Tag Archives: Bristol

How not to jump to conclusions!


Tenby Harbour


I had a salutary lesson in the dangers of jumping to conclusions in genealogy this week.

As part of the work I did on the Hungerford Morgans from Bristol I had located the man I thought was one of the sons of the first James Hungerford Morgan who had lived and died in Jamaica. There was a well constructed and sourced line of descent from his eldest son Henry Rhodes Hungerford Morgan but not much to go on in relation to either of his siblings baptised in Jamaica after him – a sister called Juliana after her mother and a second James Hungerford Morgan baptised in June 1792, and born in May of that year.

The man who was apparently James Hungerford Morgan II was an unmarried retired  Lieutenant living on half pay,  in Tenby in Wales, by the time of the 1841 and 1851 censuses. This fitted well enough with the fact that Henry Morgan, his apparent grandfather, had died in Wales.

Further investigation revealed a sister called Mary Morgan who outlived him, and that’s when the alarm bells started ringing, for at his death in April 1851 she was referred to as his only living relative despite the fact that the family of Henry Rhodes Hungerford Morgan were alive and well, living mainly in London and India.

Moreover when Mary Morgan died a few months later without having administered her brother’s Will it was left to her nephew the Rev Thomas Sleeman to tidy things up. If James and Mary had a nephew with a different surname it implied that there must have been another sister in the picture, albeit one who had died before 1851. It turned out this was not Juliana Morgan born in Jamaica, but an Elizabeth Morgan who had married wine merchant Thomas Sleeman at Tenby in 1806. A search for the Will of Thomas Sleeman and a bit more investigation made it quite clear that I was dealing with a different family from the one with the Jamaican connections.

Fortunately all these documents were easily available via the National Library of Wales website where you can view them for free and download for £3.50.

I had been a little wary from the first when the census data about dates and places of birth did not match up with what was known about the Jamaican family, but the census enumerators often did make mistakes in copying out their returns, so on its own it was not enough to do more that raise a nagging doubt.

In the end although I proved that James Hungerford Morgan baptised in Tenby in 1788 was not the same as James Hungerford Morgan born in Jamaica in May 1792 there is the intriguing possibility that the families were actually connected and that the coincidence of names may not be mere coincidence.

The father of the Tenby Morgans was called Harry Morgan and it seems likely that he was the Harry Morgan who married Elizabeth Dew in 1779 when he gave his parish as St Nicholas, Bristol. On his early death in 1793 at Tenby, after he had become bankrupt,  he gave his profession as mercer. Newspaper reports of his bankruptcy referred to him as a linen draper like the linen drapers of the Bristol family of the other Morgans and Hungerfords, many of whom lived in or were associated with the parish of St Nicholas.


St Nicholas from Bristol Bridge

So we have two families called Morgan with connections to Bristol, who shared a trade and were in some way linked to the Hungerfords.

This time I’m not going to jump to conclusions – but my instinct says there is a link to be found.

What do you think?


Picture of St Nicholas from Bristol Bridge – By NotFromUtrecht (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Brickwalls and a Bristol Linen Draper



Brickwall is the term used in family history research to describe the situation that arises when you are completely stuck in trying to trace your ancestors further back. Sometimes the solution is not to try to batter your way through but to work your way around it.

There are some family names that are so common that they make research particularly difficult. My father’s family name Wilson was once said to be the most common name in the Glasgow phone book. When I worked on a human resources system, based largely in London, Williams and Patel were the most common names.

So when I was contacted by someone with the surname Morgan my heart did sink a little. Of course Henry Morgan is one of the most famous names associated with early Jamaica, but there was no suggestion that this family were related to him.

My starting point was James Hungerford Morgan who was listed in the Bristol Poll Book for St Nicholas in 1774 as a linen draper. On the 29 November 1782 he married Juliana Wisdom James, from a long established colonial family, in Trelawny, Jamaica. They had four children baptised there before James died in April 1792. Juliana remarried the following year on the Fontabelle estate to William Pitter and had four more children with him.

The line of descent from the two sons of James and Juliana (Henry Rhodes Hungerford Morgan and James Hungerford Morgan II) had already been well traced by my enquirer who really wanted to know who were the parents of the first James Hungerford Morgan after whose marriage many descendants bore the double name Hungerford Morgan, sometimes hyphenated. This certainly suggested that Hungerford was an important family name and a connection to be cherished.

