One day in August 2000 a young man was browsing in a bookshop in Wells. His eye fell upon an old book which, on closer inspection, turned out to be a Family Bible on the fly leaf of which there was a heading, "Uncle Herbert wrote this" followed by names and dates. The first entry was for "Isaac Feltham, died January 31st 1914, aged 85." This meant nothing to the young man but, realising it could mean a great deal to someone, he purchased the Bible with the intention of tracing its origin if he could. A busy freelance photographer, he forgot about the Bible until 2002, when he prepared to move to a new flat. He then showed it to his mother, a keen family historian, who promised to carry out the original plan to locate a worthy recipient.
A series of internet communications began in August 2002 when the mother, Dee Helmore, looked on the Web for family researchers named Feltham. Fortunately the first person she found, although unable to identify Isaac, was able to put her in touch with a Feltham researcher who could. This lady, Barbara Grimshaw, a correspondent of mine, revealed that Isaac and the other Felthams listed in the Bible were from Chitterne; since, however, she was descended from a different Feltham family, she suggested Dee should contact a John Feltham who lives in Australia and has a connexion with a Chitterne Feltham. Dee, accordingly, E mailed John telling him she sought a good home for the Bible and asking if he knew of any descendants of Isaac. She received an immediate reply from John to the effect that, although he had no known connexion with an Isaac Feltham, he would be delighted to take at least temporary custody of the Bible. Meanwhile, Barbara Grimshaw suddenly recalled my own close relationship to Isaac and told me about the discovery of the Bible and subsequent events. My somewhat frantic E mail to Dee Helmore arrived in Warwickshire on the day when the Bible, already packaged, was to be posted to Australia. Dee fully accepted the greater strength of my claim to the Bible since I am a direct descendant of Isaac Feltham but was in a quandary having virtually promised it to John in Australia. Fortunately, and generously, John respected this view and so it was I drove to Warwickshire and claimed the prize.
The Bible has evidently been well used and various religious tracts and quotations have been inserted. Of particular interest to the historian are dates relating to members of the family, most of which appear to have been written in by Herbert Feltham, Isaac's second son, pictured right.
So who was Isaac Feltham? He was born in Chitterne in 1829, the son of William Feltham whose ancestry traces back to Orcheston and Amesbury in the 18th Century. Isaac, an agricultural labourer when a young man, married Jane Miles from East Coulston in 1852 and the couple produced seven children: Mercy, Richard, Grace, Herbert, Prudence Edna and Sylvannus. At this distance in time nothing is known of the life of the family or the characters of those in it but we do know from census returns that Isaac opened a "marine store" - apparently a strange choice in landlocked Salisbury Plain though probably this had no nautical associations and was a sort of general store. Sons Richard and Herbert were also part of the enterprise. About the same period, Feltham and Polden began their store, the Feltham in this case being James, the youngest brother of Isaac and greatgrandfather of our own Ray Feltham.
The Bible reveals a little more. There is a heading on the flyleaf, "Uncle Herbert wrote this." and, beneath, two religious qotations and Isaac's date of death, 31st January 1914, aged 85. On the first page we find, "Mary Feltham A present from Bristol 2nd March 1892." This appears to have been written by Mary herself as, immediately below, Herbert records "Died March 24th 1911 aged 81." There was, initially some confusion here since this is the date of death for Isaac's wife, Jane, but a Chitterne Census reveals that Jane was also known as Mary, presumably a family pet name. The reference to Bristol is interesting and suggests that the Bible was a present from Isaac and Jane's daughter, Grace, who married a Chitterne man, Charles Ashley, in 1877 and settled with him in Bristol immediately afterwards. The couple were my own greatgrandparents.
On the reverse of the first page Herbert has written the birth dates of Jane (2nd March 1830), of Isaac (7th June 1829) and Richard (4th February 1856). At the bottom of the page he records, "Arthur Feltham, Died on the 17th of Oct 1918 of malaria fever in Egypt. Duty nobly done." Here he refers to his nephew, the son of Mercy Feltham, who was buried in the War Cemetery at Ramleh in Israel. Herbert himself served in World War I but was fortunate enough to survive. The names of both men are inscribed on the War Memorial in the village.
Isaac and Jane Feltham lived their entire lives in Chitterne, their last known address being 85 Bidden Lane. Their sons lived nearby, certainly until 1924. Herbert appears to have remained single and cared for his sister, Mercy, but Richard and Sylvannus - the latter having, somewhat understandably, adopted the name "William" - produced large families of their own and the names Herbert (no.2), Fred and Lewis will probably be remembered still by "old-timers." Several descendants still live in Wiltshire or are in touch with the village. The Bible has, in a sense, come home but I wonder which of Isaac's grandchildren noted inside, "Uncle Herbert wrote this" and which of his descendants was the last to own it before it appeared in a bookshop in Wells at the beginning of a new millennium.
Peter Ashley 2002
When I submitted my article, “Isaac Feltham’s Bible” to the Chitterne Website in 2002 questions remained unanswered concerning the history of the book, notably who was the third note-writer who inserted the comment about Uncle Herbert at the top of the flyleaf and added Mary’s age on page one and was, I thought, almost certainly the last owner of the Bible before it came into my hands? I had never expected to find out who this was but, in 2007 – five years on – I was contacted by a distant, previously unknown, cousin who, like me, is a great great grandchild of Isaac and Mary Feltham through our great grandmother, Grace Ashley nee Feltham, Isaac’s daughter. She asked for any information I might have about Charles and Grace in order to help in her own family research which she had only just begun, and I told her what I could, including the story of the Feltham Bible. In reply, she explained that her Ashley grandmother in Bristol had maintained close contact with Chitterne Feltham relatives, especially Herbert and his sister, Mercy, both of whom eventually went to live with the grandmother in Bristol. My cousin thinks it must have been during this time that Herbert gave or bequeathed the Bible to his great-nephew, Dennis Clymer, who had possession of it in his house in Bristol.
Before he died, Herbert moved to a residential home and it was my cousin, his niece, who was asked to clear his house. She found he had a very large collection of religious books and pamphlets – he had been a City missionary – most of which she took to the Book Barn near Wells where they could be sold and a contribution given to a charity of her choice. One of the items was Isaac Feltham’s Bible. Under the circumstances, she was unable to examine all of the books thoroughly and, in any case did not know at that time that she was, herself, related to the Feltham family. She is fairly certain, however, that the handwriting of the third person who wrote comments in the bible is that of Dennis Clymer.
So now the mystery is solved. I still have the Bible and my pleasure in its possession is the greater for the knowledge of just how and through which hands it passed on its way to me and, as my cousin says, it has done a good job of bringing family members together.
Peter Ashley 2011