Heather Gordon visited Leigh last summer from new Zealand to enquire about her relatives, the Shoebridge family.  (The name had various spelling variations, eg. Shobridge, Shewbridge, Shoubridge and Shoobridge – sometimes four siblings having different versions of the same name).

The first Shoebridges in Leigh seem to have been Edward and his new wife, Elizabeth.  They came to the village in 1687, probably from Chiddingstone.  Edward seems to have been a poor thatcher.  A year later their first child – another Elizabeth – was born and baptized at St Mary’s.  Manorial records show that Edward was able to improve himself, as his family of eleven arrived.  He became the tenant farmer at Coppins, paying two guineas a year rates plus fourteen shillings a year for some extra land.  In 1709 and 1718, Edward was one of the overseers of the poor in the parish of Lyghe, as it was then spelt.  The job would have involved administration of the money used to house, clothe and feed the destitute – the elderly, the orphaned, the homeless in the parish.  (The old poor house in Chiddingstone still exists).  The heavy parchment manor account books, which are at the Centre for Kentish Studies, show Edward’s signature at the bottom of the pages.  It could well be that he was particularly conscientious in his duties because it seems that he could well have been in a poor house himself when young.  Edward and Elizabeth both died in 1740 in one of the many smallpox epidemics – both in their seventies.  Edward had been prescribed a quart of strong ale and Elizabeth a pint of wine.  It may have made them a little more relaxed; but it did not cure them.

One of Edward’s sons, Thomas, is also shown as an overseer of the poor of Leigh but thereafter the Leigh/Lyghe link goes cold until we reach the first official census in 1841 when Edward’s great-great-grandson William Shoebridge was living at No. 1 Forge Row with his wife, Lydia and eight of their ten children.  (Forge Square had not been built at this time but it can be assumed that there were cottages beside The Forge).  William is listed as an ‘agricultural labourer’.

Bearing in mind that each of the five generations of Shoebridges that have been researched had an average of ten children, it is perhaps not surprising to find another Shoebridge – Robert, a brother – living next door.  The census shows that he had two Irish excavators – ‘navvies’ as they were called in the canal building era – as lodgers.  Had they possibly been employed in digging The Straight Mile – unlikely, as that was ten years earlier; or just possibly working on Hall Place lakes, although the main work was done much later in the century?  Much more likely is that they were working on the railway embankments which were being built at Leigh which did employ Irish labourers.

The parish records (not yet The Parish Council) show that William had an on-going row about a broken window.  (Those dangerous cricketers again …?) but this paled into insignificance when compared to his father-in-law, Nathaniel Seal, who seemed to have a habit of not paying his rent.

Several of William’s sons continued to live in Leigh.  Henry married Susannah Cooke in 1848; then, after Susannah had died, he married Louisa Taylor in 1859; and, then, once again a widower, marrying a widow, Mary Lurcock in 1866.  Another of William’s sons, James, worked as a farm labourer at Wickhurst Farm and a third, Jessie, was called a ‘team boy’ (ie: looking after the horses) on another 61 acre local farm.

However, in spite of the numerous children each generation produced, the two hundred year old connection with the Shoebridge name (in its numerous spellings) and Leigh was beginning to come to an end.  Future censuses show them spread around the county from Tonbridge to East Farleigh and Maidstone and others emigrating to the US and New Zealand.

Indeed, it was Henry Shoebridge – the one who married three times just to remind you – whose great-great granddaughter came to Leigh last summer.

[Information from New Zealand book “Gently Down the Stream” by Dorothy Murray]


Parish Magazine Article: Mar 2009:  information from New Zealand book “Gently Down the Stream” by Dorothy Murray


For further information on the Shoebridge Family, please contact the Society.