Mooching with Seymour Henry:
Forty years ago this summer (2022), my grandfather, Seymour Henry Gulliver, died aged eighty-two. He was born at the beginning of the twentieth century at Ufton-on-the-Hill, Warwickshire, the seventh child and one of the younger sons of a large family of thirteen children, eleven of whom survived into adulthood. Seymour was extremely proud of his father, George, an agricultural labourer, and his beautiful, brilliant mother, Bertha (neé Tidmarsh), who lived to the age of ninety-seven. As an infant, Seymour became famous in Ufton because, before he could walk, he shuffled off down the steep hill and along the main road on his first adventurous expedition and had to be returned on the carrier’s cart. This propensity remained with him throughout his life since he loved what he called “mooching” and continued to do this right up to the end of his life. He enjoyed three holidays in his last year, including his particular choice of one in Dorset, where he could undertake a pilgrimage in the steps of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. His Gulliver forebears were originally a prosperous Banbury family of innkeepers. There are still tombs in the levelled churchyard of the Parish Church near where the original Banbury Cross once stood. There is also a ‘memorial’ stone to the Gullivers, whose name was used by Jonathan Swift for his three-volume work of satire, which later became the children’s book Gulliver’s Travels in later centuries. According to some local historians, Swift most likely spent a lot of time at the White Lion (Inn) at Ufton in the company of the real Lemuel Gulliver and persuaded the innkeeper to allow him to use his name as a nomme de plume to avoid the Crown’s censorship or other punishments. The sketch in the frontispiece of the original work (shown below) could be a portrait of the genuine Gulliver.
By the 1830s, the Gullivers and the Tidmarshes, Seymour’s maternal ancestors, were healthy farming folk from ‘Banburyshire’ (now Oxfords/ Northants/ Warwicks). Throughout his life, Seymour delighted in telling many tales about his maternal grandfather, Henry Tidmarsh (b. Great Rollright, c. 1840), who had lost his arm in a threshing machine. He was also legendary as the man who would go out in all weather with a shire horse and chain to assist the coaches on a challenging hill on the Leamington to Banbury road. In one case, he saved the life of an heir to a titled family whose mother perished in a snow storm. On a visit to the area late in life, Seymour was able to point out his grandmother’s cottage in the village of Rollright and the graves of other well-known Tidmarshes.
The Gullivers had been involved in the struggle of the Warwickshire agricultural labourers from the 1860s, led by the Methodist lay-preacher and later founder of the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union, Joseph Arch of nearby Tysoe (pictured above). A public house in Barford, near Stratford, is named after him. Vinson Gulliver, born in Oxfordshire in 1833, had married Hannah Green, George’s mother, from Wormleigton in Warwickshire in 1855. According to recorded family folklore, he was an itinerant preacher who marched with Joseph Arch of Tysoe through the Warwickshire villages of Wellesbourne and Barford, later becoming the first secretary of the Warwickshire Agricultural Labourers’ Union in the 1860s.
Bertha Tidmarsh met her husband when working as a maid at the Chamberlains’ House at Ufton-on-the-Hill near Leamington. The Chamberlains owned the Harbury cement works. George Gulliver, born in Ufton in 1862 (pictured below), was a coachman with the Chamberlains. He used to drive them around in a coach with two horses.
The Family at Ufton-on-the-hill:
Seymour, the seventh child, was just an ordinary boy, nearly two years older than Jessie, who therefore knew him well as they grew up together, playing outside. She was born the year Queen Victoria died, 1901. Her earliest memory was from when she was about two and a half, and the Gulliver family was living at Ufton. She sat on the school wall, and the teachers came out and told her to get off because the children couldn’t concentrate with her sitting on the wall. She went home to her mother and asked what concentrate meant, but she couldn’t speak it very well. So her mother told her she could sit on the wall at play-time and dinner-time or during holidays, but she mustn’t sit on the wall when the children were in school because they couldn’t concentrate when she was playing on the wall. She thought that was a bit hard for one two and a half years old. So she used to go around Ufton with her elder brothers, Seymour and Arnold, and they’d play around Harbury Cement Works. Her brothers once got an old door, put two pieces of wood under it, and used two other pieces for paddles, taking Jessie out on a small brook near the works. Their mother and father were very angry with the boys because they could easily have fallen into the brook and drowned. But, said Jessie, looking back, you know what they say, God looks after children and drunkards! Nevertheless, their mother often told
Jessie also remembered leaving Ufton and going to Wroxall as a child of three. Her father left his job as a coachman at the Chamberlain’s house to work for them instead at Harbury Cement Works. So first, they lived in a rented cottage in Bishops’ Itchington, not far from Ufton. They paid half a crown a week for it in rent. However, the cement works didn’t suit her father because the cement dust got on his chest, and he had to go back onto the London work, riding the coaches between Leamington and London. Jessie could remember how hard up they were at this time. One Sunday, when she was about three or four, she came home from Sunday School, where they’d been reading about Joseph with the coat of many colours. Her mother had bought her brother Arnold a little navy blue coat, and he’d left it on Harbury Cement Works, and she was ever so upset and crying when Jessie went home, and, of course, all Jessie could say to the rest of the family was…
“…he’s lost the coat of many colours! But, it was a job for my mother to get clothes for us in those days, and she liked us to be dressed nicely. I don’t know how she managed to do it, but she did.”
