‘An Account of a Meeting of the Four Eley Brothers in Gloucestershire on 17, 18, 19 September 1900’ by the Youngest, Walter Eley’
Chapter One Family History
We were 12 children in family, Father and Mother made us to number 14. There were 7 girls and 5 boys. Only on one occasion did we all sit down to a Christmas dinner, that was the Christmas of 1852. Our youngest brother Lewis George, and the youngest of the family, died on the following 1 march 1853, only 19 months old. We buried him in the Baptist Chapel graveyard in Thornbury, where our Grandfather, Grandmother, Uncles and Aunts, and later on our Father and Mother and Sister Alice all now lie.
I can remember seeing Father, standing at the half glass shop door one evening, crying over his loss, although there were 11 of us left, enough one would think fully to occupy a father’s love. Father was of a very affectionate disposition. I can remember my eldest sister coming home one Christmas with her eldest daughter, a baby about 18 months old, and how father and daughter fell on each other’s necks in a long, loving embrace. I was only a little chap at the time but it made a deep impression on my memory. I can call to mind the affectionate welcome my eldest brother and sisters used to get when they came home for their holidays or a visit.
Father and Mother always did their best for us all. We were a large family to bring up, clothe, feed, educate and put out into the world. I can remember they were especially kind to those who were weak and ill. It was my good fortune to be a strong, hearty, lusty fellow needing no special care, always in good health and strength. But it was not so with my brother Henry who was a weak and delicate boy needing much care and attention. Father used to carry him downstairs every morning and to bed every evening with such affection and love, for months and even years, doing everything that was possible for his weakly boy. I can remember having a clout many a time as I came in and out of the house, when my brother was ill, for banging the doors, and so Father did for us all when we needed it.
Father was a native of Thornbury, where Grandfather, Grandmother, our Aunts Elizabeth and Martha and Uncle Thomas lived. I have heard Father say he could just remember his mother, she having died when he was about 9 years old, to quote the date taken from her grave in Thornbury Baptist Chapel graveyard 16 July 1814 aged 51.
Father was born 31 October 1805. Our grandfather occupied a good position in Thornbury, being Clerk to the Magistrates. I have heard Thornbury people say he was a highly respectable and amiable gentleman, esteemed and revered by all who knew him, his name up to the present day (1902) being held in great veneration in that town.
Grandfather was a Baptist of the old Puritan school, and as such the chief supporter of the Baptist Chapel there, often conducting the services when needed, and I for one am proud to be the grandson of such a good man. He lies buried with my grandmother and all my paternal aunts and uncles in the graveyard of the chapel, having passed away 6 December 1831, aged 69 years, leaving a name the memory of which is fragrant now in 1900.
Father settled in business in Berkeley about 7 miles from Thornbury, and Mother came to Berkeley from Horton, near Gosport, Hampshire, to live with her aunt Webster whose husband had taken a contract to make part of the Berkeley and Gloucester canal. I heard a minister, the Rev. M.Eyre (who was once the Pastor of Thornbury Baptist Chapel), say that Mother was one of the nicest looking women in Gloucestershire, and I can remember how fond and proud Father was of her, especially when she was nicely dressed. Yes, my Mother was a good looking woman.
Father and Mother were married in St James’ Church, Bristol, on 29th January 1829. In those days everybody had to be married in the established Church – that being the reason why my Father and Mother being non-conformists were married at Church.
They returned and settled in Berkeley where we were all born. I always understood that Grandfather bought the house where we lived for my Father. Anyhow, it was my Father’s property. Dear old house and garden – I shall never forget it.
I have heard say that Grandfather only saw one of his grandchildren and that was my eldest sister Elizabeth. She was born on Good Friday, 1 April 1831. Grandfather died on the following 6 December. It is a curious circumstance that Good Friday has not fallen on 1st April since.
I have heard Thornbury people say that my Grandmother was a well born and bred woman and from her some of inherit some family peculiarities. These peculiarities are well defined and known as the Eley nose, the Eley hair and the Eley stare. The said Eley nose being aquiline, the Eley hair being dark and straight, and the peculiar some of us look at people proves the Eley stare.
I suppose large families were fashionable in those days, at all events we were a large family and these are the names of us all:
Elizabeth born 1 April 1831 married Joseph Bennett
James born 11 February 1833 married Fanny A Campling
Martha born 31 October 1834 married Oliver G. Marling
Mary born 6 September 1836 married Walford Durrant
Sarah Ann born 19 July 1838 married George Chesterfield
Henry born 18 April 1840 married Harriet Collins
Edward born 25 November 1841 married Mary Yeatman
Walter born 21 November 1843 married Rebecca Randle and then Alice Weston Sanders
Alice born 13 March 1846 and died when she was 19 years old
Emily Grace born 5 January 1848 married George Greening
Fanny born 25 October 1849 married Henry Dearlove
Lewis George born August 1851 and died when 19 months old
There is little peculiarity in us as a family – first was a girl, then a boy, then 3 girls, then 3 boys, then 3 girls, and then a boy.
Father was not a strong man by any means and his sedentary habits did not improve his health. I can remember him as a delicate man needing care and attention in every way. In 1860 his health began to fail him. He went to the Isle of Wight that year to recruit his failing strength but he came home little or no better. Then followed in the ensuing spring and summer a long illness of some months duration, culminating in his death just after 2 o’clock on the afternoon of 3 September 1861. We buried him with his father, mother and sisters in the Baptist Chapel graveyard, Thornbury. I was only a lad of 16 at the time but I remember him as a good, kind father doing his best for his large family, and his children rise up and call him blessed.
It has always been a source of satisfaction to me that I did my best for him during his long illness. Often sleeping in his room to minister to his wants at night, giving mother a rest. Dear old Dad. I can remember the evening of his death going to the top of the garden, having a good cry and resolving I would do my best and work for mother.
There was little or no scope for us girls and boys in Berkeley as we grew up – one after another left that olde wolde town to push our way in to the world in various places. As a boy I remember very little of my eldest sister and brother for they were grown up and gone from home before I can scarce remember, thus relieving father and mother of part of their heavy family burden. But I can well remember their coming home at Christmas and other times and exciting my boyish admiration, and I can remember wishing and longing for the time when I should be old enough to go and find a niche in the great world outside, for Berkeley was, and I suppose still is, a veritable sleepy hollow.
My sister was the only one who stayed at home in Berkeley. Mattie, as we affectionately called her, helped mother with cooking, washing, cleaning, baking and helping mother with us younger children. What delicious homebaked bread and cakes we used to have. They are a memory not forgotten as a boy, yea even as a man. I was, and am, very fond of dumplings. It was a standing joke against me coming home from Chapel one Sunday morning, sliding up to her in the kitchen with a smile and knowing look, asked “Mattie, got a dump?” Aye, Martha had a dump and uncommon good they were then and since, as all of us can testify.
Elizabeth settled in London, James in Ryde, Mary in London, Sarah in Greenwich, Henry in Bristol, Edward in Burton on Trent, myself in London, Emily Grace in Clifton, Fanny in London, Alice died when she was only 19, and Lewis George when 19 months. Since then Mary and Sarah Ann have passed away, leaving 8 of us to this date – 1902.
Chapter Two Reminiscences:
Berkeley and the Vale of Berkeley in my day was given over to farming and foxhunting. There was a tanyard, a sawmill, and a bricky, and beyond there was no other works, and agriculture was, and is, the staple industry of the neighbourhood. It was a beautiful and fertile country with hills and dales, fields and lanes, woods and coppices – a very fine timbered country abounding in large trees, oaks and elms being especially large and fine. We boys climbed the trees, jumped the brooks and streams (locally called Rheims), ran after the foxhounds hunting, watched the shooters, fished and bathed in the brooks, and generally had the run of the country. I thus secured for myself a strong, healthy body, sound in mind and limb.
We knew where the first primroses grew, knew the flavour of most of the farmers’ apples and Lord Fitzharding’s pears as well, and woe betide us if we had been caught helping ourselves to his fruit. It was a free and easy country. We likewise knew where the birds nests full of young were, knew where to gather the finest blackberries and wild flowers; knew every stream, lane, field and path. We enjoyed ourselves in the hayfields in the summer,, gleaned the cornfields in the autumn, and generally had a good time all around. Did tea ever taste so nice as when us youngsters were sent off on a Saturday afternoon to romp in the hayfields, taking our tea in a bottle with us, or when we went down to the fields round the Castle and had swings on the branches of those lovely big elms, and on winter nights played “Hoop or holler I won’t foller.” Then the old churchyard where we played “touch toe” on the flat old tombstones without let or hindrance. Then everybody knew everybody else and their business – or thought they did, which is about the same thing.
