|The Relf Families from Brightling in
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.
1. EARLY BRIGHTLING RELFS.
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.
2. DESCENDANTS OF WILLIAM RELF & ELIZABETH RUSSEL.
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.
2.11. William RELF (b.1803) married Sarah HILDER in 1823 and lived in Brightling until he died in the 1860's. Sarah died at Brightling in 1879. Andrew a son of this couple, married twice (Jane BACHELOR, & a widow Ann RICKLESFORD) before dying at Brightling in 1914.
2.12. Thomas RELF (b.1815) became a gamekeeper, married Rhoda CROFT in 1836, had six children by 1851, but left Brightling soon after.
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.
3. DESCENDANTS OF WILLIAM RELF.
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).
3.1.1. Joseph RELF (b.1767) married Frances RELF (b.1772), the daughter of Thomas & Margaret RELF in 1792. This marriage forms a link between two family groups (see below). Joseph & Frances had three daughters and five sons.
184.108.40.206. Thomas RELF (b.1796); their eldest son, became head gamekeeper and huntsman to A.E.FULLER at Brightling, married Winifred MAY from Catsfield in 1822, and died in 1881. They had seven daughters and three sons. The two elder sons became keepers like their father, but this branch of the family disappear from the Brightling records after 1881.
220.127.116.11. William RELF (b.1803); the 2nd son, also a gamekeeper, married Mary Ann RUSSELL from Romsey in Hampshire. They lived at Burwash and had three daughters and six sons. Three of the sons are known to have married. Albert (b.1850) followed the family tradition and became a gamekeeper. Again we lose this family from 1881.
18.104.22.168. John RELF (b.1809; the 4th son, became a brickmaker and married Sarah COLLINS in 1830. Their family included nine daughters and one son. This son, John (b.1844), became a brick & tile-maker, married Ellen Sophia BLACKFORD in 1864 and became landlord of the "Thatchers Arms" in Burwash. John was also a professional cricketer and had three sons who all played cricket for Sussex. In particular Albert Edward RELF played for England, including the cricket tour of Australia in 1903-04
22.214.171.124. Joseph RELF (b.1815), the younger son, became an agricultural labourer, married Harriet GREEN in 1839, and Lucy HUTCHINSON in 1847. Both Joseph & Lucy were still living in Dallington in 1881.
3.1.2 Thomas RELF (b.1769), the 2nd son of William & Mary RELF, married Sarah CHEALL (from Ashburnham) in 1794 and had three sons and four daughters.
126.96.36.199. Thomas RELF(b.1794), their eldest son, became a land-surveyor, lived at Hooe and was a census enumerator in 1851.
188.8.131.52. James RELF (b.1798), the second son, became an agricultural labourer and married Harriet WOOD in 1823. The family lived at Burwash, where they had two sons and four daughters. Their son Richard (b.1825), a huckster & farmer, lived in Burwash until his death in 1914. Mary RELF, their youngest daughter, born in 1843, married George BARROW, a Burwash farmer in 1868. Their son James BARROW married Alice BALCOMBE in 1896 and together with their seven children, and mother Mary BARROW (née RELFE), emigrated to Australia in 1912.
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. DESCENDANTS OF THOMAS RELF & MARY LYE OF BURWASH.
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.
4.1.1. John RELF (b.1724), married Eleanor (probably KEMP) some time in the 1740's
and appears to have moved from Burwash to Dallington, or Brightling in the 1750's.
Thomas, their grandson, was born in Brightling in 1799. There were nine separate Thomas RELF families in the Brightling-Burwash area in the mid 19th century. Occupations, ages, names of wives and places of birth of each family at the time of the census allow dates of birth, and linkages to be established. Such information shows that Thomas RELF (b.1799) married Ann BUSS in 1819. Thomas and Ann had eight sons and one daughter.
4.1.2. Thomas RELF (b.1727), the second son of Thomas and Mary BORMAN, married Mary FULLER at Burwash in 1751. This couple had three daughters and one son, yet another Thomas. (b.1754).
It may be that this Thomas RELF married Margaret NASH at Etchingham in 1770. If so, he
would be my ancestor who later lived, and died in Brightling. However, as the time between
his baptism and marriage would have been only 16 years and 19 days I have doubts.
At his marriage Thomas RELF, my ancestor, was described as a bachelor of Heathfield, and Margaret a spinster of Etchingham.. Thomas was buried in 1788 having been "killed by ye falling in of a Lime-stone pit". His widow, Margaret, then married John MARCHANT, the widower of Anna MARCHANT. Whatever the origin of this Thomas RELF, his family included two sons, Thomas & John, who were originators of families to be found at Brightling in 1851.
184.108.40.206. Frances RELF (b.1772) the eldest daughter of Thomas and Margaret married Joseph RELF (see above) in 1792, so forming a link between these RELF families.
220.127.116.11. Thomas RELF (b.1774). the eldest son of Thomas & Margaret, married Elizabeth ATKINS in 1795, and produced seven daughters and three sons. Their eldest son, Thomas (b.1797), was 49 when he married Elizabeth NIGHTINGALE from Kingsclere in Hampshire. Thomas RELF & Elizabeth ATKIN'S third son, John (b.1814) married twice, first to an Ann in about 1830, and following her death in 1835, he married Mercy Lezey HOBDEN inn1836. John (b.1832) a son from his first marriage, moved to the Tonbridge area where he became a police officer, ending up at Northfleet in Kent.
18.104.22.168. John RELF (b.1778), the younger son of Thomas & Margaret became a carpenter and married Lucy HOWELL, from West Firle, in 1802. Their ten children included five sons, four of whom were living in Brightling with their families in 1851. Their second son, Thomas (b.1805) married Lydia FOORD whose father, James FOORD, had been convicted of smuggling in 1829. James had been sentenced to death (twice!), but sentence was commuted to transportation, and he died in Australia in 1830. Thomas & Lydia produced twelve children, of whom Thomas David RELF married my grand-mother, Elizabeth MARCHANT, at Dallington in 1873 before moving to Kent where my grand-father was born.
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.
4.2.1. Henry (b.1783) William's eldest son, became a sawyer, married Elizabeth POWELL in 1803, and produced many daughters (possibly ten) and four sons. Descendants of their eldest son, Thomas also a sawyer, were still living in Burwash in 1881. Their second son, Henry (jun) was born in 1808, became a wheelwright and seems to have had four wives before dying in 1879. Henry & Elizabeth's third son, George (b.1813), married Hannah FROMINGS at Mayfield in 1833. This couple sailed to Australia in 1838.
5. DESCENDANTS OF SAMUEL RELF OF HAWKHURST IN KENT.
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".
E-mail to Steve Chapman
Page last revised 17th April 2000.
Page last revised 17th April 2000.
© S. B. Chapman