The obvious starting point was to look for a marriage between a Morgan and a Hungerford and sure enough there was George Morgan married to Mary Hungerford in August 1685 in London’s St James Dukes Place, which had a reputation as a ‘marriage factory’ where you could go to get married in a hurry and relative anonymity. It may be that Mary was already pregnant or that her family disapproved of George, or both, since back in her home parish of Windrush in Gloucestershire the following year their daughter Margaret Mary was baptised in July and their son James in November. The Hungerfords were prominent in Windrush but when James was baptised the parish register only recorded him as James with no middle name. In any case it seemed likely that James Hungerford Morgan was born in the early 1750s so although geographically Windrush and Bristol are not far apart this left a period of about seventy-five years to bridge.

Looking again at the Bristol records there was a Henry Morgan, also a linen draper, in the Poll books at the same time as James Hungerford Morgan. There is also a catalogue entry in the Bristol Record Office dated 1778 for a mortgage “James Hungerford Morgan, planter of Jamaica, now resided in Bristol, to Henry Morgan of Bristol, linen draper”. This also suggests a connection between the two, perhaps as brothers, uncle and nephew, or father and son. Unfortunately there is no online record for a baptism for James Hungerford Morgan, although plenty for James Morgan in and around Bristol in the relevant period. Of course with the surname Morgan he might have been an incomer from Wales, there being regular commerce and connections across the River Severn down the centuries.

The solution came via a catalogue entry at the National Archives for a legal case involving ” Henry Morgan, linen draper of Bristol and Catherine Morgan his wife (late Catherine Oliver, spinster)”. When I found that Catherine had a brother named Hungerford Oliver I knew I was on the right track – her first son Edward was named after her ironmonger father Edward Oliver and James after, it must be presumed, her favourite brother. Hungerford Oliver later married Prudence Milward of Old Swinford, Worcestershire, apparently rather against her father’s inclinations and had something of a reputation as an eccentric. Sadly their son Thomas Milward Oliver who trained as a doctor was later to hang for murder.

The confirmation of the parentage of James Hungerford Oliver comes from a series of family Wills, although finding his father’s Will proved challenging. Catherine Oliver’s mother Jane was clearly a wealthy woman with property in Bristol and on her death in about 1772 she left legacies to numerous family members including her grandchildren among whom were Thomas Hungerford Powell (son of her daughter Jane) and the four children of her late daughter Catherine and Henry Morgan, who was one of her executors.

Tracking down Henry Morgan’s Will took a bit of guesswork. There was no Will for a Bristol linen merchant of that name so I wondered, since his grandson James Hungerford Morgan II had died at Tenby, whether Henry Morgan had retired to Wales. There were four plausible candidates and looking at the map of south Wales I opted to start with “Henry Morgan of St Brides in the County of Glamorgan Gentleman” and struck lucky. It was not uncommon to make the transition from trade to gentleman, and Henry’s Will finally confirmed for certain that he was the father of James Hungerford Morgan. How the name Hungerford came into the Oliver family and whether there was any connection to the Hungerfords of Windrush must remain a question for another day.

That James Hungerford Morgan who became a Jamaican planter came from Bristol is not surprising. With connections to the haberdashery and linen trades and a grandfather who was an ironmonger, it is highly likely that his extended family had been exporting goods to Jamaica for some time. What direct connection they may have had with the slave trade, other than as owners of slaves in Jamaica is unclear, but his son Henry Rhodes Hungerford Morgan died a wealthy man and his estate made compensation claims on two estates.


All Saints Derby – now Derby Cathedral

Henry Rhodes Hungerford Morgan had married Elizabeth Lawson from Falmouth who, according to Morgan family tradition, later burnt most of the family papers! Whether she was just obsessively tidy or was trying to conceal something is unclear. Her husband left a legacy of £200 to a young woman called Julia Hungerford, and, curious to know whether she would explain the link to the Hungerford family, I tracked her down in the parish register of All Saints Derby, where in 1842 she married Richard Lindley giving her father’s name as Henry Rhodes. The later census records show her as having been born in Jamaica, so it seems likely that she was the illegitimate, probably mixed race, daughter of Henry Rhodes Hungerford Morgan, baptised in Manchester Jamaica in 1819, about three years before his marriage to Elizabeth Lawson.

