The Connards: A Lost Bromsgrove Family

The name Connard first appears in the Worcestershire records in the mid-sixteenth century as a gentry family living in and around Droitwich. A William Connard of Crutch leased land in St Peter's, Droitwich to a George Walle in 1546 and the same William Connard 'gentleman' married Elizabeth Wyeth at St Peter's on 26 September 1548. A George Connard - almost certainly their son - married Elizabeth Pourter ('Porter') at Claines on 11 February 1571. At the beginning of the 1600s the family migrated to Hanbury and Feckenham, where they became leading authorities in managing Feckenham Forest. The Connards benefited considerably when the forest was sold off by the Crown in the 1620s (known as 'disafforestation') and found themselves significant landowners. Legal records frequently show them cited alongside (and often in dispute with) the likes of the Vernons of Hanbury Hall and the Bearcrofts of Bean Hall.

By the beginning of the 1700s, however, this wealth was beginning to seep away and the younger Connards had to seek apprenticeships further a field. In 1713 two sons, George and Burhill (an unusual but recurring family name) were apprenticed to Dan Baker, a Coventry weaver and clothmaker, and in 1717 their brother Edward was apprenticed to Benjamin Badson of Tardebigg, needlemaker. The deal worked out well for Badson who got not just an apprentice but a wife: he married Elizabeth Connard, Edward's elder sister, later that year. Edward became a master needlemaker within an area that was at the heart of England's vitally important needlemaking trade and is commemorated with a plaque in Feckenham church.

Edward Connard and his wife Elizabeth Laurence had ten children, seven of whom survived into adulthood. Edward set about establishing his three sons in trade and marrying his daughters into influential local families. The eldest son, also called Edward, was apprenticed to Robert Ranford, a Birmingham chandler in 1750 and later married Ranford's daughter Mary. Second son William was apprenticed to Joshua Tilt, a Bromsgrove leather dresser, whilst third son Joseph followed his father as a needlemaker. Among the daughters, Sarah Connard married John Bonnaker, and their daughter, also Sarah, later married the Bromsgrove carrier John Ashmore.

The Move to Bromsgrove

As the children moved away the family's ties with Feckenham were at first weakened and after Edward's death in 1764, broken altogether. Bromsgrove's growing importance as a market town and trading centre made it attractive for an ambitious family like the Connards. Edward's son William bought land on Worcester Street for his tanning business. Fire insurance certificates show William Connard as a tenant of “a House, Workshop and Stable” in 1778, valued at £100. Just eight years later, in 1786, he is listed as the proprietor not only of his own dwelling but also the Golden Lyon Inn (in the tenure of an innholder), an adjoining brewhouse, warehouse and stables, and another house adjoining the inn “in the tenure of William Millward a cooper”.

William's brother Joseph took a lease on the Needle Mill at nearby Wychbold, one of two mills at Dodderhill that can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Documents from 1785 relating to the construction of a Worcester Canal note him as tenant at the mill, which was then the property of a Thomas Mole.

Apprenticeship records show a steady stream of apprentices to both Connard masters. Joseph proved to be rather unlucky in this respect. In 1791 one of his apprentices, Ann Heath was prosecuted for attempting to poison a fellow apprentice, Ann Rea. The case was heard at the Worcester Quarter Sessions.

John Meachamp testified that: "Last Thursday Ann Heath, apprentice to Joseph Connard asked him to go with her to buy arsenic which her aunt wanted to kill rats and he went with her to the shop of Martin, apothecary in Bromsgrove and bought a pennyworth." Thomas Martin, Bromsgrove apothecary, confirmed the purchase of the arsenic and said he would not have sold it to her had Connard's boy not been with her, believing it was he who wanted it. Ann Rea said that: "Last Thursday Ann Heath said she had some alum and asked her to have some. She took a lump and put it in her mouth as it tasted brackish she handed it back to Heath, saying it was not alum but Heath asserted it was so, putting some in her own mouth and an hour later was very ill." John Woods, Connard's journeyman, said: "Ann Heath showed him something in a paper which he thought was alum and taking some to taste she stopped him. He thought it was arsenic and asked for the rest but she refused, but he got it from her. She acknowledged it was arsenic and had taken some, so he sent for Mr Collett and she recovered"”

Heath was acquitted of 'wilfully and maliciously intending to kill and poison' but was discharged from her apprenticeship. Joseph found himself back at the Worcester Quarter Sessions in 1802, when another of his apprentices, Samuel Bourne was accused of stealing sugar. He confessed to the theft but his mother, who was charged as an accomplice, was discharged.

The Connards in Bromsgrove Society

Like his father, William Connard saw the virtue in marrying well. His five children were all married into prominent Bromsgrove families, including the Ashmores (daughter Martha married the younger John Ashmore, her cousin, in 1810). In particular, there were close associations with the Packwoods and the Nashs, both farming families from nearby Stoke Prior. William's daughter Elizabeth married Stephen Packwood in 1792, while his son William married Ann Nash. Stephen and Elizabeth's son, also Stephen, married William and Ann's daughter Alice (another cousin marriage). The families exchanged many of the same properties, either through trade or inheritance. For instance, the Broomhouse, Stoke Prior (later known as Fordhouse Farm) was occupied by John Ashmore (senior) until his death in 1820. It then passed to Goodwin Nash (father of Ann) and soon after to Nash's grandson Stephen Packwood (junior). Webbs Farm, Tardebigg (now known as Tardebigg Farm) was held first by William Connard (junior) and then by Stephen Packwood (senior), his brother-in-law.

