Archive for the ‘Banburyshire’ Tag

What May Day may mean to the many…   11 comments

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Statue of John Betjeman at St Pancras station ...

Statue of John Betjeman at St Pancras station in London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Marx Memorial Library

Marx Memorial Library (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Clerkenwell Green

Clerkenwell Green (Photo credit: Fin Fahey)

 

In June 1976, John Betjeman, the Queen’s celebrated ‘poet laureate’ and saviour of St Pancras Station, now restored in all its glory, penned a foreword to a collection of Walter Crane‘s Cartoons for the Cause, 1886-1896. ‘Clerkenwell’, he wrote, ‘is one of the best preserved of the inner villages of London and the nearest village to it. It has a Green and its church on a hillock above the Green. Several hoses survive of those which surrounded it, a remarkable haven of peace amid the roar of public transport and heavy lorries.’ In the early sixties, it looked as if these buildings would be destroyed, which would have taken away the village character of Clerkenwell. Betjeman was among a number of local residents who had appealed to what was then the Greater London Council. No. 37A Clerkenwell Green, the building housing the Marx Memorial Library, was not outstanding in architectural terms, but ‘its value to the townscape was great’. The GLC therefore agreed to preserve it on these grounds, at a time when few people understood the importance of minor buildings to the more major ones alongside them.

Walter Crane, 1886
Walter Crane, 1886 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These cartoons, of which the one above is an example, were printed for Walter Crane by the ‘Twentieth Century Press’ at 37A Clerkenwell Green. ‘They are of interest as period pieces when high-minded socialism was taken up by the followers of William Morris,’ wrote Betjeman. Walter Crane (1845-1916), was first Master of the Art Worker’s Guild and an ardent Guild-Socialist. He was no William Blake, but a brilliant decorative artist, born in Chester, where his father was a fairly successful local artist. The family moved to Torquay in Devon where Walter was educated cheaply but privately. After moving again to Shepherd’s Bush, London, Walter learned the art of engraving on wood and stone. Betjeman added:

A hard life among the shabby-genteel of London opened his generous heart. He saw the twentieth century as a golden age ahead, with equal cash and opportunity for all.

He tried his hand at poetry as well as decorative art, writing a poem to accompany the cartoon above which was printed in the journal, ‘Justice’ in 1894. Here are the final verses:

Stand fast, then, Oh workers, your ground,

Together pull, strong and united:

Link your hand like a chain the world round,

If you will that your hopes be requited.

When the World’s Workers, sisters and brothers,

Shall build, in the new coming years,

A fair house of life – not for others,

For the earth and its fulness is theirs.

May Day 2008 024
May Day 2008 024 (Photo credit: Perosha)

Although May Day became associated with International Labour towards the end of the nineteenth century, its origins as a ‘people’s festival’ go back as far as early Roman times (at least). The goddess Maia, mother of Mercury, had sacrifices made in her honour on the first day of her month, accompanied by considerable merry-making. The Maypole celebrations are linked to the qualities of pagan tree spirits and tree worship. In Medieval and Tudor England, May Day was a great public holiday when most villages arranged processions, with everyone carrying green boughs (branches) of sycamore and hawthorn. The most important place in the procession was given to a young tree, 12 to 15 feet (3.6 to 4.6 metres) high, decorated with rings, or ‘garlands’, of flowers and ribbons. The tree was stripped of its branches, except for the one at the very top, whose leaves would be left to show the signs of new life at the beginning of summer. Sometimes the tree was completely stripped so the top could be decorated by attaching garlands in the shape of crowns or floral globes.  In some villages the decoration took the form of two intersecting circles of garlands or flowers, similar to some modern Christmas decorations, bound with ribbons which spiralled down the tree.  Sometimes dolls were attached to the top of the tree, originally representing Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers. More recently, these were changed into representations of Mary, mother of Jesus, with May being recognised as the month of Mary, sometimes also used as a short-form of the name.

While the Maypole was the centre of attention on this day, the fun and games which accompanied it were disapproved of by many churchmen. One of them claimed that…

All the young men and maids, old men and wives, run gadding over night to the woods, groves and hills, where they spend all the night in pleasant pastimes. In the morning they return bringing with them birch and branches of trees, to deck their assemblies. There is a great Lord over their pastimes, namely Satan, Prince of Hell. The chiefest jewel they bring is their Maypole. They have twentie or fortie oxen, every one having a sweet nosegay of flowers on the tip of his horns, and these oxen drag the Maypole (this stinking idol, rather) which is covered with flowers and herbs, bound round with string from top to bottom and painted with variable colours.

Henry VIII was, as you might well think, very fond of Maying, and went early one morning with Catherine of Aragon, from Greenwich to Shooters Hill and watched a company of yeomen dressed in green with their chief, Robin Hood, a character representing Old England.  He then stayed on to watch their archery contest. May Day was certainly an energetic festival, starting the previous evening, going through the night, with dancing and games through the day and ending with evening bonfires, known in some places as ‘Beltane’ fires, being the name given by the Celts to their fire festival. This reveals the continuity of Celtic Druidic traditions into Saxon and Medieval England.

However, the Puritans in the Stuart Church frowned upon these activities and were annoyed when James I continued to allow the setting up of Maypoles. When in power in the Long Parliament under Charles I and Cromwell they carefully controlled the celebration of both May Day and Christmas Day. Both were thought to encourage too much physical pleasure of one kind or another! However, they had difficulty in removing some Maypoles, which were fixed permanently in place. Some were as tall as church towers, painted in spiral bands like vertical barbers’ poles, dressed with garlands of flowers, ribbons and flags on May Day. One church, built in the shadow of a giant pole, was called St Andrew Undershaft, the shaft being the Maypole.

With the Restoration of the Stuarts the Maypoles stood erect all over ‘Merrie England’  once again. Samuel Pepys wrote in his Diary that the first May Day in the reign of Charles II was ‘the happiest May Day that hath been many a year in England.’  A great Maypole, 130 feet (40m) high, was set up in The Strand. It was so vast that, made in two parts, it was floated along the river to where Scotland Yard now stands and carried in procession along Whitehall, accompanied by bands and huge crowds of people. It took twelve seamen four hours to get it up, using their block and tackle. However, this great erection in London to some extent obscured the general shrinkage in the significance of May Day, as it was replaced in popular observance by Oak Apple Day, May 29th, the restored King’s birthday as well as the date of his return to the throne. The name given to this day refers to the incident at Boscobel House when Charles, after his defeat at Worcester, hid in the branches of an oak tree while Cromwell’s soldiers searched the House and grounds for him, unsuccessfully. He was then able to ‘go on his travels’ via Wales and Bristol to the continent, so for some time sprigs of oak were worn to commemorate both his escape and safe return to the throne. By the 18th Century, the festival had largely disappeared, and in 1717 the highest permanent Maypole was removed to Wanstead Park in Essex, where Sir Isaac Newton used it to support the  most powerful telescope in the world.

However, with the establishment of universal elementary education by the beginning of the twentieth century, Maypole dancing gained in popularity once more, partly due to the revival of interest in folk songs and tunes. In Primary Schools, intricate dances developed using the coloured ribbons in patterns formed by the steps of the dancers, round and about each other. New life was also given to the festival by the writers Tennyson, Morris and Ruskin, who made it into a children’s day, with the crowning of a May Queen, symbolising Mary, whose month it is. Morris also helped to establish it as Labour Day through the 1889 Congress of the Second International of socialist societies and trade unions. In the industrial north of England and industrial south Wales, it became once more a day of fairs, brass-band music, processions and dancing, a ‘gala’ day, with an occasional speech by a distinguished leading Labour figure. It became a public bank holiday in Britain, as on the continent, and remains so, though not without its partisan and puritan detractors, especially since the all-but-complete demise of heavy industry, and, in particular, the wholesale destruction of mining communities in the wake of the pit closures and miners’ strikes of the 1980’s. Walter Crane’s Song for Labour Day concludes with a positive message which is no less relevant for the twenty-first century than it was for the twentieth:

Rejoice, then, weary-hearted mothers

 That your little ones shall see

Brighter Days – O men and brothers –

When Life and Labour ye set free!

Sound upon the pipe and tabor!

Blow the trumpet, beat the drum!

Leave your toil, ye sons of Labour!

Come a-maying, toilers, come!

However, Crane makes it clear in his third verse that this is not a march into any kind of  ‘class war’:

March they not in shining warfare,

No sword they bear, or flashing blade;

But the pruning-hook and ploughshare,

But the worn wealth-winner’s spade.

