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*NEW 15th January 2023*

'The One That Got Away' - Thomas William House, an article by

Neil Morgan of Windmill - see HERE

This is hopefully the first of a series of articles on Stoke people - those who moved away and those who stayed behind. If you have more ideas about people you may have known, or are somewhere in your family history please get in touch -


    Stoke is a family based village. A century ago this would have been true of every village in England, but some children attending the local primary school can still trace their ancestors in the village through hundreds of years. Even relative newcomers have attracted other members of their families to the village, resulting in children having two sets of grandparents living nearby.

   The tithe records, census returns and electors' lists supply us with a range of family names, with some of the oldest still surviving in the village today. Where the names have died out, this can be because any male offspring left the village, with the females marrying locally, so continuing family lineage. One of the oldest names, Hembrow has had many versions over the years, including Himbury, Hemberow, Hemberry, Hemborough, Hemborow and  Hembrowe.


    We are lucky in Stoke that four of our residents have recorded their memories in print:

'Winter Harvest'; Eric Hembrow, 1990

'The Baptist Church', Stoke St Gregory; Ronald Gadsby, 1993

'No Time to Spare - The Story of a West Country Farmer's Wife'; Marjorie Pearce, 1998

'Reflections'; Ronald E Woodland, 2000

   There are also various recordings of local individuals available at the local Heritage Centre. Part of an interview with Emrhys Coate be heard HERE


    The graveyards at the church and the chapel offer scope for more work to be done on Stoke families, but the main hope is that more people will search through their own family records and bring forward any information.

    Individual families can be researched through the commercial genealogy sites, but much information can be obtained through sites such as 'freebmd' and 'freereg'

The Funeral of Joseph Patten, the First of Six Generations in Stoke

Many of our Gravestones give the Address of the Deceased

From Stoke St Gregory to Versailles via Texas

by Neil Morgan, Rose Cottage, Windmill


One of the fascinating things about local history is tracing the path of people who came from your village or passed through it.

    You probably know that House is an established surname in Stoke, but not many know about one of the family who left the village to become one of the richest men in Texas, or his son who became an important US diplomat and close friend of President Woodrow Wilson. They were remarkable men – though not admirable in every way!

    Thomas William House (TW) was born in Stoke in 1814, when the family was already well established here. In 1835 however, aged just 21, he emigrated to the US and landed in New York. He was – or became – a baker/pastry maker and in 1836 was invited to run a bakery at a hotel in New Orleans. By 1838 he had set up a business in Houston, then a small frontier town that was only founded in 1837 before Texas was a state. Initially the business was House and Loveridge – intriguing as Loveridge is also a local name here! Did he have a partner who travelled from Somerset with him?


TW rapidly became one of the leading businessmen in the new town and his shop branched out into wholesaling imported dry goods through the territory. Taking cotton as payment, he became a cotton factor, exporting to Liverpool, and then a banker. He was one of the leading lights in the city and had fingers in many pies, including eventually acquiring plantations growing cotton and sugar – and owning slaves.

    When the Civil War began (1861), TW was an enthusiastic rebel, supplying the Confederate army and used his wealth and transport businesses to become a “blockade runner” – the North was using ships to cut off the Confederacy’s trade and merchant ships had to evade the blockade to import and export goods. He ran the blockade to export cotton and import goods in return.

    TW was also Mayor of Houston in 1862 during the war.

At his death in 1880, TW was reckoned to be the third richest man in Texas with an estate valued at more than $500,000. He is still regarded as one of the most important men in the development of Houston, a city that now has a population of millions.

    Edward Mandell House (“Colonel House”) was TW’s youngest child, born in 1858 in Houston. The family was now rich and privileged and Edward attended schools in Houston, Virginia, Connecticut and Bath (briefly). While he was at Cornell University in 1880 his father died and he returned to Texas to run the family business.

    He became involved in Texas politics as a backroom operator, assisting various Texas governors in their campaigns and administrations. One of these gave him an honorary military rank of Colonel, and though he was never a soldier, he used the title for the rest of his life.

In 1902 he moved to New York and cut most of his ties with Texas. Concentrating now on national politics, he looked for a Democratic contender for the presidency and in 1911 became friendly with another Southerner, Woodrow Wilson. Colonel House helped Wilson defeat Teddy Roosevelt, and rapidly established himself as the new president’s close adviser, particularly on foreign affairs.

    His interest in politics seems to have been largely in the mechanics rather than the issues. His views seem an odd mix to us now. Whilst a cosmopolitan progressive in some ways – he was an admirer of Lloyd George’s liberal reforms – there is no doubt that he was also a very racist white supremacist.

At the end of WW1, Wilson asked House to draft the armistice. Wilson and House travelled to Paris in 1919 to take part in the peace conference. House was Wilson’s close friend and primary adviser, and mixed with both Lloyd George and French premier Clemenceau. He was involved in drafting the Treaty of Versailles and the constitution of the League of Nations.

    During the conference though, Wilson and House fell out and their association ended abruptly. They never saw or spoke to each other again. Wilson had a serious stroke later in the year and his presidency ended in 1921.

    One consequence of the Treaty of Versailles was that Colonel House became something of a hero in Poland. He had become an admirer of pianist/politician Paderewski and helped push through Poland’s independence – to this day there is a statue of him in a Warsaw park.

Colonel House supported FD Roosevelt in his 1932 nomination (see picture) and survived until 1938 when he died at the age of 79.

    Despite his many trips to Europe, it’s not clear if Colonel House ever visited his father’s roots in Stoke. Woodrow Wilson definitely came close though; a great admirer of the constitutional writer Walter Bagehot, he visited Bagehot’s grave at All Saints Langport in 1896.

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