Empsonian Logic*

This photograph shows the marriage of William Dore (born 1874), a carpenter, to Emily Siford a Gloveress of Shipton-under-Wychwood. It took place in Leafield, Oxfordshire on 16.8.1902 and is particularly interesting because it may represent the last occasion on which two branches of the family were to be found together for nearly 100 years!

With thanks to Clive Dore, grandson of the groom who loaned me the photograph.

The Wedding Party

It is not possible to say with certainty who all the people in the photograph are but from what is known of the families at the time, it is possible to construct a likely guest list.

It is hoped that by circulating this newsletter it may be possible to put names to faces.

The Dore Family

Joseph, father of the Groom (Sarah née Empson Joseph’s wife had died in 1897).

Brothers: Thomas 30, Henry 23, Frederick 21 & James 15.

Sisters: Emily Maria 25 & Minnie 18.

At the time of the wedding, Emily was married to John Haines a coach-painter and had a son, Eric aged 4. It is also likely that Thomas was by then married to Jane Paintin from Fawler, but about whom little as yet is known.

Certainly present was Walter Empson 34, Sarah Dore’s illegitimate son whom Joseph had brought up and who has been identified by his grandson Kenneth, as being the man standing third from the right in the back row next to his second wife, Mary Ann Elizabeth (née Coulling). Violet, his surviving daughter by his first wife Emma Elizabeth (née Coggins), who had died in 1891, would by then have been 11 but strangely, appears not to be in the picture.

The Siford Family

James & Ann Siford (née Fitzgerald), parents of the Bride who married in 1872.

Sisters: Alice 27 & Ada 18.

Alice Siford had married Alfred Wellstood in Leafield on 12 June 1897. He was a labourer from Long Wittenham in Berkshire and would have been 26 at the time of the picture.

It seems likely that Alice is the lady sitting on the bride’s left hand minding the little boy. It is assumed that she and her husband were living in Berkshire but no details of any children are as yet known.

James Siford was a groom at the time of the wedding and is mentioned in the published diaries of his employer, John Simpson Calvertt - but that is another story! Neither of his two sons survived to see their sister married.


The Happy Couple

More work needs to be done on researching this family. It is not known how long the marriage was to last, but Emily lived until 1936.

The couple had three children:

William James (1904), who married Alice Martha Edwards, Gerald Reginald (1907), and Ernest Stanley (1908), who married Avis Mary Fitzgerald.

A Family Apart

So why did the family split? Before the time of the wedding and up to about 1902 Walter and Mary Ann were living in or near Southampton. Violet went to school in Shirley just to the north of the city.

Walter is said to have run a hackney cab or coach business and Mary Ann a laundry. At some stage, probably around the time of this wedding they moved on – it is suggested the businesses failed because of Walter’s drinking but for whatever reason, Violet is known to have come to Leafield (her parents had lived in Charlbury prior to their departure south). It is not known if her father and stepmother accompanied her or whether she just lodged for a time – perhaps with the Dore family – while the couple sorted themselves out. (The answer will not be known for certain until 2001 when the 1901 census returns are revealed). Walter is said to have walked to Cornwall and then back to Plymouth where he obtained work in the newly opened dockyard. His wife and Violet joined him there.

Whether some family schism led to their move is not known. There is however no evidence that the two branches of the family had any further contact. Walter died aged 62 in Plymouth in 1930 and Mary Ann Elizabeth, fondly remembered as ‘Muz’ by Walter’s grandson Kenneth as the woman who brought him up, died at the age of 91 in 1951.

The Reunion

In 1998 Kenneth (in striped shirt), returned to Oxfordshire to explore his origins. In Witney he met his third cousin Reginald Empson – but that too is another story. However this photograph can truly be said to mark the beginning of a reunion of a family which had allowed itself to become separated.

Where are the Empsons?

The Yorkshire Empsons

One of the main areas in which Empsons are to be found is the West Riding of Yorkshire. From here Empsons migrated to America - some arriving with William Penn very early on in development of the colony. Others farmed extensive estates along both sides of the Ouse and Humber between Howden and Hull. Further north more Empsons became wholesale provision merchants with an extensive trade in tea and coffee. They put down firm roots in Yorkshire society and political affairs.