‘Dissent and Unionism was their only crime’

This February 1876 photograph illustrates how far The Labour Movement in Britain has come through peaceful protest and parliamentary reform in the space of two life-times, or four generations.  Mr W. Durham had dared to stand up to the tyranny of the local ‘squire’, or land-owner, G. H. W. Heneage and his relative, C. W. Heneage, who between them owned most of the village of Cherhill in Wiltshire. The result was the eviction of Durham and his family from the cottage where they had lived for twenty-eight years. In the picture are the two items among their few possessions which illustrate their independence, which so infuriated the feudal Heneages: a collecting box for the Wesleyan Missionary Society and a framed poster of Joseph Arch, founder of the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union and Methodist preacher from Warwickshire.

The full story of behind this picture makes painful reading for those who want to paint an idyllic picture of the lost world of ‘Merrie England’. The paternal squire and his wife ran a coal and clothing club, adding a little of his own money to the regular contributions of his farm labourers. For the privilege of receiving the benefits of this, the farm labourers’ wives had their clothing inspected by Mrs Heneage in her drawing-room and received a ‘scolding’ if they dared to purchase any garment ‘beyond their station in life’. Each woman was also asked ‘is your husband in the union?’ If they said ‘yes’, they were not allowed to belong to the club! She also interfered in proposed marriages within the parish, and any girl who ‘transgressed’ was driven out of ‘hearth and home’ as if she were part of some Victorian melodrama.

When a new tenancy agreement was issued to the Heneage labourers in 1875, two trade unionists, one of whom was Durham and the other a small tradesman and a Liberal, were given notice to quit. Durham was not only independent, but also a man of integrity, known as a sober and industrious worker. However, not only was he a unionist, but as a Wesleyan ‘dissenter’, neither did he support the established Church, and these ‘heresies’ were not to be tolerated. After a court order was obtained by Heneage, the entire family, comprising Mr and Mrs Durham, their two sons, who had also joined the union, and their twelve-year-old daughter were evicted by the police, their ‘goods and chattels’ being dumped in the field outside. The girl was also forbidden to attend the village school by the parish priest, since the school was controlled by the Church of England.

The week following the eviction, a public protest meeting was held near the village in a field loaned by a more sympathetic small-holder. The meeting, supported by the NALU and The English Labourer, was attended by a thousand farm workers, despite pouring rain and the threat of retribution. They sang When Arch Beneath the Wellesbourne Tree chorus:

Though rich and great our cause may bare,

We care not for their frown,

The strongest are not strong enough,

To keep the labourer down.

 NALU had been formed in 1872 by Joseph Arch, the son of a Warwickshire shepherd, and had 58,000 members by 1875, organised in 38 districts. Opposition from the gentry and the farmers was fierce and the agricultural workers scattered in small villages were vulnerable to the absolute power of a hostile squirearchy, as in Cherhill. The union responded quickly to the eviction by commissioning a ‘first rate photographer’ to record the aftermath of the eviction. Tripod and plate camera were rushed by horse and trap  from Salisbury to the village and the family were posed with their possessions by the hedgerow in front of their former home. Copies of the photographs were then sold with the proceeds going directly to the victimized family.

The story of the eviction is a tale of tyranny in ‘England’s green and pleasant land’, of feudal power and the refusal of one agricultural labourer to bow to the will of a vindictive squire. The first May Day march in London, held in 1890, seems to have passed unrecorded by the camera, but this photograph represents something of the lives and circumstances of those who built the labour movement, our great-grandfathers who were on the march with Arch through the Warwickshire and Banburyshire villages, listening to the Methodist lay-preacher beneath the Wellesbourne tree and out in the muddy fields of Wiltshire in winter, fighting on immediate issues, yet never losing sight of Blake’s vision of a new Jerusalem. Similar battles between ‘Squire’ and ‘tenant’, between ‘Church’ and ‘Chapel’, caused long-lasting division and bitterness in many villages throughout England and Wales long into the twentieth century, with squires and rectors seeking to impose a monopoly of social and political control on landless labourers, artisans and tradesmen, by using the power of the courts and the police to evict. If this was a class war, it was not one instigated by the labourers themselves, who merely sought protection from trades-unions from these relentless intrusions and pressures in every part of their already impoverished lives.

No wonder rural communities revived ancient traditions on May Day, to emphasise a sense of common ’cause’ amid all the conflict in the countryside. The activity of ‘well-dressing’ is a popular May morning tradition in some towns and villages in England and Wales. Bright, elaborate pictures are placed at the top of wells on May morning and a little thanksgiving service is held. The pictures, of religious subjects, are made from flower petals, mosses, lichen and berries stuck in wet clay. In grains of rice above the picture are written the words, ‘Praise the Lord’.

Perhaps the most famous, unifying May Day ceremony of all, however, is the one movingly captured in the film Shadowlands with Anthony Hopkins playing C S Lewis and Debra Winger his American wife, Joy. This is the singing of carols and madrigals, from the top of Magdalen College Tower in Oxford, which takes place on May morning at 6 a.m. every year, a medieval tradition broken only for five years between 1977 and 82, while stonework was being restored. Many all-night parties are held by the students who end up in ‘the High’ just before dawn, with champagne being poured liberally. Groups in formal dinner clothes mingle with those in bizarre fancy dress in a crowd which can number 15,000. They first hear the clock strike six and then the magnificent singing of ‘Te Deum patrem colimus’, followed by the far less reverent  madrigal  ‘now is the month of maying, while merry lads are playing…each with his bonny lass, all on the greeny grass’. The listeners remain silent during these, but as soon as the madrigal ends, a riot of activity begins. Groups of Morris dancers attract spectators in all parts of the town. Musicians, offering a wide variety of styles, set up on stone steps and other platforms, so that the onlooker can choose anything from pop to Purcell. Meanwhile, the bells in every part of the city ring out. In Cowley, children bring bunches of flowers to church. In The Oxford Book of Carols there are several May songs, including ‘the Furry Day Carol’, sung as part of the annual procession, or ‘Furry Dance’ through the streets of Helston in Cornwall:

 

Remember us poor Mayers all!

And thus do we begin – a

To lead our lives in righteousness

Or else we die in sin – a.

The Gullivers: Travels Through Time, 1833-1953   12 comments

First edition of Gulliver's Travels by Jonatha...

First edition of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Introduction:  Sojourns with Grandpa Seymour

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When I was growing up in Nottingham and Birmingham, we would often spend holidays and Christmases with my maternal grandparents in Walsgrave-on-Sowe. They were always full of tricks and tales, especially my Grandpa Gulliver. On one of our visits, I asked him where the name Gulliver came from, since I’d just read the 1912 children’s version of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels into several remote Nations of the World, originally published in 1726 as a satirical, social and political tract, never intended for young minds. He told me that in Banbury churchyard, I would find, railed around, a gravestone with Gullivers on. The legend of that, he went on, is supposed to be that the man that wrote Gulliver’s Travels saw that stone and thought that that’s what he’d call his book. Those are your ancestors. So that’s just something to think on! he added. I thought on, but regarded it as simply a piece of family folklore until in 1986, while attending the Sealed Knot Society’s re-enactment of the Battle of Edghill, near Banbury, I picked up a local history booklet from the stall of the Banburyshire Local History Society. I was surprised to find that it had the very same story printed in it. It was official, then! Lemuel Gulliver (the real one, that is) was indeed my ancestor.

I joined the Sealed Knot as a roundhead and while researching the history of our newly-formed Midland Association regiment, in the library at the University of Warwick, was intrigued to find a record of a Banbury man named Gulliver from the mid-seventeenth century. He was listed as a Quaker, a term which, then, was often used to denote someone with a craft, possibly somewhat itinerant, as Quakers and other religious dissenters were frequently persecuted. They were also excluded from higher occupations, especially public office, though many fought (and became officers) in Cromwell’s Army following the Battle of Cropredy Bridge in June 1644. This discovery was made even more fascinating when I later discovered that an Edward Gulliver had married Mary Hawes in Cropredy in 1620.

Twenty-five years after these discoveries, having deposited my eldest son in his digs at the University of Warwick, I found myself standing in the graveyard where Lemuel Gulliver was supposedly buried, together with the younger one. However, we could find no railed tomb bearing the name of Lemuel Gulliver, and it was only when we’d completed my circumnavigation of the churchyard that my modern-day Oliver found a small inscribed stone, stating:

In his Preface to the First Edition of his famous Gulliver’s Travels, 1726, Swift remarks ‘I have observed in the Church Yard at Banbury several tombs and monuments of the Gullivers  The original tombstones no longer exist, but a later one bearing this old Banbury name lies near to this plaque.

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The tombs that remain, no longer railed, are from the early to mid-nineteenth century and refer to two Samuel Gullivers, father and son, and to Sarah Harriet Gulliver and her daughter, Adelaide. The size of the tombs suggests that this part of the family was relatively wealthy.

