Archive for the ‘George Gulliver’ Tag

The Fires of Perfect Liberty: Labouring Men and Women of England, 1851-1951.   Leave a comment

      

Introduction and Part One: 1851-1901: Change, Decay and Resistance in the Countryside

During the period 1851 to 1941, the pace and style of life in the Midlands and East Anglia changed more rapidly and radically than in any preceding period, including the previous hundred years. Mechanisation came to the farms, piped water to the villages and street lighting and trams to the towns. Radio eventually pierced the isolation of rural areas. Trades Unionists and socialists attacked the centuries-old social structure, weakened as it was by economic decline. Patronage and paternalism were replaced by concepts of equality and the assertion of new rights to education and housing, alongside the continuing demands for a fair week’s pay for a fair week’s work. A generation of men were buried on the western front while many of their children were left to fight for their way of life against unemployment, poverty and despair at home and against fascism and dictatorship on the continents of Europe, Africa and Asia.

The changes in village life that took place during these years constitute one of the most fundamental developments in the history of the last five centuries, since the end of the Wars of the Roses. The parish of Brandeston near Framlingham was typical of these changes. In 1842, it was a self-contained community with a population of 555 souls. It had a fourteenth century church with Perpendicular additions and a Tudor hall recently bought by Charles Austin, Q.C., and High Steward of Ipswich. There was an ancient inn and a new Congregational chapel. Henry Collins’ mill stood on the edge of the village and is reputed to have had eight sails. It was self-sufficient in services, with its own blacksmith, wheelwright, joiner, butcher, grocer, tailor and builder. Derek Wilson continues:

There were thirteen farmers, and the rest of the community were employed directly or indirectly in agriculture. On the rare occasions when a man needed to leave the village he would walk or go with the carter to Wickham Market where he could pick up the Royal Mail or the Lord Nelson coach to London. A Hundred years later, the population of Brandeston was 312. The third and last generation of Austins had left the Hall, which was on the point of becoming a boys’ school. The Congregational Chapel was closed. There was no trace of the windmill and the mill house was now the post office. There were still eight farms, employing between them only twenty to thirty men. The old stables of the Hall had been converted into flats. Hill House, a substantial Georgian residence, was a saddler’s workshop. The forge was still operating but the nearby wheelwright had long since closed his shop. Some of the houses were empty and many, especially the thatched cottages, were in need of repair. The railway at nearby Hacheston Halt and Parham linked Brandeston with Ipswich and the world, and the Eastern Counties bus came through regularly. Villagers frequently went on shopping expeditions to Framlingham, Wickham Market and the county capital. And who were the villagers? Retired farm workers and servants from the Hall; newcomers in search of rural seclusion; men and women who travelled to the nearby towns for work. Compare the names of Brandestonians in 1842 and 1947 and you will find only a few that are identical.

  

In many ways, the transition began with what became known as The Railway Age, although in the 1850s there were still many parts in the extremities of East Anglia, including Framlingham, into which the steam trains had not yet reached. By 1850 speeds of fifty to sixty kilometres per hour were commonplace on the main railway routes. Moreover, travel by rail was cheaper than by road. Railways cut out the hidden costs of coach travel such as the tips to the coachman and guard and the expensive meals at the coaching inns along the road. By 1850 the long-distance coaches had disappeared and people were travelling far more than they had ever done before. The Times commented:

 

Thirty years ago not one countryman in one hundred had seen the metropolis. There is now scarcely one in the same number who has not spent the day there.

 

The railways brought change in numerous ways. They speeded up the distribution of mail and in the 1850s newspaper expresses were leaving Euston and Paddington. The need to keep to railway timetables caused Greenwich Time to be adopted throughout the country. The engineering works often provided pleasing new features on the landscape, such as bridges and viaducts. Cities were also transformed, not always for the better, by the approach lines, stations and marshalling yards. In addition, the railways encouraged the expansion of industry. Goods traffic moved more quickly and could grow at a rate which would not have been possible had it still been confined to canals and navigable waterways. The railways gave particular impetus to the development of the iron, steel and coal industries. In the 1850s, over a million tonnes of coal a year were being consumed by the steam engines and more miners were needed in the coalfield areas and towns. Here again, the railways helped in making it easier for agricultural workers to move to these areas in search of higher wages.

Quite apart from all these effects, the railways themselves were a major industry. In the 1850s, apart from the navvies, sixty thousand people were employed in running the railways. As well as engine drivers, they included clerks, porters and carriage builders. Some of them lived in new railway towns, like Crewe, housing the carriage and locomotive works required by the railway companies. Others lived in older towns, like York, which were rejuvenated by becoming important junctions. Unlike any other industry, the railways employed people throughout the length and breadth of Great Britain. Wherever a railway station was opened, station staff were needed and a station master was required to supervise them. Moreover, as other countries began to industrialise, they needed the machinery, rails and locomotives which only Britain was able to supply in the middle of the century. By 1851 Britain’s output of iron had already risen to two and a half million tonnes, ten times the amount produced in 1801.

004014In the second half of the century, steel production took over and increased forty times to nearly five million tonnes in 1900. Not all of the iron was used to construct machinery or to build railways. Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace, built to house the Great Exhibition of 1851, was made of iron and glass. Iron was used increasingly in all kinds of buildings, including houses. It was used for gas pipes, fireplaces, doorstops and kitchen ranges, as well as for iron railings outside. However, in 1856 a swifter and cheaper method of producing steel was devised by Henry Bessemer, and by 1890 steel had replaced iron in railways, bridges and shipping. By 1900, however, Germany had overtaken Great Britain in steel production, and was catching up in pig-iron and coal production.

Nonetheless, Britain’s output continued to increase in every industry, including the expansion of the railways, despite having industrialised far earlier than all the other European countries (see statistical tables, right).