I remember the boys of the town calling after a man they called Dando, Burgo, Caino, who afterwards fell down the stairs of the Ship Inn, down the Stock where he was landlord, and broke his neck. The poor fellow could not walk up the street without being shouted at, until his life must have been a misery to him.
I remember old Bobby King, the schoolmaster, who had a nickname for every boy in his school. The old man had tender feet, and the boys knowing that used to drop books and slates near him to give him a fright. He would jump back and say “Ah you would, would you, you rascal.”
Then there was old Daddy Shepherd, the Free School Master. He was the very personification of Mr. Pickwick as depicted by Cruickshank, with a benevolent face, bald head, round spectacles, rotund of person, short and weak in the leg, drab knee breeches and swallowtail coat. The old man used to waddle down the street, and on New Year’s morning used to pay a boy 6d to be the first to cross his threshold, because he thought that it was unlucky for a female to do so. If the old man was weak in the leg he was strong in the arm, and well we boys knew it.
Who shall tell of old Sam Saniger, the town scavenger. Sam was a bit of a wit in his way. During the Crimea War when the bread price rose he used to say he should eat Penny Rolls as they never went up in price, and of Dicky Mills and his brother Fred, the ne’er do wells of Jeminy King (brother of Bobby) the grocer, who used to tell all the tramps that came begging to “go and enlist.”
Then there were others, Jessie Wilks, who when a boy was employed to frighten birds from the corn. Climbing a tree one day he saw a bird flying from it, and it used to be said that Jessie did not see why he should not fly too, and he tried it on, coming to earth with a thud and broke his hip. It was ever after loose in the joint so that he could fling it about. Jessie was hardly “all there.” Every Saturday evening he used to come into town with a wheelbarrow at a tremendous rate, 6 miles or more an hour uphill and down, to fetch his mother her weekly supply of coal. We boys used to look out for him – “Steams up Jessie” – but we could not keep up with him very far.
Then there was Jackie Parsons whose delight it was to see all the coffins made, and when finished get inside them. Jackie was a softie, could bite pins into two, and made boxes to bury all the dead birds he could find. Old Jack Dowell was another “softie” – Jack’s singing in Chapel was something ridiculous, it was “Yah, Yah, Yah, Yah.” And old Charlie Watts the pensioner who had been through the Peninsula War with the Duke of Wellington. It was Old Charlie’s delight to get us boys round him and relate to us all about the battles he had been in. Old Jimmy Ghostley, the Parish Clerk, was a source of amusement to us boys. Old age had compelled him to retire from his post and he had the habit of talking to himself when he walked about. It was our delight to get behind him and listen. “He died in my debt, he did,” the old man was saying to himself one Saturday morning, “I’ll give it to him, dying in my debt,” We followed Jimmy, that morning, to the churchyard and going straight to a grave he began beating it with a walking stick. “I’ll give it to you, dying in my debt.”
There were others whose quaintness and doings would make a book, to say nothing of Club Day, the 1st Wednesday in May, Hound Day, and Woodman’s Fair where the boys used to get money out of a tub of water with their mouths only, and compete with each other in eating rolls dipped in treacle hung on a string, with their hands tied behind their backs. Considering all these things is it any wonder that some of us always enjoy paying a visit to the town and delight in going over the old spots again and again?
Queen Mary of bloody memory used to say that after her death they would find Calais written on her heart. If it could be, I verily believe that the same could be said of some of us as regards our native town. We do go back after long years of absence and find everything familiar, yet strange. We thought it all larger than it really was. We soon find that 2 or 3 days there, or a week at most, satisfies all our longings to see the old place once more. Still, it is a pleasure to us when we require a holiday to turn our steps towards old Berkeley in Gloucestershire.
Great events, they say, from little causes spring. It came about in this way. Brother Edward intimated to me that some members of the family would very much like a photo group of the four Eley brothers, James, Henry, Edward and Walter, as they had seen a photo group of our three uncles, Charles, Richard and George Colenutt, our mother’s three surviving brothers. The idea commended itself to us but it could only be brought about by us four brothers meeting together and being photographed. We mutually agreed to bring the meeting about if possible. For two or three years it was referred to when us two brothers met but nothing came of it. Various ideas occurred to me to secure the group, one idea was to get our photos singly and secure a photographer to make one group out of three. Another was to get a photo of either two of us and manipulate a group with two other single photos, the difficulty being we lived so far apart, James in Ryde, Henry in Bristol, Edward in Burton-on-Trent, and myself in London. The question was how could we all four meet and be photographed, to say nothing of the pleasure of us four brothers meeting together again after so many years of separation.
Edward and I resolved that, if possible, the meeting place should be Berkeley. Visiting James at Ryde on the August Bank Holiday 1900 we partly arranged to spend a week together in Gloucestershire. In the following month I wrote to Edward and he decided to join us if such a holiday came about. In deference to our brother Henry in Bristol, who was then in sad trouble through the loss of his only son who had met with a fatal accident in a motor car on the previous July, we finally decided the meeting place should be at his house. So it was arranged that us four brothers should assemble at our brother Henry’s house in Bristol on Monday 17 September 1900.
I looked forward to that meeting with much pleasure and delight. The arrangement being that I should leave London on Friday 14 September for Berkeley and Sharpness, James leave Ryde on Saturday 15 for Bristol, Edward to leave Burton-on-Trent the same day and join me to spend Sunday in Sharpness and Berkeley, then go to the great meeting in Bristol on Monday morning. So it came about that I left Paddington on the day arranged at 4 o’clock pm for Gloucestershire.
It was wonderful weather and as the train rushed through the country it was delightful to look upon. The beautiful tints of Autumn were beginning to show themselves. The fruit trees were laden and the autumn flowers were very pleasant. I had booked for Stonehouse, Gloucestershire, which I reached in good time giving me leisure to cross over from the Great Western to the Midland Station. On arrival I enquired if there was anyone who could carry my bag to the Midland Station. I was directed to a man who I afterwards found was a porter off duty. Shouldering my bag off we went through the village across some fields to the station. As we went along he told me in broad Gloucestershire that on the previous month a young woman had got out at Stonehouse station from Lunnon same as I did, and “axed I to take her and her box over just the same as I be carrying your bag to go to Berkeley, just the same as you tell me you be gwain to do.” “A Berkeley girl?” I enquired. “Ah, that she wus, a servunt up Lunnon somewheres. She did give my missus her address arterwards. Lor bless ee, I says to her, your train be a matter of 20 minutes late I says, and the last Midland train down be gone, for I eared her go down more than 10 minutes agone, and its over a mile across and will take ee quarter our to get there, I says, not reckoning carrying your box.” “’Oh dear,’ she says, ‘what ever shall I do?’” “I says, you will have to bide ere.” “’Where?’ she says.” “In the waiting room till morrer mornin. That were Sunday mornin. Well, I says, you can if you like but you wut vind no zupper ere, nor a feather bed not a brekfust, says I.” “’But I have only got enough money to take me to my aunts at Berkeley.’” “So I was rale zorry for her so I says, well Miss, I be on night duty tonight, but I’ll send ee down to my missus and tell her to give ee zome zupper and you can sleep along we her and sh’ll ge ee zume brekfast in the mornin and I’ll take care of your box and I’ll take ee and your box to the Midland station and then you’ll be albout alrite. So I called a nipper I knowed and he took her down to my bit a cottage and missus she took her in and gee’d her zome zupper and made up a bed for her and in the mornin I zeed her off by the Midland train and she promised to pay me for all we done for her, but Lor bless mm, Sur, I didn’t want paying for doing the gal a bit of kindness.” “But did she pay you?” I asked. “Not in muney, zur, but her sent missus zome thangs for the young uns and zome ornaments that my missus liked very much, for she wur only a zurvant.”
By this time we had arrived at the Midland station and I took care that he did not lose anything by his kindness to the Berkeley girl who was in distress. Dear old Gloucestershire, I knew when our train ran into the county for I could smell the beautiful fresh air laidened with ozone. My native air! I took deep inspiration and respirations, revelled in it, and soon began to feel a different man. How different Berkeley station is to what it was when I was a lad and we bowled our hoops up to it in the winter time. Then only a station, now it was a junction for the Severn and Wye Railway, quite a busy place. That railway soon brought me to Sharpness docks station, where I received a hearty welcome from my sister Martha and my nephews and nieces, Allan, Polly, Frank and Katie Marling on that memorable Friday evening 14 September 1900.