Family tradition suggests that the Gullivers were originally a French Huguenot family, possibly weavers, who, escaping persecution in their native country, may first have settled in Dublin, where there is a Huguenot graveyard dating from this time, from where they moved to Banburyshire. The name may therefore have its origins in a corruption of  Norman-French names such as Guille or Gullet. I intend to research this further in due course, but before getting entangled in the French Wars of Religion (1562-98), which may require a more extended stay in La Rochelle than the fleeting glimpse I managed three years ago, I thought I should first repay the debt I owe to the current and previous generations of my family, by publishing their memoirs.

The Banburyshire Gullivers, or at least my ancestors, can be traced back eleven generations to the Edward Gulliver I have already referred to, born in the town in 1590. The line of descent can then be traced to Gullivers born in Noke, Oxon, back to Banbury and then to Bicester, Hethe and Ufton, where George Gulliver was born on November 5th 1862, marrying Bertha Tidmarsh, from Great Rollright in 1887. This is where the oral tradition in our family takes over and adds many colourful details, not just to the history of the family, but also that of the localities in which the Gullivers and Tidmarshes lived. This locality, including parts of modern-day Oxfordshire and Warwickshire used to be known as Banburyshire, and still is for local weather forecasts!

For example, another interesting topographical connection with the Early Modern Period and before can be found just outside Great Rollright. It’s a large ring of megalithic standing stones, and in the middle stands one which is supposed to be the King. From there, on clear days, there is supposed to be a view across the countryside as far as Long Compton.  There is a local legend that a would-be King was once told by Mother Shipton, a local witch; if Long Compton you can see, the King of England you will be! The rhyme was recorded by William Camden in 1610, so any grain of truth in it could be connected with the Battle of Edgcote of 1469, fought during The Wars of the Roses, which involved Edward IV and the Earl of Warwick, the King-maker.

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In 1978, I began researching the Welsh colliers who had come to the Midlands between the two world wars, many to work in the car industry. Some found their way into Coventry’s pits, especially Binley Colliery, and worked alongside my grandfather at the coalface. He remembered one family in particular, arriving in the village with the children and all their worldly possessions on a cart. Before his death from pneumaconiosis, the Dust, in 1982, I got to know Seymour well as an autodidact, who read avidly and rapidly. He gave detailed reviews of the books I brought home from university in Cardiff on the Welsh miners, referencing his own experiences of working in the Warwickshire coalfield. I had frequent, lengthy conversations with him about these experiences.

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Some of these experiences were re-told by my mother for the Walsgrave Community History Project in 1987. Their publication, Walsgrave Remembered, also contained  extracts from the Walsgrave Baptist Church magazine articles written by my grandmother in the mid-late 1970s, detailing the history of the chapel in the community. However, the majority of the oral evidence comes from my Great Aunt Jessie, Seymour’s younger sister, who recorded it for me on magnetic tapes in 1992 and in a journal she completed in 1996. To these, I have added from my own recollections and research notes, especially for details of the broader backcloth of social and economic history. However, I have tried to keep the style as colloquial as possible. Direct quotations are given in italics.

Chapter One: The Tidmarshes of Great Rollright

Jessie Gulliver was born in 1901, and could remember her grandfather and grandmother on her mother’s side of the family, the Tidmarshes. She also had some recollections of her father’s family, the Gullivers, especially her grandmother, Hannah, and her aunt. Her father was George Gulliver, her mother was Bertha Tidmarsh.  Her grandfather Tidmarsh and grandmother (neé Webb) were born in about 1840. They lived in the village of Great Rollright, in modern-day Oxfordshire, then known as Banburyshire. Grandfather was a fine, big man, and Grandmother was a nice-looking lady with high cheek-bones. They were very well-spoken, as they had been in service for the rich. She could read and write and would write down one side of the paper and then across the other side when she wrote to Bertha.

HenryTidmarsh&FamilyJessie’s grandfather, Henry Tidmarsh, was an agricultural labourer at Great Rollright. When still a young man, he had his arm pulled out just below the shoulder in a threshing machine. As he bent to wipe a nest of mice off, he slipped and fell. He had to start to walk to the two and a half miles to Chipping Norton, where the nearest hospital was. The village doctor went after him and saved his life. Compensation was never heard of in those days. So this is what the family had to live on. Seven loaves a week for seven people. It was called charity bread. So what with the vegetables and fruit out of the garden, they just survived. They had not a thing from the rich people he was working for that lived in the Hall, but Jessie heard her mother say that all that family came to a bad end eventually. They either died on the hunting field or committed suicide.

However, the parson of the village was quite well off. He had twelve sons and one daughter. But she died. He was very kind. He got grandad a little pony and trap, and grandad would fetch parcels for people. He often halted at Great Rollright, as it was on quite a big hill. Then he would go round the village with pins and needles and cottons, and all little odds and ends. So, that’s how they survived. Tea wasn’t even heard of in those days, not for the poor, nor tinned fruit. But people did survive and lived to a good old age. Grandfather lived to be ninety-odd, but grandma died when she was about eighty. The Tidmarshes had five children – Alfred, Arthur, Bertha, Jessie and Molly.

AlfredHenryTidmarshAlfred Tidmarsh went into the Navy; he became a chief p. o. (petty officer), which was good for a village boy who left school at twelve. He got married, but his marriage was dissolved and he got married again to a Russian lady, of above all things! She was a governess to a rich family out there where his ship was anchored. He made quite a bit of money on the ship. He had a sewing machine and he used to make sailors’ suits. He only had to buy the collars and put them on; a very straightforward job. He also ran a bank for them, and had about a penny in the shilling.

Alfred was drowned when HMS Vanguard was blown up at Scapa Flow, during the First World War. On the 9th July 1917 804 sailors lost their lives as a result of an internal explosion which sank the ship almost instantaneously. Jessie claimed that Lord Mountbatten was on that ship, but he was saved (I can find no record of him serving on that as Prince Louis of Battenberg, as he was still known then, nor is he listed as a survivor). Later, Alfred’s Russian  widow and children lived in London, and Bertha Gulliver, Jessie’s sister, used to go and see them when she lived in London. Presumably, as a member of an aristocratic household, Alfred’s widow would have become a refugee from Boshevik Russia after November 1917. However, they moved during the Second World War, and the family never heard of them again. We only know that the children had a college education given to them by the Admiralty, and Grandma Tidmarsh had a small pension, as Alfred used to send her a little money, and the Admiralty never stopped it when he got blown up on the ship.

Arthur Tidmarsh joined the Army, possibly during the Second Boer War, 1899-1902. Jessie remembered him coming on a visit the Gullivers after they had moved to Wroxall in 1904. She was a little girl of about three then, when he was part of the British Army in occupied Egypt. He had a lovely uniform, a red jacket and navy blue trousers with a stripe. He looked very smart.

Molly Tidmarsh went into service, but she fell down the stairs with a cup in her hand. It cut all the guides in the middle of her hand, and they didn’t bother to get the doctor when it happened, or send her to hospital. When they took her to the hospital the next day, it was too late. All the guides had sealed up, congealed, so they could do little for her. So, through the years that arm just withered away. By the time Jessie knew her in the pub in Kidlington, when she was in her sixties, she could never use it. People had no compensation for that sort of thing. It was just one of those things that happened, and that was it, you just had to put up with it. She married a Mr Sanders who kept The Black Horse at Kidlington and they had a daughter, Dolly.

Jessie Tidmarsh married quite well, to a solicitor in Oxford, Frank. He was a lovely man, and they had one girl, Hilda. Jessie  is buried at Great Rollright. She died, aged 102, and was determined to be buried in Rollright, as she loved it. Hilda, her daughter, saw to it that she was buried there, and you will find a lot of Tidmarshes in there if you look around.

Bertha Tidmarsh (b. Great Rollright), Jessie’s mother, married (in October 1887) when she was about eighteen. She was in service from the age of twelve, beginning as a kitchen maid, washing up in a great Hall nearby. She would sit in the great big kitchen with just a candle, all by herself, and they would bring her a glass of beer and a piece of bread and cheese. That was her supper. She was absolutely terrified! But when her mother’s sister came to Great Rollright, she asked where Bertha was, and her mother told her that she was over at the Hall, washing-up. So her aunt went to get her back. There was a flood, and the water was nearly up to Bertha’s knees, but she said she didn’t care, as long as she got home. So, her auntie got her a little job in service at Chipping Norton, from where she could come home on her time off.