By 1870 there were over thirteen thousand miles of railway track in England and Wales, four and a half thousand of which had been laid by 1848. Yet the accurate assessment of the difference made by the railways to society in terms of facilitating provision of goods, means of personal travel and the development of holidays is difficult to conclude and necessitates more detailed, specific, local studies. In Suffolk, the Eastern Counties Railway Company took over its rival, the Eastern Union, and other branch lines were laid by small local companies bringing Lowestoft, Beccles, Halesworth, Framlingham and Woodbridge into the steam age, and these were eventually also gobbled up by the ECRC, which was reconstituted as the Great Eastern Railway Company in 1862.

Returning to the condition of agriculture, it soon became evident that the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 did not produce the market chaos predicted by many wealthy landowners. Instead, agriculture continued into a period of prosperity, known as High Farming, successfully feeding industrial society. The industrial advances of the mid-Victorian period also eliminated the risks of repeats of the serious social discontent of the 1830s and 1840s. Although labour may have been hard, and wages low, the seasonal rhythm of the land was maintained. Where modern technology could increase yield or cut overheads without involving prohibitive capital expenditure, farmers hurried to use it.

This was when the agricultural contractor came into his own. He hired to the farmers the large machines and the operators and engineers they could not afford to buy for themselves. Most important of these was the steam threshing outfit. It could do in a few days the work which had previously been one of the jobs which kept farm staff busy throughout the winter. Steam threshing was a busy, noisy, back-breaking time, becoming as much a highlight of the farming year as harvest itself. The thresher’s hoppers filled sacks with chaff and with graded grain. A full sack of oats weighed twelve stone, one of barley sixteen stone and a sack of wheat was eighteen stone, and each one had to be stacked or carted as soon as it was full.

001The novelist Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) was brought up in Dorset, and his novels were largely based on his knowledge of a rural society, in many ways simpler than the main stream of Victorian life recorded by George Eliot and Charles Dickens, far more like that of Flora Thompson. Like all of them, however, Hardy powerfully communicates the experience of social change, especially in the following passage from Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891), in which he describes the impact of the advent, at some point in the 1860s, of the steam-powered threshing machine at Flintcomb-Ash Farm, and on his heroine, the victim-of-circumstances farm-labourer, Tess Durbeyfield. She arrives at the farm, with her fellow labourer, at dawn on a March morning, for the threshing of the last wheat-rick:

When Izz Huett and Tess arrived at the scene of operations only a rustling denoted that others had preceded them: to which, as the light increased, there were presently added the silhouettes of two men on the summit. They were busily ’unhaling’ the rick, that is, stripping off the thatch before beginning to throw down the sheaves; and while this was in progress Izz and Tess, together with the other women-workers, in their whitey-brown pinners, stood waiting and shivering, Farmer Groby having insisted on their being on the spot thus early to get the job over if possible by the end of the day. Close under the eaves of the stack, and yet barely visible, was the red tyrant that the women had come to serve – a timber-framed construction, with straps and wheels appertaining – the threshing-machine which, whilst it was going, kept up a despotic demand upon the endurance of their muscles and nerves.

 

A little way off there was another indistinct figure; this one black, with a sustained hiss that spoke of strength very much in reserve. The long chimney running up beside an ash-tree, and the warmth which radiated from the spot, explained without the necessity of much daylight that here was the engine which was to act as ’primum mobile’ of this little world. By the engine stood a dark motionless being, a sooty and grimy embodiment of tallness, in a sort of trance, with a heap of coals by his side: it was the engine-man… He was in the agricultural world, but not of it. He served fire and smoke… He travelled with his engine from farm to farm, from county to county, for as yet the steam threshing-machine was itinerant in this part of Wessex. He spoke in a strange northern accent; his thoughts being turned inwards upon himself, his eye on his iron charge, hardly perceiving the scenes around him, and caring for them not at all: holding only strictly necessary intercourse with the natives… The long strap which ran from the driving-wheel of his engine to the red thresher under the rick was the sole tie-line between agriculture and him.

 001

While they uncovered the sheaves he stood apathetic beside his portable repository of force, round whose hot blackness the morning air quivered. He had nothing to do with preparatory labour. His fire was waiting incandescent, his steam was at high pressure, in a few seconds he could make the long strap move at an invisible velocity. Beyond its extent the environment might be corn, straw, or chaos; it was all the same to him.

 

The rick was unhaled by full daylight; the men then took their places, the women mounted, and the work began. Farmer Groby… had arrived ere this, and by his orders Tess was placed upon the platform of the machine, close to the man who fed it, her business being to untie every sheaf of corn handed on to her by Izz Huett, who stood next, but on the rick; so that the feeder could seize it over the revolving drum, which whisked out every grain in one moment.

 

They were soon in full progress, after a preparatory hitch or two, which rejoiced the hearts of those who hated machinery. The work sped on till breakfast time, when the thresher was stopped for half an hour; and on starting again the whole supplementary strength of the farm was thrown into the labour of constructing the straw-rick, which began to grow beside the stack of corn. A hasty lunch was eaten… without leaving their positions… the perspiring ones at the machine, including Tess, could not lighten their duties by the exchange of many words. It was the ceaselessness of the work which tried her so severely… there was no respite; for as the drum never stopped, the man who fed it could not stop, and she, who had to supply the man with untied sheaves, could not stop either… it was usually a woman who was chosen for this particularly duty, and Groby gave as his motive in selecting Tess that she was one of those who combined strength with quickness in untying, and both with staying power, and this may have been true. The hum of the thresher, which prevented speech, increased to a raving whenever the supply of corn fell short of the regular quantity…

 

Dinner-time came, and the whirling ceased; whereupon Tess left her post, her knees trembling so wretchedly with the shaking of the machine that she could scarcely walk… In the afternoon the farmer made it known that the rick was to be finished at night, since there was a moon by which they could see to work, and the man with the engine was engaged for another farm on the morrow. Hence the twanging and humming and rustling proceeded with even less intermission than usual…

