A Family Man from Great Rissington

Harry Mervyn Berry 1898 – 1950

My two sisters and I never knew our grandfather Mervyn Berry. He died before we were born but we heard a lot of funny stories about him from dad. So much so it sometimes seemed like we did know him. My eldest son was named after him. He was a family man, a good friend and well liked in the village.

He was born in 1897 at Waterbank, Great Rissington, Gloucestershire, and had one older sister Kitty born in 1895. He attended Great Rissington Board School with his best friend Joe Cambray who became his life long pal.

Mervyn left school in 1909 when he was 12, which was the official school leaving age at that time,  joining his dad Harry at the Bakehouse. He is recorded as a Bakers’ Assistant on the 1911 census. Bread was baked in the Bakehouse with some sold in the attached shop and the rest loaded on to a handcart for delivery in the village and a horse drawn cart for deliveries to other villages. The deliveries were entered into a red ledger and bills settled on Saturday. Bread was baked fresh early in the morning ready to sell. Left over bread could be sold stale the next day or made into bread pudding or crumbs. 

When World War One broke out Mervyn was only 17 so he remained working at the Bakehouse for his father. On 11 December 1915 he signed up for the Army under the ‘Derby Scheme’ which was introduced by Lord Derby prior to conscription. It allowed men to voluntary join up then return home to their occupation until they were needed. Mervyn didn’t have to wait long. On 21 June 1916 his call up papers arrived and he joined the 11th Glosters to do his basic training. He spent a month in tents at Seaford Camp learning basic drill, marching and rifle practice. He was then transferred to the 81st Brigade Machine Gun Company  joining a  Vickers Machine Gun Team at Belton Park, Grantham.  Mervyn left for France later that year.

Mervyn aged 19

Mervyn had a period of training in Camiers before transferring to Salonika, (Greece). The army in Salonika were known as the ‘Gardeners of Salonika’ owing to the miles of trenches the troops dug but also a tongue in cheek reference to it being a ‘quiet’ area as compared to France and Flanders. Mervyn spent a fair bit of his time in hospital with Malaria which was endemic in Salonika.

After the armistice was announced the men were demobbed in batches. Mervyn was still in Salonika in December and broke out of camp without permission going into town. When he returned he had lost his revolver somewhere. He opted to be dealt with by his Commanding Officer rather than be Court Marshalled who found him guilty of the charge. He was given 28 day Field Punishment No.1 and had to pay £1 15s (1.75) towards the cost of the revolver.

Field Punishment No.1 consisted of a man being shackled to a gun wheel or post for two hours a day and the rest spent in confinement as a deterrent to other would be offenders.

Four days after Mervyn’s charge he was posted to the North Russian Expeditionary Force which was part of the Allies intervention to support the anti-communist White Russians. (His full war story is told in my book ‘Til the boys come home). It was Christmas Eve and it would be a further 12 months before he was demobbed in 1919.

Mervyn in 1918 aged 21

He returned home to Great Rissington and resumed assisting his father at the Bakehouse.

View towards the Bakehouse with the delivery van in the drive and handcart on the road

Mervyn bought his first motor bike in 1921 riding it as far as London on one occasion. He was fined two shillings (10p in today’s money) for ‘riding a motor-cycle without a front light’ in April that year. He had a talent with engines and mechanics. He bought and sold a lot of motor bikes and cars. Tinkering with them and doing them up. In September 1921 he advertised a Graham White two seater car for sale.

Advertisement in the Gloucester Chronicle
Graham White Two Seater

That same year he met my grandmother Edith Annie Lydia Hovard (Edie). She had recently got a job working as a housemaid in Great Rissington. Mervyn was walking to Bourton on the Water one day and met her walking the other way. The story is he asked her what she was doing and she replied ‘Walking to Great Rissington’. He replied ‘Well can I walk with you?’ He turned round and they walked to back  together. Edie was born in Roel, Gloucestershire where her father was a Cowman on a farm. They later moved to Lower Harford and Edie left home at 14 to start work as a housemaid. 