Chapter Four: Saturday and Sunday
Sharpness, as I knew it as a lad, was a totally different place to what it is now. Then it was only the Old Docks, with a rather dangerous entrance from the Severn, and only then as the tide served. The place derives its name from the large rock that runs out sharp to a point in the Severn, and is named Sharpness Point, and just above this projection is the entrance from the river into the Old Docks. The Pleasure Grounds above, locally called “The Plantation” is a lovely spot. The lawn like grounds abut on to the river bank and at the back fringed with fine trees. An ideal place for a picnic and many are the parties from all parts that visit it yearly. We used to go up there for school parties and it was delightful to view the vessels coming up the river at high water. Beyond the river a beautiful country and beyond that the Dean Forest.
In my day old Wraith was the Harbourmaster. He had been, I believe, a Petty Officer in the Navy, and well able to shout and order the men about. It was a sight to witness him giving directions to the dockmen when getting a vessel into the docks. With a voice like a lion’s the old man would roar at his men, stamp about the pier, wave his stick in the air until one thought that he was doing his best to avoid a catastrophe, his red face getting all the time more livid with exertion. What was most amusing was the stolid dockmen took little or no notice of the old gent’s antics, but went on with their work just as if he was shouting to the moon. Holding a rope here, throwing a rope there, letting go or holding taut another, and so on until the vessel was safely docked.
Gruff of manner he was credited with being able to give one the cold shoulder to a fine degree. Berkeley people used to go down to the Point to witness the incoming of vessels which was really a most interesting proceeding.
On one occasion old Mr. Moffatt of Berkeley stood on the stone pier watching the operation when the bowspirit of the incoming vessel lifted one of the large stones of the pier on which he stood. “What made you hop off that stone so quick?” a neighbour asked. “Well.” Said the old man in his Yorkshire dialect, “when the bowspirit struck and lifted that stone I thout it was toime too kutt.” These old docks are now mostly used by the pilot boats and vessels of small tonnage since these days. The new docks have been constructed with a fine entrance below the Point altering the whole surroundings.
It was very pleasant on the Saturday morning following my arrival to walk around these docks watching the unloading of the cargoes from the various vessels and steamers, mostly timber and corn; to see the barges being ladened to carry it up the canal to Gloucester and still further north and west; to hear the hum and rattle of machinery was a decided change from the hum of traffic in the West End of London. Some of the vessels and steamers were very fine. I was especially interested in watching the incoming of the ships and steamers and the outgoing ones. Then to go to the end of the pier and to feel the breeze from the Bristol Channel – the view of the Severn and the country beyond was delightful at high water. Muddy Severn fully justified its name when the tide was out, for it was banks of mud underneath and around everywhere, a great expanse of mud and muddy water, nevertheless the breezes and the glorious sunshine were delightfully exhilarating, giving healthy appetites and renewed vigour.
Then it was a pleasure to have a garden to walk in and look at, a pleasure we are denied in London. To sow, to plant and attend the vegetables and fruit until they are ripe and fit to gather must be, one would think, the acme of pleasure. There is the Cotswolds yonder, I must close those lovely hills and get another look at that vast and delightful view from the top of Stinchcombe Hill. So nephew Frank and I decided to go there in the afternoon and afterwards meet brother Edward about 6.00pm by the train due about then at Berkeley Road station from Birmingham to Gloucester. Taking the train at Sharpness Station to Berkeley Road station, we alighted and crossed over the main Gloucester to Bristol Coach Road. Turning into an orchard at the side of the ‘Prince of Wales’ Hotel, we enjoyed the walk to the village of Stinchcombe, across the meadows, and gathered our share of blackberries from the hedges.
Passing the church, with its spire, underneath the main Cotswolds (the hill that derives its name from the village is a spur off the main range) being on rising ground this church and steeple is visible for many miles around. Then we began to climb it. Is it because I am older or is the hill steeper than it used to be? I am afraid it is the former, for it was panting hard work to get to the top, but once there one was well repaid for the trouble. What a glorious view met our gaze.
The following is from the guide to the Forest of Dean: ‘Of the scenery from Stinchcombe Hill, a writer in the Saturday Review has said that it can scarcely be excelled on the whole continent of Europe. On the farthest point of the hill is a Roman outlook commanding the entire Vale of the Severn from Malvern to below Chepstow.’
As we stood on the Hill this lovely stretch of country was before and below us, and dotted with villages, towns, woods, fields, trees, farms, etc, and through it threaded the Midland Railway whose trains could be traced for miles. Beyond the Vale lay the mighty Severn, and beyond that again the Forest of Dean whose mighty oaks supplied in days gone by the Wooded Walls of England. On another promontory, Nibley Knoll, stands the monument to William Tyndale, the first translator of the Bible into English. He was, I believe, the Vicar of the church in the village of Nibley that lies at the foot of the knoll.
Having taken a good eyeful of this scene we retraced our steps by the way we came and were soon at Berkeley Road station. We waited for the arrival of the train from Gloucester and were rewarded by seeing brother Edward stepping from the train. Mutual greetings and congratulations followed and we returned to Sharpness, there to spend a pleasant evening with our sister and nephews and nieces.
Up in good time next morning, we were reminded by the silence of machinery and the calm and quietness that it was Sunday morning, the blessed day of rest. Brother Edward and I decided to spend the day as much as possible in the open and in quietly wandering around Sharpness and visiting Berkeley. So after breakfast we sallied forth. It was a lovely morning with bright sunshine and blue sky. We went up to the Plantation and renewed our acquaintance with hat lovely spot. Crossing the Old Docks we followed the path up the canal. We passed several men engaged in what appears to be a monotonous occupation, viz fishing. I have many times wondered what use the fish were after they were caught.
Here we got a full view of that wonderful structure, the Severn Railway Bridge, and were fully impressed by the magnitude of the work. Passing under that part that swings to allow vessels to pass up the canal to Gloucester, we came upon the bank of the river. Here the land between the canal and river became wider. Blackberries and wild flowers abounded. We wandered among the bushes picking the ripe berries and chatting pleasantly together until we came to two wooden cottages, inhabited, of course, by a seafaring man of some sort. The old weather-beaten sailor had brought out his chair and was enjoying his pipe in the morning sun.
“Vine day Zur” says the old chappie. “Yes,” we said, “a very fine morning.” “Ah zo it be,” he replied. A remark we thought that could not be disputed. “You still have some roses left,” I remarked, for the cottages were half buried in rose bushes bearing white roses. “Yus, we heeve hed a wonerful lot thie ere zummer, wood ee laike two or dree?” Of course we should. “Ere, Jane,” the old man called in to the cottage, “Brang I a knife.” So out came Jane bringing a knife and two or three children with her, and he cut us quite a nice lot of roses which had a delightful perfume. “It’s very pleasant here,” we remarked, “but how about the winter?” “o it be a bit bleakish them” he replied, “it do blow a bit cold up the Severn and we get some sharpish frost, but the wust be the Sprang tides, Lor bless ee, zur, they cum rite up into my bit of a garden and we cant kip um out noow and the salt water spiles all the vegetubles. Ee’s it’s a bit bleak and lonely ere wunter time, but,” added the old man, “you git used to’ot,” We came away quite pleased with our roses. I determined to send mine home to London and Edward decided to take his to Bristol on the morrow. We retraced our steps down by the canal, passed the men fishing, crossed again over the Old Dock, and back to dinner.
This walk was very pleasant and delightful but personally I would rather spend the morning in public worship, in the Sanctuary, however plain and humble it may have been. We handed our roses to Martha, to put them in water and later to send mine to London. Instead of sending mine only, the whole lot was sent, as Ted lost his roses through no fault of mine, but he paid me out later on.
After dinner we started for Berkeley, going via Sanigar Lane. How many times as boys had we been up and down this lane. We knew every yard of it well, but by way of a joke we carefully enquired of everyone we met if we were on the right road to Berkeley. We came across one native, all the rest were strangers. Years had elapsed, no-one recognised us.
