Archive for the ‘Great Rollright’ Tag

Harvest Home: Tales of Mice and a Man Buried Twice   2 comments


Harvest Home: Tales of Mice and a Man Buried Twice

Why do schools generally start back a week later, after the summer break,  in Britain, compared with Europe and the USA?

English: Corn dolly corn maiden

English: Corn dolly corn maiden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This has to do the grain and hop harvest in Britain which isn’t finished until the end of the first week in September. When compulsory elementary education was introduced to the age of thirteen or fourteen just before the First World War, harvesting the new grain was still very labour-intensive. Although threshing had been mechanised in the 1830s, the crops were still mainly cut by hand well into the twentieth century, so ’all hands’, including those of children of all ages, were required to cut the corn and gather it in quickly, especially if the weather was changeable and showery. Even after Britain became a largely urbanised country, factory workers from the towns were needed to help gather int he crops in many parts of the country, and during the hop harvest in Kent, whole families would take a fortnight’s holiday to work outside on the hop farms, with farmers keeping cottages for them to stay in.

English: Wheat sheaves near King's Somborne Th...

English: Wheat sheaves near King’s Somborne The first and last sheaves of corn to be cut had major significance, grain from the first sheaf would be made into a loaf of bread while the last sheaf was reserved for transformation into a corn dolly; symbolic of Mother Earth or the Corn Spirit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Therefore, any attempt to cajole children back to school before the bulk of the harvest had been safely gathered in would result in widespread absenteeism, and the compromise of beginning the school year a week later was agreed upon. Then, towards the end of September, both in school and church, harvest produce was displayed in tasteful arrangements , while songs, hymns, prayers and stories were used to make up the harvest programme. This tradition is still kept today, with the gifts taken afterwards to hospitals or residential homes for children and the elderly. Sometimes the produce is sold and the proceeds given to charities such as Oxfam or Christian Aid for their work with those in want overseas.

Statue of John Betjeman at St Pancras station ...

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

John Betjeman, the Poet Laureate, wrote a poem called The Diary of a Church Mouse, in which he comments cleverly on the popularity of the ’Harvest Festival’ through the eyes of a mouse who rather resents the fact that all year round he has to scratch for a living, trying to find something to eat int he church, but at harvest time…

…other mice with pagan minds

Come into church my food to share

Who have no proper business there.

 

 

Betjeman’s mouse is puzzled by the popularity of the Harvest Festival service and declares:

But all the same it’s strange to me

How very full the church can be

With people I don’t see at all

Except at Harvest Festival.

English: corn dolly, Mordiford

English: corn dolly, Mordiford (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, the reason for the fullness of the church goes back centuries before Christ, to the need for man to pay homage to the spirit of life itself which he believed lived in the crop to be harvested, whether corn, wheat, barley, oats, hops or something else. Early man felt that by cutting the crop he killed some of that spirit, and that he could only bring it back to life for the following season by going through some sort of ritual. Many of these ceremonies involved the making of effigies, or ’corn dollies’ from the last sheaf of the crop to represent the continuity of life. Making these remains a popular activity at harvest time, an ancient tradition contrasting with the modern tin cans which make up most of the displays these days.

English: Straw cross, harvest

English: Straw cross, harvest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The harvest doll was often the last complete sheaf, dressed in a woman’s dress, bedecked with coloured ribbons  and variously called the harvest queen, the Kern baby, the neck and the corn doll. In Northumberland, the doll was attached to a long pole and carried home by the harvester, then set up in a barn where it stood as the centre-piece for the festivities that followed. In Scotland it was called ’the Old Wife’, while in Belfast it was ’the Granny’. In Wales, one of the reapers carried the doll home while the others tried to snatch it away by pouring buckets of water over him. If he got home safely he kept until the sowing in the spring. Then he would produce the doll and feed it to the plough horse, or mix whatever grain was left in with the new seed to be sown. This ensured the continuation of the corn spirit from one year to the next. The feat of cutting the last sheaf was often shared by all the reapers, so that no single one of them could be held responsible for killing the spirit with the final cutting.