 

027Thus the afternoon dragged on. The wheat-rick sank lower, and the straw-rick grew higher, and the corn-sacks were carted away. At six o’clock the wheat-rick was about shoulder-high from the ground… From the west sky a wrathful shine – all that wild March could afford in the way of sunset – had burst forth after the cloudy day, flooding the tired and sticky faces of the threshers, and dyeing them with a coppery light, as also the flapping garments of the women, which clung to them like dull flames… The man who fed was weary, and Tess could see that the red nape of his neck was encrusted with dirt and husks. She still stood at her post, her flushed and perspiring face coated with the corn-dust, and her white bonnet embrowned by it. She was the only woman whose place was upon the machine so as to be shaken bodily by its spinning… The incessant quivering, in which every fibre of her frame participated, had thrown her into a stupefied reverie, in which her arms worked ion independently of her consciousness… Whenever Tess lifted her head she beheld always the great upgrown straw-stack, with the men in shirt-sleeves upon it, against the gray north sky; in front of it the long red elevator like a Jacob’s ladder, on which a perpetual stream of threshed straw ascended, a yellow river running up-hill, and spouting out on the top of the rick.

 

However, steam machinery was much too heavy for most of the everyday jobs around the farm and the horse continued to provide most of the motive power. Harvest time also remained a very labour-intensive period and, although mechanical reapers began to appear, few farmers or their labourers thought that they would replace the traditional methods anytime soon. In her book, Lark Rise to Candleford, Flora Thompson describes in considerable detail Oxfordshire village life during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Here she writes of harvest time:

002I026n the fields where the harvest had begun all was bustle and activity. At that time the mechanical reaper with long, revolving arms like windmill sails had already appeared in the locality; but it was looked on by the men as an auxiliary, a farmer’s toy; the scythe still did most of the work and they did not dream it would ever be superseded. So while the red sails revolved in one field and the youth on the driver’s seat of the machine called cheerily to his horses and the women followed behind to bind the corn into sheaves, in the next field a band of men would be whetting their scythes and mowing by hand as their fathers had done before them.

 

With no idea that they were at the end of a long tradition, they still kept up the old country custom of choosing as their leader the tallest and most highly skilled man amongst them, who was then called King of the Mowers… With a wreath of poppies and green bindweed trails around his wide, rush-plaited hat, he led the band down the swathes as they mowed and decreed when and for how long they should halt for a ’breather’, and what drinks should be had from the yellow stone jar they kept under the hedge in a shady corner of the field. They did not rest often or for long; for every morning they set themselves to accomplish an amount of work in the day that they knew would tax all their powers till long after sunset. ’Set yourself more than you can do and you’ll do it’ was one of their maxims, and some of their feats in the harvest field astonished themselves as well as the onlooker.

 

There were also various horse-drawn machines such as drills, hoes, reapers and binders, which cut running costs. In Suffolk, Ransomes and Garretts of Leiston were still leaders among the firms producing agricultural equipment. They kept up with the times by supplying traction engines and steam lorries during this period. However, when Ryder Haggard went to buy a reaper in Bungay, he found he could only get one of American make. Nonetheless, Ransomes did lead the way in adapting the internal-combustion engine to mowing, and in 1902 they patented the first ever ride-on mower.

HenryTidmarsh&FamilyWorking on a threshing machine was not just extremely hard work, but also dangerous, especially because many of the early machines were unguarded. My Great Aunt Jessie Gulliver was born in 1901, just ten years after Tess of the D’Urbervilles was published, but her family stories went back to her grandfather and grandmother on her mother’s side of the family, the Tidmarshes. 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 part of Banburyshire. Henry Tidmarsh was an agricultural labourer at Great Rollright. When still a young man, some time in the late 1850s or early 1860s, he had his arm pulled out just below the shoulder by a threshing machine. As he bent to wipe a nest of mice off the belts, he slipped and fell into it, presumably trapping his arm on the drum. He had to try to walk to Chipping Norton, where the nearest hospital was, bleeding to death. When the village doctor got news of the emergency, he went after Henry with a horse and cart, saving his life. However, neither he nor the hospital could save Henry’s arm. As Henry could no longer work on the estate farm with one arm, and compensation was unheard of in those days, so all the family had to live on were seven loaves a week for seven people, charity bread given through the parish as outdoor relief. Together with the vegetables and the fruit out of the garden, they just survived, and avoided going into the recently established workhouse. They had not a thing from the squire and his relations, who lived in the Hall at Great Rollright, his employer, but the parson of the village was quite well off and very kind. He gave Henry a little pony and trap, so that he was able to fetch parcels for people, halting on the hill at Ufton, where he would go round the village with pins and needles and cottons, and other haberdashery. He lived into his nineties, and was re-united with his right arm on burial in the churchyard at Great Rollright. He therefore became known in local folklore as the man who was buried twice!

006GeorgeGulliverBertha Tidmarsh met her husband when working as a maid at the Chamberlains’ House at Ufton-on-the-Hill near Leamington. The Chamberlains also owned the Harbury cement works. George Gulliver (right), born in Ufton in 1862, was a groom and coachman with the Chamberlains. He used to drive them around in a coach with two horses. His father, Vinson, born in Hethe in Oxfordshire in 1833, had married Hannah Green, George’s mother, from Wormleigton in Warwickshire, in 1855. They had five children, the third of whom was George, followed by Henry, who was also born in Ufton in 1865. It was therefore this Vinson Gulliver who, according to family folklore, marched Joseph Arch, through the Warwickshire villages of Wellesbourne and Barford in the late 1860s, possibly with his relative Charles Gulliver, who was another Wesleyan preacher. It was his son, Henry, George’s brother, who took over as secretary. This story has been confirmed by the discovery of a letter from Vinson Gulliver (b. 1888), to his brother Alfred in 1979:

He was a Primitive Methodist preacher. He knew Joe (Joseph) Arch and was a secretary of the Agricultural Union, and later his son Henry took it over until he was the only paying member, although by what grandfather said, he acted in that service until he left the district.