So if you have a brick wall in your current research do not give up, the solution is often out there and with more records becoming available online every week it may just be waiting to be found.




Down the rabbit hole

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Rabbit hole art from Deviant Art

It is remarkably easy to head off down a genealogical rabbit hole and, following a trail you believe will lead in one direction, find yourself arriving by quite another route.

A case in point relates to a Chancery document I recently requested from the National Archives because it referred both to a family called Bayly and a John Augier. I have wanted for a long time to establish who was the John Augier who was father of the remarkable Augier sisters about whom I have written before. The spelling of Bayly is an unusual one and I already knew of Zachary Bayly, the uncle of the Jamaican historian Bryan Edwards,who had extensive connections with Jamaica. In addition the Bayly family in the Chancery case came from Bristol, a city with extensive trading and slavery connections, and not far from the Wiltshire roots of Zachary Bayly. So far so good.

The Chancery case dated 1717 was a complex one and, like many cases within Jamaica, made the more so by the deaths of most of the protagonists! Put as simply as I can John Rowe of Bristol was suing for the inheritance of his dead son, a minor also called John Rowe. The child’s mother was Mary Bayly the daughter of Samuel Bayly whose other children were Anne and Richard. In her Will written about 1703 Mary Grant, the Bayly girls grandmother left them a substantial inheritance in money, Plate and furniture. She made various provisions for how the money was to be divided in the event of the deaths of either of the young women and for Mary’s son John Rowe. The Trustees in the various Wills involved included several of the Bayly brothers and their cousin Thomas Weare (like his cousins a mercer).

Samuel Bayly was a mercer of the City of Bristol and his brothers were also mercers and linen drapers. His brother Richard was also a soap boiler. John Rowe senior’s case was that Richard Bayly had claimed to be insolvent and so offered to pay only twelve shillings in the pound to his creditors, which included the Trust fund. He believed that Richard Bayly had in fact paid some of his creditors in full. Rowe said that Samuel Bayly had promised to make good any deficiency on behalf of young John Rowe, but had not done so before his death in about 1708 despite owning considerable property at Henbury about five miles from Bristol.

Meanwhile Samuel’s son Richard Bayly had married Mary Hayes and then died leaving her free to marry John Augier. John Rowe’s contention was that the various Trustees of the legacy of Mary Grant had conspired together with John Augier to pretend that Richard Bayly senior’s business had failed and hence to defraud the only descendant entitled to that legacy – the now dead John Rowe junior. Since John Rowe senior was administrator of his infant son’s  property, and indeed would inherit anything he left, he was effectively suing on his own behalf! Moreover in addition to the various items left by Mary Grant he also claimed that John Augier and his wife had taken a bed from a house in Bristol High Street to which John Rowe was entitled.

If you would like to read the full details of the case I have transcribed the document because although it is not a Jamaica suit it is probably fairly typical of the kinds of arguments that arose when estates went unadministered and legatees died before claiming their inheritance. At the very least John Rowe was requesting that the Court should enforce the provision of evidence by those he was suing to demonstrate what had happened to the property and to provide full accounts for the expenses. For example Rowe claimed that more had apparently been spent on his mother-in-law’s funeral than the fifty pounds she had specified in her Will.

Reading some of the Bayly family Wills it seems likely that they were telling the truth about the failure of Richard Bayly’s business and that Samuel Bayly had tried to make some kind of provision for little John Rowe. Whether Richard Bayly had actually lost some of the Trust fund fraudulently propping up his failing business we will never know.

And what about the Jamaican connections I had been searching for? I have so far failed to link this Bayly merchant family in Bristol with the family of Zachary Bayly, which is not to say such a link may not exist. But certainly the John Augier cited in the case is not the John Augier who died in Jamaica about 1720.

However it turns out there is a Jamaica connection.