Chapter Two: The Gullivers in Synopsis

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Bertha Tidmarsh met her husband when working as a maid at the Chamberlains’ House at Ufton-on-the-Hill near Leamington. The Chamberlains owned the Harbury cement works. George Gulliver, born in Ufton in 1862, was a coachman with the Chamberlains. He used to drive them around in a coach with two horses. So that’s where the Gulliver family come in. His father, Vinson, born in Oxfordshire in 1833, married Hannah Green, George’s mother, from Wormleigton in Warwickshire, in 1855. I believe it was Vinson Gulliver who, in family folklore at least, marched with the Wesleyan preacher, Joseph Arch of Tysoe, through the Warwickshire villages of Wellesbourne and Barford, to form the Warwickshire Union of Agricultural Labourers in the 1860s, which later became a national union (NALU) and eventually part of the Tansport and General Workers’ Union, the first union for unskilled workers.
Besides George, they also had a girl, his sister. She had one daughter, born in 1889, but Amelia only lived to be twenty-one, and by the south door of Ufton Church there is a grave bearing her name.  She was the same age as Jessie’s sister Amelia (Millie). Her mother sent her up to London to learn court dress-making, but she developed  tuberculosis and died. Jessie could remember that in her aunt’s cottage there was a beautiful photograph of Amelia. She had lovely long hair right down to her waist. Jessie also remembered that her father had a step-brother, also named George, in Ufton.  Hannah had been married twice, so he also had at least one other step-brother, but she had only met the other George.

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The Chamberlains gave George and Bertha Gulliver a tied cottage on their estate in Ufton-on-the-Hill, free of rent. There were eight Gulliver children born there. There was Vinson George (November 1887), the eldest, then ’Millie’, Kathleen Amelia (1889), Ethel Mary (1891), Alfred (1893), Olive Margaret (1895), Arnold (1898), Seymour Henry (1900), and Jessie (1901). After that came Bertha (1903), Irene Helen (1904), both born in Bishop’s Itchington, then Arthur Reginald, (1907) Frank Leonard (1910) both born in Wroxall, and finally Janet, born in Walsgrave-on-Sowe (1913).

In this picture, taken circa 1899, Bertha Gulliver (formerly Tidmarsh) is about 33 years old, with Arnold, aged one, on her lap, dressed in plaid skirts, as boys were in those days. Millie, aged nine and Vincent, twelve, are standing behind. Olive, aged four, Alfred, nearly six and Ethel, seven and a half, are at their mother’s feet. They had thirteen children in all. George, their father, is not in the picture, presumably because he is at work as a coachman.

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Vinson Gulliver, the firstborn, outlived all but one of his thirteen siblings to become Britain’s oldest man at 108 in 1995. He left school at twelve and went to work on a Warwickshire farm, looking after cattle, horses and pigs. However, he craved the bright lights of the city and found work in the engine sheds at Trafford Park, Manchester, in 1907. His starting wage was just eleven shillings per week, of which eight went on his rent. His driver felt sorry for him living on only three shillings per week, and invited him to go and live with him and his wife, as they had no children of their own. He stayed at their house until he was forty, by which time he had long since progressed to become an engine driver himself, with the old Cheshire Lines and later British Rail. That was when he married his wife Lucy, and they went to live only two doors away from the couple who had taken him in as a boy. Even at 108 he could talk clearly on most subjects, and wrote regularly to his surviving siblings, including Jessie. He had one daughter, Doreen (Jackson), who had three girls, all of whom married and had children, so he had three great grandchildren by 1992.  That same year, aged 105, he took a ride on Manchester’s Metrolink trams which were put into service on the old Altrincham line, on which he had driven his steam engines.

The centenerian reckoned the metro was all right, because it takes you right into the heart of Manchester, but said it could not replace the excitement of and magic of the old steam driven giants he used to drive. He died aged 109, at a residential home in Altricham.

Millie Gulliver, the second eldest, died aged 102, in 1992. She was very much the mainstay of the family, according to Jessie, who remembered her as a young woman of sixteen, when she herself was only three. Like her mother, she also worked as a housemaid for the Chamberlain family, and would always come home on her day off. Jessie would run down the hill to meet her, and Millie would always have a bag of sweets for her little sister, as well as some tobacco for her dad, the only time he had a smoke. She only had one afternoon/ evening out each week, returning to the Hall at night.

Ethel Gulliver, the third child, was very gifted, somehow different from all the others. When she was thirteen she went to a big house to learn how to look after children, and stayed there for a few years. Then she went to London to look after a doctor’s baby. She took lessons in dress-making and learnt to do lacework, making bed covers and table cloths. She then became a hospital nurse, and moved to Canada, working with Helen Keller in a home for deaf and blind children. From there she got her midwife’s certificate and was sometimes sent out to deliver babies in places where wolves were never far away. She then went to work in the largest hospital in New York, assisting in operations. She came home for a two-week holiday to Coventry, where the family were living in 1926. While there an old gipsy woman came to the house selling pegs and told Ethel that she would return to the house before the year was out. Ethel thought the gipsy was mad, but her younger sister, Irene, was expecting a baby. Irene died a week after the baby was born, and Ethel did indeed return and stayed for the rest of her life, looking after Irene’s husband, Bob, and the daughter, Gillian. She was a beautiful child, the kind of child that people would stop and have a few words for, as well as for the woman they no doubt assumed to be her mother. Ethel kept her looking so beautiful. Bob had worked at Herberts’ factory for five years, and Lord and Lady Herbert felt so sorry for him that they moved him from Coventry to their Long Ashton factory near Bristol. The Second World War was on by then, and they gave him a better job going all over the West Country maintaining their machinery in factories, so that the factories could maintain their levels of production for the war effort. Ethel never married, but Gillian married and had two boys, both very clever in singing and playing music.

Seymour, the seventh child, was just an ordinary boy, two years older than Jessie, who therefore knew him well as they grew up together, playing outside. Their mother would quite often tell him to take her out, so she could get on with the housework. At first, Seymour went to work on the farm in Walsgrave with his father and brothers when he left Binley Park school just before the First World War War. He later told his daughter, my mother, how he rode on top of the hay-loaded waggons into Coventry, coming into the narrow medieval Spon Street on top of the hay, with it touching the overhanging eaves of the half-timbered houses on either side. He then went to work in Binley Pit, first of all in the office. He tried to join the Army in 1917, although he would not be eighteen until the following spring. He was at Catterick Barracks when the influenza epidemic struck, wiping out almost all of the Company he had joined. He wrote to his mother and she arrived at the gates in Yorkshire, produced Seymour’s birth certificate and demanded her son back. She took him back to Coventry on the train, and he survived both the war and the epidemic. Returning to the Colliery, he went underground as a collier, not just because, as a reserved occupation, it kept him from being conscripted in 1918, but also because there was more money to be earned working at the coalface.  He married Vera Brown that year. Their wedding took place in Walsgrave Baptist Church, conducted by Rev. Penry Edwards of Treorchy in the Rhondda, who had recently become the first full-time minister at the chapel and had baptised Vera shortly before. They had moved into their own newly-built house in Walsgrave in 1928, when my mother was born in 1931. They had four children in all, three girls and a boy and they had seven children in all, three girls and three boys.

Bertha, Jessie’s younger sister, was born in Bishop’s Itchington, after the family moved into rented accomodation there when George left his job at Chamberlain’s to go and work at Harbury Cement Works. She was a very small baby, and her mother used to put her down on a shelf, so she would be safe from the feet of all her brothers and sisters. The house was very small, with just two rooms downstairs and three upstairs. They were only there for a short time, however, before moving to Wroxall. Bertha was quite slim as a child and mother would tell the other children to be careful of her little arms if they were playing with her. She grew up into quite a determined young woman, however, and married a man named named Bill Salter from Banbury. They went to live in London. They had one child, Julie, who married a GI in the Second World War. She went to live in America and had one girl and four boys.

The last of Bertha and George’s children was a little girl, Janet Alice. One Sunday morning, in November 1913, the family were getting ready to go to the Church service in Walsgrave, when mother asked one of the girls to stay at home. They said, you know, mother, we like to go to Church on Sundays. So she said we could all go (she usually went on her own to the evening service at Wyken Church). Olive was eighteen at that time, and Jessie thirteen, so they later wondered why their mother didn’t tell them she was having another baby, which wasn’t obvious to them at that time. When they came home, the nurse from Walsgrave Hospital was there and she told them that they had a baby sister. She was beautiful, with black hair and blue eyes. Only she and Alfred had black hair, of all the children. People would stop and say what a beautiful baby she was, but Frank had whooping cough and she caught it from him. She died at eight months in 1914 and was buried at Wyken Church. The white roses in Caludon Lodge garden were just coming into bloom, and Dad lined the coffin of his beautiful, black-haired little girl all around with them.

Chapter Three: Seymour and Vera Gulliver – Memories of Walsgrave-on-Sowe

After their marriage in 1918, Seymour and Vera set up home in one of the gardeners’ cottages belonging to the Wakefield Estate. When Jessie was courting Tommy, who became her husband in 1924, they would go round and play cards with Seymour and Vera, walking home to Foleshill often very late. By this time, the married couple had had their first child, Gwen.