 

Joseph Arch was the son of a Warwickshire shepherd. They formed the Warwickshire Agricultural Labourers’ Union, leading to the founding of the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union (NALU) in 1872, the first trade union for unskilled workers, which eventually became part of the Transport and General Workers’ Union. Despite internal division, NALU was fifty-eight thousand strong in 1875, organised in thirty-eight districts.

At that time, agricultural workers’ wages were just a little better than subsistence level, amounting to no more than twelve pounds a year for ordinary labourers, rising to twenty pounds for a good head waggoner. For this, he would often work alone in the fields from dawn till dusk, a life of unremitting toil unrelieved by holidays. Even when working alongside his fellows he saw little of life beyond his master’s farm, the primitive tied cottage in which he lived and the village pub and church. He and his family could be evicted with little justification or notice. Joseph Arch and the Union tried to put a stop to this by organising mass marches and meetings. These meetings, attended by thousands of farm workers in borrowed fields, often in pouring rain, ran the risk of incurring the wrath of both squire and parson. God bless the squire and all his relations and keep us in our proper stations was how prayers ended in many rural parish churches at that time, where life was ordained by the unholy trinity of tyranny composed of Squire, Parson and Farmer. Joseph Arch described his first glimpse of a communion service; First up walked the squire to the communion rails, then up went the tradesmen, the shopkeepers, the wheelwright, the blacksmith and then, very last of all, the agricultural labourers. Opposition to the Union from farmers and landed gentry was fierce and the labourers, scattered in isolated villages were vulnerable to the absolute power of this hostile squirarchy. The children of Wesleyan supporters could also lose their places in the village schools, which, at that time, were all controlled by the Church of England and watched over by the parish priest or rector. Despite the threat of losing their homes as well as their livelihoods, open-air meetings often ended with rousing renditions of When Arch Beneath the Wellesbourne Tree, the chorus of which was:

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.

The view of the Nonconformist British Quarterly Review of July 1872 on The Agricultural Labourers’ Strike was that whilst a trade union was by no means the best way of remedying the social inequalities and injustices of the time, it was the only means available:

… It has been doubted, and perhaps with some justice, whether in England, at least, these associations have had the effect of raising wages. It is contended, and with great appearance of truth, that workmen have been in the various mechanical trades so much in demand, that the principle of competition for the employment of labour has had full play, and that the rise of wages among artisans and factory operatives is to be ascribed to natural, and not to artificial causes. But it cannot be doubted that workmen’s associations have shortened hours of labour, have educated artisans – as they will the agricultural labourer – into the sense of common interest and a common duty, and have made the interests of the working classes so notable a matter of public interest, that political parties are fain to attempt association with them, and to legislate for them.

 

The article went on to argue the low wages of agricultural labourers were largely the result of the Poor Law, because the habit of giving outdoor relief to the able-bodied but destitute poor had grown into a practice which was reproducing some of the features of the old Speenhamland System. In those cases where a rural district was added to a thriving town, the temptation on the part of the farmer-guardians to give this form of outdoor relief in aid of wages was almost irresistable, since by doing so, they were able to reduce labour costs and maximise profits at the expense of the ratepayers. While wages remained so low, there was also little prospect of labourers joining provident societies and saving for their own maintenance in sickness and old age. The authors argued that,

 

 With greater comfort and contentment come more independence, more enterprise, and a higher standard of decency, morality and religion. It is an error to imagine that independence makes men unmanageable or unreasonable. Few men take more intelligent estimate of their position than English artisans do. When they do unite for co-operative purposes they show no symptom of insubordination or disobedience to the necessary orders of their managers or directors… there is no reason to think that the English agricultural labourer can sink to any lower level than that which he occupies now… it is no wonder that the religious sense of the peasantry is obtuse; the marvel is that it should exist at all, and be capable of being stirred by the homely but earnest eloquence of the Methodist preacher, , the apostle of the agricultural labourer. In the last session of Parliament, Sir Roundell Palmer, taking up the defence of the Anglican Establishment,… invited the attention of the House to the benificient functions which are performed by the country clergy. If, indeed, they are to be responsible for the condition in which their flocks are found, no severer censure of their efforts can be uttered… it is not too much to say that nine-tenths of the religion which the agricultural labourer believes is gained in spite of the clergy, and by agencies which they name only to scorn or ridicule.

 

To some labouring men, the young trade union movement seemed to hold out some hope, as workers from all over East Anglia combined into groups, instinctively believing, as their fathers had done half a century before, that solidarity meant strength. Just as instinctively, however, farmers felt that solidarity meant trouble. They dismissed, or threatened to dismiss, any men who carried a union card. The farmers usually won but, in 1874, a sufficient number of labourers stood firm enough to enable an effective strike to be mounted. The demand was for fourteen shillings a week. There were violent scenes in many places, and in Brandon troops were called in to confront a crowd armed with sticks and bearing a banner proclaiming Bread or Blood in Brandon this day. The demonstrators won on this occasion, with the magistrates agreeing to provide cheaper bread and flour, and the triumphant cry of revolt was taken up elsewhere. From Halesworth to Ely the countryside was up, with rioters breaking into shops and barns and threatening farmers and magistrates. It took several days for law and order to be restored. As at the time of Captain Swing, such violence expressed everything but solved nothing. There was no solution: the workers, the farmers and the government were all powerless. As one farmer complained in a letter to The Times,

We have to pay more for labour, manures and feeding stuffs. Yet we are selling the best wheat England ever produced at 25s. Per quarter, wool has reached the lowest price ever recorded and, notwithstanding the poor root crop, beef hardly averages 6d. Per lb. But there is another feature of the farming outlook which is very sad to contemplate, and that is the decreasing influence agriculture has upon Parliament.