Mervyn married Edie on 11 Feb 1922 at St John The Baptist Church, Great Rissington. They moved into a cottage at the top of the village near Barn End Cottages where their first child Leslie Mervyn Charles Berry was born on 22 October. When Mervyn’s father died in 1923 he took over running the Bakehouse. 

In 1924 there were a further two vehicles being advertised for sale by Mervyn in the Gloucester Graphic.

Advert in the Gloucester Graphic

The advert shows he was hoping for £59 for the two vehicles. Which just seems a ridiculously low price today. There was a black Ford car abandoned in Waterbank’s garden when we were children. A lovely old vehicle with running boards and old style arm indicators. A gang of us used to decorate it by filling headlights and the radiator etc with dandelion flowers. Then hold pretend weddings with everyone piling into the old car to go on the ‘honeymoon’. A friend, Christine Cullimore was usually the Vicar and my sister Jaq and another friend, Richard Smith the Bride and Groom. My sister Jaq and I also used to try and smash a window by throwing big stones at it. But no matter how big the stone we never succeeded.

Mervyn and Edie 1927

Mervyn and Edie added two more boys to their family with Harry Ernest 1926, Dennis Gordon 1927. Sadly in June 1928 Dennis died of Pneumonia. He was just a year old. Edie was already expecting her fourth child so it must have a terribly sad time for them all. Dennis was taken to the church in a small coffin carried by four village girls dressed in white with flowers in their hair. He is buried in a tiny grave in our family plot in the new burial ground at St John the Baptist Church. 

Leslie, Harry and Dennis

In October that year Mervyn and Edie’s fourth boy was born and named Cyril Lloyd. Cyril was followed by my dad Leonard John in 1930. Dad was known as John or Jack till he went to school. I remember an old lady called Sally Agg who lived by us calling him John when I was a child. His brothers called him Jackie Red Eyes because he was always crying. Nicknames are a bit of a theme in the family with Cyril called Ciggle Long Shorts. 

Mervyn and Edie with Kitty’s husband Lloyd and Les Harry and Cyril
Cyril, Les, Leonard and Harry on one of Mervyn’s bikes

Mervyns mother, Clara had died in 1926 and the family home of Waterbank had remained empty. Mervyn used the garden to grow vegetables and often entered them in Bourton Horticultural Show. It was around this time the family moved to Rosemary Cottage in Rectory Lane.

In 1930 two other Bakers started delivering bread from other villages and Mervyn struggled to compete. Times were hard for everyone in the 1930’s after the Great Depression. Work was scarce and wages were low. Despite ploughing everything he could into the business he couldn’t keep the Bakehouse going and on 12 April 1830 filed for bankruptcy. He was 32 with four children and no income to support them. But he was a resourceful man. He got a job as a journeyman delivering groceries for T and H Wilkins who had a shop in Bourton on the Water. The Bakehouse remained vacant but the grocery business continued with his Aunt Eva. Dad always told us that people couldn’t had no money to pay their accounts and that his dad just couldn’t turn women away who wanted bread for their children.

Report in the Gloucester Chronicle

Mervyn and Edie had a fifth son Peter Lionel in 1932

Kitty holding Len, Cyril, Les, Edie holding Peter and Harry

In 1933, Mervyn no longer worked for the Wilkins and was doing casual jobs and whatever he could find. 1935 Edie was expecting again. When she went into labour she was attended by a close neighbour for the birth. The baby was in the breach position and after a prolonged labour the baby got into difficulties. Mervyn was sent to fetch the doctor from Bourton-on-the-Water four miles away but because it was the middle of the night the doctor refused to come and said he would attend in the morning. This would tragically turn out to be too late. The baby was stillborn and was the girl they had both longed for. Such an incredibly sad time for both of them during a difficult period in their life. The doctor still sent them a bill for his attendance.

The following year Mervyn was employed by Wessex Electricity Company as a linesman but the wages were still low. He continued tinkering with motorbikes and his buying and selling when he could. A story told by my dad was Mervyn telling Edie that a ‘bloke is coming to look at that motorbike. Take what he offers’. When he got home he asked ‘What did he give you?‘. Edie replied ‘Half a Crown’, (12.5p). Dad said his father just laughed about it even though she’d been conned and he’d lost out. After the Wessex Electricity Company job came to an end, Mervyn took up employment as a Post Office Engineer for 54 shillings a week.