As recently as 1947, three devices made of wheat, oats and barley were displayed at harvest time in Great Bardfield Church, near Braintree in Essex. One was a cross on the pulpit, the others were an anchor and a heart on the screen. They represented faith, hope and charity. The harvest custom known as ’Crying the neck’ was common in Devon and was revived in St Keverne in the late twentieth century. The ritual was associated with the ancient belief that the corn spirit lives in the last swathe to be cut and that the last cut had to be shared. With hats off the reapers broke into a long, drawn-out musical cry of ’The Neck’.

Then they all flung their hats in the air, dancing around, kissing the women, shouting and laughing. This last sheaf, or ’neck’, was picked up by a young man and carried to the farmhouse, where a young girl stood with a pail of water. She had to fling the water over the young man as he entered the farmyard. It was then plaited into a ’corn baby’ and kept over the fireplace until the following spring when it was put into the ploughed field, to allow the corn spirit to live again.

As a writer in 1826 reveals, these were widespread traditions. In one evening, he heard several ’Necks’. Mechanisation took some of the romance out of the season, but even then the celebration of the ’Harvest Home’ around the last loaded waggons drawn in by horses, with garlands, ribbons and flowers, continued. As the waggon rolled to a halt, a young reaper would shout:

We have ploughed, we have sowed,

We have reaped, we have mowed,

We have brought home every load,

Hip Hip Hip – Harvest Home!

This would be followed by cakes and beer and dancing. Master and labourer sat down together with no distinction, together with visitors from other farms, who exchanged labourers at harvest time. Many of these traditions finally disappeared with the replacement of the horse by the tractor and then the combine-harvester. However, many have also survived and become linked with Harvest Thanksgiving. Parish churches continued to greet the harvest with a peal of bells and to bless the crops and other produce in the church. Even the corn dolly was allowed to decorate the church door, though often transformed into a cross. In 1843 the vicar of Morwenstow issued a notice inviting parishioners to receive the Sacrament in the bread of the new corn. Thanksgiving is often an Evensong service, with the church decorated all day long with ’all God’s gifts around us’. The beginning of the period of harvesting was marked by a day called Lammas-tide, or ’Loaf mass’.

The advent of new technologies to the British countryside from this time was very much a mixed blessing, therefore, and not just from the point of view of community solidarity. My great-great-grandfather, Henry Tidmarsh, was an agricultural labourer at Great Rollright in Oxfordshire. When still a young man, in the 1840s, 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 near Leamington, where my grandfather Gulliver lived. They  remembered him going round the village selling 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!

Image

In the southern and eastern counties of England the dreaded machine had already been the object of attack by the increasing number of unemployed farm labourers during the autumn and winter months when the threshing was traditionally done. Unrest over the impoverished conditions of agricultural labourers following the end of the French Wars had been building for some time, and the threshing machines became a visible symbol of their suffering. The ’riots’ which erupted in 1830 started in Kent and quickly spread as far west as Dorset, as far north as Northamptonshire, and across East Anglia. An imaginary leader, Captain Swing, was invented and under his ’orders’ farm labourers destroyed nearly four hundred threshing machines. However, the uprising(s) did not last long and magistrates dealt sternly with those found guilty of rioting. Six were hanged, over four hundred transported and about the same number were thrown into prison at home. Although the rising did delay the spread of threshing machines, but the problem of low wages remained and increasing numbers of landless labourers decided to look for work in the growing towns and cities. Those who remained on the land attempted to establish unions in order to improve their conditions, but the government did not welcome this development either, and in 1834 magistrates in Dorchester sentenced six men from the village of Tolpuddle to transportation for gathering under a tree in the centre of the village. The mass meeting shown in the picture below was organised to protest against the treatment of the ’Tolpuddle Martyrs’, who were eventually pardoned. Image

However, it was nearly forty years later that my other great-great-grandfather,  Vinson Gulliver, marched through the Warwickshire countryside to help Joseph Arch found the first national union for farm workers, the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union, Beneath the Wellesbourne Tree. By then, conditions were little better than they had been half a century before. Nor did the labourer have a share in the fruits of the earth on which he toiled; the harvester who killed a rabbit bolting from the last of the corn could find himself before the magistrate’s bench. The Justice of the Peace was invariably a farmer himself. So, it took a special kind of courage for labourers to stand together and sing:

Ye tillers of the soil

Assert your manhood then,

You get your living by hard toil,

Then all be union men.