 

We also know that there was considerable overseas emigration from the Warwickshire countryside and other areas where NALU had grown strong, in the 1870s and 1880s, sponsored by the union. Questioned by the Royal Commission on Agriculture in 1881 about how the union set about achieving higher wages for its members, Arch replied that they had reduced the number of labourers in the market very considerably by helping seven hundred thousand men, women and children during the nine years of the union’s existence. Asked where the funds had come from for the emigration of such numbers, Arch replied that he himself had travelled to Canada and made arrangements with the Canadian Government for them to give the migrants a certain amount, which the union then matched with trade union funds. In fact, the growth of the union had come about at a time when farm labourers’ wages were rising, and the rural revolt led by Arch stemmed more from the raising of expectations which accompanied these rises, however marginal. Even so, the harvester who killed a rabbit bolting from the last of the corn could still, in the 1890s, find himself standing in front of the local magistrate, invariably a farmer. Against this continuing absolute social control, it took a special kind of courage to stand with a few labouring brothers and sing:

 

Ye tillers of the soil,

Assert your manhood then,

You get your living by hard toil,

Then all be union men.

 

However, by the last quarter of the century, fundamental changes in the shape and character of agriculture in England had also become fully evident: fewer worked on the land and the golden age of profits had vanished in the face of imported meat and wheat, especially from the American prairies. This hit the South Midland and East Anglian cereal farmers and their labourers far worse than those producing mainly meat and dairy products for the West Midland and Northern industrial towns. Most of these men and women who remaining on the land were trapped there by a combination of the rigid class structure and rural poverty, as this 1898 extract from Henry Ryder Haggard shows:

Notwithstanding the care, knowledge, and intelligence which are put into the working of the land, under present conditions it can scarcely be made to pay. The machinery works, the mill goes round; the labourers, those who are left of them, earn their wage such as it is, and the beast his provender; the good man rises early and rests late, taking thought for the day and the morrow, but when at Michaelmas he balances his books there is no return, and lo! The bailiff is glaring through the gates… in our parts the ancient industry of agriculture is nearly moribund, and if the land, or the poorer and therefore the more considerable portion of it, is farmed fairly, it is in many instances being worked at a loss, or at any rate without profit… The small men only too often keep up the game till beggary overtakes them, when they adjourn to the workhouse… The larger farmers… at last take refuge in a cottage or, if they are fortunate, find a position as a steward on some estate. The landlords… unless they have private means to draw on… sink and sink until they vanish beneath the surface of the great sea of English society.

 

This passage may seem, in parts, rather exaggerated in both the claims it makes and the style it is written in, but Ryder Haggard could claim to know what he was writing about, since he farmed a considerable amount of land on the Suffolk-Norfolk border. The decline he described had begun in about 1875. By a combination of industry and improved techniques, farmers had survived the ending of protection and the had prospered during the middle years of the century. Then the full impact of free trade was felt. Grain from the American prairies was carried to New England ports in new steam trains, exported in new steam ships and sold on the English market at prices lower than home produced corn. In 1877 wheat was 56s. 9d. A quarter. By 1894 the price had slumped to 22s. 10d., a figure at which it could not be grown in England at a profit. By the end of the century the amount of land under cereals in Suffolk had been cut by half, with those farmers who could diversify rearing stock as well. However, this market area was not free from competition either, since refrigerated container-ships were bringing cheap lamb and beef from New Zealand and Argentina. At the end of the Napoleonic wars, the landed interest had dominated Parliament and had forced the Corn Laws through but the balance of political power had now shifted; the middle classes and property-owning town dwellers benefited from cheap, imported foodstuffs, so that free trade had come to stay.

The depression which fell upon the agrarian communities of East Anglia was the worst that it had ever experienced. Land values and rents tumbled. Thousands of labourers were thrown out of work and left their ancestral homes. Ditches and hedges were unkempt, fields unploughed; houses, cottages and barns unrepaired. Men who had once owned their own farms were now living on the parish dole, a pound of flour and threepunce a day. Alongside them, the army of impoverished farm-workers who had once worked for them, grew daily, a powerless host who had little idea as to how to relieve their misery.

… to be continued…

Beyond their Graves – The Lives and Times of the Gullivers: Part 2 (Chapter 2)   2 comments

Chapter Two:

The Warwickshire Gullivers in Pen-Portraits

Much of wh001at follows in the remaining chapters is from the recordings which my Great Aunt Jessie Gardner (née Gulliver) made for me, together with a Journal she wrote, with some help from her American niece, Julie, in the early 1990s, when she was also over ninety years old. Added to these, I have used the recollections of my mother, recorded for a local history project in the village on the edge of Coventry, Walsgrave-on-Sowe, where she grew up and lived before her marriage in 1953. This also contained a piece originally written for the local Baptist Church by my grandmother (Vera Gulliver, née Brown).

In addition, I have ‘mined’ my own notes and recollections from interviews with with my grandfather, Seymour Gulliver, during my sojourns with him as a research student in the early 1980s. I have also recently acquired some further information from Julie, helping to clarify some family matters, together with some photos, included with the text. In putting all this together, I have tried to maintain a colloquial style, close to that in which the stories were originally given, applying the skills of oral history which I learnt as a apprentice historian, learning his craft. One of the things I have learnt is that, in researching our own family histories, we can become too obsessed with establishing facts from written traces of our ancestors through genealogy. As the previous chapter showed, these are often missing, or can be contradictory in the information they provide. This is where, for me at least, understanding the historical context is essential to interpreting the chronicles and retelling the stories of past people, weaving both into a more mature narrative. This is what I have attempted to do here, remaining authentic to both the people and their times, rather than telescoping their experiences into my present perspective, with all its prejudices. These are their stories, as they told them (direct quotations are given in itallics).