Len, Les, Peter, Harry and Cyril at Waterbank

Their sixth son, Harvey Graham was born in 1939 a few months before the outbreak of WW2. At the start of the war the War Office was requisitioning empty property so their son Harry and a friend started sleeping at Waterbank to prevent this. The family eventually moved into Waterbank and Mervyn’s Aunty moved in with them. Edith Ann Smith was Mervyn’s maternal aunt and had been a teacher, writer and an artist at different times. She was suffering from dementia. Dad remembered her as a gentle soul who liked to paint stones.

Harvey’s Christening with Mervyn and Edie, Les Harry, Peter and Len. A note on the reverse of this photo says ‘All the boys are here. Cyril is hiding behind John’ (John is Len )

Mervyn became a Aero Engine Fitter for Gloster Aircraft Company at Hucclecote with better wages of 74 shillings a week. He worked on the Gloster Meteor, the first jet  powered fighter plane for the RAF developed by Frank Whittle. As a coincidence when the Gloster Meteor was rolled out of the hanger for the first time my future father in law was a schoolboy and was watching by binoculars from a nearby hill. 

Mervyn far right with the Glosters Meteor workforce
Mervyn working on a Trolley Accumulator (to start a Meteor)

Mervyn was discharged from bankruptcy in 1940 with the reason given: ‘he is a father of six boys and the whole of his earnings during the 10 year period has been used to maintain his wife and children. And it might assist the boys in their occupations if their father was free from bankruptcy.’

That year  Mervyn joined the Home Guard serving at RAF Little Rissington. His two eldest sons were in the armed services abroad. Les was serving in the RAF and Harry in the Ox and Bucks regiment. Cyril was working on a farm which was classified as a reserved occupation during the war. Mervyn worked for Gloster Aircraft Company right through the war.

Mervyn fourth left standing

In 1945 Edie and Mervyn had their last child Michael David.

Mervyn and Edie with Michael at Waterbank

Mervyn’s war time occupation for Gloster Aircraft Company came to an end and he went to work as an Aero Engine Fitter at RAF Little Rissington. He also worked in a team breaking Spitfires and Hurricanes. The planes were parked on the peri tracks on the airfield as well as the peri track leading from the lodge to the road into Great Rissington. Planes no longer needed were ferried in from all over the country and broken down for scrap.

Mervyn was still doing up motor bikes and cars to sell. At one point he took a motor bike to London to sell and returned with a twenty seater Bedford bus which he used to take the Womens Institute on outings.

During the late 1940’s he sat on the committee for the Reading Room. The Reading Room at this time was open between 6.30pm and 9.30pm where men could go to play billiards, read the papers and play cards. The annual subscription was five shillings. The Reading Room was eventually used by various groups, separate youth clubs for girls and boys, weddings, whist drives and by the Great Rissington branch of the British Legion.

A keen gardener, Mervyn scratched his hand in the garden on 1 May 1950 and a few days later fell ill with a sore throat. A doctor attended him at home and initially he failed to mention the cut. Dr Stewart eventually extracted a thorn an inch long from the cut. By this time Mervyn had contracted  Tetanus and was taken to Cheltenham General Hospital on 13 May where he died three days later.

Report in the Gloucestershire Echo on the Inquest held

I don’t think my father ever got over the shock of losing his dad so suddenly and I’m sure his brothers didn’t either. Michael was only five years old. Such a terrible way to die. Mervyn is buried next to Dennis in the new burial ground at St John the Baptist Church near his parents. His coffin was draped with the Union flag and was borne by his fellow British Legion members with the last post played by Mr Palmer of Bourton-on-the-Water. He was an incredible man and was terribly missed by Edie and the boys and their families.