Image

Image

In her book, Lark Rise to Candleford, recently turned into a popular TV series by the BBC, Flora Thompson describes in great detail Oxfordshire village life during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Here she writes of harvest time:

In the fields where the harvest had begun all was bustle and activity. At that time the mechanical reaper with long, red revolving arms like windmill sails had already appeared in the locality; but it was looked upon 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.

Having 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. For several harvests in the eighties they were led by the man known as Boamer. He had served in the Army and was still a fine, well-set-up young fellow with flashing white teeth and a skin darkened by fiercer than English suns.

With a wreath of poppies and green bindweed trails around his wide, rush-plaited hat, he led the band down the swathes (paths through the corn made by the mowers) as they mowed and decreed when and for how long the 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 long; for every morning they set themselves to accomplish an amount of work in that 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 fields astonished themselves as well as the onlooker.

Image
Image

Questions:

  1. Study the old photographs. Describe each of them as accurately as you can. What points of special interest does each one have?
  2. What information about village life in the nineteenth century can be gained from the photographs?
  3. Photographs are more useful with captions (photos 1-3). What information would you like to know about the photos without captions?
  4. Photography began in the 1820s. How useful are photographs as a source of information about the past, compared to paintings and drawings, like the one of the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Demonstration?
  5. Compare the information you have gained from photos 1 and 2 with that from Flora Thompson’s book. What do they tell you about the following aspects of harvesting in the late nineteenth century?:

(a)   the parts played by the men, women and children;

(b)   tools and machinery;

(c)  farm workers’ clothes;

(d)   harvest customs.

6.  Examine all the photographs again:

(a) In what ways can old photographs be more useful as sources than written or recorded accounts (oral history)?

(b) What kinds of subjects are old photographs especially useful for?

(c) Are there any dangers of using this kind of evidence without written or oral accounts?

There’s another story, from the mid-twentieth century, about mice at harvest time and it tells how a group of village children on their way to school had to pass a farm, with a field of corn which was ripe for reaping. The day came when the harvester, a modern automatic machine, started to cut the corn, leaving it bound in bails and ready to be carted away. On their way home, the children were very amused to see that the farmer was leaving an area of the corn uncut, in one corner of the field, deliberately going round these few square yards and leaving it standing untidily amid the flattened areas around. The children called out ’hey, you’ve missed a bit, farmer Giles!’ and made rude comments about his eyesight! Ignoring their jibes, the farmer went on with his work the next day, still leaving the patch uncut. It was still uncut when they made their way home that day too. However, on the third morning, they noticed that the patch had been cut, left until the very last. On the way home, the children met the farmer coming up the lane on his tractor, pulling a load of bailed corn. As he stopped on the narrow lane to let them pass safely, one of them plucked up courage to ask him about the patch he had left till last.

The farmer explained that, on the first day, as he had approached that corner of the field on his harvester, he had spotted a pair of field mice in a nest they had made there, with a family of six new-born mice. He couldn’t bring himself to drive straight over them knowing they would all be killed, so he skirted round the nest and left that tuft of corn standing. On the second morning, he looked to see if they were there, which they were, but on the third morning he watched the nest carefully and saw the parents lifting their young in their mouths, one by one, and carrying them to a safe place in the hedge. They had realised the danger and were saving their family. Now that all were safely installed in their new home, the farmer knew he could complete his reaping. That afternoon, the children had an important extra lesson. Not only did they learn about the need for care of wild creatures, but also about not making fun of other people’s actions without knowing the reason for them.    

Questions:

  1. What can stories like this tell us about harvesting and village life in the middle of the last century?
  2. How valuable are oral accounts and traditions in understanding how people lived their lives in the past? What are their limitations compared with other sources such as photographs, factual documents and fiction?

Sources:

Victor J. Green (1983), Festivals and Saints Days. Poole: Blandford Press

Martin Dickinson (1979), Britain, Europe and Beyond, 1700-1900. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

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

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.

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