VeraGulliver(Brown)photo2Both Seymour and Vera were strong trades unionists and Labour Party supporters. Seymour had inherited a strong sense of fairness from his father, perhaps because he was old enough to understand why they had had to leave Wroxall for Walsgrave in 1909. Though the Dugdale family had been very kind to them, sending hampers at Christmas and on the births of their two children there, the manager of the farm where George was under-manager had pocketed the money he was supposed to pay on to Alfred and Arnold at harvest time, as a bonus for the long hours they had put in, working alongside their father. George had gone to see Lord Dugdale about this, who confirmed the sums involved, and ordered his manager to pay them in full. The manager did this, but thereafter did his best to make George’s position untenable. Vera’s family, the Browns, were also strong supporters of the Labour Party, from as early as 1924, when it first won a General Election under Ramsay MacDonald. Daphne, their daughter, remembered the following song, to the tune of Men of Harlech, which Vera used to sing long after MacDonald’s expulsion from the Party:

Voters All of Aberavon,

Wisdom show in this election,

Don’t be misled by Protection,

Ramsay is the Man!

 

Ramsay, Ramsay, shout it!

Don’t be shy about it!

On then, comrades, on to glory,

It shall be told in song and story,

How we beat both Lib and Tory,

Ramsay is the Man!

 

On one occasion, Seymour had stuck up for someone who had been done an injustice, and he was dismissed from Binley Colliery on the spot. He had to go to Newdigate Colliery to get work there. The conditions there were far worse than at Binley, and when he undressed to bath in front of the living room fire, his clothes would stand up by themselves, from the combination of mud, coal-dust and sweat which had caked them in the pit and then dried on them during his long walk home at the end of each shift. His body was covered with boils and he had to have special treatment at the Coventry and Warwick Hospital, where they made an experimental serum to cure his condition. Eventually his wife Vera told him, you’ll just have to put your pride in your pocket, you can’t go back down Newdigate, you’d better go back to Binley and ask for your job back. So he went back to Binley Colliery, and got his job back.

In 1926, Seymour was out on strike and was locked out of the Colliery for six months in support of the miners, especially those in South Wales, who worked in difficult places and were having their wages cut. There were many miners in Walsgrave at that time, so the Lock-out hit the village hard. Vera had to go back to work as a skilled weaver at Cash’s, and Seymour took over the housekeeping and looked after the children. He and the other colliers could only earn money from tree-cutting up at the Coombe, a wooded area on Lord Craven’s estate around Coombe Abbey, the Cravens’ House since the late seventeenth century. The miners earned a little money from the timber they cut, and they caught rabbits, pinched the odd pheasant and were given scraps from the Abbey kitchens, bowls of dripping and left-overs from banquets held there, which Seymour would bring home. However, Lord Craven was himself in financial difficulty, and eventually walked off a ship in the middle of the Atlantic.

The miners in the Warwickshire Coalfield were not too badly paid at the start of the Lock-out, but they supported the call from the Miners’ Federation for solidarity with those in other coalfields, and when they went back in the winter of 1926/7, they did so for less pay. However, by 1928 Seymour had earned and saved enough to make a down payment on a new semi-detached house with a bay window, next to Walsgrave School, at 21 School House Lane. Almost as soon as they moved in, their front room became the Headquarters for the Labour Party during the elections, and the bay window was full of posters at these times. Of course, it was in a strategic position, next to the polling station, the Village School, and so no-one could be in any doubt about Vera and Seymour’s allegiances.

Chapter Four: Jessie Gulliver’s Childhood Memories of Ufton, Wroxall and Walsgrave-on-Sowe.

Jessie was the eighth child. She was born the year Queen Victoria died, 1901. Her earliest memory was from when she was about two and a half, and the Gulliver family was living at Ufton. She sat on the school wall and the teachers came out and told her to get off, because the children couldn’t concentrate with her sitting on the wall. She went round to my mother and asked what concentrate meant, and she couldn’t speak it very well. Her mother told her she could sit on the wall at play-time and dinner-time, or in holidays, but she mustn’t sit on the wall when the children were in school, because they couldn’t concentrate when she was playing on the wall. She thought that was a bit hard, really, for one two and a half years old.

She used to go around Ufton with her elder brothers, Seymour and Arnold, and they’d play around Harbury Cement Works. Her brothers once got an old door and put two pieces of wood under it and used two other pieces for oars, taking Jessie out on a small brook at Harbury Cement Works. Their mother and father were very angry with the boys because they could have fallen in the brook and drowned. But, said Jessie, looking back, you know what they say, God looks after children and drunkards!

So her mother and father spent their young days at Ufton. She could remember the primroses, violets and bluebells in Ufton Wood and the part where the Chamberlains, the people who owned the cement works, are buried, railed off right at the end of the wood. She came across that a few years after going visiting to Ufton and taking her mother round to see Dad’s sister.

She could remember leaving Ufton and going to Wroxall. Her father left his job as a coachman at the Chamberlain’s house to work at Harbury Cement Works. So first they went to live in a rented cottage in Bishop’s Itchington, not far from Ufton. They paid half a crown a week for it in rent. However, the cement works didn’t suit her father, because the cement dust got on his chest and he had to go back onto the London work, riding the coaches between Leamington and London.

Jessie could remember how hard up they were at this time. One Sunday, when she was about three or four, she came home from Sunday School, where they’d been reading about Joseph with the coat of many colours. Her mother had bought her brotherArnold a little navy blue coat and he’d left it on Harbury Cement Works, and she was ever so upset and crying when Jessie went in and, of course, all Jessie could say to the rest of the family was he’s lost the coat of many colours! But, it was a job for my mother to get clothes for us in those days, and she liked us to be dressed nicely. I don’t know how she managed to do it, but she did.

When they moved to Wroxall in 1904, Jessie discovered her love of poetry, at first by attending The Band of Hope there. This was a temperance society for children which she began attending when she was between four and five. Even at so young an age, the children had to promise never to drink. To help her understand what this was all about, she had to learn to recite by heart the following little piece called,

The Convict’s Little Jim:

 

As I was strolling along Liverpool Pier,

One day I chanced to stand,

To have my shoes blacked by a lad,

One of the shoeblack band.

 

His cap was trimmed with scarlet cloth,

His age was scarce thirteen,

His clothes were old and shabby,

But his hands and face were clean.

 

I said, ‘where is your father, lad?’

He shrinked an ancient while,

Then said, ‘My father is a convict sir,

And I his only child.

 

‘And if you’ll only listen sir,

I don’t mind telling you,

The history of my father’s life,

Which I would tell to few.

 

‘My father once was honest, sir,

And from that he’d not shrink,

But like many other good young men,

He turned and took to drink.

 

‘Fonder and fonder of it he grew,

Where drink was he would lurk,

Until, at last, he did not go

And do his daily work.

 

‘One day, half mad,

He kicked my mother all round door,

And with clenched fist, he then

 Struck her to the floor.

 

‘He robbed her body of her purse,

Then sailed across the sea,

Not caring what might become

Of my dear mother and me.

 

‘But when my father landed,

By detectives he was caught,

And back again to England,

Into Liverpool was brought.

 

‘How hard ‘twas, sir, for me,

To see my father tried,

Upon a charge of manslaughter,

For my mother, she had died.

 

‘And when I’d given evidence,

How my poor eyes filled with tears,

As I heard my father sentenced

To twenty-one long years.

 

‘The rich they frown upon me,

But I think it is a shame,

For, though my father is a convict,

His child is not the same.’

 

I left him then; my next engagement

Came on that same pier,

And I looked again amongst the shoeblacks,

But could not find him there.

 

I asked another shoeblack,

And this is what he said,

‘He took the scarlet fever, sir,

And lies at home now, dead.’

 

 

I asked him if he’d show me,

As he walked along beside,

To the little, humble home,

Where that little shoeblack died.

 

I looked upon his little form,

So tender and so slim,

But I knew that God had took to heaven

The Convict’s little Jim.

 

Jessie could still remember this word-perfect in 1992, though she thought it was a terrible thing to teach a child! She could also recite an equally grim Victorian verse she learnt when she was about six years old in Wroxall School (they used to make you learn poetry by heart in those days). It’s called…

Lucy Grey:

Oft have I heard of Lucy Grey,

And when she crossed the wire,

I chanced to see, at break of day,

That solitary child.

 

Yet you will see the fauns at play,

The hare upon the Green,

But the sweet face of Lucy Grey,

Will never more be seen.

 

‘Tonight will be a stormy night,

You to the Town must go,

And take a lantern, child, to light

Your mother through the snow.’