The floral tributes from family, friends and neighbours

A Baker in Great Rissington

HARRY BERRY 1872 – 1923

My great grandfather Harry Berry was born in the Swan Inn, Swinbrook, Oxfordshire in 1872, where his father Charles was the publican. He was the eighth child in a family of 12 children. Harry attended the Church of England school in Swinbrook which had 50 pupils in 1872. Swinbrook is a village and ancient parish on the River Windrush, about two miles east of Burford

When Harry left school in 1886 he started working with his brother Chas learning the Wheelwrights trade. By 1891 when he was 19 he decided to branch out and put an advert in the Witney Gazette looking for work with a Wheelwright as an ‘Improver’ with four years experience. He didn’t get any offers and in April that year he saw an advert in the local paper to work for a Baker in Great Rissington, Gloucestershire six miles away.

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He took the position as a bakers’ assistant working for Thomas Mace who had his own bakery and Grocers shop and delivered bread to nearby villages. Harry took lodgings with a Shepherd, Esau Loveridge who worked on Manor Farm. Thomas Mace was a bachelor and his niece, Clara Ellen Smith, lived with him as his housekeeper and served in the shop. Clara was the daughter of Albert Smith, the village blacksmith and wheelwright. Her family was highly respected with Albert a member of the Parish Council and also a sidesman at the Church.

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Thomas Mace standing outside the Bakehouse and Grocers Shop

Harry also worked part time for Thomas H Mace, (another branch of the Mace family), driving carts between Great Rissington and Great Barrington. Thomas H Mace was the tenant farmer at the Manor for H G Wingfield esq. of Barrington Park. It was on one of these journeys in April 1892 that Harry was thrown from his cart and was taken to the cottage hospital in Bourton on the Water with a broken leg. Harry continued working for Thomas H Mace at Manor Farm once he recovered as well as working at the bakehouse for Thomas Mace. (Bit confusing. They were cousins)

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Harry and Clara

Clara Smith (pronounced Clare-uh) was born in 1860 and was nearly 12 years older than Harry when they met. Whether by design or nature, Harry and Clara began courting despite the age difference. It could have been a chance for Harry to move up in the world and an equal chance for Clara to be married and have children. As she was already in her thirties, she was pretty much on the shelf for the times. I like to think they fell in love. By 1894 Ellen had fallen pregnant and the couple married in St John the Baptist Church, Great Rissington on 2 December. None of Clara’s family attended the wedding. Ellen was given away by Harry’s brother, Hubert and his sister Jennie was bridesmaid. Possibly it was a quiet affair owing to their circumstances. They married by licence rather than having banns read. The wedding was reported in the local paper although Clara is recorded by her middle name.

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Harry and Clara moved into a house owned by her father Albert called Waterbank. At that time the house now called Waterbank was two small cottages. There was a larger house attached on the right which was the original Waterbank. All three properties were owned by Albert Smith at the time.  The original Waterbank was demolished in 1922 and the two cottages knocked into one house and renamed Waterbank.

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Waterbank is the house on the right with two cottages attached at right angles

The house is named for a spring which used to be on the bank outside but is no longer there. When we lived at Waterbank you could see the doorways in the end gable which were part of the old house and if you dug down into the soil by the walls you’d find old plaster still attached. Our Waterbank often felt like two halves joined. Steps down into the dining room; the kitchen long and narrow like a hallway, a mix of plasterboard walls, two feet thick walls and old wattle and daub walls.

Harry and Clara’s daughter Catherine Ellen (my great Aunty Kitty) was born in the following June after the wedding. Thomas Mace the baker died that same year and as he was unmarried he left his estate to his sisters in his will. He left the bakehouse, shop and houses to his sister Sarah (Clara’s mother). Clara also received a small legacy of £60. Clara’s mother took charge of the grocery shop with her daughter Eva and Harry carried on with the bakery business.

In 1898 my grandfather (Harry) Mervyn was born. Clara employed a village girl as a maid to work in the house and help with the children. My Great Aunty Kitty told us she was sacked by her mother for disgusting behaviour to her and Mervyn.

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Harry with his horse drawn Bakers Van outside Hartwells in nearby Bourton on the Water

The following year Harry became a member of the Parish Council in 1899. He now sat on the council which was presided over by Thomas H Mace from Manor Farm, his former employer. In the same year he became an elected Trustee of the United Charities of Great Rissington for two years. Harry was becoming a much respected member of the village. The United Charities was a combination of five charity endowments left by village benefactors in their wills to help the oldest and poorest in Great Rissington. 