HenryTidmarsh&FamilyJessie’s story starts with her mother, Bertha Tidmarsh (b. Great Rollright, Oxon.), my great-grandmother, married George Gulliver (b. Ufton, Warwicks.1862) in October 1887, when she was about eighteen. She had been in service from the age of twelve, beginning as a kitchen maid, washing up in a great Hall nearby. When she had finished, she would sit in the great big kitchen with just a candle, all by herself, feeling quite frightened, and the kitchen maids would bring her a glass of beer and a piece of bread and cheese for supper. Then she would walk home alone in the dark, feeling terrified.  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 because there was a flood, and the water was nearly up to Bertha’s knees on the way home. After that, her aunt got her a little job in service at Chipping Norton, from where she could come home on her time off. Her father, Henry Tidmarsh was an agricultural labourer at Great Rollright. When still a young man, in the 1840s-50s, he had his arm pulled out just below the shoulder by a threshing machine. As he bent to wipe a nest of mice off the machine, he slipped and fell. He had to try to walk to Chipping Norton, where the nearest hospital was, bleeding to death. When he got news of the emergency, the village doctor went after him with a horse and cart, saving his life. Henry could no longer work on the estate farm with one arm, and compensation was unheard of in those days, so all the family had to live on were seven loaves a week for seven people, charity bread given through the parish as outdoor relief. Together with the vegetables and the fruit out of the garden, they just survived, and avoided going into the recently-established workhouse. They had not a thing from the squire and his relations, who lived in the Hall at Great Rollright, whom he was working for, but the parson of the village was quite well off and very kind. He gave Henry a little pony and trap, so that he was able to fetch parcels for people, halting on the hill at Ufton, where he would go round the village with pins and needles and cottons, and other haberdashery. He lived into his nineties, and was re-united with his right arm on burial in the churchyard at Great Rollright. He therefore became known in local folklore as the man who was buried twice

English: St.Michael's Church, Ufton, Warwickshire
English: St.Michael’s Church, Ufton, Warwickshire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bertha met her husband when working as a maid at the Chamberlains’ House at Ufton-on-the-Hill near Leamington. The Chamberlains also owned the Harbury cement works. George Gulliver, born in Ufton in 1862, was a groom and coachman with the Chamberlains. He used to drive them around in a coach with two horses. His father, Vinson, born in Oxfordshire in 1833, had married Hannah Green, George’s mother, from Wormleigton in Warwickshire, in 1855. It was Vinson Gulliver who, according to family folklore, marched with his relative Charles Gulliver and another Wesleyan preacher, Joseph Arch, through the Warwickshire villages of Wellesbourne and Barford in the late 1860s. Arch was the son of a Warwickshire shepherd. They formed the Warwickshire Agricultural Labourers’ Union, leading to the founding of the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union (NALU) in 1872, the first trade union for unskilled workers, which eventually became part of the Tansport and General Workers’ Union. Despite internal division, NALU was fifty-eight thousand strong in 1875, organised in thirty-eight districts.

Joseph Arch
Joseph Arch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At that time, agricultural workers’ wages were just a little better than subsistence level, amounting to no more than twelve ponds a year for ordinary labourers, rising to twenty pounds for a good head waggoner. For this, he would often work alone in the fields from dawn till dusk, a life of unremitting toil unrelieved by holidays. Even when working alongside his fellows he saw little of life beyond his master’s farm, the primitive tied cottage in which he lived and the village pub and church. He and his family could be evicted with little justification or notice. Joseph Arch and the Union tried to put a stop to this by organising mass marches and meetings. These meetings, attended by thousands of farm workers in borrowed fields, often in pouring rain, ran the risk of incurring the wrath of both squire and parson. God bless the squire and all his relations and keep us in our proper stations was how prayers ended in many rural parish churches at that time, where life was ordained by the unholy trinity of tyranny composed of Squire, Parson and Farmer. Joseph Arch described his first glimpse of a communion service; First up walked the squire to the communion rails, then up went the tradesmen, the shopkeepers, the wheelwright, the blacksmith and then, very last of all, the agricultural labourers. Opposition to the Union from farmers and landed gentry was fierce and the labourers, scattered in isolated villages were vulnerable to the absolute power of this hostile squirarchy. The children of Wesleyan supporters could also lose their places in the village schools, which, at that time, were all controlled by the Church of England and watched over by the parish priest or rector. Despite the threat of losing their homes as well as their livelihoods, open-air meetings often ended with rousing renditions of When Arch Beneath the Wellesbourne Tree, the chorus of which was:

English: Barford - The Joseph Arch. One of the...
English: Barford – The Joseph Arch. One of the surviving pubs in Barford, named after one of the villages most famous inhabitants who first organised and unionised the agricultural workers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

These social tensions in the mid-Victorian Warwickshire countryside may help to explain the disappearance of some names, in parishes like Noke, from the parish records, and their later reappearance in household census returns. Some of the Gullivers obviously moved to other parishes, and into Banbury and other towns, but the majority must have stayed put. Wages may have been a little better in the towns, but living and working conditions were generally worse, so that it was not until the beginning of the next century that people were drawn in any significant numbers into cities like Coventry, Oxford and Birmingham from the surrounding countryside. It was only at the end of the nineteenth century that Coventry became a city of many trades, with the decline of the traditional craft industries of ribbon weaving and watchmaking, and the birth of the cycle trade in the 1990s, to be followed gradually by motor-cycle and car manufacture, and the establishment of Courtauld’s works in 1905. In the 1860s, the collapse of the old staple industry trade of silk weaving, developed during the sixteenth century by the arrival of Huguenot families, caused many Coventrians to seek employment elsewhere. Many of these were women, since silk-ribbon weaving employed twice as many females as males in 1861. The population decreased from nearly fifty thousand to well under forty thosand between 1861 and 1871, and grew only slowly to reach fifty-three thousand in 1891. The census enumerator’s schedules for 1861 show that that nearly eighty per cent of household heads were born in and around Coventry, eighty-five per cent of those living in the medieval centre of the city. There was a slight increase in demand for watchmakers by 1871, but this employed less than ten per cent of the local working population. There was, as yet, no great demand for unskilled labourers from outlying rural areas like Ufton. The growth of the new cycle industry attracted new types of workers rather than displaced male weavers (who had a workshop rather than factory discipline), but these were mainly semi-skilled metal-workers from Birmingham and other west Midland towns.

