for me, meant a trip to the Chelmsford Record Office, Colchester Library, or the Mormon’s History Centre in Ipswich. All within ¾ hour drive.
I had an overwhelming feeling to find out more about the farm. I telephoned Braintree council to find out if they knew where I could get some information and if they had any maps or photographs. I couldn't believe my luck.
The gentleman I spoke to told me that Clap Bridge Farmhouse was still standing but they were building on the land. I was so excited about this news and thought there was no time to lose before I went to see it. The gentleman was really helpful and promised to send me a couple of recent maps of the area. He had marked the spot where he thought the location of Clap Bridge Farm was.
Armed with the maps, I went searching for the farmhouse. Unfortunately there had been a By-pass in 1984 on part of the land to the front of the Farmhouse. Then in 1986 Byant Homes built houses on the land surrounding the Farmhouse. This had altered the landscape beyond recognition.
I spent hours searching, around and around, walking past the same houses thinking, “I’m sure I’ve been here before?” Determined not to give up, I decided to cross to the other side of the Bypass .
At the top of the road was a Bryant Homes building site reception office. Bryant Homes had bought the land and in 1986 was still building houses surrounding the house in 1993.
I went in and asked the receptionist if she had heard of Clap Bridge Farm. “You mean the Hammer House of Horror!" she said. Then directed me to where it was. I felt hurt by what she said, but when I saw the state of the Farm House, I realised what she meant...
However, the feeling I had when I saw the house for the first time was overwhelming and I couldn’t help crying. The house looked derelict and was in a bad state of repair, having been empty and neglected for 4 years. It looked beyond repair. I thought they would surely demolish it and I felt sad at the thought of this.
Even though the house looked beyond repair and derelict, I knocked on the broken down door at the back of the house.
There was no one home, except for the spirits of my ancestors. Although the house looked cold and miserable, I felt comfortable and at ease.
Inside the house was in an even a worse state. The roof had been letting in water for some years due to lead being stolen from the roof, which made some of the rooms inaccessible and probably dangerous. Fortunately, I had my camera and video camera with me and took lots of photographs and video footage.
Just as I was leaving the back door house, intending to leave it the way I’d found it, (HANGING OFF!) the new owner appeared. Before he had a chance to phone the Police, for my trespassing, I quickly introduced myself, showed him the Birth and Marriage Certificates, and the reference to Clap Bridge Farm. He seemed interested and showed me around house again, explaining details about the house and pointing out where there had been alterations in the past.
He told me that the house had a preservation order on it, and was a Grade 2 listed building. Bryant Homes had been prevented from pulling it down. Now I understood another reason why the receptionist had called it the Hammer House of Horror.
The new owner told me that he had purchased the house earlier in the year and that I was lucky to catch him there. He is a businessman with Central Heating business and only work on the house when he had the time. I think it was fate that I caught him in, no coincidence. I believe my ancestor’s led me there I went back a few years later and was delighted with what I saw.
I was interested to find when my ancestor’s had actually lived there. I worked back from the dates I knew they were definitely there in all the Census Records.
In 1881 census Henry Sharpe Foyster born Halstead, is head of Clap Bridge Farm and is married to Ann Elizabeth. Henry sold Clap Bridge Farm to a James Perry, born in Bocking, in 1883. During the time it was owned by my family there has been a lot of land development in the area, which would have cut through a number of local farmlands, due to the new Bishop Stortford, Dunmow & Braintree Railway line.
Held at Chelmsford file D/DU/1618/12 1 Jan 1881 Conveance of freehold land for £2,740 13s. 2a 11p of land, part of Broomfields, remainder of land sold to Maldon, Witham and Braintree Railway. 4a called Gravel Pit field.
In 1875, 10 years after Henry Sharpe Foyster had taken over the sole running of the farm, there began a long depression, due to the import of cheap American wheat. The rent of the farms fell. Two farms at Steeple fell from £760 in 1873 to £1 in 1886. Much land was unlet and some farms were taken by hard-working Scot tenants who obtained a bare living. By the end of the century, the position was improving.
