Emily Skinner 1838 – 1869

Emily Skinner nee Davis 1838 - 1869

by Clare Spicer, Hilary Southall and Jill Trethewey 02/07/2022


Emily was born on the 22nd of October 1838 in Tangier Place, Taunton. [1] She was the eldest child of John Davis and Cordelia nee Jessett and one of seven siblings. Emily was baptised on the 13th of June 1839 in the Anglican parish church of St Mary Magdalene, Taunton. Her parents were now living in Victoria Place and her father John was a silk dyer. There were many silk mills in Taunton at this time, where John could have found work. There were Jessett families also living in Taunton and working as silk dyers, so this is probably how Emily and John met. [2]

Tower Street, Taunton, on the 1887 OS Town Plan. Note 'Tangier' as the name of the area in the top left, Tangier Wharf in the centre and Tangier House and Cottage on the bottom right.

The 1841 census showed Emily Davis living with her parents in Bishops Hull, a village close to Taunton. The family were probably moving between a succession of rented houses, as over the next ten years, baptism records show the family living at a series of different addresses within Taunton. [3] These addresses were in and around the Tangier district to the west of Taunton. This was a fairly industrial area, where the gas works, cattle and pig markets, brewery and flour mill were situated. By 1851, John and Cordelia had four children, and Cordelia was supplementing their income by working as a dressmaker, so times may have been hard. The silk mills were considerably reduced in number in Taunton by the mid-19th century, and wages were being squeezed.

John and Cordelia had another three children in Taunton between 1851 and 1857, but by 1861 John had moved his family to Bridgwater, perhaps in search of more regular work. The family were living in Polden Street, and 21 year old Emily and her younger sister Emma were both working as dressmakers. With the elder children working, Cordelia was able to be a fulltime housewife and look after her younger children. Emily may have been going out to work, or she and Emma may have been doing piece work at home.


After they moved to Bridgwater, Emily may have started worshipping at a non-conformist church.  On the 17th of October 1867, Emily married Thomas Lowday Skinner in the Wesleyan Free Church in St Mary Street. Both bride and groom were able to sign their names, and one of the witnesses was Emily’s sister Theresa Davis.

The St Mary Street Methodist Chapel on the 1887 OS Town Plan - tucked behind the street frontage, it's now part of Bar 27.

At the time of their marriage, Thomas Skinner was working as a carpenter and living in Friarn Street. Thomas was born in 1837 in Nether Stowey, a village near Bridgwater, and he was one of eleven children born to Hugh and Mary Skinner. His family liked to hand family names down through the generations. Thomas’s grandmother was called Eleanor Lowday, and the name Lowday was given to most of her grandchildren.

Hugh Skinner worked as a cooper and he probably taught Thomas woodworking skills, but when Thomas’s mother Mary died in 1858, Thomas decided to move to Bridgwater where there would have been many more opportunities for work.

After their marriage, Thomas and Emily were living in Angel Crescent, Bridgwater. Angel Crescent was a narrow street of terraced houses, connecting Back Street (now Clare Street) and Northgate. This was in the centre of Bridgwater, and there would have been plenty of work for Thomas. His business expanded as by 1869 he was describing himself as a master builder, meaning that he was employing other workers.

The line of Angel Crescent is marked out in red here.

Emily became pregnant and all seemed to be going well for them. On the first of April 1869 Emily gave birth to a healthy girl, but Emily herself succumbed to infection, as so many women did after childbirth. At this time doctors and midwives had little understanding of the causes of infection, or how important handwashing and other basic hygiene precautions were. Emily died on the 8th of April 1869 of puerperal fever. Emily and Thomas’s daughter was named Emily Lowday Cordelia Davis Skinner, which included the names of both Thomas’s grandmother, and Emily’s mother.

Emily was buried in Wembdon Road Cemetery on the 15th of April 1869, in Dissenters Plan 3 9/460. [4] The grieving Thomas arranged for a fine stone obelisk to mark Emily’s grave, but as a newly widowed man he was unable to both work and look after his daughter. Thomas put baby Emily in the care of his wife’s parents, John and Cordelia Davis, and left Bridgwater. There are some records which indicate that he moved to London, and eventually died there.

Emily's memorial, an unusual three-sided obelisk, which the Friends hope to repair in 2022.

The rest of baby Emily’s story

Emily junior was living with her grandparents in 1871, but after this she seems to have gone to live with her aunt Theresa Davis, and adopted the surname Davis for a few years. Theresa Davis was a schoolteacher in Ensham, Oxfordshire, and her niece Emily followed in her footsteps and became a schoolteacher too. After Theresa got married, Emily moved back to her grandparents, John and Cordelia Davis, in Bridgwater. By 1901 Emily was living independently at 90 Barclay Street, close to her grandparents, and working as a schoolteacher. Her mother would surely have been proud of her.

Emily met Thomas Bale who was living nearby and working as a potter. They got married just before Christmas in 1907, and moved to 31 Cranleigh Gardens. They were still living in Cranleigh Gardens on the 1939 census, although they had moved to number 42. They didn’t have any children. Emily died in Bridgwater in 1950, her husband Thomas Bale in 1962.


Ancestry .co.uk – Birth, marriage and death records, census records.

Friends of Wembdon Road Cemetery Records

OS map of Taunton at Somerset HER

Introduction to Bishops Hull Parish by Mary Sirault, Victoria County History

[1] The road called Tangier Place in the 1840s is now Tower Street.

[2] Baptism and marriage records for the Jessett family are patchy, it is possible that some of the family were non conformists and these records are not yet digitised.

[3] Children of John and Cordelia Davis baptised in St Mary Magdalene, Taunton – Emily 1838, Emma 1844, William Herbert 1847, Louisa 1849, Theresa Frances 1852, Henry John 1854 and Frank Sidney 1857.

[4] Her memorial inscription says that she died at the age of 28, but her birth certificate shows that she was 30.