 

‘That, father, will I gladly do,

‘Tis scarcely afternoon,

The Minster clock has just struck two,

And yonder is the moon.’

 

But the storm came on before its time,

She wandered up and down,

And many a hill did Lucy climb,

But she never reached the Town.

 

Her wretched parents, all that night,

Went shouting far and wide,

But there was neither sound nor sight,

To serve them for a guide.

 

And when the mist began to clear,

And the stars began to peek,

Her mother saw the print

of Lucy’s little feet.

 

She tracked those footsteps one by one,

The marks were still the same,

Through the broken hawthorn hedge,

Until the bridge they came.

 

But the other half was down,

Poor Lucy had been drowned.

 

And yet, folks say unto this day,

She roams across the moor,

And will do forever more.

 

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When Jessie was about eight, in 1909, the family moved from Wroxall to Walsgrave. The children all went on the van. There must’ve been about eight of them, she thought, but their mother decided to come by train from Berkswell into Coventry, with the youngest, Arthur. When they got to the house where we were going to live, Caludon Lodge, near Walsgrave, the people (who were leaving) hadn’t got out, so there we were, all us kids, stuck with the furniture and my Dad worried to death. He didn’t know what to do. So, they all ended up at Green’s Farm where George and the older boys were going to work. At first, Mrs Green didn’t know what to do with so large a family, but it was a large enough farmhouse for them to have a kitchen and one bedroom and a landing. So the whole family was staying there.

Their mother had to walk all the way from Gosford Green (tram terminus) with Arthur, who was only four years old. In those days, the trams only ran around the city, and Walsgrave was outside the area of the County Borough. So, she was already planning to walk a distance of nearly three miles, which would now be extended by at least another half mile down the farm lane. When the rest of the family had arrived at Caludon Lodge, the lady next door gave Jessie an old pram to go and meet her mother. She met her on Ball Hill, a long and somewhat steep climb out of the city, already tired out, but Jessie had to tell her the bad news, that the people couldn’t get out of the Lodge because the people were still in the house that they were going to, and that her dad had taken all the furniture down to the farm.

They managed very well in the kitchen, and Jessie slept on the landing with two of the others, on the mattresses they’d taken up from the van. They were there six weeks and Mrs Green said she didn’t even know we were there, we were such good children. They had good fun, especially the girls, because the Green’s had a family of boys, so they had a good time with them in the hay!

After that, they went up to Caludon Lodge. It was a very nice house, built in brick; with railings all round it, little holly bushes all around the garden, and a porch in the middle. The kitchen and the front room were at right angles to each other and there were two passages, one from the front room and one from the kitchen. There was a big yard at the back with a long bench where mother could put about four bowls for washing. There was a big ‘copper’ (kettle) and a little one. Mother always had the little one on and the kids used to go and get sticks (for the wood-fired range), so there was always warm water in the big kitchen to wash with. There was a most beautiful garden, with pear trees, plum trees and apple trees with mistletoe growing up one of them. It was ever so long; it went right down past two houses, and Mr Green took a piece off it eventually and built two houses on it for more farm labourers.

So they had quite a happy time at Walsgrave. They could go to Binley, Wyken or Stoke schools. But Caludon was just outside the Parish of Walsgrave (which was still in Warwickshire at that time, outside Corporation area), so they couldn’t go to the Church of England village school. So, they were sent to Binley School, which was run by Whitley Abbey. They therefore had another two-mile walk to school across the fields, starting early with two sandwiches each to eat on the way. Then they had a school dinner and a meal when they got home at about half past four. Soon after they arrived, Binley Pit was sunk and a new school had to be built, so Jessie’s last two years at school were spent there.

Chapter Five: Jessie’s Memories of War, Work and Leisure in Coventry and Oxford

Jessie was working for a butcher’s family at Ball Hill before the First World War broke out, looking after their baby. She remembered that anyone who had spare bedrooms in Coventry had Australian soldiers billeted on them. She didn’t know what port they came in (probably Portsmouth), but they all came through Walsgrave and they all came past Caludon Lodge. They were all dressed in khaki, with their hats turned up at the side, waiting for our government to say where they were to go. So three of them were staying at Brown’s (the butchers). They’d had two fellows living and working there, taking the meat around in those days, but they’d had to go to war themselves. So Mr Brown asked Jessie to take meat down to Stoke Park Hall, and they asked her to take their orders back to him, thinking he was my father. But he never increased her pay and if he didn’t give me my half a crown on Saturdays, I never asked him for it. Kids were funny in those days!

Jessie got another job eventually. A lady was having a baby and she was to take the little boy or girl out. She offered her 10s a week; four times what she was getting at Brown’s. However, the woman’s husband also expected her to perform extra duties. While the lady was in bed, having the baby, her husband was at home having a few days off, and he tried to kiss Jessie, though he must have known she was only fourteen. She described how..

I started to walk round the table, and he followed me. So I kept walking round, and the dog started to howl. Their dog always howled if somebody played the piano in the front room. So his wife shouted down, ‘what’s the dog howling for?’ So I said, ‘oh, Mr Prescott is in the front room playing the piano, and you know the dog doesn’t like piano music.’ As I walked round the table, when I got near the stairs I went up. He never tried it on again; of course, he was at work all the while.

She stayed there a few weeks, and there were then three Jessies in the house, because the mother and the baby were both named Jessie. It was a bad time for the family, though, because mother had to go into hospital with a poisoned knee. In those days you had to pay £5 per week in fees, provide your own food and pay for transport to the hospital if you couldn’t walk. But Mother quickly got over it. Jessie thought she was wonderful, especially after having three little girls in five years: She never shouted at us, or hit us. She was quite a lady, who went to Church on Sunday evenings. All the children had to go on Sunday mornings and afternoons (to Sunday School), dressed in their best clothes. It took her all the next day to wash and clean, starch and press them and put them away.

Now the War was on, and women could get well-paid jobs working on munitions. Jessie got a job working at the Royal Ordinance Works, Red Lane. She got much more money there and soon had enough saved for a bicycle. Instead of having to walk all the way across by Wyken Church, right up the Black Pad to the Works, night and morning, she could cycle:

That’s how my life went on through the war years. We were working from six in the morning till six at night on two pieces of bread and ‘dripping’ (lard) and canteen tea which you could have wrung a dishcloth out in.

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Sometimes they were quite nervous about the war, although it didn’t affect the women directly very much, unless they lost a loved one on the Western Front. They did see, however, a huge airship, a Zeppelin, sailing over Walsgrave, which frightened us all to death, and made them realise some of the reality of modern warfare for the first time: It was terrifying, just like a great big boat. However, the terror soon passed, and Jessie said that:

It was only really the rationing which touched us, because my mother had about ten of us at home, and had to go into Coventry for what she could get… it was a good job we had the garden and all the stuff from it and my Dad could always keep it beautiful and grow plenty of potatoes, cabbages, etc. We survived!

When the war finished, Jessie went to Oxford, to her aunt, Molly Tidmarsh (née Sanders). Things were much better for her there, because it was impossible to get a job in Coventry; nobody could, neither woman nor man. But, when the women went to sign on at the Labour Exchange, the officials often insulted them. They asked, ‘have you been round any factories?’ when they knew very well that there were no jobs in the factories, especially for women. Jessie’s Aunt Molly kept The Black Horse in Kidlington near Oxford. She had one daughter, so she told her sister, ‘send Jess over to the pub; I’ll give her 10s a week, that’ll keep her in clothes. She’ll be a friend for Doll’ (her daughter).

Living in the country and having a can of milk twice a day meant Jessie became much healthier too. With her cousin, she went dancing in Oxford with the undergrads, who would bring them home in a taxi to Kidlington. She began to speak much better and dress better. She had a boyfriend in Coventry whom she used to write letters to, but when she went home to Walsgrave he said there was a vast difference in her, and that he couldn’t believe she’d changed so much. They eventually broke off their relationship when he said he was going out with a girl from the chapel. Jessie stayed at Kidlington for about two years, but as her uncle used to drink the whiskey, didn’t make much profit, so they decided to leave Kidlington and my uncle got a job with a biscuit company as their cricket grounds man in London, with a cottage on the ground, near the Pavilion.

Jessie had also decided to go up to London, because she’d been offered a job there. But she wasn’t able to stay with her aunt and uncle because the cottage wasn’t big enough. So she went into service at Primsbury Park. She came home to Coventry for a holiday and went to a dance. She danced with a young man named Tommy Gardner who was still in the Army, looking very smart in blue uniform with gold braiding all across his chest:

Girls were not supposed to fancy soldiers or sailors in those days, because we always thought they were common. But I liked him, so I danced with him all that evening and he asked to see me home. I had come with a girl from next door, so I found her, and the three of us went home together. As we stood talking by our house, he asked if he could see me again the next day. I agreed, but told him I was returning to London on the Monday. He suggested that I write and ask for another week, so I did. We kept on writing after that, and he asked me to come home again, because he was feeling very lonely.

