The GURNETT Family of Swanbourne (Updated to include the story of Edward Gurnett, December 2023)
by Neil Rees
The Gurnett Surname
Gurnett is an uncommon surname whose origin is not known. There is also a fish called the gurnet, and there is a place called Gurnet Point near Cape Cod in Massachusetts. In England there is a place called Gurnett near Macclesfield. In old records the surname is variously spelt in Bucks as Gurnet, Gurnitt, Girnet and Gurnett but today is always spelt Gurnett. It is not to be confused with the Gurney or Garnett which are separate surnames in Bucks.
Gurnetts of Essex
As far as we can make out, all of the Gurnetts in the world can probably trace themselves back to one of two Gurnett branches, one from Bucks and one from Essex. The surname in Essex maybe connected to a Ricardus Gernet who is mentioned in the Domesday Book at Chigwell in Essex and he was a Norman who came with William the Conqueror.
The Buckingham Gurnetts
The furthest I have been able to trace the Gurnetts in Bucks is to John and Elizabeth Gurnett of Water Stratford in the mid 1600s. Their son Edward Gurnett was christened in 1662 and he moved to Buckingham. Edward Gurnett had a son Edward Gurnett who was christened in 1698. The Gurnett family appear in the Buckingham records from the late 1600s until the early 1800s.
Edward Gurnett of Buckingham held pasture land at Swanbourne. He married Jane Jennings of Denham in London in 1729. All their children were all christened at Denham. Only 3 children survived into adulthood who were daughters, 2 of whom settled at Fulmer. Edward’s wife Jane died in Fulmer in 1760 and Edward Gurnett re-married Ann Hitchcock in Dinton Church on 13th January 1761. In the Dinton register he is called “Edward Gurnett of the parish of Swanbourne, widower”. In the Swanbourne Enclosure records of 1762 Edward Gurnett was awarded land. Edward Gurnett died in Fulmer in 1765.
Edward Gurnett’s daughter Elizabeth married Edward Bavin in London 1761 but was widowed soon after, and seems to have moved back to Swanbourne. Westfield King of Swanbourne was also widowered in 1762. We then find the banns of marriage for “Westfield King of Swanbourne & Elizabeth Gurnett of Swanbourne” in the Swanbourne registers in January and February 1764. She was clearly pregnant at the time because they had a son Benjamin who was christened on 5th February 1764. The register says “child of Westfield King by Elizabeth Gurnett or Bavin.”
Elizabeth Gurnett’s son Benjamin was known as Benjamin Gurnett and from him all the Swanbourne Gurnetts descend. Benjamin Gurnett married Rebecca Brome at Swanbourne Church in 1787. Benjamin and Rebecca Gurnett had three sons: Benjamin Gurnett (1789-1866), John Gurnett (1794-1865) and William Gurnett (1800-1837). William Gurnett seems not have had any children but it is from Benjamin and John Gurnett that all the Gurnetts in Buckinghamshire, in two distinct family groups, descend. The family were part of Swanbourne Baptist church where some were buried in its grounds.
Descendants of Benjamin Gurnett (1789-1861) son of Benjamin, son of Edward
Benjamin Gurnett married three times. By his first wife Arabella he had a son John Gurnett in 1815. Arabella died the same year. In 1818 Benjamin married secondly Sarah Claridge by whom he had a son William Gurnett in 1825. In 1833 Benjamin Gurnett married thirdly Sarah Pitkinand he adopted her illegitimate son Thomas Pitkin (1826-1910), who was examined by the Royal Commission on Old-Age Pensions. The brothers John and William Gurnett both enlisted in the Royal Marines, and they both fought at the Battle of Inkerman in the Crimean War 1854-1856.
William Gurnett (1825-1887) married Charlotte Alderman in Woolwich in 1862 and they lived at the Marine Barracks in Woolwich where their first two children wereborn, but they returned to Swanbourne in 1867. William and Charlotte Gurnett had eight children. This family joined the Primitive Methodist church, and many of their descendants still live locally in Bucks to this day, including some in Swanbourne.
The Spittles Family
Mary Alice Gurnett (1869-1948), daughter of William and Charlotte Gurnett, married John Harris Spittles (1868-1950) in 1897 and they lived at Great Missenden. They donated the clock which is still used in the Methodist chapel. Many of their descendants still live in Bucks but two of their sons John Edward Spittles (1902-1992) and George Edward Spittles (1904-1997) sailed to Fremantle, Australia in the 1920s and their descendants live in the Perth area of Western Australia. Their other son William Gerald Spittles (1909-1942) was killed in action at El Alamein in 1942, and appears on the war memorial at Great Missenden.