The Bayly brothers had a sister called Mary who married the wonderfully named Uzziel Bussell. Uzziel had a father William Bussell, a Bristol baker, who died about February 1679/80 and in his Will (not proved until after the death of Uzziel in 1695) mentioned his brother Edmund in Jamaica. William did not sign his Will but made his mark and so was either illiterate or too ill to be able sign and therefore it is reasonable to assume that his brother’s name should have been Edward. For one of the original settlers in Jamaica was Edward Bussell. There is some evidence that the Bussell family may have been non-conformists and so may have left England at the Restoration, having been on the ‘wrong’ side in the Civil War.

Edward Bussell and his wife Grace had seven children baptised in the parish of St Andrew between 1666 and 1681. Edward was recorded as owning eleven acres of land in the first survey of Jamaica in 1670 and there is also a grant of 60 acres to ‘Francis Bussell and Smith’. Edward’s son William lived to grow up, married and had at least one child, another William baptised in 1682. There are eight Bussell burials in St Andrew between 1689 and 1702, and although it is impossible to distinguish father from son and mother from daughter where they share the same name, it seems likely that Edward died in 1693 and his wife in 1702.

Although there were Bussells in Jamaica in the nineteenth century the probability is that the early settler family had died out by the first decade of the eighteenth century, as had so many of the first colonists. Whether their connection with the Bayly family of Bristol is in any way related to the decision made by Zachary Bayly to go there half a century later remains to be discovered.

And I am still searching for the origins of John Augier!



The Swymmer family of Bristol

College Green Bristol where the Swymmer Family owned property during the 17th and 18th centuries. Bristol Cathedral is in the background*



The Bristol-based Swymmer family played a key part in the development of merchant venturers in that city, in the early history of Jamaica, and in the slave trade.

There are records of seventy-three indentured servants (mainly men) despatched to Jamaica from Bristol by the Swymmers between the 16th of September 1676 and the 10th of August 1685 . With the growing demand for plantation labour and a shortage of indentured servants the trade in the latter decreased as the trade in enslaved Africans increased.

Anthony Swymmer was present in Jamaica from the early days of the colony and in his Will dated the 11th of October 1684, he referred to himself as “Anthony Swymmer of the City of Bristoll, Esq , late resident in the Island of Jamaica, and now bound thither again”. Probate of the Will was granted in 1688 and it is presumed that he died in Jamaica. This Anthony Swymmer was married to Jane Langley, the sister of Elizabeth Langley who was married to Fulke Rose and later to Sir Hans Sloane.

Disentangling the members of the Swymmer family can be tricky – for example not only did this Anthony Swymmer have a son called Anthony but so did his brother William. Both brothers were themselves sons of another Anthony Swymmer and his wife Joan Hayman. Unfortunately Swymmer baptisms on IGI are patchy, although there are also some marriage and burial records. There are fifteen Wills of members of the Swymmer family at the National Archives and I am gradually working my way through transcribing some of them. Some already appear on this website – you can see the current list here. There are also records of property owned by the family held at the Bristol Record Office for members of the family owned considerable property in Bristol on College Green, and also Lower Green, Nicholas Street, Small Street and Kings Square. They also owned land and property at Marshfield, at Rowberrow in Somerset, in Buckinghamshire and later in Flintshire and elsewhere.






The Lord Mayor’s Chapel in Bristol where Bridget Swymmer was buried in 1820**






The Swymmer family may have originated in Cornwall where John Swymmer and his wife Susan had three sons Peter, Warne and John baptised in Padstow in 1631, 1634 and 1637. Peter is recorded as a mercer and issued his own tokens (there being regular shortages of small coins). One website suggests that he also lent money at interest. With his wife Grace he had a daughter Elizabeth and a son, another Peter Swymmer. That there were connections with the Bristol branch of the family is further hinted at through the marriage in Padstow in 1700 of a Susanna Swymmer and Arthur Merrett, while a Barbara Swymmer married Anthony Merrett in Gloucestershire about 1698, and Rebecca Merrett married John Swymmer in 1696 at St Philip and St Jacobs, Bristol. Moreover in his Will of 1726 William Swymmer of Bristol left a legacy of £100 to another William Swymmer, the son of John Swymmer of Padstow.