Harry was also a member of Great Rissington Minstrels. Thankfully, mindsets and attitudes have moved on but the singing quartet performed to raise money towards the annual Children’s Village Treat and OAP dinners and outings. Their repertoire included ‘Songs, Ditties and Glees’ and an occasional farce.

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Harry and Clara

Clara’s mother, Sarah Smith, died in 1902 and she left her property to her husband Albert in trust. When he died in 1908 he left the bulk of his estate to his son Alfred but gave his eldest daughter Edith the option to purchase Waterbank and the two attached cottages which she duly did for £290. Edith continued living in her own house ‘Wilderness’ and Waterbank remained the family home of Harry and Clara. The two cottages attached were rented out to villagers.

A ‘Pig Club’ was started in the village in 1909. Pig Clubs were created in lots of small villages like Great Rissington. Anyone owning a pig could join and pay twopence a week into a common fund. If a pig became sick or died, the Pig Club paid the owner from the fund. Harry was one of the elected officers on the club board.

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Report in the Gloucester Chronicle about the Pig Club

In 1911 Harry was now a Master Baker and Mervyn was working as his assistant baking the bread. He employed a journeyman for deliveries to other villages. Clara started a Post Office at Waterbank and Kitty worked here with her mother. The Post Office received telegrams and Kitty delivered them on her bicycle.

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Mervyn and Kitty outside Waterbank with the Post Office and Telegraph signs

When war broke out in 1914 Mervyn was still only 16 and too young to join up but as soon as he was 18 he joined the Glosters under the Derby Scheme where men were attested into the army and then sent home to await call-up when they were needed.  In 1916 he had his orders to join the regiment, training with the 11th Glosters and later transferring to the Machine Gun Corps. He served most of his war in Salonica and after the armistice went on to Russia to support the anti-communist White Russians. (His full war story is told in my book ‘Til the boys come home).

He was eventually demobbed in 1919 and returned home to his former job as Assistant Baker for his father. Although the business was thriving at the Bakehouse, Waterbank was falling into disrepair so the Post Office was closed and the house demolished in 1922. The two cottages remaining were then knocked into the one house becoming the ‘new’ Waterbank.

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Waterbank on the right showing signs of disrepair with missing tiles

Mervyn had married Edith (Edie) Hovard that same year and was running the bakery business for his father who had been ill for quite a while after a series of strokes. They were living in Blue Close cottage in Rectory Lane. Kitty married (Harry) Lloyd Pinnock the following year and moved to Woodstock, Oxfordshire where Lloyd was the station master.

Harry was cared for by Clara at Waterbank and she often pushed him around the village in a wheelchair. He died at home from a major stroke on 4 May 1923 at the young age of 52.  Clara remained at Waterbank until her own death three years later in 1926. They are buried in a double grave in the new burial ground at St John the Baptist Church, Great Rissington.

An Innkeeper in Swinbrook

CHARLES BERRY 1835 – 1897

Charles Berry was my 2x great grandfather. He was born in Lucketts Yard, High Street, Witney, Oxfordshire in 1835. Two years before Civil Registration of births, marriages and deaths began. Charles was the second child of 12 children born to William and Catherine (Kate) Berry.

Charles attended the National School, which charged a penny a day, where he received a rudimentary education centred on reading, writing and arithmetic. By age 15 he was working with his father William in the business attached to their home in the High Street, Witney.

It is not known how Charles met his future wife Catherine (Kate) Legg. Kate was the daughter of a leather dresser living in Swan Mead, Bermondsey. She was definitely living in Swan Mead in the Spring of 1861 when the census was taken and Charles in Witney.

Swan Mead, Bermondsey c1860

Charles may have had business dealings with Kate’s father who originally came from Burford, Oxfordshire. The family later moved to John Street off The Old Kent Road and Charles gives this as his address when he married Kate in the parish church of St George the Martyr on 11 August 1862. Known as Dickens’ Little Dorrit Church. After the wedding the couple moved back to Witney where Charles continued working with his father as a Fellmonger. Their first child, also called Catherine (Kate), was born the following year.