Passing the field we used to call “Shoulder of Mutton Field, because it resembled it in shape, crossing the other fields brought us out against Berkeley Cemetery. We passed into it, walked around and noted the places where the great majority of the inhabitants of the town of our days laid buried. Old and young, some of the boys and girls of our youth, neighbours, friends, acquaintances, spent their long sleep in this quiet resting place. We came across three old Berkeley worthies sunning themselves on a seat. They did not recognise us, we made ourselves known and we soon began to talk over with them some of the episodes of our youth. One was the son of the woodman that used to hold Woodman’s Fair down against the Close.
Passing on we called at the house, now called Rose Cottage, and ordered tea for 5 o’clock. It was now about 3.30 o’clock. In my day this house was a wreck. The owner was a man named Jim Laite. He had been convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment for some offence, and there being no-one to look after it, it had fallen into a state of dilapidation. Windows broken, doors off their hinges, the garden full of weds and briars, and it had a reputation of being haunted. I can remember Jim coming back and viewing his property. He had it put into repair, lived there himself and after that up to the present it is quite a respectable house.
What an Olde Worlde Town Berkeley is with its four streets, Long Street, Canonbury Street, Salter Street and Maryleporte Street. In this latter street stood, when I was a lad, the Old Vicarage it used to be called. A large gabled tumbledown old place. Originally it was a Roman Catholic Nunnery. That and the old Norman Church were confiscated to the Crown by Henry VIII, and ever afterwards was used as a vicarage. A few years after I had left it was pulled down, being unfit for habitation.
I missed the pathway that led to the well. It had been stopped up and a modern pump outside the fence was all that was left to remind one of its situation. It was a beautiful spring of water and was reputed to be very good for weak eyes. I expect the old monks and nuns used to make something of it in years gone by.
Coming to the top of Maryleport Street, we stood and viewed the old place, all so familiar and yet so strange. The old Market House or Town Hall, the ancient house at the corner of High Street, the Berkeley Arms hotel, our old house, now occupied by others. We walked up the High or Long Street, turned up Church Lane, passing the house where Dr. Jenner lived (who discovered vaccination as a successful remedy against small pox) and on into the Churchyard, by the Church Tower standing separate and distinct from the Church. There is, I believe, only one other like it in England. We noted all the old spots as we went. Turning round to the left we came to the style leading to what we used to call the Little Park. Making our way to the large elm tree at the top of the hill we had a very pleasant view of the meadows below. We wanted to walk round the Castle in these meadows so we descended the hill into the Wordy (or Worthy???), as it used to be called. There were two rows of fine elms we used to climb as boys. I believe these elms were planted when George III came to the throne, but I am not quite certain.
We walked between the trees and turning to the right at the end of the wood that skirted the meadow, at the end of the wood at is lower side, we passed through another meadow and two gates, which brought us to Castle Meadow. A fine level stretch which gave us a fine view of the Castle. We kept straight across the meadow until we came to Matford Brook. We were delighted to see the old brook and the place we used to bathe. We called it Kingshole. Here was the old bridge spanning the stream leading to the Stable meadow. We came out at the bottom of Long Street. We passed up the Castle Hill to the entrance of the Castle.
Continuing on through the churchyard down Church Lane we went as far as Canonbury Hill, still noting everything on our way. We then went back to Rose Cottage to tea. We soon found that the person who kept the place was a Berkeley woman, one of James Cope’s daughters, and we had tea and talk for a quarter of an hour.
Passing on we debated whether we should return to Sharpness via Wanswell or by the Pill to the Severn, and make our way along the banks to home. We decided on the latter, turning round by the Town Hall, past the Union Chapel – the Chapel and Sunday School of our youth – on down Salter Street, The Lynch and Hook Street. We turned into a gate on the left by some cottages. We noted Old Dame Purnels or Rayers cottage, noted in our day for her cheese cakes, buns and fruit tarts. We were directed by some people to the path that led to the Pill of our boyhood (we had forgotten the sloping muddy banks). Yes, it was just the same, we had altered not the Pill. We kept to the beaten path whilst the stream made a wide detour in places, but it was mud, mud, mud everywhere, and as we neared its mouth, and thus close to the Severn, the banks were even more sloping until it looked nothing but mud. Here we in our turn had to make a detour to get round a creek. Twilight was coming on and night setting in – we were unable to regain our path. We wandered on until we came to a gate, and going through we found ourselves in the middle of a field and getting darker every minute. We strained our eyes all ways and were just able to discern the chimneys of a farm house in the distance. Making our way towards it, and passing through another gate we came on to the road Congratulating ourselves that we were on Sanigar Lane we followed it, but only to be led to a farmhouse. There was nothing to it but to enquire our way at the house. A person, evidently the farmer’s wife, answered our knocks and very kindly came out and put us on the right road to Sharpness. This we found was Sanigar Lane, and then knew our whereabouts.
We passed two or three farmhouses, and although it was scarce 8 o’clock not a soul did we see or meet. By the time we arrived at Sharpness it was quite dark. As Brother Edward said it was nice to go over all the old landmarks once more. After supper we had a sing of some of the old psalms and hymn tunes and then to bed, for the next day was to be the meeting of all the Eley brothers.
Chapter Five: The Great Day
“Unique, that’s the word, Unique.” Extract from Uncle Walter’s postcard to his nephew Frank, 20.3.1901.
Undaunted by the lapse of time,
Nor stayed by distance great,
In Gloucestershire four brothers met
Quite spruce and up to date.
Unique the sight, unique the day,
Eley for ever – the natives say. (F.G. Marling)
The morning arrived at last. What’s the weather like? Jumping out of bed at 6.30am I found it bid fair for a fine day. Calling Edward up by throwing some pebbles at his window.
We again enjoyed a morning stroll in Frank’s garden. Breakfast, yes, but we must start before 8o’clock. Katie had it ready by 7.30am, so we made a good start for the railway station. Getting about 50 yards, Ted thought of his roses of the previous day. He wanted to take them to Bristol. Hurrying back he found that Martha had sent the lot to London instead of mine only. I suppose I gave a quiet chuckle at his loss. “I’ll pay thee out for that, Walt.” But I protested it was not my fault. I had nothing to do with it.
We caught the first train to Berkeley Road station, passing on our way the Old Cherry Orchard, the Wanswell Road, Berkeley station, built where Moses Walk used to be, Wickselm and its orchards, Bailey’s Hill, Crawless Lane, noted in our day for its cowslip fields – not forgetting the woods, Tintock and Bushey Grove.
Having to wait at Berkeley road station for half an hour for the Bristol train we strolled onto the Railway Bridge. This used to be our goal when we bowled our hoops on Saturdays in winter from Berkeley to the station and back – a distance of two and a half miles. Under this bridge, many years ago, a young girl, daughter of Job Howell who kept the pub opposite the station, laid her neck on the rails and was decapitated by the train. They said she was disappointed in love. I remember that the Coroner’s Inquest brought in a verdict of “felo de se”, and she was buried the same night at midnight at a crossroads, without any service of any kind, a barbarous custom, worthy of the dark ages. We then walked a little way long the Breadstone road, noted the changes made in the road by the railway, had a good eyeful of the surrounding countryside, including a view of the Cotswolds, we made our way back to the station. The Bristol train coming in. we joined the train, and were soon spinning on our way to Bristol. We admired and remarked on the fertility and beauty of the country and noticed as we neared Bristol it grew less and less inviting and barren.
We arrived in that City without further incident. We had been there before and were well acquainted with the place. It is a busy, dirty city, famous for its tobacco and cocoa, large trade being done in these useful commodities. Many parts of it are very old and squalid. It stands on the Avon, the Bristol Avon, to distinguish it from another Avon, and altogether is a very thriving place and apparently in a prosperous condition.
Coming out from the station yard we were highly delighted and gratified to see our brother James waiting for us. Mutual congratulations and expressions of pleasure followed. We mounted an electric tram, the property of the Bristol Tramway Company, who serve Bristol with their fine system of trams. We went down Victoria Street, along another street, over two bridges to what is locally called the Tram Centre, which is at the bottom of Colston Street, passing up the street, noting the burnt Colston Hall, we soon arrived at our brother’s Henry’s place.
We received a hearty welcome from him and Alice, and here it was accomplished at last, all of us four brothers meeting together once more. We were each highly pleased at the fact, especially our brother Edward, for he was congratulating us all round, one after the other. “Pleased to see you brother James, and you Henry and Walt.” Laughing and chatting followed with a little pleasantry, and in the middle of it our sister Emily and George came in. Then the welcome and the mutual congratulations had to be gone over again and it was a meeting full of genuine pleasure and delight. We spent about an hour in this delightful manner, then we decided to go and be photographed.