William (senior) married three times: in 1764 to Ann Brown, who died in childbirth; then in 1769 to Martha Molesworth, who bore him four children; and in 1786, at the age of 45, to Margaret Andrews, a widow. William (junior) - the only son - pre-deceased his father, dying in 1816, aged just 41. His widow Ann (nee Nash) took up business on her own behalf, opening a “school for young ladies” at Sheepcoat House on Perryfields Road. William (senior) died in 1825, aged 85. The family is commemorated by a large (and highly informative) gravestone in Bromsgrove churchyard, which lists several of William's wives, children and grandchildren.

By this time, the Connards and their ilk formed a close network that permeated the farming and merchant classes of early nineteenth century Bromsgrove. They were pillars of the community - or so it seemed. The younger Stephen Packwood, for example, was a Justice of the Peace and presided over numerous cases heard at the Bromsgrove Petty Sessions. All was not right, however, and beneath his fastidious exterior lurked a troubled man. On the night of Saturday, 10 August 1850, Stephen Packwood hung himself in the granary barn at the Broomhouse. An inquest held at the Dragoon Inn, Stoke Prior (now the Ladybird) heard that “the deceased had been labouring under great mental derangement, brought on by drunkenness... and was in a very desponding (sic) state”. A verdict of "temporary insanity" was recorded. He left a wife, Alice, and six children, including my great-great-grandmother, Ellen Packwood, then just five years old. Within a year the contents of the Broomhouse were put up for auction and Alice and the children were scattered across the county as they fell upon the generosity of relatives and friends.

The Connards and the Bromsgrove Nailers

Meanwhile, James Connard, a grandson of Joseph, was becoming a leading light in the growing movement to improve the conditions of the Bromsgrove nailers. James was present in October 1863 when a group of 800 nailmakers met “for the purpose of forming a Nailmakers' Cooperative Society”. He sat on the committee alongside Henry Ince, the Methodist preacher who championed the nailers' cause. James appears frequently in the Bromsgrove newspapers through the 1860s and 70s, urging enquiries into the nailers' conditions, supporting strikes and organising fundraising. At one such event in 1873 about "600 partook of tea" at the Corn Exchange to celebrate the nailmakers obtaining a 10% rise in wages. "But in consequence of the room being too small to accommodate that number, they had to sit down in two parties", reported Berrow's Journal.

In 1875, James became the landlord of the Crabmill Inn in Birmingham Road and by all accounts was extremely popular. Over the Christmas holidays that year he arranged (on consecutive days) pigeon-shooting with a fat pig as the prize; shooting for a sweepstake; and rabbit coursing. "These sports were well attended and excellent arrangements were made by Mr James Connard, the proprietor".

Then, a totally unexpected development. Despite being a Bromsgrovian born and bred, and a popular publican, some time around 1878-80 James Connard upped sticks and moved his whole family to Ruabon, North Wales. He remained there until his death in 1905, where he is recorded firstly as a nailmaker and later as a leather merchant. The reason for this move is unknown - but there is the whiff of scandal about it!

The Decline of the Connards

By this time the Connards were in decline - not just economically but demographically. From the 1750s onwards the family tree shows a startling lack of males. Male children are either not born or die prematurely (even by the standards of the time). William Connard and Ann Nash, for example, had only two sons and lost both unmarried and aged under 30. James Connard, of the Crabmill Inn, had one son and six daughters. He himself was one of three male siblings (out of five) who survived, compared to all four females. Altogether, James's parents William and Sarah had five grandsons, of whom only two survived to adulthood, and fifteen granddaughters.

This collapsing family tree is most likely the result of hereditary factors. Interestingly, the effect appears not just in the line of William (senior), where there are several instances of cousin marriage but also in that of his younger brother Joseph, where no intermarriages have been found. The net effect was that by 1900 there were no Connards remaining in Bromsgrove. The last male Connard, James's nephew John, moved to Birmingham around 1890. A family that had once been a major force in the life of the town and its surrounding parishes was gone forever.

Alice Connard - my 3xgreats grandmother and widow of Stephen Packwood - remarried and moved to Worcester. Her daughter Ellen fetched up in Kidderminster where she married Hanbury Taylor, a pork butcher, in 1867. Widowed at the age of 44, Ellen ended her days in Small Heath, Birmingham, far from the leafy lanes of her Stoke Prior childhood. Her only son, Harry Connard Taylor, emigrated to Canada in 1905.


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Connard Properties & Graves

Broom House, Stoke Prior
Connard Graves, Bromsgrove Churchyard(2)
Connard Graves, Bromsgrove Churchyard
Edward Connard Plaque, Feckenham
Tardebigg Farm (aka Webbs Farm)
Bromsgrove District Council; (c) Bromsgrove Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Tardebigg Farm, in painting by John Cotton
Bromsgrove District Council; (c) Bromsgrove Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Tardebigg Farm, in painting by John Cotton(2)