The sudden absence of the Gullivers from the Noke parish records might well be explained, in part at least, by the fact that they were no longer having their children baptised in church, and were no longer marrying there and/or being buried there. From the mid-eighteenth century onwards, both Methodists and Baptist causes flourished in many south Midland villages and chapels were being built. Dissenting families would only attend church irregularly in order to have their children placed on the school roll. Consequently, before the establishment of a general registration system from 1837, the records of births, marriages and deaths often excluded nonconformists.

However, we do have complete records for the Gullivers from the marriage of Vinson Gulliver and Hannah Green in Wormleighton in 1855. Vinson was from nearby Hethe, which  was where they lived before moving to Ufton about ten years later.  Besides his five children with Hannah Green, (William, John, George, Henry, Sarah),  Vinson also had a son, also George, (b.1881) and a daughter by his second wife Hannah Ward. Her daughter also had one daughter, Amelia, born in 1889, but she 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 George and Bertha’s daughter, also named Amelia (Millie). Her mother sent her up to London to learn court dress-making, but she developed  tuberculosis and died. Great Aunt 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.

GeorgeGulliver

In the 1871 Census, George was recorded as a scholar, in 1881 as an agricultural labourer, and as a Groom-in-service in 1891. 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:

Vinson George (b. 28th November, 1887, d. Altrincham, Cheshire, 1996) (1899 photo, top right);006

Kathleen Amelia, ’Millie’ (b. 2nd February, 1889; d. Derbyshire, 1992) (top left);

Ethel Mary (b. 12th December, 1891)(bottom right);

Alfred (b. 23rd October, 1893; d. Coventry, 1972) (bottom centre);

Olive Margaret (b. 5th July, 1895)(bottom left);

Arnold (b. 10th July, 1898) (on Bertha’s lap);

Seymour Henry (b. 13th March, 1900; d. Coventry, 1982);

Jessie (b. 13th June,1901; d. Coventry, 2002).

In the 1901 Census, George was recorded as an agricultural labourer at Ufton.

After that came:

Bertha, born in nearby Bishop’s Itchington, (3rd May, 1903; d. Oxford, 1979);

They were followed by:

Irene Helen (b. 15th November, 1904; d. Coventry, 1926);

Arthur Reginald (b. 19th June,1907);

Frank Leonard (b. 29th December, 1910; d. Toronto, Canada, c.1980);

born in Wroxall, Warwicks, near Balsall Common;

and finally Janet Alice, born at Caludon Lodge, Wyken, near Coventry (14th November, 1913). She died at eight months, of whooping-cough, and is buried in Wyken Church graveyard.

So, in the course of twenty-six years, Bertha gave birth to thirteen children, twelve of whom survived into adulthood. It was not uncommon for agricultural workers to have such large families, even at the end of the Victorian period and into the Edwardian years before the Great War. In the family of Susan E Clarke, recent (2011) author of Gulliver Travels Again, there were three generations of Gulliver families with eight children, from that of John Gulliver (b. 1797 in Overthorpe) to that of her grandfather, Arthur Charles (b. 1864) who married Emma from Byfield. Charles Gulliver (b. 1834), Susan’s great-grandfather, the Methodist lay-preacher, worked on a farm in West Thorp. His wife Mary (née Heritage) ran the beer house there while bringing up her eight children, one of whom died of scarlatina at the age of seven.

002 (2)My great-uncle Vinson Gulliver, the eldest of George and Bertha’s thirteen, outlived all but one of his 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 my Great Aunt Jessie. He had one daughter, who had three girls, all of whom married and had children. In 1992, 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. He died aged 109.

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. She married before the Great War, but continued to work at the Stoke Park estate during the First World War. She had two daughters, who both had children. The eldest daughter moved to Derbyshire, and her mother followed soon after.

Ethel Gulliver was a very gifted child, somehow different from all the others. When she was thirteen she went to a manor house and learned to look after young children, staying 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 lace work, making bed covers and table cloths. After that, she became a hospital nurse, and moved to Canada, working with Helen Keller in a home for deaf and blind children. As a qualified nurse, she then got her midwife’s certificate. She was sometimes sent out to deliver babies, often to  places where wolves were never far away. Her next job must have been very different therefore, as she went to work in the largest hospital in New York, assisting in operations. It was during this period that she came home for a two-week holiday to 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 never married, but Gillian married and had two boys.

Alfred worked on a farm with Vinson and his father when the family moved to Wroxall, not far from Berkswell Station. He worked there until he was fifteen and then went into the Navy. He was a good-looking boy and, like his mother, had black hair and blue eyes, whereas most of the other children took after their father, with brown hair and blue eyes. He did very well in the Navy, becoming a petty officer, and went all through the First World War. He also served in the Second World War, aged fifty-five, but stayed in dock training gunners. His wife, Lilly, lived in Coventry, and they had one boy, named Allan, living in Meriden. He married and had one boy, Peter Gulliver.