First we went to a place in Park Street, we were not satisfied with either their style or price, so Henry took us to Holborn of Stokes Croft. We liked the place much better and decided for him to take us. We had some little difficulty in the grouping, they having installed me as the leader. I suggested that James and Henry, the two eldest, should be seated, and Edward and myself stand behind them. James said he and was not going to sit down, he wanted to stand. It being the duty of the youngest to give way to the eldest it was agreed that Edward and myself be seated and the two eldest stand behind us. As a result the group of us, the four Eley brothers was produced – depicted in the frontispiece of this book.
It is the universal opinion that it is an excellent group, well taken and faithful to likeness. It is not often that one sees four brothers of our age taken in such a manner, James being 67, Henry 60, Edward 58 and Walter 56. On the completion of the work Ted was especially profuse in his congratulations on the consummation of our plans. This took some time to complete, especially as James and Henry sat separately for their photos, the results of which are shown on the previous two pages.
Edward and I then went on to see his daughter for whom he wanted the Sharpness roses. We passed St James’ Church on the way, afterwards going back to Colston Street for dinner. Henry had provided us with a very nice repast, and I may say here that we were full of sympathy for them in their irreparable loss, their only child, their beloved son.
After dinner we decided to visit Clifton, the Suspension Bridge, Clifton Downs etc, and so going down to the Tram Centre we mounted a tram that took us down alongside the river, the Hotwells, and landed us nearly under the Bridge. Edward and I inspected the bridge from the roadway, while James and Henry sat and rested. What an immense height it seemed, such a gigantic span, dwarfing everything near it. Having noted all this we entered the Cliff trams, a fine piece of work. While the wheels are at such a steep incline yet the carriage is perfectly level. Worked by hydraulic power, one carriage ascended whilst the other descended, passing each other about half way up. It is a dark and wet tunnel-like place. We came out at the top of the Downs close to the Bridge. I don’t know how many hundred feet high it is above the river, but it was a magnificent view of the Bridge, the river, cliff, woods opposite, and the surrounding country. Edward and self went on the Bridge whilst James and Henry sat and enjoyed the view. It made me feel very nervous to look over at the people in the road way below, looking like so many animated dolls. Whilst there, someone on the Somerset side played on a cornet and the echo from it was very fine. Us two went higher up on the Downs and were well repaid for our efforts, the view being exceedingly grand. Then we all sat down for a quiet enjoyment in the sunshine of the scene all about us. We then went back onto Clifton Downs to make our way home. It being a very beautiful place, we lingered on it as long as our time allowed. The following views will give a good idea of the beauty of the place. This beautiful country must be a great boon to the Inhabitants of Bristol, Clifton and the neighbourhood. We made for the bus which took us across the Downs to Clifton and on down to Bristol and Colston Street to tea. Us four brothers had spent a very pleasant afternoon together.
Sister Emily joined us for tea and afterwards went with us to see Mrs. James Eley, widow of our cousin James. She lived in Montpelier. There were seven of us altogether, us four brothers, sister Emily Alice, Henry’s wife and her sister. We went a long distance by tram, then walked the rest of the way.
Arriving at her house we found she was not at home. After waiting some little time we decided to make enquiries among the neighbours. Alice knew the person opposite was her friend so we asked of her if Mrs. Eley was there. “No, but she may be down at Mrs. … house.” She kindly directed us. “No, she had not been down there,” said the lady, “but she might be down at my brothers’.” Off trotted the lady to her brothers’ came back saying she was not there. As a final effort we were directed to a little general shop. “They may know.” “No”, they had no idea where she was. So there was nothing for us but to wait. In the meantime brother Edward left us to spend the remainder of the evening with his daughter. He had not been gone long before his future son-in-law came for him. We waited and waited until our patience was well nigh exhausted, and just as we were leaving Mrs. Eley and her daughter Florrie arrived on the scene. They were quite distressed at keeping us waiting. But we were soon at our ease and spent a very pleasant and jolly evening together. “If only I had known you were coming I’d stopped at home, for I have only been down to the shops selecting wallpapers for the house,” We broke up at about 10.30pm, and we had to part for the night.
James went to sleep at his sister Emily’s house where he was staying, Edward was staying at his daughter’s friend’s house. Myself, I was to sleep at brother Henry’s house in Colston Street. We arranged to meet next morning at Mangotsfield on the Midland Railway by the first train, as we had decided to visit Thornbury, Tortworth, Peddington, Berkeley and Sharpness together, and spend the evening of our second day with our sister Martha, and Allan and Frank Marling and their wives.
Chapter 6: The Next Day
Henry and myself were up betimes, and having partaken of a good breakfast we were off in good time for the Midland Railway, full of glad expectations and delight. We went by the train we had arranged, booking for Thornbury. On arriving at Mangotsfield Junction James and Edward were waiting for us on the platform. They joined us in our train as it was a through one for Thornbury. On arriving at Yate station we branched off on to the Thornbury line. Passing Iron Acton James was very interested in seeing the place where he had filled his first situation long years back. We soon arrived at Thornbury and most interesting it was. Our father’s town. We had all heard of it soon as we could remember, knew some of the names of old inhabitants from hearsay, and it was our delight to visit in our youth. Our grandfather, grandmother, uncles, aunts with cousins, many lived and died and were buried here. They all slept in the Baptist Chapel graveyard with our own father and mother, our sister Alice and our youngest brother Lewis George.
We called on cousin Emma Bruton, who with her brother Eli Bruton are the only two members of the old family left. Eli lives in Oldbury on Severn some five miles from Thornbury. We did not see him as he was unable to come to Thornbury that morning, but he sent his son to meet us. As boys we knew their father and mother James Bruton and his wife, good worthy folk. They and some of their children lie in the Chapel graveyard. We chatted with Emma of the old day folks and their times, and she had kindly provided refreshments for us. “I be so glad to see ee all again and such smart men too” was her comment on our personal appearance.
We then walked down the High Street, I suppose to the Plain at the bottom, had a good look at the house on the corner where grandfather and mother lived, and afterwards our aunts Elizabeth and Martha. I never saw them, but father was very fond of them. On their deaths these two houses became the property of my father. Then we visited the old Baptist Chapel and graveyard. A sacred place to me, the resting place of those who have established and maintained the service of God according to their consciences in this little meeting place. 1805 is the year marked on the outside gable, but it must have been established years before that. I have in my possession documents relating to the rebuilding or enlarging of the Chapel dated…(not entered in this book).
We entered the building, stood on the spot where we had all stood, felt a great reverence for the place, and thanked God for it. We then wandered in the graveyard and noted our father’s and mother’s grave, took down the names of all the Eleys buried there and now insert them (some are in error)
James Eley died 13 January 1803 aged 63 years (Born 1740)
James Eley died 5 September 1794 aged 4 years
(This must be my grandfather’s uncle born from the above figures in 1740, or it may be my great grandfather, but most probably my great uncle. The child may have been my father’s brother, as father used to say there were 2 03 of his brothers who died quite young, named James)
The following were grandfather’s brothers and sisters. As Aunt Sarah lived near Coombe near Wootton-under-Edge (sic) I presume the other two did likewise.
Mary Eley died 25 November 1838 aged 66 years (born 1772)
Thomas Eley died 7 December 1839 aged 70 years (born 1769)
Sarah Eley died 18 May 1862 aged 94 years (born 1768)
Then follows grandfather and his family-
James Eley died 6th December 1831 aged 69 years (born 1762)
Elizabeth Eley died 16 July 1814 aged 51 years (born 1763)
Their children –
James Eley died 24 October 1803 aged 5 months
Selina Eley died 12 June 1810 aged 18 years
Mary Eley died 14 May 1822 aged 21 years
Ann Eley died 2 December 1823 aged 27 years
Martha Eley died 9 January 1850 aged 63 years
Elizabeth Eley died 1 March 1850 aged 52 years
There were two other children. Uncle Thomas Eley and our father. There is no record of Uncle Thomas and his wife Aunt Sarah.
James Eley died at Berkeley 18 September 1861 aged 56 years
Ann Eley died at Bristol 18 July 1877 aged 57 years
Alice Eley died at Berkeley 11 March 1865 aged 19 years
Lewis George Eley died at Berkeley 11 March 1853 aged 19 months.
This of course, is our own dear father and mother, sister and brother, whose memory we sincerely revere and honour.