So, Jessie came home eventually, in 1925, and got work straight away. She went to work in a café, so her mother did not go without money for her, and she had most of her meals there. Tommy would come down to the café every night. They were both twenty-four, not very young in the twenties, so he was very keen to get engaged straight away and wanted to get married quickly. But Jessie said, how can we get married with only twenty pounds between us and my father ill?!’ So they got married at a Registry Office and said nothing to anyone. Jessie wore her wedding ring around her neck on a chain.

Chapter Six: Jessie’s Memories of Married Life and After in Coventry

The couple used to go round and see her brother Alf, who was in the Navy. Lilly, his wife, had one little boy, and she was there on her own with him. They used to go and see her quite a lot, partly because she had a piano and Tommy could play anything on the piano. But they found it increasingly difficult to keep their marriage a secret:

Alf’s wife asked us one night, when we’d been married about three months, ‘when are you two getting married?’ I said, ‘I’m not getting married!’ She said, ‘don’t be so silly! You’re just made for each other! What are you going out with him for? You can’t treat him like that!’ I said, ‘I am married!’ ‘What?’ she said, ‘you are married?!’ I said, ‘yes, I’ve been married three months!’ ‘Oh, my God!’ she said, ‘I can’t go and tell your mother and your dad!’ So Tommy said, ‘well, I’ll go round and tell them!’ So he went round straight away and told my mother that we’d been married in a Registrar’s. I don’t know whether he told her how long, and then he saw Dad, who said, ‘oh, that’s alright, my lad, I always liked you!’ When mother went to Church on Sunday nights, we used to stop in and look after him when he was ill, so he was all right about it, but I don’t think my mother thought much about it. She said, ‘well what are you going to do? Where are you going to live?’ Lilly said, ‘I’ve got an empty room, so why don’t you come and live with me? I’m away half the time down at Portsmouth when the ship comes in! There’s a spare room; you can furnish that.’

So they went there, furnished the spare room, and that’s where they started married life. Jessie kept her job and they were able to save quite a bit of money. In fact, they were only there about six months before they’d got about a hundred pounds, enough to furnish a place in those days. So they started to look for a place of their own. Eventually, they got a bungalow. They only paid 6s 1d a week rent for it. It had two bedrooms, and a long living room, which took a dining table. After George died in 1930, Jessie’s mother had a three-bedroom one. They were built as temporary accommodation for war-workers coming into Coventry, but they were very comfortable inside. There was a communal bathhouse where clothes washing could also be done. There were some built for people with better positions and they had all got baths in and Millie had one of these. After the First World War ended, these managers left these places. They were cottages, prefabricated, but fireproof. Tommy made a fireplace, with a mantelpiece for ornaments, and a wardrobe;

He built a porch and a garden fence all around with a gate, and made a beautiful garden. He built a garage out back made of laths, screwed together. He didn’t use a single nail. There was also a fireplace in the bedroom and whenever anyone brought children to visit they all played in the bedroom on the beds, because we’d built a fire in there and it was warm. The men would go into the spare room and play cards while we cleared the table in the living room, and then they’d come back. Those were the days!  

That was in 1925, when Tommy earned an average wage of about £2. 10s. But he had brains, so he decided to leave his trade, though it was difficult to leave your place of work in those days, and he was out of work for about eight weeks while Jessie kept them from her earnings as a waitress. He went into the motor-trade at the wood place of the Riley Car Works, on Woodrington Road, near Foleshill Station. They used to make the dashboards out of wood. They needed semi-skilled workers and because he had made cabinets he could read a drawing, so they gave him a job. The GEC couldn’t stop him going there, because it wasn’t a federated ‘shop’, as it had only just opened. They were hard up for workers as well, because all the men were in work at that time. There he’d earn about £10 a week, with overtime, £6 on ordinary time. He’d be out of work for about three months (laid-off in the summer), but could always put some money away for those times. It used to be three months out, three months short time and three months mad-time. He soon got enough for a motorbike, and then they had a car.

Jessie lived to be 102. In her recollections, recorded in 1992, she included the following reflections:

Give me these days now. I don’t think much of the old days. They were good for the rich, but not much good for the poor. I don’t know how many more years I shall sit here, looking out of this window, perhaps quite a few. One cannot tell from one day to the next.

So, they (the Gullivers and Tidmarshes) were good people and that’s where it’s coming out in these generations, because we came from good stock; honest, God-fearing workers. We all seem to be doing very well these days, after all these years. So, I can’t say much for the good old times that they talk about. I’m all for these times.  Some things are better, some things are worse, I will admit. But, on the whole, we are looked after much better in our old age now.

In June 2001 her relatives from far and wide gathered together to celebrate her 100th birthday in style, at a hotel in Meriden, an occasion organised by her nephew, Allan Gulliver. She received a personally signed card from HM Queen Elizabeth II, in her fiftieth year as our sovereign majesty. A year later, many of the same people came together to pay their respects at the passing of the last of the thirteen brothers and sisters of a great generation of Gullivers.

Chapter Seven: Daphne Gulliver’s memories of Growing up in Walsgrave before and during the Second World War.

As Daphne grew up in Walsgrave in the thirties, she remembered The Walsgrave Show, a very big agricultural and horticultural event. She could remember her father winning prizes for vegetables and children making bouquets out of wild flowers. It was a show run by local farmers like Harold Green, whom the Gullivers had worked for, but it attracted farmers, showjumpers and other participants from far and wide. It eventually combined with the Kenilworth Show, and became the forerunner of The National Agricultural Show at Stoneleigh.

As prosperity returned with a boom in Coventry, coal-miners’ wages also improved, though many chose to desert the pits for a cleaner, high-wage job in engineering in the City, especially in the car factories. Seymour stuck to his job at the colliery, however, because he liked the economic security that came with it, as well as the sense of comraderie. Although not a hard-drinker, like many colliers, he naturally liked to call into the pub for a much-needed pint on his way home after a hard shift at the coal-face. The Baptists frowned upon and shunned the pubs in the village, because there were many well-known heavy-drinkers, but they understood that it was natural for the miners to enjoy a drink together on the way home. The only problems in some families came on weekly pay days, when they received their wage in cash. On these days all the wives would send their children, and Daphne was one of these, to wait for their fathers and get their pay packets from them in case any of them might be tempted to donate too much of it to the pub’s till! Every mother would send their kids to stand outside The Craven Arms and The Red Horse to collect the wages. This, of course, was more of a show of solidarity by the wives than an act of necessity, especially as the local publicans were strict about not serving those who had, in their opinion, had one too many.

When war broke out in 1939, the good spirit in Walsgrave continued. The most noticeable difference, at first, was in the availability of food, and rationing. There were queues for tomatoes, but the Co-op was fair to everyone, and the vegetable cart continued to do its rounds of the village. One day, Daphne went out with her mother to buy oranges, which were rationed to one per person per week. So, they could have five. A group of internees were going up the Lane to the farm at the top. Vera asked Albert, the vendor, for a knife and cut all five into pieces. She went over to the boys and gave each one a piece of orange. Daphne, being a child, protested, but she said, oh well, these lads are very young and they’ve been living off potatoes up at the farm, so they need that orange much more than you do.

People were encouraged to produce their own food on their allotments. As well as growing vegetables, Seymour also kept pigs and poultry on his allotment along Woodway Lane. You could keep pigs during the war, but you had to have a permit to kill them. You could sell them to the authorities, but they did not pay very much for them. So Seymour decided to take his sow into hiding in their house when her time came. Daphne remembered these war-time pigs and piglets well:

…we had a litter of pigs, we decided we were going to have a litter, and then we had some sleeping quarters for these piglets, and when the time came, the wretched sow had all those little piglets on the hearth, and we were giving them drops of brandy, trying to revive them and keep them going. I think we saved about five.

But they got to be little suckling pigs and one of them wasn’t quite right. So they decided they were going to ‘knock this one off’. So Bill Gately worked up the abattoir and we persuaded Bill to come and knock this little pig off. They’d just gone up the garden, ’cause he was working all day so it was dark now, and the air-raid siren went. So, no-one dared shine a flash-light or anything and well, you can imagine these little pigs running and squealing all over the sty, and them trying to get hold of this particular one; and Bill was muttering and stuttering, you know. Well eventually we caught this pig and killed it quietly at the kitchen sink.

