John Breakspear

John Breakspear was the father of Eliza Ann Breakspear and grandfather of Walter Showell the founder of Crosswells brewery in Oldbury. He was baptized on 12 Apr 1777 in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire.

He married Emma Salmon on 22 Dec 1801 and a number of his children were baptized in Chipping Norton, others in Kings Langley, Hertfordshire and one in Brill in Buckinghamshire. Latterly he lived in Aston Birmingham.

This geographical mobility would, one presume, be connected to the pub and Inn trade. One daughter Jane married a retail Brewer John Davis. Eliza Ann married Walter Showell (Snr) a Licensed Victualler.

John Breakspear was almost certainly the son of William Breakspear and Elizabeth Webb, licensees of the Blue Boar Inn in Chipping Norton. This William Breakspear probably came from a line of Breakspears who were Blacksmiths in Oddington, Stow-on-the Wold and Moreton-in -Marsh. The trail is left by a series of wills that takes this blacksmith line back to the late seventeenth century.

Although the Henley brewing dynasty founded by Robert Breakspear (1749-1812) had connexions with Chipping Norton, there seems to be no direct family relationship to John Breakspear. ¬†Robert Breakspear’s parents married in Chipping Norton in 1748 and his eldest son, an Oxford educated cleric who moved to Cheshire, also states that he came from Chipping Norton, although he was born in Witney where his father first established a brewery.

However, the parents being William and Elizabeth fit nicely with what we know about John’s siblings. His sister Mary marries William Colegrave, a butcher from Sibford in 1807. She is described in the local paper as the second daughter of Mrs B of the Blue Boar Chipping Norton. This figures with the baptisms of the children of William and Elizabeth Breakspear as a daughter Mary was baptised on 2 Jan 1779.

Although it is usual in these journals to use the abbreviation such as Mrs B, where the surname is mentionned in the previous sentence, we can read something more into this. The Bee, as an insect, is a symbol of the Breakspear family. It appears on the crest of Nicholas Breakspear the twelfth century Pope and also on the Beer Pumps of the modern day brewery of Brakspears.

It is clear that anyone with the name Breakspear was conscious of the papal connexion and all bearers of the Breakspear name would presume that they had common ancestry, even if at a dozen generations back. Other than some knowledge of this family history, it is difficult to explain why John Breakspear’s children just happen to be born where they were. Brill in Buckinghamshire, in one account, is the birthplace of Nicholas Breakspear in 1100 and he pursued his early ecclesiastical career in Abbots Langley, that is so close to Kings Langley. The Breakspear name is still part of the local community there, even today eg Breakspear School Abbots Langley.¬†

Another sister of John would be Jemima baptised on 22 Jul 1785 and she went on to marry Thomas Stuchfield on 12 Jul 1810 in Chipping Norton. The Stuchfield family had family and coaching interests in Brill, which could also go to explain the birthplace of John’s youngest daughter Emma Dudley Breakspear baptized in Brill in 1813.

A third sister Ann Breakspear is probably the one who marries Benjamin Churchill of Deddington. It would appear that Benjamin Churchill was at one time the licensee of the Three Horse Shoes in Deddington.

From all this we can conclude then, that Mrs B, John’s mother, was the landlady of the Blue Boar in Chipping Norton in 1807 and we can presume that his father, William Breakspear, was already dead.

By about 1820 John Breakspear had moved to Birmingham. He is recorded as being a licensed victualler first at the Acorn, Summer Street, and later at the Malt Shovel in Smallbrook Street, Birmingham from 1821 to at least 1830. His daughter Eliza Ann was to take over as licensee of the Bull’s Head in Price Street on the death of her husband in 1835. But Eliza Ann Showell’s father in law, Joseph Showell, had been licensee of the Black Swan, also in Smallbrook Street and this may be how the families met.

John Breakspear died on 22 Mar 1838 aged 60 in the presence of his daughter Eliza Ann Showell of Price Street, Birmingham. His profession is recorded as Miller and that he died in the Water Works Mill, Aston, after a short but severe illness.

This must have been a change of occupation only in the last few years of his life.

Selected Sources

  • Death Certificate of John Breakspear
  • Database of Licensed Victuallers in Warwickshire
Last updated on 17 December 2018 by JJ Morgan