The Meads and Birds and others of the villages to the west of Dunstable.

This page discusses the families that, by the mid-1850's, lived in the agricultural lands from Aylesbury to Dunstable and north to Leighton Buzzard.  The family names are Mead, Bird, Cook, Hamp, Janes, Burrows, & Vaisey and these names are particulalry focussed on the two villages of Edlesborough and Eaton Bray, within a mile or two, and separated by the county boundary between Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire.  Thes two villages are the heart of this family's origins and their occupations.  Most family members were agricultural labourers if male and straw plaiters if female.  There is an article on straw plaiting on Wikipedia.  I quote the part of most relevance.

"The plaiting of straw formerly gave employment to many thousands of women and young children; but this had largely ended by the beginning of the 20th century: the number of English plaiters, all told, was not more than a few hundreds in 1907, as compared with 30,000 in 1871.

The districts around Luton in Bedfordshire and the neighbouring counties were, since the beginning of the 17th century, the British home of the straw-plait industry. The straw of certain varieties of wheat cultivated in that region is, in favourable seasons, possessed of a fine bright colour, tenacity and strength. 


The straw is cut as in ordinary harvesting, but is allowed to dry in the sun, before binding. Subsequently straws are selected from the sheaves, and of these the pipes of the two upper joints are taken for plaiting. The pipes are assorted into sizes by passing them through graduated openings in a grilled wire frame, and those of good color are bleached by the fumes of sulphur. Spotted and discoloured straws are dyed either in pipe or in plait. The plaiters work up the material in a damp state, either into whole straw or split straw plaits. Split straws are prepared with the aid of a small instrument having a projecting point which enters the straw pipe, and from which radiate the number of knife-edged cutters into which the straw is to be split. The straws were put through a small mangle to flatten them. They were then braided to produce a woven strip which was sold on to the makers of hats, baskets and other wares.

The plaiting was carried out by women and children who were taught the skills in plait schools. At its peak in the early nineteenth century a woman could earn more by plaiting than a man could earn on the land. There was concern that the industry led to dissolution and idleness in the menfolk."

The earliest Mead we have in the family history is Willam from Edlesborough, born about 1770 and who married Elizabeth Munday at Edlesborough on the 13 September 1790.  They had at least 5 children baptized at Edlesborough

His youngest son John married Mary Ann Cook who is from a large family from the village of Billington to the north of Edlesborough. More on the Cooks later.

He was married twice and had 7 children with hs first wife, Mary Ann Cook, and 4 with his second, Jane Bates. He died in Edlesborough in 1933.

Another event that had an impact on the families was the advent of missionaries from the Church of Latter-Day Saints.  At least three family members wnet to the US in response to the call for emigrants with Church organised voyages.

The first that went to The US appears to be Thomas Smith with his wife Margaret Gurney & 2 children via New Orleans.  Thomas was called Thomas X Smith in the Church and became a Bishop.  He had 3 wives and 25 children.

The second was his brother George Smith with his wife Catherine & 2 children. They do not seem to have been so prolific but there are several recorded DNA matches.

The last of note are the descendants of Frederick Bird, 1810-1857 of Eaton Bray. Around 1840 he and his wife Mary Ann Fenn, 1816-1864 were greatly influenced by missionaries of the Church of Latter-Day Saints from the USA.  On Frederick's death in Eaton Bray, Mary Ann joined a company orgiansied to emigrate to the USA, taking her 7 children, arriving on the 16th June 1856. There is an account of this journey on the L.D.S web site as a synopsis of the 'Fourth Hand Cart Company' trip and there are for the others above.

Revised on  3 August 2021