The Midlands Empsons

William Charles Empson was a Lawyer who married in London in 1804 and practised law in both Bath and Leamington Spa. His son Frederick became head of the Empson family in Birmingham. He was an architect and fathered 14 children two of whom established a manufacturing jewellery business. As the family’s fortune grew they moved out of the inner city settling in the respectable suburb of Acocks Green and purchasing a property in Nether Whitacre in the countryside to the north.

The Oxfordshire Empsons

The earliest reference to Empsons in Oxfordshire so far recorded is in 1602 when John Empson married Elizabeth Huckin in Stonesfield. This was centre of Cotswold ‘slate’ production, but the family migrated to the Wychwood area where they were yeoman farmers. However the family was broad based, a group were important in the blanket making industry in Witney and records survive of them supplying the Hudson Bay Company.

The East Anglian Empsons

A substantial group lived in Norfolk and was associated with the sea and also agriculture but also trades such as brick making and in one case, a cutler. In the 1881 census some 30 family groups were to be found in towns such as Kings Lynn, East Dereham and South Repps thus forming the largest group of Empsons in the country.

Empsons Overseas

There were important groups of Empsons in America, in Canada and one substantial and influential group in New Zealand where they married into the Acland family one of the most important families in the history of that country. One glorious and eccentric individual became the much-loved Headmaster of Wanganui Collegiate School, where ‘Empson House’ stands as testament to his name to this day.

About Empsonian Logic*

Few families can be said to have coined a word. Ours is to be found in the Shorter English Dictionary - "Adjective: Resembling or characteristic of the logic of Sir William Empson (1906-84) English poet & critic". It quotes the Times Literary Supplement – "Sonnets marked by a somewhat Empsonian logic". So a title for this newsletter has suggested itself.

This first issue has concerned itself mainly with one event but the intention is to widen the scope in future to include anything related to the Empson family name. We might look at famous Empson’s for example: Sir William the poet referred to above and his distinguished forebear Professor William Empson, polymath and Editor of the Edinburgh Review in 1847. Then of course there is Sir Richard, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chancellor and tax gatherer to Henry the VII who was promptly executed together with Edmund Dudley by Henry VIII as soon as he came to the throne. We might look at Charles Empson, a book dealer and gallery owner in Bath, who was honoured by Louis Napoleon and on whose death in 1861, Francis Kilvert wrote a poem in memoriam. We might consider John Henry who married the daughter of the Earl of Coventry and lived at Earls Croome where the park is supposedly the finest example of English landscape architecture.

Empson’s have been prominent in the Church, in Education and Medicine. They have built houses, commanded naval squadrons, farmed the land, administered the law, worked in government and helped build the Empire. Future editions might examine these and assess the contributions they made. Most of all however it can chronicle the everyday lives of Empsons and related families in times of war & peace. It may bring other branches of the family together.

Who are the Empsons

Setting out the origins of the Empson name would need a newsletter all of its own. There are two main theories. One is that the family descend from Vikings who landed on the east coast and worked their way up the Humber establishing farming communities, presumably once they grew tired of rape and pillage. This rings true when the concentration of Empson families down the eastern side of the country is considered. The other theory holds that the name derives from Emma daughter of Richard I, Duke of Normandy who married Ethelred the Unready in 1002 and then in 1017 King Cnut. Emma was a name popular with the Normans since the C11th, but the earliest recorded use of our name is of a Richard Empson in Suffolk in 1498, with an earlier reference to a Richard Emmerson in Sussex in 1327. This is likely to be the way the name evolved although both Emson and Imson appear in early Oxfordshire documents. The newsletter might be a useful place to debate these ideas and to publish research, indeed who we are and where we came from are the issues most likely to prompt future contributions!

(I am grateful to Warwick Empson in Sydney, Australia for much of the above information).

Want to know more?

In the next issue it is hoped to list contacts with an interest in Empsons both here and overseas. It is likely they will be those that are willing to help people who want to conduct research into the family, or to be able to put them in touch with others that can. I will welcome comments and criticisms of this newsletter as self-appointed editor. Mistakes and omissions are entirely my own responsibility.

This issue is being distributed both by Email and conventional post. A copy will be sent to all those with whom I have come into contact since starting research into the family. However this is but a fraction of the people with an interest in the family name and this first issue is therefore offered as an open invitation to anybody who wants to be included in future mailings or to make contributions to make contact. There will be no charge.


written by Dick Empson

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