A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
Why should I want to assemble biographical material concerning the life of an elderly man who I knew as a friend over thirty years ago? I suppose the answer is linked to the fact that I recently came across a letter written by his daughter, Mary Davis, back in 1980, a year before he died. At the time I was twenty-two-years-old and serving my first year as a Police Constable. She wrote:
‘My father wishes me to thank you for your letter, he was so pleased to receive it and to know that you had not forgotten him. He is now unfortunately unable to write. Last July he became ninety four and since last March has had to use a Zimmer frame for walking and this he finds hard work and can only manage short distances in the house, and he feels frustrated and depressed at times… Needless to say if you ever get to Bristol, Father would be more than pleased to see you – but even a brief note would cheer him, he is still at Terrill House…’
Percy and I had been great friends. I remember writing a story about him at school. As I look around my house I find lots of mementoes – a biscuit barrel made from a First World War propeller, a table for which he carved the top (since given to his nephew’s family), a carved paper knife, a green jug, a vase, another ornamental jug and a book entitled ‘Pageant of the Century’, a 1933 Christmas gift to him from his daughter Mary and her husband, Jim. There are also those curiosities that filled the imagination when I was a young boy – a lighter made of a copper tube with a half penny coin stuck in each end, one dated 1914 and the other 1918. Another was the gift of a Bakelite Bryant & May Ship’s Lifeboat Matches, which still contains a single match. I had obviously tried to light the others! Other items included photographs of his family and a few postcards – the remnant of a once fabulous collection belonging to his wife’s aunt, Miss Webb of Gloucester. Most of the other postcards were dispersed or became dog-eared when I was a young lad. When the collection first came into my eager hands the cards were arranged in lovely Victorian albums but they are long gone. There is also a Civil Defence Arm Band but the accompanying whistle with its yellow cord mysteriously disappeared from my room at King’s College Hostel in Vincent Square. There is also a pipe cleaner in a black leather pouch bearing the coat of arms of Nailsworth.
How I came by all these items will become more evident as the story unfolds but I would like to begin with an explanation of how we became acquainted. We left Cambridge, Glos, in 1961 when I was only three years old and we eventually moved into our new house in Fewster Road, Nailsworth after eighteen months at Barton End. How we met Mr Yarnold is not now remembered but it is likely that my mother took me into Yarnold’s Outfitters in Bridge Street, to make a purchase – perhaps of my first school uniform. She must have mentioned that her grandmother, Emily Yarnold, had married Ernest Eley, a farmer who spent his final years at Nibley House, north Nibley. Obviously the connection was made for Grandma Eley was Percy Yarnold’s aunt, making me his first cousin twice removed. Percy always spoke of me as his third cousin.
By this time Mr Yarnold had actually retired from the business and it was run by Mr Hanrahan and his assistant, Philip Sawyer, who later succeeded as proprietor. However, back in the mid 1960s Mr Yarnold still lurked in the shop. In many ways he must have been a walking advertisement for the business because he was always immaculately turned out, normally in a smart three piece suit, overcoat and shiny shoes. I seem to remember him wearing a watch and chain and this is confirmed by the fact that I have a battered silver sovereign case, which would have been attached to the chain. When he went outside he had his trilby hat, which was raised regularly to the ladies that he met. Certainly the Mr Yarnold that I knew was a smartly dressed gentleman with neatly parted white hair.
Gradually Mr Yarnold became part of our family and after a while he became ‘Uncle Percy’. He visited our home in Fewster Road and I visited ‘Ivydene’ at Watledge. Mrs Yarnold was a proper little lady who used to refer to me as ‘a naughty boy’. She would sit in a big chair by the dining room fire with her back to the window with its panoramic view over Nailsworth. I remember her stiff white hair tinged with yellow.
‘Ivydene’ was positioned on the side of the valley with a garden running down from the front of the house nearly to the banks of the Little Avon at Egypt. At the rear was Watledge Lane. It was a sunny house, facing south, bathed in sun, with windows shielded by blinds in summer. There were fine views over the town with the former railway yard in the foreground. The large garden, with its tidy sheds and numerous steps, led from the neat walled terrace in front of the house. There were lots of vegetables and various fruit trees. I remember the acquisition of a new section of the garden at the lower end which gave access to the town and a new vehicular access. Previously access was only really possible from Watledge Lane.
