Of Robins, Potter & Pagington – Oh my!

My mother has very fond memories of her great-grandmother, Harriet Hurcombe (nee Robins), and they were very close. It was Harriet and her husband, Alfred William Hurcombe (grandson of the infamous Ann Halliday), who moved the family from Leighterton in Gloucestershire to the area around Devizes in Wiltshire in the late 1920s/early 1930s.

Early in my research I came across a puzzle in Harriet’s tree – and it remains only half solved!

Harriet Robins, taken from a larger photo

Harriet was born in Jarvis Quarry, near Kemble in Wiltshire, in November 1884. Interestingly, it took her father, David, three months to register her birth – just one month before she was baptised on 1 March 1885 in Kemble. Her parents, David Thomas Robins and Hannah Tuck, had married in 1872 in Tetbury. And it’s here that things start to get interesting …

On the marriage certificate, David lists his father as John Robins, with both men listed as ‘Labourer’. Census returns consistently list David’s age as commensurate with a year of birth of c.1850 and in Dauntsey, Wiltshire. This enabled me to find David’s birth certificate with relative ease – 16 October 1850 in Dauntsey, parents listed as John Robins (labourer) and Ann Robins formerly Pagington. All good. Walking the family forward through the census returns should also be easy, right?

David Thomas Robins

Wrong. Or at least … not without a number of questions …

Firstly, there is no baptism of a David Thomas Robins in Dauntsey with parents John and Ann. However, there IS one in December 1850 with parents Paul and Ann.

In 1851, there is little David in Dauntsey with his two elder siblings (Henry and Alice) and their parents … Paul and Ann. Ann’s place of birth is recorded as Burton Hill (an area on the edge of Malmesbury, Wiltshire – close to where the modern-day police station is); Paul’s is recorded as what appears to be Middlesex, Brentford.

In 1861, the family is still in Dauntsey but now with a John Robins as the head. His place of birth? Brentford [possibly Brentwood], Essex. Ann has been crossed out and annotated as “Not at home, out on a boat”. (Ann is actually recorded, along with Alice, at the home of her widowed daughter-in-law, Eliza, who had married her eldest son, Henry – who married and then died using the name Henry Francis Potter. He died with no issue in 1860.)

Moving to 1871 (the last time David is recorded at home), the family is now in Leighterton and John has stated his place of birth as … Blandford, Dorset. Ann is home and her place of birth is Malmesbury. Once again, only Frederick is listed as a sibling (Alice having died in 1862).

So a few peculiarities there, to say the least! Is David’s father John or Paul, and where was he born? Maybe the 1841 census could give a few more clues … There we find a Paul and Ann Robins living in Dauntsey with their son, Henry, and some visitors (an Hannah Hendon, Sarah Potter and a young girl, Hannah Potter). All are recorded as ‘born in county’. Definitely no John.

Given that David’s mother, Ann, has such an unusual surname (Pagington), there must be a marriage easily locatable, right? Well … There is no John Rob(b)ins marrying an Ann Pagin(g)ton, or even an Ann Anyone. However, the baptisms of David and his siblings show a father’s name of Paul. There is a marriage for a Paul Robins to an Ann in Dauntsey on Christmas Day 1838. Only … she’s Ann Potter, and it’s her mother, Alice Potter, who is recorded on the marriage certificate. Could this be the right marriage as after all, there were other Potters living with the family in 1841?

There is an Ann Paginton baptised in Malmesbury in 1815, the daughter of Peter and Mary Paginton. In fact, Pagin(g)ton is locally common (and there are still Pagintons in and around Malmesbury to this day). But this doesn’t account for Alice.

However, delve a little further into the records and you find that an Alice Potter married David Paginton in Malmesbury on 9 April 1818. Given Ann’s birth year from the census returns, she would have been c. 3 years old. Could this explain the connection between Ann Potter on the marriage certificate and Ann Pagington on David’s birth certificate? It certainly seems likely. Add to this that David’s eldest brother, Henry, has an interesting full name: Henry Francis Robins Pagington. He was also baptised in Dauntsey on 2 September 1838 as an illegitimate son of Ann Pagington. (However, given the use of Robins as a middle name and that he was born only 3 months before they got married, it seems very likely that Paul was his father – or perhaps his use of Potter in later life means that Ann was perhaps being a little tricksy …?)

And then there are the additional household members in 1841: the Potters and Hannah Hendon. Hannah Potter was the daughter of Abraham Potter and Sarah Potter nee Hendon, her mother also being Hannah. Further searches showed that Abraham and Alice were siblings, making Ann and Hannah Potter cousins.

Was Ann Potter the daughter of David Pagington? I don’t know. It seems odd that she would happily use the Pagington surname for her children, yet marry as Potter. Its also strange that Alice isn’t recorded as deceased on the marriage certificate as it appears she died in 1833, five years before Ann’s marriage. Ann herself died on 1 March 1876 following a fall from a cart, and is buried at Oldbury on the Hill, Gloucestershire, a few miles from her last recorded residence of Leighterton in 1871. Interestingly, her husband is listed as Paul John Robins, cowman”…

Burial registry of Ann Robins.
Courtesy of Gloucestershire Archives via Ancestry.com

What of Paul/John? Where was he truly born, and what happened after 1871? Both good questions … Paul lists his father as another Paul Robins on the marriage certificate. Oddly, I can find no deaths of any Paul Robins via civil registration (ie post-1837) until the 20th Century. Nor can I find any likely John Robins in any census post-1871, nor any deaths that seem to fit. He remains on the mystery list …

I have to say that looking into Alice Potter/Pagington has been a blast. This kind of unpicking of family lines and family names always throws up new surprises and – although the families didn’t leave much of a paper trail – its amazing what can be learnt about their extended family connections!


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