The Relf Families from Brightling in Sussex.
(an outline).

I was told that my great grandfather had lived near Rochester, and that my grandfather, Thomas David RELF, moved to London because of his work as a cabinet maker. Later, he became an artificial limbmaker with the firm of Masters & Sons in the West Kent Road, where he lived until being bombed-out during the war.

Researches soon led to Brightling in Sussex. Where the only solution was to try and reconstruct as many of the families as possible, so ensuring that births, deaths, marriages were used only once.


Brightling Church
[For full size left click on image]


The earliest record of a RELF from the Brightling registers is the baptism of Richard, son of William ROLFE on 6th May 1561. Variants of the name are well represented in the registers, but it is difficult to reconstruct the families of this period. William probably died in 1577, having married Anne who was buried in 1595. This couple had at least two sons, Richard, and John. Richard, who married Marie WATERER in 1584, had sons Samuel, and Daniel.

A second family of Relfs lived in Brightling at about this time. Alexander RELF, possibly related to William, married Agnes PETTIBONE in 1577, and their children included Alexander and John. Agnes died in 1600 and William then married Joane FREEMAN in 1610, the same year as his son Alexander married Dority KEENE. The burial of Daniel, in 1677, is the last Relf entry in the registers for some time.

The early Relfs seem to have either died out, or left Brightling, until Relf families reappear in Brightling in the mid 18th century. When confusingly five William Relfs married two Elizabeths, two Marys and one Ann.



While the marriage of William and Elizabeth RUSSEL at Crowhurst, in 1778, produced ten children. There are records of only two families originating from these children.

2.1. William RELF (b.1779); the eldest son of William and Elizabeth, was a limeburner by trade who married Sarah DEARING at Salehurst in 1802. This couple produced twelve children before leaving for Australia aboard the "Prince Regent" in 1839. Eight of the children emigrated with their parents, while sons William (b.1803) and Thomas (b.1815) remained in Sussex.

2.2: George RELF (b.1797); the youngest son, married Naomi BLANCH in 1824. He died in 1840, but Naomi lived in Brightling until her death in 1860. This couple had 3 sons & 1 daughter.



The marital history of this William RELF is not clear, but it seems most likely that he married Elizabeth in about 1733, and died in 1799. and that they had four sons & four daughters. Elizabeth died in 1763, aged 47, and a William RELF the elder (a widower) married Mary BRAY in 1765.

3.1. William RELF (b1743), the third son of William & Elizabeth seems to have married Mary BAKER in 1763 at Salehurst and had three sons Joseph RELF (b.1767), Thomas (b.1769) & James (b.1771).


3.2. Isaac RELF (b.1745), the fourth son of William & Elizabeth married Ann Maria in about 1780. Their children included James RELF (b.1791), who married Ann CORK from Burton-under-Blean in Kent. Although James died in 1834, his wife was still living at Down Cottage at Brightling in 1861, and was buried in the churchyard in 1881.



4.1. Thomas RELF married Mary Lye at Burwash in 1619. Of their 4 children, the eldest (John bn.1621) married Mary WESTON in 1651. John & Mary had 7 children, their grandson, another Thomas (b.1696), married twice. His first marriage to Mary BORMAN in 1720 produced sons John (b.1724), and Thomas (b.1727) while his second to Mary HONEYSETT in 1736, resulted in Elizabeth, Alice and William RELF.
Elizabeth appears to have had an illegitimate son Edward in 1756 before she married in 1760. Edward married Ann STONESTREET in 1783, and his son Jesse (b.1787) became a stonedigger. Edward's great-grandson, another Jesse and his wife Margaret were buried at Etchingham in the 1950's.

4.2. William RELF (b.1745), the 2nd son of Thomas RELF and his second wife Mary HONEYSETT may have married Mary LAURENCE at Etchingham in 1770, and later lived in Burwash.



A small group of Relfs who lived in Burwash, originated from Samuel RELF who was born at Hawkhurst (Kent) in about 1794. He married Elizabeth LAVENDER at Burwash in 1814, where his son John was still living in 1881.



In 1851 there were 107 Relfs alive in Brightling, and 41 in Burwash, this was amongst the highest concentration of Relfs in East Sussex at that time. Numbers of Relfs living at Brightling & Burwash in 1861, 1871 & 1881 were 80, 90 & 91. Although an increased there was a movement of families away from the area during the same period.

The Relfs of Burwash & Brightling make up a fascinating group of families that included, or are related to, test & county cricketers, policemen, smugglers, convicts and emigrants. Many uncertainties remain, but provided we are honest, and state our assumptions then discussion about who "owns" which ancestor must be part of the game. It is only by such discussion that we can hope to approach the "ultimate truth".


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Page last revised 17th April 2000.

© S. B. Chapman