Entering the property through a little gateway from Watledge Lane one left the street and entered a different world full of lush flowers and plants. On the north side of the house was a small lean-to kitchen and it was through the kitchen that one normally entered into the house. As I mentioned Mrs Yarnold sat in the dining room where she surveyed her highly polished mahogany dining table . From the dining room one entered the hall and from there into a cold and largely unused sitting room. I cannot remember any of the furnishings in this room other than a set of small figures which were displayed on a small table. Upstairs were bedrooms and above those, wonderful attics which seemed to be packed with all sorts of fascinating objet. I remember the smell of stored apples and I can nearly visualize today those old battered trunks lined with pages from old newspapers. One of these trunks was supposed to contain Mr Yarnold’s naval uniform but I cannot remember seeing it. There were many, many items there. On one occasion I recall being shown some family photographs. I am sure he told me that one of these was of his father and another of his grandfather. I often wonder what became of these photographs especially the latter that would have been of my great, great grandfather, James Henry Yarnold, a carpenter of Gloucester.
How were we friends? Well he used to take me out for walks and very long walks they were too. Through Uncle Percy I came to know every lane and every footpath in the locality. In fact this elderly man, by now in his eighties, gave me an enduring regard for the Nailsworth valleys and a curiosity about its people and their history. We explored every hamlet and we stopped and spoke to many many people. They all knew him from his days in the shop. We would visit all the beautiful areas that radiated out from the town centre. One day it might be along the Pensile Road, around the Devil’s Elbow and on to Longford Lake. Sometimes we turned up to Minchinhampton or perhaps we would take in Box and reurn via the ‘W’. Another day it would be Avening or perhaps Shortwood, Rockness, Old Tetbury Lane or Washpools. As a little boy I must have walked miles and miles and miles. In fact I came to know the Nailsworth area so well that I spent most of my spare time during teenage years pursuing local historical research. School holidays were absorbed in walking and talking to so many of the people I had been introduced to by Uncle Percy when I was a small boy.
Strangely Mrs Yarnold rarely ventured out, probably because she was some years older than her husband. However, Uncle Percy would keep in contact with Flo’s sister who lived at Gannicox near Stroud. She always seemed delighted to see us and welcomed us with an array of cakes and goodies. Perhaps I over indulged because I became her ‘cakey boy’ On another occasion I can remember being taken up to Minchinhampton to meet Uncle Percy’s nephew, Tony Yarnold, an army man.
Mr Yarnold spent time at our home and I can remember he and his wife coming to spend Christmas Day with us. Her cigarette ends were the subjects of illicit experimentation!
Besides gardening and everything connected with Nailsworth Percy Yarnold also had an interest in water divining. This he shared with members of my maternal grandfather’s family. My father had an unusual book in his possession entitled ‘The Theory of Water Finding with Advice Thereon by a Professional’, namely Benjamin Tompkins and it was published in June 1892. Dad had inscribed the book, ‘From P. Yarnold to W.J. Barton’.
Occasionally Percy Yarnold took me up to the Lawn at Forest Green to watch the Rovers play football. This was not my favourite pastime and I seemed to be looking elsewhere when the goals were scored. For a time Percy was President of the Supporters’ Club and I often wonder what he would make of today’s professional football at ‘The New Lawn’.
In 1969 Mrs Yarnold died. At the time I was about to commence my studies at Marling School and a school friend was her great nephew, Philip Berry, a farmer’s son from Painswick. From now on life would be very different for Percy. I cannot remember the funeral service or even the circumstances of her death. All I can recall is visiting her grave at Forest Green Congregational Cemetery.
‘Florence Marian Yarnold, born December 6th 1881, died August 22nd 1969. A loving wife and mother.’
Soon ‘Ivydene’ was up for sale and that is how I came to acquire so many Yarnold effects. The whole house had to be cleared because Percy had been persuaded to move into a bed-sit over the garage at the home of Mary and Jim in Horfield, Bristol. Eventually the day came for Percy to move to 2, Queen’s Drive and from now on our friendship was considerably changed. Of course we continued to correspond and I had quite a collection of Bristol postcards. I used to have a number of his letters and also guide books of the churches that were situated near to his new home. There was also the newspaper souvenir for the return of the S.S. Great Britain. We visited him in Bristol but things had changed. He obviously returned to Nailsworth for a visit in October 1972 for the Georgian Parish Magazine recorded the following snippet of news:
‘Mr. Yarnold was with us at the Parish Communion one Sunday last month – her is remembered by many as a well-known resident of Nailsworth in former years.’