Olive had to look after Jessie when she was small, as both Millie and Ethel had left home, so Olive went everywhere with her little sister. She was a good scholar, but there was no money to send her away to a better school. She married a butcher from Kidlington in Oxfordshire, and had two children, Lorrie and Barbara. They were asked to manage a public house at Sturdy’s Castle, and then took over the ’Hand and Shears’ in Church Hanborough, which Lorrie helped to manage until 1961.

Arnold worked on Green’s Farm on the Walsgrave Road, with his father. He took milk into Coventry with a horse and float. His mother always said that he drove like a mad man. He always suffered from stomach pains, but mother just thought it was tummy ache. However, it turned out to be appendicitis, and he was taken very ill and died in 1916, aged eighteen. He is buried at Wyken Church. Afterwards, his mother said it was probably for the best that he had died at home, because he would have had to join up in the war, due to the introduction of conscription in 1916. Just the thought of going to war, which he hated, and of leaving home, upset him.

Seymour 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 also went to work on the farm near Walsgrave with his father and brothers when he left school just before the Great War. He later told his daughter how he rode on top of the hay-loaded waggons into the city centre, 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.

001Returning 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 four children in all, three girls; Gwen, Ena and Daphne, and one boy, Raymond. Daphne was born in the new house in 1931, and was given as a middle name Irene, that of her recently-deceased aunt. As a toddler, she found it difficult to pronounce, however, and would introduce herself as Daffy I-wee-wee, much to the embarrassment of her brother and the amusement of all she met! Seymour continued to work as a collier, and then as a foreman. In the Second World War, he was put in charge of the ’Bevin Boys’. Ray married and went to live in the small cottage built by his grandfather Brown, which was attached to the Coach House of Walsgrave Hall, in Hall Lane. After the war, he went to work at the Ryton car factory. He had one son, Gwen and Ena both had daughters, and Daphne had a daughter and three sons. Seymour continued to work for the National Coal Board until retirement in 1965. He died of pneumaconiosis, the dust, in Walsgrave Hospital in 1982.

Jessie was the last of the children to be born at the tied cottage in Ufton in 1901. Bertha was born in Bishop’s Itchington, after the family moved into rented accommodation 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 her 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 from Banbury. They went to live in London. They had one child, Julie, who met and married an American GI soldier in the Second World War. She went to live with him in The United States of America and had one girl and four boys.

Irene and Arthur were both born in Wroxall. Soon after Arthur was born, her Grandma Tidmarsh took Irene to live in Great Rollright, and she stayed there for about eight years. However, Grandma became ill, so Irene returned to live with the rest of the family in Walsgrave. These changes came as quite a shock to her, and she was never able to keep herself tidy. Her socks were always round her ankles and her hair ribbon was often loose. Jessie would tell her that she couldn’t walk home from school with her looking like that! She was just one member of a very large family, but needed the kind of special care that her Grandma had given her. Her mother just did not have the time she needed, and, at first, when she returned, the other children did not give her any special attention or care, according to Jessie. But as she grew up that changed. She was of a peaceful disposition, living up to her name, very much like her dad, and that endeared her to her siblings.

She married a boy named Bob Slack and they made a lovely home together. Jessie said they got it looking just like a picture book. They only needed a baby, but one did not arrive for about four years. Irene died one week after the baby girl, Gillian, arrived in 1926. They had wanted this baby so much, so all the family were upset about it. Bob never got over his loss. She was the only girl he had ever loved, and they had only had five years of married life together. They had become friends when Irene was fifteen, and she was twenty when they married. Bob had worked at Herbert’s 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. When the Second World War broke out, 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 had returned from New York and was looking after him and little Gillian, whom she loved. 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, who kept her looking so beautiful. She grew up and married a Mr Yeo. They had five boys, all very clever in singing and playing music.

Arthur was also born at Wroxall and he was very much his mother’s boy. He hated her to leave him, and would hang on to her skirts. If she was out of his sight he would cry and carry on. He wore a plaid skirt and navy blue knickers, which was the fashion then for little boys, until they were about three. When Millie came to visit, she brought him a little suit and cut his hair. He cried and carried on again, wanting his skirt back! But, at last, he was a little boy! He grew up just like all other little boys, and that was when the family moved to Caludon Lodge near Walsgrave. Arthur married, but had no children.

Frank, the twelfth child, was born at Caludon Lodge. He was very different from Arthur. His mother said that he would never let anyone kiss and cuddle him, and that he would fight his way through life. He grew up with Arthur, and later they went out dancing together. He would wear Arthur’s shirts and ties, and Arthur just let him do this, and would never say a word. Frank would land one on anyone who looked at his girlfriend. He married Mabel and they had two daughters. World War Two was on, and both Arthur and Frank hated war. As they were both working on aeroplanes, they were given reserved status, and therefore allowed to stay at home. After the war, both continued to be in work, because planes were needed in peace-time as well. Frank, however, was given the chance of going to Canada to work on aeroplanes there. So he and Mabel accepted the offer and never looked back. They returned for holidays later. One of their girls married and had two boys, but she died, and Frank adopted one of her boys and changed his name to Gulliver.

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). When they came home, the nurse from Walsgrave Hospital was there and she told them that they had a baby sister. 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. Jessie remembered that Janet 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 the summer of 1914 and was buried at Wyken Church. The white roses in Caludon Lodge garden were just coming into bloom, and George lined the coffin of his beautiful, black-haired little girl all around with them.

Published Sources:

John Gorman (1980), To Build Jerusalem: A Photographic Remembrance of British Working Class Life, 1875-1950. London: Scorpion Publications.

Susan E Clarke (2011), Gulliver Travels Again: A Journey to find the Gulliver Ancestors. Bloomington, USA: AuthorHouse.

Bill Lancaster & Tony Mason (eds.) (n.d.), Life and Labour in A Twentieth Century City: The Experience of Coventry. University of Warwick: Cryfield Press.

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

002005

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.

DSC00018DSC00023

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.

001

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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