Peter Knee coined the phrase ‘cradle’ as it appears that the first recorded Knees emerged from this once large village which sits at the  foot of the Wiltshire Downs.

Robert Knee b 1548 appears to be the first recorded name and I have traced my line back to him,  – as no doubt could many others. I have just recorded all the data from the Bromham parish register of 1566-1700 (from a copy, randomly found in Bath Central Library) and will try to fit the early family tree together.

How Robert Knee came to be in Bromham and whether he was the first to settle there, are the usual tantalising questions, that will no doubt prove exceedingly difficult if not impossible to crack.

The village of Bromham in Wiltshire is where the quest for the more ancient bearers of the name Knee ends but in some senses begins. What follows can only be described as informed speculation.

The period of assigning surnames seems to run from The Norman Conquest in 1066 to the 15th Century. For a host of reasons, many of which relate to the need to organise both economic and military activity, surnames became useful. In the weaving industry one can imagine that a more collective organisation of activity would require surnames and these would be linked to the skill with which you were associated. e.g. knee carders, weavers (webb).

In the 15th Century, Bromham was a large village that had become a centre for weaving. Above the village, the chalk down land was ideal for grazing sheep. Below the village – for it stands on a step, the valley of the Avon and the plentiful water supply that is needed for purification. In the woods around Chittoe (a celtic word  for woodland) grew the  teasels needed for raising the nap on the woven cloth before shearing or cutting. The sandy soils surrounding the village had supported the growth of Broom (hence Bromham, home of Broom and a bright yellow for the dyers) and provided ideal ground for growing vegetables. Good routes led East to West and North to South.

Such favourable aspects had attracted others before. King William gave Bromham to Battle Abbey near Hastings as a penance, required by the Pope, to atone for the slaughter resulting from the  Conquest. It must have been a worthy gift.

The Romans recognised the quality of the location and built a town, Verlucio, in the area. Iron Age tribes built a fort on the hill behind the village. Even further back into the mists of time the Neolithic folk (c 3000 BCE) had made the area their epicentre for ceremonial construction, represented by the nearby monuments at Silbury Hill, Avebury and of course, Stonehenge.

Perhaps many of the newly named in Bromham had already been in the area for millenia.

‘John Knee of Bromham‘ a Billman in the militia in the Calne Hundred 1529

and from Parish records:

John Knee married Joanne Hobbs in Bromham, Wilts in 1575. They had 2 children, Joseph (b1580) and John (1588)

William Knee married Alice Condry in Bromham, Wilts in 1580.

Robert Knee was born in Bromham in 1548. He married Margery in 1593 at All Cannings, Wilts.

Richard Knee was born in Chester in 1567 and Thomas Knee married Ayles in 1574 in Painswick, Gloucestershire – both places known to have weaving industry which supports the suggestion that Knees may have migrated to these areas to sell their weaving or carding skills.


7 thoughts on “Bromham, Wilts; ‘The Cradle’ of the English Knees

  1. Hello,
    I am researching my family and one of my 3x great-grandfathers, Thomas Harford of Melksham, marryied Sarah Knee, of Melksham, in Aug 1815 in the Independent Church there. I thought Sarah’s parents were James and Elizabeth, but James’ will of 1829 says his daughter, Sarah, married Edward Stroud. I found that marriage had taken place in Oct 1815, so the two Sarahs are different, and I can’t figure out who Sarah’s parents were.
    Do you happen to have Sarah and Thomas Harford in your records?
    Kelly Keegan

  2. Kelly
    From a first look the Ancestry Site suggests that John Harford married Sarah Knee (daughter of James and Elizabeth) in Melksham in 1815. Their son, Thomas Harford b 1816 married Anna Jacka in Wisconsin in 1845 – this may not help!

  3. Hi Rob,
    Yes, that’s what “they say”. I had James and Elizabeth as her parents for awhile, too, as it seems to make so much sense, but then I purchased a copy of James’ will from the Wiltshire archives. James Knee named his daughter, Sarah’s, husband as Edward Stroud, not Thomas Harford. And Sarah Knee married Edward Stroud the same year Sarah Knee married Thomas Harford, so it isn’t a second marriage for Sarah. So James and Elizabeth Knee are not the parents of Sarah Knee Harford.
    No worries – I thought you might just have her info amongst other Knee families you had traced. I’ll keep working at it and let you know if I figure it out.

  4. I have uncovered a little more – the problem here is the number of Sarah Knees!
    One born 31.8.1793 Trowbridge to Quakers James Knee and Elizabeth
    One born 25.2.1795 Seend Wilts to Joseph Knee and Elizabeth (Joseph can often be confused with James)
    One born 18.6.1797 Bromham Wilts to John Knee and Jane
    So this is likely to cause mistakes not to mention the non conformists with different records or none….
    ….and you have eliminated the Trowbridge born Sarah so my money is on Joseph and Elizabeth……

  5. My ancestor James Knee was transported to Tasmania having been convicted of highway robbery. His daughter, born there, was also named Sarah. I lost most of my research when a computer overdosed on coffee! Can you direct me to easily accessible family history, online, as I am in Australia. James Knee was transported on the “Moffatt”, and later received a pardon.

    • Hi Laura – I got this off ancestry.co.uk, the site I use
      James Knee
      Spouse: Ann Donnelly
      Ann Donnelly
      1827 – 1897

      Mary Ann Donnelly/Knee
      1851 – 1929

      George Knee
      1853 – 1905

      Sarah Knee
      1855 – 1905

      Elizabeth Lucy Knee
      James Knee:born
      Somerset. England.
      1 Source
      28 Mar
      Age: 20
      Somerset, England
      Trial; Life transportation for robbery with violence.
      1 Source
      10 Aug
      Age: 20
      Ship “MOFFATT”.
      1 Source
      Age: 20
      1846 Ledger returns.
      1 Source
      Age: 27
      1849 Ledger returns; hired to L S Hurst, New Town.
      29 Aug
      Age: 27
      Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
      20 APR 1850 Granted.
      1 Source
      Marriage to Ann Donnelly
      12 Nov
      Age: 27
      Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.
      Reg. No. 292/1849
      1 Source
      8 May
      Age: 30
      Recommended for Pardon after 11 years.
      1 Source
      19 Nov
      Age: 78
      Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
      Reg. No. 12123/1901.

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