John Swymmer of Bristol died relatively young, and childless, in 1700. He was the eldest son of William (c.1650-1715) the stay-at-home brother of the first Anthony who went to Jamaica. That first Anthony had a son called Anthony who married first a daughter of Bernard Andreiss, possibly called Johanna (widow of a Dutchman called William Kupius resulting in a petition of Mr Swymmer for an escheated estate of one Kupuis, late of Jamaica, deceased’) and then a woman called Milborough (surname unknown) who was the mother of Jane Langley Swymmer and Anthony Langley Swymmer.

John Swymmer’s widow Rebecca (Merrett) shines through his Will as a young woman well endowed in her own right, with a large collection of family jewellery and a passion for both needlework and riding. John, who left the majority of his estate to his brothers, nevertheless explicitly left Rebecca all the needlework hangings she had made and her own bay horse with its saddle and other ‘furniture’. He also left her half the contents of the house in Small Street, Bristol, made sure her marriage settlement was honoured and that she was repaid the twenty-five pounds of her own money she had paid out for his medical bills. A Memorandum attached to the Will also listed items of furniture and other household goods. Whether he remembered them after writing the Will or whether she persuaded him to add such detail is unclear, but at a time when a married woman’s property belonged to her husband such a precaution, preventing as it did all these items from being included in the residuary estate, did secure her position.

The Wills of the Jamaican Swymmers – Anthony, Anthony and Anthony Langley provide an insight into the accumulation of family lands by 1760, when the last of these died in St Thomas in the East. Apart from his extensive holdings and mineral rights in Flintshire in Wales, Anthony Langley Swymmer left 2036 acres at the Nutts River plantation, 1120 acres at Clark’s River, 332 acres acquired from Richard Risby, 4000 acres in Vere and 1100 acres in the parish of St George. There was also land and buildings in Spanish Town ‘near the Beef Market’. As he died childless the main beneficiaries of all this were the children of his sister Jane who had married Richard Chandler Champneys whose first wife was Sarah Daines, Jane’s second cousin.

I must apologies incidentally to any Welsh speakers for my inability to read the names of the various places in Flintshire where Anthony Langley Swymmer held property!

Sadly the Champneys family squandered their inheritance:

Sir Thomas Champneys inherited several estates from his father, but from mismanagement lost all but the Orchardleigh and Nutts River estates. He died at Exton, Hampshire, aged 76 in July 1821. His son and heir, Thomas Swymmer Champneys, squandered what was left of the family’s fortune and ended up in the insolvent debtors court in the 1820s which declared his the largest amount of debt ever filed in the court since its establishment in 1813, with debts and liabilities upwards of £429,000.”

It is a tale not at all untypical of wealth accumulated in Jamaica, using slave labour, by the early migrants who managed their estates in person, but whose successors became absentees spending the profits of an earlier generation. The Swymmer family however, not only made their fortunes on the plantations, they had also made much of it directly through the slave trade, and in the process contributed to the wealth of Bristol derived from that trade.


*By Snapshots Of The Past (College Green Bristol England) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Original image: Photochrom print (color photo lithograph).

**By NotFromUtrecht (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Bits and Pieces

Royal York Crescent Clifton, Bristol*

This last week has been a busy one, taken up with a variety of activities and so by way of catching up this week’s blog piece is a bit of a patchwork, piecing together some of the scraps of information recently acquired.

Part of the week was spent stitching together a family tree for a friend of a friend who will probably be as surprised as I was to discover in it a Jamaican connection. In his case this was a young soldier who joined up at the age of seventeen in the first half of the nineteenth century and served with his Regiment, the 33rd Foot the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, in the West Indies, among other places.

Yesterday I spent in Bristol at a conference on Jamaica and the Caribbean: Beyond the Boundary. It took place in the Watershed, a converted dockside warehouse, now an arts centre and cinema, and was part of a three-day event to “reflect on the sometimes difficult political, economic and social development of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago since independence 50 years ago, and also the significant impact these countries have had on the Caribbean community in Bristol and the UK.”

The wealth of Bristol, a significant seaport for centuries, was in many ways derived from slavery, the slave trade, and the income from the products of slavery particularly sugar. Although it was a much smaller city than London, perhaps 20,000 people in the first part of the 18th-century, by the end of the century it had become one of the most favoured retirement spots for members of the Plantocracy returning home, especially in the area of Clifton. The names of streets today reflect this, Royal York Crescent, Regent Street, Merchants Road – in the fresh air high above the river Avon and the Avon Gorge with easy access to the city of Bristol and its trading connections, but set apart in genteel Georgian splendour.