The Plumstead Gurnetts
John Gurnett (1815-1880), son of Benjamin and Arabella Gurnett, married Ann Maria Davis at Woolwich in 1856. They had four sons: William Gurnett (1854-), Henry Thomas Gurnett (1857-1908), John Charles Gurnett (1860-) and Charles Gurnett (1865-) all born in Woolwich. The family settled in Plumstead. John Charles Gurnett and Charles Gurnett seem to have had no children, but the Gurnett descendants of William Gurnett (1854-) and Henry Thomas Gurnett (1857-1908) still live in the Plumstead area to this day.
Descendants of John Gurnett (1794-1865) son of Benjamin son of Edward
John Gurnett married Elizabeth Anstee in Swanbourne Church in 1821. They had sons Benjamin Gurnett (1821-1904), John Gurnett (1829-1917) and Charles Gurnett (1833-1899). John Gurnett and his family moved to Kensington and their descendants live in London.
The New South Wales Gurnetts
Charles Gurnett (1833-1899) married Elizabeth Wilmore in 1852. They emigrated to Sydney, Australia in 1855 on the “Samuel Boddington”. Their Gurnett descendants live in the Sydney area to this day.
Descendants of Benjamin Gurnett (1821-1904) son of John son of Benjamin son of Edward
Benjamin Gurnett married Jane Prior and they had three sons James Henry Gurnett (1850-1888), William Gurnett (1852-1923) and Thomas Gurnett (1855-1919). William Gurnett (1852-1923) married Elizabeth Adams and their family remained in Swanbourne and live locally.
The Wingrave Gurnetts
James Henry Gurnett (1850-1888) married Mary Ann Goldney (1844-1932) of Rowsham and they settled in Wingrave. They were connected to Wingrave Congregational church.
The Queensland Gurnetts
Thomas Gurnett (1855-1919), son of Benjamin and Jane Gurnett, married Ann Elizabeth (Eliza) Steeden (1859-1916) in Winslow on 17 December 1876 and they emigrated to Queensland, Australia on the “Scottish Bard” in 1877. Thomas Gurnett was the nephew of Charles Gurnett who emigrated to Sydney but their emigrations seem to be unconnected. Unusually Thomas Gurnett came back to England for a short time and he appears in the 1891 census living in the High Street in Great Missenden. They had six children born in Queensland including two sons: Thomas Benjamin Gurnett (1877-1929) and Ernest Albert Gurnett (1893-1977). Eliza died in 1916 and Thomas died in 1919 aged 64, and they are buried at Charters Towers in Queensland. From them descend a number of Queensland Gurnett families
Dinton parish records, Swanbourne parish records, Swanbourne Baptist records, Swanbourne Methodist records, Gurnett Family Bible.
The story of Edward Gurnett (1698-1765)
By Neil Rees – September 2023
The name Edward Gurnett appears only once in the Swanbourne records. He was allotted land in Nearton End, Swanbourne in 1763, which today is still called Gurnett’s Ground. He does not appear in the parish register yet there are people from the Gurnett family in the area. Who was he? This article attempts to unravel the story.
Long before there were Gurnetts in Swanbourne, there were Gurnetts in the Buckingham area, which is the first record of Gurnetts in Bucks. The first recorded family was that of John and Elizabeth Gurnett who lived at Water Stratford. They had children Sarah, Edward, Thomas and Anthony who were born between 1667 and 1685.
John and Elizabeth’s son Edward Gurnett was probably born in 1672 and he seems to have moved to Buckingham where he had children Elizabeth, John, Edward, Mary, and Thomas between 1693 and 1703. Edward Gurnett’s son Edward Gurnett was probably born 1698.
The family were cowkeepers who supplied the London markets with butter. Edward Gurnett’s brother John Gurnett was a labourer who used to work for Lord Cobham at Stowe. He then became a drover, driving cattle for graziers and butchers. John Gurnett married Elizabeth Cox in 1721 and they had a son Edward Gurnett in 1729.
I have now tried to reconstruct the most likely story of Edward Gurnett of Swanbourne from surviving records. Edward Gurnett seem to have become a drover taking animals into London. Edward Gurnett used land at Swanbourne; land at Ford near Dinton near Aylesbury; and land at Denham, Fulmer and West Drayton near Uxbridge as staging posts for animals on their way to London.
Living in Denham
In the 1720s, Edward Gurnett was farming at Denham, where he probably met Jane Jennings. In 1729, at his wedding to Jane Jennings of Denham, at Mayfair he is described as a husbandman, which was another term for a farmer. In 1737, he leased Rusholte and Redhill Farms for 21 years. In 1751 he took Denham Court (now called Buckinghamshire Golf Club) when he was described as a yeoman, who was a farmer holding land freehold.