Charles’ father died in 1864 and it was around this time Charles left Witney and the Fellmongers business and became an Innkeeper at The Swan Inn in Swinbrook a few miles away. Swinbrook is a small village in Oxfordshire on the river Windrush and is famous because of its connections with the 2nd Baron Redesdale and his six daughters the Mitford sisters, four of whom are buried in the parish churchyard. When Charles took up the licence to run the inn it was owned by Baron Redesdale. And as it was an inn rather than a public house, it also provided lodging for travellers who needed to break up long journeys.

Charles and Kate had a further 11 children all born in Swinbrook over the next 16 years including twin boys, Thomas and Albert. In 1869 their eldest daughter, Kate, died aged six and was buried in St Marys churchyard nearby. Charles and Kate ran the Swan but probably employed workers from the village as there is no live in help recorded on any census records. Charles was recorded in one census as a Licensed Victualler which means he also provided meals as well as beer. So quite a lot of work but with a big family, the children would have been roped in to help out.

In 1886 one of the twins, Albert, was killed in an accident with a cart when he was just 16 years old. The inquest into his death was held at the Swan Inn. In many small communities a public house was the only available place with a large enough space. Auctions and inquests etc would be held in a back room away from the bar.

Albert worked on Manor farm in nearby Asthall for Arthur Bateman. On 11 March he was driving a empty dung cart with three horses attached along the Barrow Road. (The Barrow road runs from the Round Barrow now on the roundabout at the Witney By-Pass down the hill to the village of Asthall). Behind Albert another cart, driven by George Faulkner, had stopped and George had left his horse untended to tread down hay in the cart to prevent it littering the road. George’s horse got spooked and bolted throwing him from the cart. This, in turn, frightened Albert’s horses who became unmanageable. At the time Albert had been riding on the cart shaft and he jumped off to try and grab the bridle of the the middle horse but he was knocked down and the cart wheel passed over his body crushing him causing a fatal injury. Albert couldn’t move so George lifted him into his cart where he said he was ‘hurting bad’ across the abdomen.

George took him home to the Swan Inn and Dr Cheatle from nearby Burford attended him. Sadly, there was nothing Dr Cheatle could do for Albert and his mother looked after him until he died the following Thursday. She said “He was quite sensible nearly up to his death but he got worse from the time he was brought home’. The inquest jury returned a verdict of Accidental Death. Such a tragedy and a terrible time for all the family. Albert is buried in the family plot in the churchyard and shares a headstone with his sister Catherine.

By 1891 Williams older children had left the Swan Inn and were either married or lodging elsewhere. William had married Annie Green from Shipton under Wychwood and became the licensee of the Masons Arms in Fulbrook. James was the Under Gamekeeper at The Lodge Farm in Sarsdon. Thomas was working as a Blacksmith in Bedford, and Harry (my great grandfather) was working as a Baker for Thomas Mace in Great Rissington, Gloucestershire.

Williams son Chas (Charles Benjamin Berry) had started a Wheelwrights and Carpentry business after finishing an apprenticeship. The business was attached to the pub and a younger brother Horace became Chas’ apprentice. Chas built and repaired cart wheels and made coffins etc. The younger boys were still at school and were helping in the pub.

Catherine died in 1893 following a short illness and in 1897 Charles followed her after suffering a massive stroke. He was only 61. They are buried beside Kate and Albert in St Marys churchyard.

The family graves in St Marys

Charles didn’t leave a will and his estate and effects were passed on to his surviving children. Chas applied for the licence to run the Swan Inn and carried on with the Wheelwright and Carpenters business with Horace until his own death in on New Years Eve 1912. He never married and with no children to pass on the business, his tools, materials and household effects were auctioned off by Taylor and Fletcher in January and the Swan Inn was advertised and licenced to a new Innkeeper.