In 1976, aged ninety years, Percy decided to return to live in Nailsworth and he managed to acquire a maisonette in Park Road. This could not last for long. Time had moved on and his health was now failing. By then I was preparing to set off for University in London so there was very little that I could do to help him settle. Eventually the inevitable struck and Percy returned to Bristol where he was given a place at Terrill House, off Whiteladies Road. It was here that he died on 25th November 1981, aged ninety-five-years.
At the time I had no car and I can remember nothing of the funeral or of his burial at Forest Green. Returning to Mary’s letter at the beginning of this article I do feel rather guilty as I only visited Terrill House on a couple of occasions. Perhaps it is that failure to keep in proper contact with an old friend that has prompted me to pour all this out today.
Looking through my Yarnold family history I have discovered some notes that I must have assembled when I was still a schoolboy. I have decided to blend these together with other material to assemble a brief outline of his life anterior to my acquaintance with him.
Percy Yarnold was born on 30th July 1886, the third son of William and Ella Yarnold of Thornbury. His father was a watchmaker and jeweller and I have a photograph of ‘The Noted House’ in the High Street, which was the business premises. William Yarnold had opened what was later described as ‘a successful business’ in 1880. Previously he had served his apprenticeship with W.C. Mann of Gloucester. Ella Yarnold was born Ella Riddiford and she saw the first light of day at Caerwent near Newport. Her father became a grocer in Ashley Hill, Bristol. Both William and Ella enjoyed music – he was a Thornbury Gleeman and his wife would accompany herself on a ukelele. William Yarnold was also a keen churchman and served for a time as a sidesman at Thornbury Parish Church.
Having been apprenticed to his father, Percy left home before his youngest sister, Dorothy, was born in 1904. He moved to Watchet where he lived for three and a half years. I have a postcard dated January 2nd 1905 sent by ‘L.T.’ of Falfield to Percy Yarnold at Watchet. I also have another dated December 24th 1907 from ‘H.A.G.’ which is again address to ‘Mr. P. Yarnold, Bank House, Swain Street, Watchet’ and was postmarked ‘Urchfont’: ‘Just a card to wish you a very happy Xmas and a prosperous New Year. Are you staying at Watchett(sic) for Xmas if so I suppose you won’t forget to get another rabbit for… so long’
Percy later moved to Plymouth and then on to Exeter. Another postcard is postmarked ‘Dursley May 15th 1908’ and shows an exterior view of north Nibley Parish Church. It is addressed to Messrs J… & Co Ltd, of 174 Fore Street, Exeter’ – ‘Don’t think you have had a card like this one before. I believe you know the spot. I hope you are well. A & U wish to be remembered to you. Yours P. – Dawn Aren’t uncle and I getting giddy.”
A card followed in June showing a view of Stinchcombe Church. Only part of the message is now visible: ‘We had a glorious time yesterday. G. back to Nibley. We had great fun coming down the Peak. I rather expected…Pa are stiff today… quite alright they started from here about 8.30…late for them to be out motoring eh? Look out for a lecture in next letter from home…some P.C’s to L.P.H…Reg…Well au revoir.’
Eventually Percy Yarnold settled in Nailsworth where he opened an outfitting business in part of what had been John Morris & Sons, Waterloo House in George Street. The shop traded as ‘Yarnold & Son’. At first he lived in digs at a house in the Old Bristol road belonging to one of the churchwardens at St George’s Church. This was probably Mr. Cox as the other Churchwarden at the time was A.E. Smith, the Solicitor, who lived at ‘The Hollies’.
In 1912 Percy married Florence Marian Webb, the daughter of John Augustus Webb, a farmer of Edge. They purchased ‘Ivydene’, Watledge, where they settled until Mrs. Yarnold’s death in 1969. Florence was some years older than Percy having been born on 6th December 1881. In later years Percy would describe the two of them walking to Edge and to other places far afield.
During the year after their marriage their only child, Mary, was born and I have a postcard sent to them by Floss from Weston-Super-Mare – ‘Just heard the news from Fred. Congratulations. Hope both are doing well.’ During the 1913-14 season Percy played in the Chamberlain’s Factory Football Team.
I have some notes from a school essay that I wrote about Percy Yarnold and these notes form the basis of the following section.