Coming away from this honoured place we walked about the town and met our cousin J Shield Eley in one of the streets. He had driven from his farm at Tortworth and expressed his regret at having to go to Bristol that day to his mother, but his wife would be very pleased to see us when we called on our way to Berkeley. He and his brothers and sisters are the grandchildren of Uncle Thomas who had two sons, Thomas and James. James was their father.
After partaking of our cousin Emma Bruton’s hospitality we bid her and her nephew goodbye and engaged a wagonette to drive us to Berkeley. Edward essayed to take the box seat, but he was politely told by James that I was the leader, or agent in advance – as they termed it – so he had to get down again, while I took the seat. We had a capital horse and a good wagonette so we left Thornbury feeling very gratified at seeing the old town again.
Our road led past the Union, then we turned left and drove through Morton, the village where Uncle Thomas lived and died. We were pleased to see the old home again. We noted Morton Maypole in the centre of the village and also the little Baptist Chapel, the land on which it stood being given for that purpose by our aunt Elizabeth Eley.
We pulled up at Farmer Hills, Lower Morton, and all got pout. He was a friend of Henry’s and a Berkeley man. His wife was a Miss Marton (Barton ?) from Bevington near Berkeley. They both came out and bid us a hearty welcome at their house. Cider was brought out, real genuine Gloucestershire apple juice; as an old Gloucestershire farmer once said “Zummut that sickuled yourr droat.” Then we walked round his garden. The farmer had been digging some “Black Ashleaf Potatoes” and Edward begged a sample to take back to Burton. He had a fine Victoria Plum tree ladened with ripe fruit. We were bidden to help ourselves and take as many as we liked. We were not slow to do so and came away delighted with our call. Turning to the right we drove up a typical country lane which brought us again into the main Berkeley and Thornbury road. By going through Morton we had missed The Crossways where our old cousins Jane and Henry Shepherd lived. We were very fond of old Jane – a diminutive talkative old lady who occasionally used to visit my father and mother. Noted for making a good cup of tea she always called Father “Jums Alay.” The old lady used to say “If ee waant a good cup of tea, Jum Alay, you must put the taa in the Poot.” Henry used to come sometimes, well I remember him, a tall, gaunt man with a cast in his eye, hob nail boots with his trousers about an inch above the top of his boots showing white cotton stockings.
Henry used to eat and drink everything set before him and smoke his pipe like a puffing steam engine. Late in the afternoon Henry would say “Well, Cousin Jums, I must be gwain, got anything to ge me afore I doo.” Henry used to cultivate a small field attached to the house and would do nothing else. The story goes on one occasion a neighbouring farmer wanted his help to get in the harvest, and his sister Jane urged him to go saying the money would buy him a good pair of boots which he just then badly needed. “He goo to wurk to buy boots not he, ge me the muney and I’ll go, but he wasn’t gwain to wurk to buy boots we the muney, not he,” and Henry would not go.
We drove along the road until we came to Falfield, passed Mount Pleasant Chapel where the Reverend Mr. Dove ministered for many years, turning to the right we soon arrived at our cousin Shield Eley’s farm (Brook Farm, Tortworth). Mrs. Shield gave us a pleasant welcome, wanted us to stop and dine there, but we had reluctantly to decline, as we were some miles from Berkeley.
After staying for a short time we resumed our journey, and it began to rain when we got to the main road; however, it did not last long. We drove through the village of Stone. Turning to the left our carriage soon pulled up at cousin Ernest’s Park Farm, Beddington (Sic – should be Peddington). Here we stayed about half an hour and all except myself had more “zider.” Continuing our journey we soon arrived at Ham, about half a mile from Berkeley. Here we dismissed our carriage, walked through the village down the hill, passed the stables and kennels belonging to Lord Fitzhardinge of Berkeley Castle. How well we knew these places – going to them many, many times with, and for, our father on business. We passed the Far Eaves, crossing Matford Brook, went into the Castle Meadow to get a view of the Castle, and crossing the second bridge we were in Berkeley, our native town. We turned to our right, up the Castle Hill to the Castle entrance and had a good look at the Castle. It has the reputation of being the best preserved castle in England, being built in the reign of… (not mentioned in the diary) of a peculiar soft kind of stone dug out of the Cotswold Hills near Dursley, 5 miles away, called Puff Stone. The peculiarity of it being that it does not decay and yet it is so soft that nails can be driven into it. We then passed the churchyard by a path on the right. It is supposed that a church stood on this spot since the year 1100, the present building being erected and added to in the 13th and 14th centuries. We noted the West Door being studded with bullet holes fired into it by Cromwell’s soldiers in 1645. We passed by the tower into Church Lane and on into the town. Berkeley was described in my day in the following lines:
“A Church without a steeple
A Hunting Parson
A swearing Clerk
And a wicked set of people,” and this was literally true!
The first line does not need proof, and the vicar, the Reverend John Seton Karr was a regular follower of the Berkeley Hounds, and old Jeremy Ghostley used to swear awful. This to my own personal knowledge. The people I don’t suppose were any worse than people of any town.
We called first on Mr. Thomas King, an old schoolfellow of James’, and well known to us all. We then visited Mr. And Mrs. Fear and had a chat of old times, then Mr. And Mrs. Mabbett and lastly Miss Copeland, these were the only four left in the town we cared to visit. We turned down Maryleport Street, passing the Close, the cemetery and Wickselm, and on to Berkeley station.
We found that we had to wait about half an hour for a train to take us to Sharpness. Whilst waiting I put down my bag of Victoria plums on a seat while I had a look at the surroundings. There was the wood “Tintock” before us and the path through the fields leading to Wanswell Court and Halmore, and it was pleasant to note all this once more. On returning and looking for my Victoria s three parts of them had vanished. Ted had paid me out for his white roses of the previous Sunday being sent to my Alice in London. As I pointed out to him it was not my fault his roses were sent, and I was not the sufferer for losing the Victorias, but Martha, as I was not returning home for some days. Ted kept the Victorias.
Our train coming in, we were soon at Sharpness and crossing the Dock bridges we were soon at Martha’s house. We spent a very pleasant hour together with our sister. After tea Ted had to start home, Burton-on-Trent, thus breaking up the union of the four brothers. We accompanied him to Sharpness station, James, Henry, Edward, Self and nephew Frank Marling.
We bid our brother goodbye and watched the train until lost to view. It was now dark, and it seemed very dark as we made our way back over the dock bridges. Frank and I missed James and Henry, Frank asked me if I would like to go round the Plantation in the dark. I said I should. So off we went. As I have said before, it is a very pleasant place in the day, but at night, and on a very dark night, I think it was the most gruesome place I was ever in. Dismal does not describe it. We did not stay long and on our arrival home we found James and Henry there. They explained that they had been to sample the Severn Bridge Hotel’s brew. Bottled some of it off, as Henry put it. We adjourned to nephew Allan Marling’s for half an hour, back to Martha’s for supper and a very pleasant chatty evening afterwards.
Then we separated for the night, James and Henry sleeping at Frank’s, myself at Allan’s. Thus ended the great meeting of us Eley brothers and in all probability we shall never meet again in like manner in this world. May we all meet together in the next.
Chapter Seven: Only Three of Us
When we left Bristol it was agreed that us three, James, Henry and myself, should visit the Forest of Dean, the Coldwell Rocks, and have a slow run along the River Wye to Monmouth, and visit Tintern Abbey, and then our meeting was to finally break up. Accordingly I was up at 6.30am, went and called Henry up, and found that James had been up sometime. We joined him and us three wandered around the Docks until breakfast time. We went by the first train over the Severn Bridge to Lydney, and then on and on for miles through the Forest of Dean, a beautiful ride through beautiful scenery to Lydbrook. Here the scenery was very fine. The place seemed to have been built at the foot of a cluster of hills and valleys. Some of the houses looked as if built on the hillside. We went over a viaduct that spanned a very fine valley. We alighted at a station and found we were in the Wye Valley.
The path to the Coldwell Rocks and Symonds Yat, or Gate, led alongside the railway. Then we crossed three fields, all uphill, picking blackberries and chatting together. The atmosphere was lovely. The sun shone so bright and the birds sang to us and it was very beautiful. The fields ended in a lane, Bicknor Lane. Here were some cottages and gardens with fruit trees. A boy was up in a plum tree shaking the fruit down. We helped ourselves to a nice lot of fruit, paying the lad for them. We continued our walk up this lane for some distance (we had now walked about one and a half miles), then turned into a gateway and up a very steep field. Here James began to show signs of breaking down, and declared that he could not go up that hill. But by dint of arguing and pulling, Henry and myself on either side, we managed to get him up and then on to the path which leads through a wood, and we were on the top of the Coldwell Rocks, of a horseshoe shape. Some of them were standing up and detached from the main rocks, some 300 to 400 feet high. The path was level and below ran the River Wye. The view of the country beyond was very fine. We went out on to some of the big boulders and enjoyed the view.