James Perry, who was born in Bocking, was listed in 1890 Kelly's directory as farmer at Clap Bridge. Agricultural Shows were held annually in Chelmsford. Earl of Essex owned 3,090 acres in Rayne, Braintree.
In 1871 census, Clapbridge Farm. Rayne Road, Braintree, Henry is listed as Henry Foyster age 35, married to Ann Elizabeth. They had one child of 9 months. A daughter named Edith Marion Foyster. The farm consisted of 132 acres at that time .He had 5 boys and 2 men working for him. They also had a 15 year old servant called Eliza Brock.
I have also found Henry Foyster listed at Clap Bridge Farm in Kelly's directories 1874, 1878 & 1882.
In 1869 Henry married Ann Elizabeth Letch. On the Marriage Certificate it names John Foyster (deceased) as his Henry Sharpe Foyster‘s father.
In 1861 census John Foyster was head of Clap Bridge Farm Also listed was Henry Sharpe, 24, born Halstead, listed as being a Carter/servant.
What a surprise this was! I had unleashed another mystery. Was John Foyster Henry’s father or not?
In 1851 John Foyster, born in Kenninghall, and Sarah (nee Fisher) born Long Stratton, was running Clap Bridge Farm when farming was at its height. He is also listed in the 1851 Kelly’s Post Office directory as running Stubley’s farm in Halstead. Also listed in 1851 census at Clap Bridge Farm was Henry Sharpe, age 14, born in Halstead This time he was listed as Nephew. Bells were ringing!
1891 census James Perry aged 28 and single, was head of Clap Bridge Farm.
1901 census Arthur Wilks, aged 43, was listed as Farm Baliff at Clap Bridge Farm.
1920/30’s Clap Bridge Farm was a Dairy farm and now owned by Mr. Edward Nunn. Mr. Nunn was gored by a Bull.
In the years when I had to wade through Census Records on microfiche, I made a note of all the Foyster’s, Letch’s and Sharpe’s, and anyone else I thought might eventually fit into my tree. I was very glad that I did.
In 1841 census; High Street, Sudbury Road, Halstead I found Robert (head) & Mary Sharpe (wife), daughter Mary Ann Sharpe (daughter) 25, John Sharpe 25 (son) and Henry Sharpe 4 also listed as son.
Just around the corner to the Sharpe’s family I had found earlier in the same village, I also found a John Foyster 50 Silk manufacturer, Sarah Foyster 60, living in Parsons Lane, Halstead Essex. I immediately thought Sarah would have been too old to have a son of 4 and thought they could be Henry’s grandparents. John Foyster and Sarah Fisher married in 1824 . Sarah was 43 when she married John, think this couple remained childless.
Henry Sharpe was born illegitimately to Mary Ann Sharpe 28 Feb 1837 before registration. Mary Ann was a servant for most of her life and never married or had any other children. In the 1891 census her sister Susanna is at Ann Elizabeth Foyster's house and is stated as aunt. Susannah had an illegitimate child called Jessie and also remained unmarried.
Mary Ann Sharpe’s parents were nearing their 60’s when Henry was born. Henry went to live with John and Sarah Foyster at a young age. Henry kept in touch with his mother, even though she stayed in Halstead, and was marked in attendance on her mothers’ Death Certificate.
I recently received the Will of John Foyster, who died in 1865, leaving his worldly goods of under £1,500 to his illegitimate son Henry Foyster with the understanding that his wife Sarah Foyster would be cared for.
What’s in a name?
Foyster ancestor’s came from the Netherlands to the East around 1558 to escape persecution. Most settled in Covehithe and Benacre. In 1891 the distribution of Foyster’s. The name was then Duyvester. Other spellings are: Deuvoister, Voister, Foister.
Another story that has been handed down through a distant and, as yet, not connected Foyster family is when Russia and Germany were at war.
A Russian man and a German lady met and fell in love, then escaped to England. They combined their two surnames. Hence the name Foy-ster or Duy-Vester? Very romantic, but needs more research I think!
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