Edward and Jane Gurnett had many children at Denham between 1731 and 1744, but in those days many children died in infancy, including their sons Edward and John, so he had no surviving sons, but they had three daughters who lived to adulthood: Ann born 1736, Elizabeth born 1740, and Catherine born 1742. Having no surviving sons of his own, Edward Gurnett seems to have taken on his ten-year-old nephew Edward Gurnett.
Living at Fulmer
In the 1750s Edward Gurnett’s family seems to have moved to Fulmer. Fulmer is a village in south Bucks just to the west of Denham, and just south of the Chalfonts. In 1756, Ann Gurnett married Joseph Pigg, farmer of Fulmer. They had a son Joseph in 1758 and a son Edward in 1762, who were christened at Fulmer. In 1760, Edward Gurnett’s wife, Jane, died at Fulmer where she was buried.
Edward Gurnett the nephew
Sadly, the nephew Edward Gurnett was badly behaved. He robbed his uncle and ran away to Chalfont, where he worked for a brickmaker. Whilst in Chalfont he bore a child out of wedlock and he fled to London to avoid responsibility. He went to live in Highgate, where he went by the name of James Cox. There he was accused of stealing silver items from one Daniel King. He passed the stolen property to someone who reported it to a Magistrate. As a result Edward Gurnett appeared at the Old Bailey on 6th June 1761 accused of theft. He “was indicted for stealing one silver watch value ten pounds, one silver pint mug value three pounds, and two silver salts value thirty shillings”. He was executed at Tyburn on Monday 5th October, 1761. The chaplain at the prison interviewed him and wrote down what he said where we get these details of his life.
In 1764 Catherine Gurnett married Robert Coker of Denham. In the parish register she is described as Catherine Gurnett of Fulmer which also suggests that the family were living in Fulmer then. They had a son Robert Coker in 1764, and twin daughters Catherine and Sarah in 1771.
Death of Edward Gurnett
In July 1765 Edward Gurnett died and was buried at Fulmer. He may have died at Denham because in his Will written shortly before he died he writes “in the parish of Denham”, or he may have died at Fulmer. In any case, he is buried at Fulmer (which is not far from Denham) where he was probably buried with his first wife Jane, who was buried in Fulmer in 1760.
Edward Gurnett’s Will
Edward Gurnett’s Will survives amongst the records at the county archives Aylesbury. Edward Gurnett had 3 daughters who were his co-heirs, so he seems to have left property into the names of his two sons-in-law, and he left money to his widowed wife and daughter Elizabeth. It says that he left his “wife Ann Gurnett the sum of one shilling”. He left £150 to his daughter Elizabeth Bavin, who is described as “widow living with Joseph Pigg”. Joseph Pigg was her brother-in-law, so effectively she is living with her sister.
It was not until 1870, that women in the UK could inherit land, upto then only men could, but women could inherit money, so the lands were left to the sons-in-law Joseph Pigg and Robert Coker. It states that Edward Gurnett left his son-in-law Robert Coker £110 and an estate at West Drayton. The residue was left to his two sons-in-law Joseph Pigg of Bovingdon, and Robert Coker of Denham who were both farmers. This residue would have included his lands at Swanbourne. The Will was proved on 29th July 1765. (We would have to look at any surviving records for Gurnetts Ground how it was inherited and sold.)
What happened to the rest of the family?
After he died Edward’s second wife and widow, Ann Gurnett, seems to have returned to live at Dinton, where her name appears in the Hobbs land papers.
Pigg Family of Bovingdon
A year after Edward Gurnett’s death, in 1766, his daughter Ann Pigg, described as a “gentlewoman” died and was buried at Bovingdon. Her husband Joseph Pigg remarried in 1767, aged 36, to Elizabeth Bird. He was described as a “Farmer” and died in 1791. Joseph and Ann’s son Joseph Pigg married Elizabeth Norwood. H died in 1821 aged 62. The Pigg family of Bovingdon descend from them.
Coker Family of Denham
Catherine Coker died in Denham in 1809 aged 67. Her husband Robert Coker died in Denham in 1808, aged 75. Their son Robert Coker married Ann Grosthead in 1792 and they settled at Denham. The Coker family of Denham descend from them.
Gurnett Family of Swanbourne
Elizabeth Bavin alias Gurnett seems to have continued to live at Swanbourne with her son Benjamin, who was known as Benjamin Gurnett. Benjamin Gurnett married Rebecca Brome at Swanbourne parish church on 5th November, 1787. When he died in 1839 he was described as aged “about 77”. It is from them that the Swanbourne Gurnett family descend…
The above article on Edward Gurnett includes referenced sources here:- Website_StoryOfEdwardGurnett
SEE ALSO:- CHARLES GURNETT – Emigration to Australia