Continuing the path it culminated in Symonds Yat, a big perpendicular rock 500 feet high, almost upright. I wanted James to come and rest on the seat placed on top of the rock and enjoy the view, which Henry and I did, but he would not, preferring to walk on as it was all downhill. What a panorama met our view of the country all around, and hills and valleys, woods and fields and downs, with the River winding in and out like a stream of silver for miles and miles.
After thoroughly enjoying the view we made our way down to the village at the bottom, a rough steep downhill road. Here we were solicited to hire a boat for a row down the river to Monmouth, some five miles. I hired the boat for three at 1.30pm. it was now about 12.40pm. Not having seen anything of James we enquired in the village of everyone we ment of him. I began to get quite concerned, being the responsible agent. At last I caught sight of him about half a mile up the river and glad I was. He had gone on and on from the Yat down the road until it landed him in a farmyard. James was quite done up so I took him into the first pub, called for something to eat. Plenty to drink, nothing to eat. Biscuits and cheese, no. Bread and butter, no, the baker had not called yet. Nothing in the house.
I left him with a glass of ale. Said he would have a rest and then find another place for something to eat. I wanted him to come with us in the boat that I had hired, but he wasn’t coming – he’d stop there and come on by train. I expatiated on the beauty of the river, the rocks and hills, the lovely sail. To no purpose. So I arranged for him to come on by train 3.18, and meet him at Monmouth station. So Henry and self had to go by ourselves down the river. We had a most lovely sail – the best I should think in England. We were between towering rocks on either side covered with verdure.
Going further on, then gave place to meadows and woods on either side coming down to the waters edge, with cattle standing knee deep in the water. Just like a picture, and there was a continuous change of scenery. We passed little islands, some water fowl and we saw a fine salmon jump clear of the water and dive again into it. He was a fine fellow. Henry said he had never had such a beautiful sail before. It was a lovely afternoon and on and on we went until we arrived at Monmouth. It took us one and a quarter hours. Having plenty of time we walked through the town to the station. Here we waited for James’ train. When it arrived I had a rare job to pressure him to get out. . It was a Mid Wales train, and that was the only argument that induced him to get out. Then we had to get him over a bridge to our train on another platform. We managed to get him in and we went to Tintern Abbey. James had not been able to get anything to eat, and he decided to stop at Tintern station. Isn’t the Wye Valley lovely? Our train ran down alongside the river and the foliage on the banks ran for 100 yards on the banks and was very fine. James thought that he might get something to eat outside, but we walked quite a while before we came to a place. He therefore could get nothing. “Teas provided” was stuck outside some cottages. “Can we have some tea, Miss?” “Very sorry, Sir, but the fire is out and it will take half an hour to boil the kettle.” We decided not to wait.
In the village we found a place and had a nice tea. We utilized some sandwiches that Frank had provided me with, as getting about is hungry work. James would not have them at the Yat, saying that they were warm. Going on through the village at the banks of the Wye, which was much broader than at Monmouth, we came to the old Abbey. As we stood close to it we counted six valleys branching from it, covered with beautiful autumn foliage and tinted with a great variety of colour. Having had a good eyeful we made our way back. I purchased a view of the Wye at Symonds Yat. We then called at a pub and they put a pint of cider in a bottle and sold us some bread and cheese. Henry bottled off another pint, and a native informed us that they sold the best cider in the neighbourhood. When we came to the station James was very glad, being unable to get any refreshment. We had not time to visit the Wyndcliff and so we came on to Chepstow. James had in the meantime decided to go back with Henry to Bristol via the Severn Tunnel that same evening instead of coming back with me to Sharpness, saying he would rest in Bristol before going on to Shield Eley’s at Tortworth Farm for a few days. So at Chepstow station we parted, they going to Bristol, whilst I went back to Sharpness.
I had half an hour to wait for a train to take me to Lydney, so I strolled into the town. It did not seem much of a town, and so I caught the last train up. It was a Great Western, Swansea to London train. I changed at Lydney for a Severn Bridge train for Sharpness and arrived there alright.
Thus ended a glorious day, pleasant in the sunshine and balmy breezes, and a fitting following of the two days of the Great Meeting. Being the only one staying at Sharpness I was again made much of, and spent a very pleasant evening with Frank, and we retired to rest after family worship.
Chapter Eight: Rambles on my own
I was up betimes the next morning 20 September 1900. Took a walk before breakfast down to the river as far as I could go on the pier at the entrance of the Docks, then round the Docks before breakfast. A telegram from James saying he was worse and decided to go home, and would I bring down his bag and hat which he left at Sharpness. Niece Katie wanting to go to Bristol, we decided to go by train. So we left Sharpness by the 10.40 train. We had to wait at Berkeley Road station for the main line train from Gloucester to Bristol. We here joined to Berkeley friends, Mrs. King and Mr. Groves, who had bought our old house and business at Berkeley. We passed the time chatting about the old town and its doings, until we arrived at Bristol, which we did just before noon.
In the station yard we found James, Henry and sister Emily waiting for us. I gave James his bag and hat. I had my cap which he had worn all the previous day and at 12.30pm James left Bristol for Ryde, Isle of Wight. He was very poorly, leg weak and painful, his hand puffed up, and I really saw that it was the best thing for him to do. So we bid him goodbye, and he said that it would be his last visit to Gloucestershire.
Emily, Henry and I adjourned to Henry’s for dinner, and then stayed all the afternoon. Henry and I went to Bartons photographers and purchased the Bristol views in this book. Then we went down to a warehouse in Broadmead and bought some uppers and leather to make Henry a pair of boots. After tea Emily went home and we arranged to follow her later, Henry and Alice, self and Mrs. Clous, to spend the evening, which we did.
Of course we had to tell our adventures and in the middle of it I said I could easily have walked from Thornbury to Berkeley, in fact hopped it there on one leg and hopped back on the other. We were laughing and chatting together and in the middle of it Henry jumped up and said “Here goes the Thornbury Hop”, and hopped and hopped all around the room, we roaring with laughter. We had a very pleasant evening. When we came out, I can’t tell the reason, but Mrs. Clous hopped nearly into Whiteladies Road, we laughing at her antics.
Next morning I helped Henry a bit in his shed after breakfast. He went off with Uncle Wood to see about poor Harry’s affairs, as one of the Insurance Offices was reasdy to pay out the sum under their liability to the executrix, Mrs. Harry, some £500. Afterwards we went to Holborns, photographers, for the picture of the group. Of course they were not ready. We had dinner at 12 o’clock. I packed up my things, Henry came with me to the station, and I left Bristol for Charfield, Tortworth and Sharpness.
I got out at Charfield and had a lovely walk to the farm, picking blackberries and sauntering quietly in the afternoon sun. I received a hearty welcome from cousin Shield and Minnie. During milking time I wandered about the fields and orchard and had a nice time. After tea Shield had an engagement to speak at a tea meeting in Iorn Acton, and he rode there on his bike. I left the farm at about 7.00 pm, walked to Charfield station in the dark, and caught a train to Sharpness and arrived there in good time for supper and family worship.
Next morning I had a good otter over the Docks , the Plantation, the garden, and up to Allan Marling’s until dinner time, and then started for Berkeley and Peddington to see cousin Ernest Eley at the Park Farm, going there via the great Park. I had to wait at Berkeley station for Allan’s son Lancie, who was going with me, who was coming from Gloucester where he went to school. During the interval of waiting I walked around Tintock, a wood close by the station, until I came to the Old Rheim (a sluggish stream we boys used to frequent) which I crossed on stepping stones, just like we used to do, and went up to the top of Bailey’s Hill. It used to be a ploughed field all round – now it is grass. Walked around the tree at the top and had a good eyeful of the old scene, went from there onto the railway and back to the station.
