The Bissell Ancestors

The Bissells

This page tells the story of the Bissell line of the family. If you want to see a detailed diagram of the Bissell ancestors, then click Bissell Tree. This will open in a new tab so that you can flip between this page and the diagram.

These are the ancestors on the paternal line of Grandad Joseph Bissell. The surname Bissell is derived from the Middle English word buyscel, busshell, bysshell or bushel, which is a measure of grain. It is an occupational name for a grain merchant or one who measured grain. The name may also have been applied to a maker of vessels designed to hold or measure out a bushel. The name has two geographical concentrations which are London and Staffordshire. Perhaps the Staffordshire Bissells made the pots and the London Bissells were the grain merchants.

The Bissells in our family came from the east end of London before moving up to Leeds. The earliest refence I have found to the Bissell ancestors was in 1764, so the story starts from there.

William Bissell and Elizabeth Rook

The earliest reference was the marriage of William Bissell to Elizabeth Rook in London in 1764. This was in the reign of George III, a few years before the Boston Tea Party. I have not been able to find any other information about William and Elizabeth.

George Bissell and Elizabeth Spiller

George was a son of William and Elizabeth and was born in 1766 in Holborn London. He married Elizabeth Spiller in 1793 in Westminster London. They had 8 children. Elizabeth was born in 1774 in Bethnal Green London.

They went to live in Stepney. George worked as a whitesmith, which is someone who worked in ‘white’ metals like tin and pewter. As he lived in the east end of London, this may mean that the Bissell ancestors were cockneys.

George Bissell and Sarah Sutherland

George was a son of George and Elizabeth and was born in 1804 in Mile End Old Town Stepney. He married Sarah Sutherland in 1822. They had 7 children. Sarah was born in 1803 in Whitechapel.

George, was a blacksmith. They lived in Thomas Street which is now called Parfett Street. Here is a map showing Thomas Street.

It was in Mile End Old Town in Stepney. Mile End Old Town was originally quite small and mainly countryside, but in the early 19th century, it rapidly expanded. This was to provide housing for all the workers at the new London Docks which was created at that time. These houses were typically small two storey terraced houses. Often workers would share a house or take in lodgers in order to meet the rent.

George doesn’t seem to have resorted to this as according to the 1851 census, there was just his family living at no 15 Thomas Street. This is probably because his son James was also working as a blacksmith and would have been contributing to the rent. Others on the street were not so lucky. At no. 12, there were 16 adults and 3 children sharing the same house and at no. 11, there were 9 adults and 9 children sharing the same house.

I have searched a Post Office trade directory from that time to see if I could find out where George was working as a blacksmith. I cannot find any mention of him so this probably means he worked for someone else rather than having his own blacksmith’s forge. As he lived near the London Docks, he may have worked there as blacksmiths would be needed to make ship’s fittings.

Sarah’s father was a ship’s captain. There is more details about him at the bottom of this page. George died in 1864 and Sarah died in 1886.

Joseph Bissell and Annie Elizabeth Ford

Joseph was a son of George and Sarah and was born in 1843 in Stepney. He also became a blacksmith. In the 1871 census he gives his occupation as ironsmith, which was another name for a blacksmith. He was the Bissell who moved up to Leeds in the early 1870’s. It is not certain whether he moved up to get work or to make it easier for him to commit bigamy.

He married Martha Steer in 1861 and they had four daughters, Martha, Alice, Rosa and Ada. In the 1871 census they are living in Cheshunt, however his wife Martha does not appear to be living with them.

The next time there is any record of him is in 1875 when he is in Leeds and is marrying his second wife Annie Ford. The marriage certificate shows him as a widower. However, in 1883, we find his first wife Martha is still alive and well and she is also getting married again in Middlesex, stating she is a widow. As they were both obviously alive, yet both claiming their spouse had died, they had both technically committed bigamy. Divorce was quite difficult to obtain in the nineteenth century, so the way round it was to move to another area where no one would know you were already married.

On his marriage certificate he was shown as a tool fitter, so he seems to have adapted his blacksmith skills to making tools. By the time of the 1891 census, he had a complete change of career and was now a beer house keeper living at the Albion Inn public house on Armley Road (photo on the right). In fact, the Leeds trade directory shows he was a beer house keeper at another public house on Ellerby Road. His will suggests that he first worked at Armley Road and then moved to Ellerby Road.

He died in 1894 while still living at Ellerby Road. The probate records show he left everything to his wife Annie and his estate was worth one hundred and nineteen pounds and eight pence. This would be worth about £15,000 in 2020.

Albion Inn
A recent photo of Albion Inn

His second wife Annie was born in Greenwich in 1850 where her family lived at the time. Her father is shown in one census as a coin dealer. Her parents didn’t originally come from Greenwich, her father was born in Bromley Kent and her mother was born in Eastbourne Sussex. By the time Annie moved to Leeds, her parents moved again to a village called Benhall in Suffolk.

