James Brown (1813-1879) & Mary Ann Staples (1829-1912)


Line of Descent


Helen Glenmire Davidson


James Brown & Mary Ann Staples

Hannah Brown

(m. William Martin, 1890)

Isabella Jane Martin

(m. James ("Harry") Davidson, 1918 )

Helen Glenmire Davidson

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The only known photograph of James, taken probably around 1870.  It's been suggested that the top hat and garden scene were props from a photographic studio.

James' birth; c1813, Pershore, Worcestershire
Mary's birth
c1829, Netheravon, Wiltshire
Mary's  Mother: Hannah Staples 

James' death;

Mary's death:

19 April, 1879 Church Road, Keymer, Sussex
2 June, 1912, Keymer, Sussex
Children: Jane, (b. 1850, Hurstpierpoint, Sussex)
  Mary (b.1853, Hurstpierpoint, Sussex)
  Hannah  (b.1856, Clayton, Sussex
m. William Martin, 1890, East Grinstead, Sussex)
  Sarah  (b. 1859 Clayton, Sussex)
  Joseph William (b.1861 Clayton, Sussex)
  Susan (b.1867 Clayton, Sussex)

Tracing the early history of James Brown and Mary Ann Staples has proved a little difficult .... In particular, records of James come to an abrupt stop. In all the records so far found, James gives his birthplace as Pershore, Worcestershire, c1813, but no baptisms for a James Brown can be found in the registers for around the right time. The family tale for James hints at a scandal of some sort - that due to a family dispute, he changed his name from 'Bell' to 'Brown', but no record under that name can be found at Pershore or nearby either.... 

Pershore has a striking Anglo-Saxon abbey church, now the Anglican parish Church of the Holy Cross. The church that's there today is all that remains of a magnificent structure destroyed in 1539 as a result of the Protestant Reformation.  Centuries later, it is still imposing, although it has had a more modern support structure built on one side

The Abbey Church of the Holy Cross, Pershore
 One of the intriguing historic houses in Pershore, this from the early 16th century, now a private residence

We have a little more information on Mary.   The birth certificates of some of her children give her maiden name as 'Staples" - and indeed, a baptism of a Mary Ann Staples can be found at Netheravon, in Wiltshire in 1829. .Netheravon is the village Mary Ann always listed as her birthplace, so we can be reasonably confident that we have found the correct birth record for her. The details given in the church register indicate that Mary Ann was the 'base-born' (illegitimate)  daugher of Hannah Staples, described as a 'pauper'.  One family story alleges that Mary Ann was a gypsy, and was beautiful - but no photograph of her has survived, if indeed one was ever taken.

We are so far (Dec 2019) unable to find a marriage record for James and Mary... The name "James Brown" was not an uncommon one at the time, and similiarly, Mary Ann as a given name was equally popular.  However, by 1850 the couple were living together in Sussex, where they started their family with the birth of their first child, Jane, in 1950 at Hurstpierpoint, just north of Brighton.

James was a labourer all his working life.  In the two censuses which have survived in and which James and his family are recorded, he is described as either a labourer, or a  "labourer on the roads", while his death certificate says "farm labourer". He was probably a jack-of-all- trades - on one of Mary's documents, he was described as a gardener, and in another document (the marriage certificate of his daughter Jane in 1877), he is recorded as a "toy dealer", an occupation which was also noted for Mary Ann a short time later in the 1881 census

Mary Ann and James lived in various villages and hamlets in Sussex, a fair distance away from Mary's home town of Netheravon by the standards of the time - or James' even further away birthplace of Pershore. Travelling from Wiltshire or Worcestershire to Sussex would not have been easy and, since Mary Ann was a servant girl and James a farm labourer, it was probably not undertaken in any degree of comfort

In Sussex, their lodgings would almost certainly have been conditional on their working arrangements. The Brown family moved around over the years, but always close to Hurstpierpoint and the larger town of East Grinstead. They had six children, but probably only five survived childhood. Their fourth daughter Sarah, born in 1859, is not mentioned in any further records, not even the 1861 census when three of their children, including a young baby Joseph, is listed as being present on the night the census was taken - and Sarah, had she survived, would have been considerably less than two years old at that time. However, no record of a death has been found either...

Of their six children, only one, a son  Joseph, was given the distinction of having a second name, William - all the girls had to make do with only a single Christian name.


Work for James was probably mainly on the farms around Hurstpierpoint or East Grinstead - the births of the youngest four children were registered in the tiny village of Clayton, which, in the 21st century is really nothing more than a hamlet; but it also has a church of some note, dating back to the Domesday Book.


right: Clayton village houses


Just a few kilometres away from Clayton is Keymer, which also has records going back to the Domesday era.  Keymer is where James lived for the last part of his life before he died from a long term "general debility", and an eight-day bout of bronchitis.  From the address on his death certificate, Church Road, Keymer, it seems that James was living in one of the charity houses associated with the local church - but that street no long exists (at least under that name) in Keymer.


 Mary Ann lived for another 32 years after James' death, living with her daughter Susan and her family, in Norlington Cottages in Church road, Keymer/Burgess Hill, six kilometres from Hurstpierpoint.. These cottages are also no longer to be seen - Church road, Burgess Hill is, in the 21st century, a commercial/retail precinct.  The relationship between Mary Ann and her daughter may not have been totally harmonious- one family story has it that Susan didn't like her mother very much, but that she had, on the other hand, adored her long dead father James.  So the atmosphere in the cottage at Burgess Hill may well have been very tense at times.

The details of the household were given in the 1911 census, where for the first time, Mary Ann was described an an "old-age pensioner".  The UK government had brought in the aged pension only two years previously, and no doubt, it was gladly received by her daughter's family. This census was quite a detailed one, giving a good description of the household which occupied the premises.

If her relationship with Susan was a problem, it's a little bit of a puzzle as to why Mary Ann didn't live with one of her other daughters, Hannah, who by this time was living on her own in nearby Hurstpierpoint, in a four-roomed house - but family stories have offered no suggestions on this.

Mary died a year after that census in the summer of 1912, from bronchitis, which she'd suffered from for two years......

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