On arrival of the train Lancie joined me and we went across the fields to Berkeley, passing “Wickselm” which looked smaller than it used to do, into the 4th Lise (or Lease), 3rd, 2nd and 1st Lise. How strangely familiar it all looked – those fields, where we, as boys, used to play together. We walked on through the town, called in at Jimmy Oliver’s old shop and had some of the tarts, but they did not seem the same, and on down the High Street, or Long Street as it used to be called (but it is not long). Here we were treated to an old sight and smell, Lord Fitzhardinge’s team of carthorses hauling timber down to his timber yard, a very large elm tree on a timber wagon. The horses were stopped at the top of the hill, the Carter adjusted a broad iron shoe to the wheel, the wagon was started and we smelt a very old smell from the friction of the shoe and the stones. I haven’t smelt that smell since I was a boy. It did put me in mind of old bygones.
Passing through “The Eaves” by the Kennels, we were treated to the music of the foxhounds therein, all howling together in chorus. That also was an old sound. We passed through Ham, where I noticed that the Common was all railed in, up the field leading to the Great Park, through the wicket gate in the wall, and we were inside. Had a look at the old cradle tree on the way. We were delighted – hundreds of deer about and that was another old sight. It is a beautiful old place. We made our way down to some sheds under the Park Wall. On the other side was Ernest Eley’s orchard. We managed to get astride the wall, but it was an 8 or 9 foot drop. It was no trouble in our boyhood days to drop that distance, but I was no longer young and did not consider it prudent to try it. It was quite another thing for Lancie. I was 56 and he was 12. He landed on the other side easy enough and left me perched on the wall while he fetched a short ladder. It was not very comfortable and I thought he was gone a long time. I had arranged with nephew Frank Marling to meet him at Ernest’s for tea and so I was not surprised to see him and Lancie coming through the orchard to me. But no ladder. Frank explained that cousin Ernest had gone to Bristol for the day and Mrs. Ernest and the youngsters were in their Dudds. Would I excuse her not asking me in. Of course there was every excuse at a farmhouse on a Saturday afternoon.
They helped themselves to some apples, the trees were loaded, and then gave Lancie a lift over the wall and we decided to walk across the Park on to Bevington – Frank to cycle around the road and meet us there at Mrs. Mabbitt’s for tea. It was a lovely walk on the short greensward, the old chestnut trees, and the deer grazing around us. When we came to the wall we again mounted some steps, through the Wicket Gate, turned sharp around to the right, through two or three fields which landed us in Mr. William King’s farmyard. They were milking the cows and we saw a real live dairymaid milking one. We passed on and came to Mrs. Marbitt’s house and found she had gone to Brighton and would not be back for a week. I wanted a livener in the shape of tea, and Frank having joined us we went to a little general shop against Mrs. Barton’s farmhouse and yard. “Mrs, can you get us some tea?” “Sorry, sir, but the fire is out and it would take some time to get it.”
That was no good, we came back and went down the lane to a pub. The landlady undertook to get us some tea. Whilst she prepared it we went to the top of Bevington Hill. We had a beautiful view of the country lying around between us and the Severn – The Vale of Berkeley. The hill did not seem so steep or so high as in our boyhood days. We then came back and had a good tea which we much enjoyed, the people knowing Frank. As the sun was now setting Frank mounted his machine for home and we walked back to Berkeley the way we had come in the shade of the evening. It was nearly dark before we left the Park, but it was very beautiful.
We went straight on the Berkeley station to catch the 7.20 train, but found that it did not stop on Saturday evenings. We had to do Shank’s pony to Sharpness, down Moses Walk Hill, skirting Tintock Wood, passed Sibwell House, on through Wanswell by the old Salmon pub, turning to the left to Sharpness, and arriving there rather tired. But after a good feed was ready again.
Next day was Sunday, that day of days, I went to Chapel in the morning. The preacher was a local from Bristol, the pastor being away. I enjoyed the singing and we had a nice time. In the afternoon I took the service at the little Wesleyan Chapel for my old friend Mr. Thomas King of Berkeley, and again in the evening. After service at Frank’s we had some nice singing, and spending together a very pleasant day.
And now my visit was drawing to a close as I was leaving next morning. I was up betimes before breakfast, went up to the Plantation, afterwards having a parting look at the river, the entrance to the Docks, a good look round, a parting yarn with sister Martha, an early dinner, a goodbye to all, and left by the 1.30 train to Charfield, having to wait at Berkeley Road station for the Bristol train. I went out into the road and had another good look at the Cotswold Hills and the country round. Arriving at Charfield station I again repeated the lovely walk to cousin Shield Eley’s farm just in time to get in the cows for milking. I could not assist in that work but I sauntered down the orchard. The trees were loaded with apples. The calmness, the quiet, the apples, the fields, the blackberries, all appealed to me. I love to listen to the singing of the birds, wander around the fields, see the rabbits start out of the hedges and to gather the wild flowers. Then we had a look at the cattle and saw that they were all right for the night, spent a pleasant evening with cousin Shield and Minnie and after family worship retired to bed.
I was up betimes next (Tuesday) morning, helped to get the cows for milking, wandered around during that operation, then we went rabbit shooting. We bagged one only, missing two or three others. After breakfast went with Shield to some fields behind Sir G. Jenkinson’s mansion. He had rented the grass for some months and the cattle grazing there needed looking at. We had a nice ride there and back behind a horse Shield had, named Kruger, which he had not long purchased.
After dinner I went blackberrying until 4 o’clock when we had to get ready to go to a public tea and meeting at Mount Pleasant Chapel. We had a very good time. I was one of the speakers with my old friend Mr. T. King and Mr. Bennett of Lorridge Farm, near Berkeley (Minnie’s brother) and others. I saw Miss Dove afterwards, whose father was Pastor there for so many years. When I was visiting Tortworth some three or four years ago the apples were so abundant that she put the fallings out on the road side for tramps or anyone to take away, being an abstainer would not make or sell them to make cider. I asked her if the fallings would share the same fate this year. If so, instead would she give them to me for our poor children of Stanhope Street/Euston Road Sunday Evening School. Miss Dove did so with pleasure and later sent me two sacks of apples which I gave to the children on Sunday evening to their great surprise.
Next day (Wednesday) I was up early and wanted to pick a nice lot of blackberries to take back with me, which I did. About 15 lbs. It was a beautiful morning and as I picked the blackberries a robin came and sang to me and followed me along the hedge. From 6.45 to 8.00 am I was at it, the air was beautiful and fresh, the morning sun so invigorating and bright, the Chorus of bird song and everything so placid and quiet, I did enjoy it and it gave me a good appetite for breakfast. After that meal and morning worship we went and removed cattle troughs from one field to another. I again had an hour at the berries and again after dinner until we had to get ready for a tea and meeting at Woodford, a village between Newport and Stone at a small Baptist Chapel. I was particularly delighted because it was an offshoot from Thornbury Chapel, for which Chapel I have thanked God many times.
A gentleman from Thornbury took the chair at the Public Meeting after the tea. I was one of the speakers with Mr. T. King, cousin Shield, and others. We had a delightful time. When we came out of it, it began to rain, a dark, dismal night, that fine rain that wetted you enough before you know it. We had walked there and we had to walk back. We turned down a lane from the main road across some fields, dark, damp and dismal. I could not see the path, I nearly fell over a calf. Cousin Shield just missed an old horse that was standing still in our path. We had a lively time slipping and sliding about in the mud and grass and especially then getting over the gates. I was glad to see some lights again and to feel the warmth of the fire. I must confess that I was glad that I did not live at the farm in the winter. But we have to take the rough with smooth and it is a blessing that as a rule things are more smooth than rough.
Next day (Thursday) was my last day. I had begun to feel that I wanted to get back home again. I had been knocking about for a fortnight and was getting tired of being away from home. In the morning I gathered a bushel of apples to bring home with me, Shield’s foreman gave me an enormous marrow (it served us for five dinners and it was good), I bought two cockerels for eating. We killed and plucked them, packed up the apples, etc, in two baskets, and after dinner I bid Shield and the farm goodbye. Minnie drove me to Charfield station.
Just after 2 o’clock I joined the Midland train for Stonehouse, then went on to Stroud. I had to wait there for two hours for a G.W.R. train for London. I explored Stroud and got some tea. I joined the train on its arrival and had a pleasant journey home, arriving at 1 Air Street, Piccadilly, at about 11 o’clock, apples, blackberries, fowls and all – glad to be home again, to be by my own fireside and sleep in my own bed, for after all, no matter how kind friends are, there is no place like home.
On looking back at my holiday it is a source of pleasure to me that I had spent such a pleasant time with my three brothers. We shall never meet again in like manner in this world and I will repeat that may we all meet together again with those gone before in the next.’