We had no permit, and then someone came around afterwards, knowing that we’d done this, and he asked, ’what did you do with the Tom Hodge?’ So Seymour says, ’what’s that?’, and they said, ’well, you know, its innards!’ Dad says, ’oh! We buried them up  the garden’. ’Oh, oh dear!’ he says, ’the best part of the pig!’ Anyway, he comes back after a few minutes and says, ’well, if I know Seymour it won’t be buried deep!’ So he goes up the garden with his fork and forks all this up. Eventually, he took all these chittilings and well, of course, to anyone who likes chittilings…but it put me off pork for the rest of my life!  

Daphne also remembered the first significant air-raids, and the first use of the communal shelter at the school. The Anderson shelters that people had put up in their gardens by the summer of 1940 had become flooded, so they had to go to the shelter at the school, which had been put there for the school children. However, as there were no day-time raids, it had not been used, and was still locked. The schoolmaster, Gaffa Mann, refused to open it, however. A pick axe had to be sent for to break the lock, and all the residents of School House Lane went in.

Though Walsgrave itself was of no military importance, Capability Brown’s huge landscaped pool at Coombe Abbey was in the German map books and was used as a landmark by the German bomber crews. The Rolls Royce Engine Factory at Ansty was less than a mile from this, manufacturing aircraft engines. There was also an aerodrome there, built before the war, and the then Rootes assembly plant at Ryton-on-Dunsmore was only a few miles away on the same side of the city, with its shadow factory producing aircraft and military vehicles. Planned under Chamberlain’s Government in 1936, these factories did not appear on the Luftwaffe’s maps, hence the importance of incendiary bombs dropped around the outlying areas of the City, as well as on the city itself. The Rootes Shadow Factory had only just begun production in 1940. The Germans were searching for the shadow factories on the ground, using the Coombe Pool as a focal point. Huge craters were left on the landscape around the village for many decades afterwards. I remember Seymour showing me one of these on one of his mooches and describing his arrest, as an ARP Warden, of a German pilot who had bailed out over Coombe Park, landing in the farm lane and breaking both his legs. Seymour had to use his bicycle to get the airman the mile or so to the village police station.

On the night of November 14th, Coventry was subjected to an eleven-hour sustained Blitz, giving both the English and German dictionaries the word Coventration as a synonym for blanket-bombing rather than lightning raids, which had been the previous strategy in attacking London and other regional ports. Daphne recalled the effect of the bombing of the city centre, three miles away, as they ran for the shelter:

We put up the cushions from off the furniture and put them on our heads and went running up the shelter. It was a bright moonlit night and tracer bullets were flying around like tracer bullets everywhere and the whole city was on fire. Everything was lit up like it was daylight; it was a most awesome sight and of course, for days afterwards, the burnt paper was coming down.

The School Log for 15th November echoes this description of destruction:

School reassembled – about only 130 were present – this is due to the results of a terrific 11 hour raid on Coventry and immediate neighbourhood. The Church Hut used for 70 to 80 infants had to be used as a home for the people who were bombed out of the city.

Seymour was on air-raid duty that night and recalled one bomb that fell in what was known as The Hollow, just past The Mount Pleasant. He said that the old, cruck-beamed cottage was quite badly damaged as the patrol went towards it, and he was sure there would be at least one person dead inside. But when they went inside they found that the main beam had fallen across the fireplace and the family were all protected by it, around the fireplace. No-one was hurt.

School records for 1940 show that a total of six hours and ten minutes was spent in the school shelter, with one visit lasting over two hours. Of course, nearly all the raids took place during night-time. Even the raid of the 14th/15th November was not detected until after 3 p.m., the end of the school day, and the bombing had ended in sufficient time for the school to open on time the next morning. Though the sirens went off earlier than usual that evening, most people recall being at home having had tea or supper when the bombing started. The schools nearer the centre were far more badly affected, and many of those rescued in these areas were still under rubble until about 7 a.m., having been trapped for more than twelve hours in some cases. Walsgrave escaped lightly compared with the mass destruction of the city centre and the older factory areas in the suburbs, though it might have been a different story had the Luftwaffe been able to locate the Ansty and Ryton factories. Many in the village realised this vulnerability, and though not forced to, sent their children away to safer rural areas, if they could. Daphne was sent away to relatives near Bridgwater in Somerset for a while. In addition to his ARP duties, being in a reserved occupation as a collier, Seymour took on responsibility for the Bevin Boys, the well-educated young graduates and undergraduates who were sent to work in the pits.

002Chapter Eight: Vera and Daphne Gulliver’s memories of  Chapel, Church and School in Walsgrave

In the early part of the twentieth century, the most significant social division in the village was between Church and Chapel.  This was sharpened by a dispute over a refusal to bury Nonconformists in the parish churchyard, leading to the establishment of a cemetary on Sowe Common. The cemetary was near the canal, and Vera could remember Baptisms taking place there because there was no baptistry at the original Little Chapel  from 1840 to 1902. By the time Vera and Seymour were married at the Chapel in 1918, it was well-established in the village, with a membership of keen spiritually-minded people, a good set of buildings…a minister of our own and a Manse for him to occupy.

A small, relatively poor community had achieved a lot in hard times. A real period of growth was enjoyed until the coming of the Second World War. Daphne remembered Sunday School Anniversary excursions to Hawkesbury, Lenton’s Lane, Potters Green, Shilton and Wolvey. For many children, these were the first occasions they had been outside the village, unless they had been into Coventry. However, the Nonconformist children sometimes found themselves in conflict at school, because, as Daphne explained:

..it was very much a Church of England School. The Conscience Clause used to be up on the wall…We used to be marched down to the Church on ’High Day’ and that was very nice and I never opted out of that but I could have done…You see, I was one of those wretched Non-Conformists. But I used to enjoy that. Well I took it upon myself one day, when Miss Florence Verrall, a school governer was there for assembly, to refuse to say the catechism. I don’t know why, because I knew it all, but my mother had told me I needn’t say this, it didn’t apply to me. I was very much frowned upon after that. I never did quite live it down. I never did like the village school, not many did, and I was glad to leave when I was about eleven. Gaffa Mann was the master. One of his sayings was ’spare the rod and spoil the child’. With Miss Verrall we all had to stand to attention when she came in, as she was a very important person.

Daphne also remembered the famous Rev. Howard Ingli James, the Welsh Minister at Queens’ Road Baptist Church in Coventry in the thirties and forties, preaching at Walsgrave Chapel. She described him as a Welsh ranter, a very famous socialist, and extremely funny. Walsgrave had the kind of pulpit in which you could walk up and down and he used to shake all his black hair into his eyes. There were marvellous harvest festivals after the war and everything was decorated. Then the produce would be sold off to raise money and there would be a concert to follow. The choirmaster was quite strict and if anyone wasn’t behaving themselves, he would throw a hymn book in their direction to bring them to attention. The names on the village war memorial contained the names of many young people who gave their lives, but there were other losses sustained by the chapel.

004005 (2)After the war, the chapel was taken under the wing of  Queens Road and the Rev Gordon Wylie, succeeding Rev Ingli James, brought the thirty-eight year-old Rev Arthur J Chandler to Walsgrave from Wednesbury, Staffordshire, in 1948. In addition to overseeing Ansty and Shilton chapels, he helped to build up the Walsgrave congregation again. Daphne worked as a short-hand typist at the Ansty Factory after the war, using her bicycle to get up the farm lane on the other side of the Sowe and up the hill each day. In July 1952, she celebrated her twenty-first birthday with all the family in the School Hall next to where they lived. Her aunt Jessie asked her, ‘have you got a boyfriend?’ She said she’d had one, but she didn’t have one then, so Jessie asked her, ‘who’ve you got your eyes on?’ Daphne answered that the Baptist minister was often in their house and that her mother, Vera, made him cups of tea. His own mother, Emma, had died the previous year. Daphne married Arthur at Walsgrave Chapel the following summer, in the coronation year of 1953.

This year, 2013, therefore marks the Diamond Anniversary of their wedding. Arthur died in Walsgrave Hospital in 1985 and Daphne died following a tragic road accident, coming down a steep hill on her bike, near her home in Shaldon, Devon, on St Andrew’s Day in 1993. At her funeral at Teignmouth Baptist Church, her love of bicycles was highighted by the following quotation from the stories she contributed to Walsgrave Remembered:

Tommy Hatfield had a sort of workshop and you could go up there and say you wanted a bike, and he’d measure you up for size and look through all these frames, and find one the right size. Then he’d dip it in acid, then he’d dip it in a stone enamelling vat. I suppose they were always black. He’d tell you which day he’d finish it, and then you’d come home riding your bike, pleased as punch. Lovely thing a bike.

Both my parents’ names are entered in the Book of Remembrance displayed in St Mary’s Church, Walsgrave-on-Sowe, where their ashes were interred.

Andrew James Chandler, Hungary 2013: All rights reserved

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