Charles William Henry Bissell and Mary Hannah Whiteside

Charles was a son of Joseph and Annie and was born in 1875 in Wortley Leeds. He married Mary Hannah Whiteside in 1900. They had 3 children. Mary was born in 1878 in York.

He served as a private in the Army Service Corps in the First World War. The ASC were the troops responsible for getting supplies to the front line. He was in the Mechanised Transport section which means he was either a driver or mechanic.

He was awarded the Victory medal and the British War medal, these were the two medals that were awarded to all those who served in the First World War.

Charles and Mary Bissell with children Joseph and Ivy
Charles and Mary Bissell with children Joseph and Ivy
Charles Bissell
Charles in his army uniform

Before the war, Charles was working as a Horseshoe Stamper in the 1901 census and as an Asphalter in the 1911 census.

It looks like he put his wartime mechanical experience into practice after the war because his occupation is given as Engineers Fitter on his wife’s death certificate.

Charles died in 1926 and Mary died in 1955. These are the parents of grandad Joseph Bissell so I have come to the end of the Bissell ancestors.

The Sutherlands

Sarah Sutherland was the wife of George Bissell. Her parents were Steward Sutherland and Sarah Rusdidt who married in Whitechapel in 1801. Despite his unusual Christian name and her unusual surname, I have not been able to trace the birth of either of them. Her father Steward was a sea captain and I have been able to find some information about him.

Steward wrote his will while at sea. When he died, his will does not appear to have been sorted out by his wife. The will was provisionally approved after his death in 1816, but probate was not finally granted until 1862 when it was granted to his daughter Sarah. The probate records just say his effects were under £300.

The will is interesting because it shows he had an alias of Robert Simonds, but I have not been able to find out why he used two names. It also shows he was a mariner by trade and eventually became a ship’s captain.
He wrote his will leaving everything to his wife Sarah while he was on board his ship. The will reads as follows: –
Nautilas – The Downs – Dec 6th 1815
Dear wife
We are now proceeding in the Downs and as I am not in a state of good health, I leave this my last will and testament, list all my effects which is now in my possession or may hereafter obtained, due by wages or other ways or any monies that is left or may be left in this name or any other, that you will ask and demand for your own use and children and every property that may borrow due to use during your own natural life and after that to be equally divided among children. Give my love to the children and hope that they may be all well. No more at present but remain your loving husband
Robert Simonds.

The following is a record of the will being provisionally approved after his death :-
10 December 1816
Approved provisionally. John Pirrie of No 21 T….ton(?) Street, Mariner and John Pavy of Suras Street Commercial Road, Southwell and made oath that they knew and were well acquainted with Steward Sutherland otherwise Robert Simmonds, late of the parish of St George in the county of Middlesex, a captain of the Merchant Ship Nautilas at sea deceased and having often seen him write and subscribe his name are thereby become well acquainted with his aliases and character of his handwriting and subscription and having now witnessed and proved that words written at the foot of the paper writing, purporting to be the last will and testament of the said deceased beginning thus “Nautilas Downs Dec 6th 1815” ending thus “no more at present but remain you loving husband Robert Simonds”, they the approvers do verily and in their conscience believe that last written words also the signatures to the same to be of that proper handwriting and subscription of the said Steward Sutherland otherwise Robert Simonds deceased and the said John Pavy for himself saithe that the deceased proper name was Steward Sutherland and that he hath frequently seen the said deceased sign the name of Robert Simonds as his signature.
Signed John Pirrie John Pavy.

The above shows that his real name was Steward Sutherland and that he was captain of the ship Nautilas. It says deceased at sea, but I have not been able to find any details of his death. Records of deaths at sea in the National Archives are only available from 1854.

The Downs where he wrote his will is the area of sea lying between the Kent town of Deal and the Goodwin Sands. It was a very important anchorage for merchant shipping during the age of sail. Ships would lie at anchor, sometimes for weeks, sheltered from the east by Goodwin Sands and from the north by the mainland, as they waited for a favourable wind to carry them down the English Channel to the West.

In the 1813 Lloyd’s Register, his ship the Nautilas is registered under his Simonds alias. The ship was built in 1800 and had a capacity of 306 tons. It shows that when it was surveyed in London in 1813, it was on its way to Grenada. Assuming he was working as an independent merchant ship, then he could be transporting anything that merchants needed shipping across the Atlantic. The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was in 1807, so he would not have been involved in shipping slaves across the Atlantic.

The Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815 so he wouldn’t have to worry about being attacked by the French any more, but there were still pirates operating in the Caribbean. Then there were the usual dangers of storms, hidden rocks and disease, it would be quite a job being a ship’s captain in those days.