Chas Berry’ s belongings to be auctioned listed in the Witney Gazette

Charles and Kate’s sons were all working in good trades. Their only surviving daughter Jennie had married Joseph May who worked as a Butler for a retired Banker in Lambourne, Berkshire. Jennie lived separately from Joseph in Colwall, Herefordshire with their three children. The reason for this is unclear but it may have been to do with Joseph’s occupation. Jennie often stayed with her brother Chas after her father died, and helped out in the Swan. She died in 1910 and is also buried in Swinbrook near her parents. The youngest boys had moved away and married. Frank was a mechanic living in Yorkshire and Harold was a wheelwright in London.

Charles and Kate had worked hard for their children and ensured they did well for themselves despite their humble beginnings.

A Fellmonger from Witney

WILIAM BERRY 1804 – 1864

My 3 x great grandfather, William Berry was born in Witney, Oxfordshire c1804. Witney is an historic market town on the river Windrush in Oxfordshire and was an important centre for blanket making from the Middle Ages. There were five main blanket factories and many out workers all in occupations linked to the blanket trade. Early’s factory produced blankets which were famous all over the world.

Not much is known about Williams’ childhood and young adulthood but he is likely to have served a seven year apprenticeship as a Fellmonger which then allowed him to trade freely. At the age of 28 he married Elizabeth Dossett aged 22, a blanket weavers daughter from Milton under Wychwood. They married in St Marys Church in Witney.

William and Elizabeth had 12 children in 19 years. Six sons and six daughters. Their first son John was born just a year after the wedding. The family lived in a rented cottage within Luckets Yard off the High Street in Witney. The yard was reached through an entrance from the street into a long narrow close of 16 tiny cottages owned by William Luckett, a blanket manufacturer probably connected to the Earlys.

According to the 1841 census, the people living Lucketts Yard worked at various trades including fullers, blanket weavers and fellmongers. These occupations are all connected to the blanket trade so possibly employed by William Luckett himself who manufactured blankets and cloth. He owned a big house at the entrance to the close. There were also four widows with their small children on Poor Relief living in the yard. It was very crowded living conditions with 24 adults and 48 children all crammed into the tiny houses with two communal privies between them. Overcrowding and unsanitary conditions caused frequent outbreaks of typhoid in Witney during the mid 1800’s. Four of Williams children died in infancy. (It is interesting to note that the four children who died were all named John and William. Children were often named after deceased siblings to keep a family name alive)

William Berry was a Fellmonger which literally means skin seller. Fellmongers specialised in fell wool; wool derived from butchered meat. He would buy sheep skins from the abbatoir or butchers, remove the wool then sell the skin to a tanner and the wool to the blanket trade. It was a stinking, smelly job. Collecting the pelts on a cart and pushing them through the streets to his work area. Here he would scrape the wool off using a special tool and then scrape the skin clean.

It’s recorded that the Witney blanket makers used mainly fell wool. Often the skins were made into breeches to sell at market. By 1851 William was running his own business and was assisted by his two surviving sons Charles and James. The family had moved from Luckets Yard and were renting premises in the Witney High Street. Elizabeth’s father lived with the family weaving blankets from the fell wool. William died aged 59 on the 8 December 1864 from stomach cancer. He left £300 in his will which was written two days before he died. £300 was a considerable sum for the time. His estate and effects were left to Elizabeth and after her death to be shared between his remaining children. William is buried in Witney cometary on Tower Hill alongside his wife Elizabeth and two of their daughters Ellen who died aged 10 in the same year and Charlotte who died aged 22.

Felmongering; an old trade that died out when machinery took over much like the hand looms for making blankets at home. Williams’ son James carried on the fellmonger business for another decade but had switched to baking bread by 1881. Charles left Witney altogether and moved to Swinbrook to take up Innkeeping. Walking down Witney High Street, you can still see the entrance to Lucketts Yard but the cottages behind are long gone.

The Journey Begins

Our tree has branches and leaves

So welcome to my blog. I will Be posting stories about my ancestors and interesting snippets about them. Having spent the last 30 odd years researching my family tree I have amassed a lot of information. I thought it would be good to write about their lives and share their stories. Most of them were working class men and women but this doesn’t mean they have nothing to contribute. I hope you enjoy reading about my ancestors occupations, houses, travels and exploits. Our tree has branches and leaves. Time to give it a shake!