In 1914 Percy enrolled under the Derby Plan and was reviewed by General French at Sodbury. Later he joined the Royal Navy at Bristol but this raised difficulties as Percy was regarded as a ‘deserter’ by the Army. Eventually the matter was sorted and he was dispatched to the Crystal Palace. He gave me a wooden ditty box with his brass plate on it which he told me was given to him at the Crystal Palace (since given to his nephew’s family). From here he joined S.S. Nirana which was apparently the first ship from which aircraft were launched. Percy became a ‘pusher-off’ and on one occasion he was court martialled as a result of a sea plane catching fire after take-off. Fortunately for him his ‘flight’ was not actually on duty at the time so he escaped penalty.
I have a further note that he acted as a commissioned officer when some official banking took place but I cannot now remember what that was all about. Another tantalising detail refers to a time when he applied for seventeen hours leave when he was aboard a ship at Rosyth. When he returned to the port the ship had gone so he ended up on the depot ship H.M.S. Ganges. He was given an armed escort and was taken before the commanding officer and then the Captain of the Ship. The Captain apparently apologised to him but he still felt that he had to dock him two days pay. Next day Percy was returned to S.S. Nirana. I also have a note that whilst Percy was in Rosyth the first seaplane landed there.
In October 1917 Percy was stationed at Dover where he performed duty as a ‘wader’ and launched aeroplanes up to three tons in weight. He told me that his report on his discharge from the Royal Navy at the end of the war commended him for ‘excellent conduct’.
After the Great War Percy returned to Nailsworth where his wife and a younger brother were running the outfitting business. I have a clothes hanger which proudly records ‘Yarnold & Son, Outfitters, Boot Factors’. I also have a receipt dated 10th December 1926 for the Horsley Charity. The letter head records’ Yarnold & Son, Clothiers, Hatters and Outfitters, Agents for Aertex cellular Clothing and Two Steeples Hosiery and Underwear. Boys’ and Gents’ Boots, Shoes and Leggings. Every description of Gents’ Clothing made to order.’ This receipt was for eight overcoats to be supplied to various deserving men in Horsley Parish for the cost of £10.
Advertisement in the Nailsworth Town Guide c. 1950:
‘YARNOLD & SON – Gentlemen’s Outfitters and Boot Factors Let US supply your next Best or Business Suit. WE SPECIALIZE IN SPORTS WEAR – A big variety of COLLARS and NECKWARE always on view. Our stock is at all times Up-to-date. George Street, Nailsworth’
August Bank Holiday 1931 saw terrible flooding in Nailsworth and many properties were badly damaged. Percy’s shop was partially flooded but very little stock was actually soiled so he was only to claim £5 for damages. These floods were often described by Percy.
During the Second World War Percy was a member of the Nailsworth Civil Defence and also the A.R.P. His arm band and whistle were given to me by him.As we walked together along the Pensile Road he would describe his patrols there during the war.
During the 1960s Percy Yarnold retired from the business in George Street and it was then run by his assistant, Mr. Hanrahan. Percy loved Nailsworth, walking and was for some years the President of Forest Green Rovers Supporters’ Club. After his wife died on 22nd August 1969 he moved to Bristol where he lived with his daughter, Mary’s family at 2 Queen’s Drive, Bishopston. He pined for Nailsworth and at the age of ninety returned to Nailsworth, taking up residence in a maisonette in Park Road. It proved too much and he moved back to Bristol. He died at Terrill House, off Whiteladies Road, on 25th November 1981. He was laid to rest with Flo at Forest Green Cemetery.
Percy Yarnold was an able wood carver and I have a paper knife carved by him and his nephew, Anthony, has a table that he made with a richly carved top.
In conclusion my elderly cousin was a tremendous formative influence on my childhood. Sadly, like all elderly people who we become attached to when we are young, the memories of them weaken and we forget so much. Looking back over the years I regret now having disposed of his many letters and that rich collection of postcards from Flo’s aunt, Miss Webb. More importantly I do wish that I had kept in closer contact after he had moved to Queens Drive. I still have a snapshot of his brother, Vic Yarnold’s house in Chulmleigh, Devon. There is a message on the reverse: ‘I hoe that you are well (and enjoying your) new school’.
Without doubt I am sure that my abiding interest in both family and local history results from my friendship with Percy Yarnold.