Much of the conference was concerned with the modern Caribbean and the Afro-Caribbean migrants to Britain, Bristol in particular. It began, however, with a historical introduction to Bristol and Jamaica by Professor Madge Dresser of the University of the West of England. She outlined a little of the early history of Jamaica and the connections with the island of Bristol families such as the Penns and the Swymmers. Elizabeth Swymmer is one of the few women whose direct connections to the slave trade can be tracked. She mentioned the records of the Bybrook Plantation held at the Bristol record office, and the often chance distribution of Jamaican and Plantation records to other record offices around the country. Talking of the distribution of records she mentioned the use of the slave ownership compensation records compiled in 1833 for tracking both slave owners and enslaved people. Just as I have discussed here previously the way in which the mixed race Jamaican descendants blended into English society, so the profits derived from Jamaica were often used to build the great 18th-century British country houses, with the origins of the funds subsequently suppressed or forgotten.

The second speaker, Adrian Stone, was a hugely enthusiastic speaker about his own genealogical researches which had taken him from 21st-century Bristol to 18th-century Jamaica. A self-taught researcher he had begun by interviewing close family members and then more distant cousins about their origins in Jamaica and the complex interrelationships of a large family. Living now in London he had discovered cousins he did not know existed and had explored their joint history using resources such as the Mormon family history Centre in Exhibition Road, and the National Archives at Kew. He had found that many people asked if he was able to traces family origins back to Africa and demonstrated how the slave returns for Jamaica, which I discussed last week, could sometimes be used through the names of women such as ‘Ebo Venus’ to relate their origins to specific tribes and regions in Africa.

This brings me to another of this week’s bits and pieces, for I came across some material relating to slave names. I will cover it in more detail another time but, briefly, enslaved Africans in the early eighteenth century were often given names of classical origin such as Venus, Phoebe or Chloe. Christian baptism frequently over wrote such names with English ones. But throughout it all names of African origin persisted, for example, Cudjoe the leader of the Maroons during the war of the 1730s whose name from the Guinea Coast indicates he was born on a Monday. Where these names exist in the slave records they can be used, together with some tribal references which remain, to establish areas of origin in Africa.

My final fragment for this week concerns the sort of correction a genealogist sometimes has to make (but hopefully not too often). In dealing with partial records of baptisms marriages and deaths and information derived from Wills, we reconstruct family trees and sometimes we get it wrong!

When I was working some time ago on the Aikenhead family, three of whose daughters were prominent among the Wills I transcribed, I had attached them to Archibald Aikenhead of Stirling Castle, well aware that this involved a certain amount of guesswork. I now know that some of my guesses were wrong, for I recently acquired, courtesy of Dianne Golding-Frankson, the Wills of two men both called William Aikenhead. Doctor William Aikenhead, who died about 1762, left no direct heirs and made his uncle Archibald Aikenhead his residuary legatee. The other William Aikenhead who died about 1760, referred specifically to four children – his son John Lawrence Aikenhead, and his daughters Elizabeth, Margret Helen, and Milborough Aikenhead. By the time he wrote his Will his daughter Elizabeth was married to Gilbert Ford, and Milborough to John Harvie. Margret Helen, who I take to be Margaret Eleanor Aikenhead, brought her inheritance as dowry to her marriage with Samuel Alpress about a year after the death of her father. All this means not only that more of Archibald Aikenhead’s children had died in infancy than I had previously suspected, but also that Archibald and William must have had another brother, the father of Doctor William Aikenhead. Whether this brother had a presence in Jamaica or had remained in Scotland I don’t know.

So continuing the patchwork metaphor with which I began, the work of the historian and the genealogist is to attempt to make a pleasing (and it is to be hoped truthful) pattern from the scraps and pieces of information that have been left to us. Sometimes it is necessary to unpick a piece of work and re-make it in an attempt to produce a more accurate reconstruction of our past.

* Photograph of Royal York Crescent from lizzieparker.wordpress.com where you can find a whole treasure trove of photographs and information about Bristol and Clifton.