Reay’s reconstruction of family kinship patterns showed that many families in the area he was studying were inter-related. He makes the point that while the nuclear family may well have been the norm in that most households consisted of two parents and their children, in fact there were numerous family members within a short distance of the so-called nuclear family, so the kinship patterns were maintained though people were not necessarily living under the same roof. Reay however was studying three villages all within a five mile radius – walking distance. It is not possible to draw such complicated kinship patterns for Elsfield as he was able to, given his greater amount of data. It is however possible in a limited way to trace what happened to families and to show to what extent the idea of the nuclear family was true. It is also noteworthy that the same patterns persisted in the 20th century.

The 19th century censuses show us how numerous families could become, often occupying more than one house within the village. Unfortunately, the houses were numbered rather than named as they are today, and were not numbered in a recognisable pattern. The enumerator at each census seems to have started at a different place, though it is possible to identify the farms, the Manor and the Vicarage.

The 1841 census shows several families who spread out from one cottage to another. The Clays, the Gurdons, the Locks, the Norths and the Harrises all occupied more than one house. The Gurdons and the Clays are here examined in detail.


The Gurdon family

John Gurdon is mentioned in the 1825 document as both a farmer and a cottager so there are two houses occupied by Gurdons. By the 1841 census, there were still two Gurdon households, both headed by a John Gurdon.

1841 John Gurdon aged 55 Farmer John Gurdon aged 40
Sarah aged 50 Martha aged 40
John aged 15 m. Eliz. Taylor 1848 Alfred aged 15
William aged 10 m. Martha Stanton 1853 James aged 15
Richard aged 8 d. 1844 aged 11 Thomas aged 15
Esther Gammon aged 3 Maria aged 14
Amelia aged 12
Rebecca aged 7
Charles aged 5
Hester aged 3
Vincent aged 2
1851 John Gurdon aged 53 James Gurdon aged 28
Martha aged 50 Sarah aged 25
Amelia aged 21 Milliner m. James Cooper 1851 Henry aged 5
Rebecca aged 17 Emily aged 3
Charles aged 15 Ag. Lab. Sarah aged 1
Esther aged 13
Vincent aged 11 Apprentice
Edwin aged 9
Edmund aged 8
1861 John Gurdon aged 75 d. 1868
Sarah aged 72
William aged 16 Grandson born at Burnham
1871 Ann Gurdon aged 82 Blind. d. 1873 (This is probably the person named Sarah in previous censuses.)
George aged 24 Grandson. Had only one hand. Born in Headington.
Richard aged 13 Scholar. Born in Headington.


During the 1840s and 50s not only did they occupy more than one cottage in the village, they had links with other families. They were linked by marriage to the Taylor family when John Gurdon married Elizabeth Taylor in 1848, while William married Martha Stanton, a servant at the vicarage. James Cooper who married Amelia Gurdon is listed as living in Elsfield, but he may only have been lodging in the village, as there is no family of that name in the census.

There are Gurdons who are buried in the churchyard who are not listed in the censuses. These are Thomas who died aged 84 in 1843, Caroline, who died aged 14 in 1844, Eliza,who died aged 26 in 1848, Richard, aged 68 in 1856 who was living at St Clements, and Mary Elizabeth Wells Gurdon, aged 11 months. Lucy Gurdon living at St Clements died in 1864 aged 70 while Elizabeth aged 37 died at Headington in 1864. There is also Elizabeth Crews Gurdon, living at St Clements, who died aged 78 in 1870.

One of the Gurdons, the first John Gurdon married to Sarah, is listed in the 1861 census as a corn dealer, so he obviously supplemented his farming income with dealing in corn. Amelia, daughter of the other John Gurdon, married a baker from Headington, so it may well be that when the family moved out of Elsfield they earned a living in baking bread rather than growing the wherewithal to make it. As late as 1952, the Women’s Institute were buying cakes for an Easter party for the children of the village from Oliver and Gurdon. They spent £1-16-0d. Oliver and Gurdon had a thriving cake factory in Summertown, founded just after the First World War and closing in 1975, when they employed over 200 people.



The Clay family

The Clay family was present in Elsfield in 1825 and were still represented in the village in 1891.

1841 John Clay aged 25 Thomas Clay aged 45
Lucy aged 25 Letisha aged 40
Emma aged 4 John aged 20
Mariah aged 1 Elizabeth aged 10
Phebe aged 7 Richard aged 9
William aged 7
John Clay aged 50 Jane aged 5
Mary aged 50
Jane aged 20
Hannah aged 1
1851 John Clay aged 38 Thomas Clay aged 60
Lucy aged 33 Letitia aged 50
Emma aged 14 John aged 16
Maria aged 11 William aged 16
Elizabeth aged 9 Jane aged 15
Mary aged 7
Richard aged 5
Henry aged 3
Sarah aged 1 d. 1853
1861 Thomas Clay aged 72 John Clay aged 77 d. 1864
Latisha aged 62 Mary aged 75 d. 1868
Sarah aged 37 Dressmaker
Jane aged 23 d. 1865
William aged 4 Grandson
1871 Thomas Clay aged 82
Letitia aged 72
Sarah aged 48 Servant
William aged 36. Ag. Lab. d. 1880
1881 Letitia Clay aged 80
Sarah aged 55 Small shopkeeper
Clara aged 5 Granddaughter
1891 Letitia Clay aged 93 d. 1892
Sarah aged 65 d. 1898


The Clay family were poor, though not so poor that they ended up in the workhouse. Nevertheless they provided support for their children by housing, over however short a time, their various grandchildren: William in 1861 and Clara in 1881. There is a record of the marriage of Jane Clay to James Andrews in 1864 where she made her mark rather than signing her name. It is difficult to know which person this is. Was she the daughter of Thomas Clay, who died the following year? If so, then she had come back home and her married name is not recorded.

The 19th century was a transition period between an oral and a literate age and this shows in the various spellings of the name “Letitia”, who would have been more used to hearing rather than reading her own name.

By the end of the century, only Sarah remained in the village and she eked out a meagre income by selling goods she had bought in Oxford. She would walk there and back with a basket on each arm and sell what she could carry. The Parsons family at the Manor House saved their tea leaves so she could dry and reuse them.

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