So it was that, with a large and expanding family to feed, in 1904, George accepted an invitation to work on Lord Dugdale’s estate near Wroxall, along the old coaching road running west from Warwick and Leamington. He was under-manager on one of the four estate farms. Seymour’s older brothers were old enough to begin working alongside their father at Wroxall Farm. Vinson, the eldest son, had already left school at twelve to work on a farm near Ufton, looking after cattle, horses and pigs. The Dugdales were very generous to all their labourers, who were given comfortable houses with gardens, and at Christmas, each family would receive a ton of coal and a piece of beef, plus some money for the children’s shoes. In addition, the Dugdales sent a hamper of things for each birth, including coverings with golden embroidery. So now the family felt a lot better off. The only problem was that the children had to walk a mile and a half to school, run by the nearby abbey, for which they received a shoe allowance. Otherwise, they were comfortable enough, even with two more additions to their family. Soon after they moved to Wroxall, Jessie discovered her love of poetry by attending The Band of Hope. This was a temperance society for children, which she began attending when she was between four and five. Even so young, the children had to promise never to drink. To help her understand what this was all about, she had to learn to recite by heart a piece called, The Convict’s Little Jim, which she could still recite, word perfect, nearly ninety years later. However, looking back from 1992, she commented that she had always thought it was a terrible thing to teach a child, with scenes of domestic violence, murder and execution!
Wroxall and World War:
They were still quite poor but relatively happy until George had trouble with the manager over ‘harvest money’ Vinson and Alfred had to work longer hours alongside their father, but only George received the overtime pay when they were paid out. George went to see Lord Dugdale about this, who confirmed the sums and ordered his manager to pay them in full. The manager did this but subsequently did his best to make George’s position as under-manager untenable. Vinson craved the city’s bright lights and found work in the engine sheds at Trafford Park, Manchester, in 1907. His starting wage was just eleven shillings per week, of which eight went on his rent, so he could not send much money home. That left Alfred, aged fourteen, as the only sibling able to bring in a wage, so, when Seymour was about nine, in 1909, the family moved from Wroxall to Walsgrave-on-Sowe, then still in Warwickshire, on the eastern side of Coventry. Although still young, Seymour was old enough to learn lessons about injustice and victimisation, which he applied throughout his working life. Alfred worked on the farm at Wroxall until he was fifteen in 1908, when he went into the Navy, inspired by his uncle, Alfred Tidmarsh, who was also a CPO, having joined in the age of sailing ships. In uniform, Uncle Alfred had visited his sister at Wroxall on leave.
A few months before his death, Seymour revisited all the villages where he had lived and worked as a boy. In addition, he went back to the City of York, and Catterick, where he was stationed during the war. He tried to join the Army in 1917, although he would not be eighteen until the following spring. He was at Catterick Barracks when the influenza epidemic struck, wiping out almost all of the company he had joined. When he wrote to his mother about this, she arrived at the camp gates in Yorkshire, produced his birth certificate and demanded her son back. She took him back to Coventry on the train, so he survived both the war and the epidemic.
Caludon Lodge & Walsgrave-on-Sowe – Between the Wars:
By then, the family had moved to live and work at Caludon Farm near Walsgrave (in 1909), now the site of one of Coventry’s comprehensive schools. They had gone to live at Caludon Lodge, a larger house built in brick, with railings all around it, little holly bushes all around the garden, and a porch in the middle. The kitchen and the front room were at right angles to each other, and there were two passages, one from the front room and one from the kitchen. There was a big yard at the back with a long bench where their mother could put about four bowls for washing. There was a big ‘copper’ (kettle) and a little one. Bertha always had the little one on, and the children used to go and get sticks (for the wood-fired range), so there was always warm water in the big kitchen to wash with. There was a most beautiful garden, with pear trees, plum trees and apple trees with mistletoe growing up one of them:
It was ever so long; it went right down past two houses, and Mr Green eventually took a piece off it and built two houses on it for more farm labourers.
Seymour joined his father and brothers on the farm in Walsgrave with his father and brothers when he left Binley Park elementary school just before the First World War. He later told his daughter, my mother, how he rode on top of the hay-loaded waggons into Coventry, coming into the narrow medieval Spon Street on top of the hay, touching the overhanging eaves of the half-timbered houses on either side. So they had quite a happy time at Walsgrave. They could go to Binley, Wyken or Stoke schools. But Caludon was outside the Parish of Walsgrave (which was still in Warwickshire, outside the Corporation area), so they couldn’t go to the Church of England village school. So, they were sent to Binley Elementary School, which was run by Whitley Abbey, and they found themselves having another two-mile walk to school across the fields, starting early with two sandwiches each to eat on the way. Then they had a school dinner and a meal when they got home at about half past four. Soon after they arrived, Binley Pit was sunk, and a new school had to be built, so Seymour’s last year at school was spent there. On leaving school aged thirteen just before the war, Seymour had gone to work in the offices of nearby Binley Colliery when he was still so young that he needed a stool to reach the telephone.
Returning to Binley Colliery after his ‘adventure’, he went underground as a collier, not just because, as a reserved occupation, it kept him from being conscripted, but also because there was more money to be earned working at the coalface, which he needed to begin married life with Vera Brown, a ribbon-weaver from a long-established village family. They were both very young when they met in 1917. Their wedding took place in Walsgrave Baptist Church in 1918, conducted by Rev. Penry Edwards of Treorchy in the Rhondda, who had recently become the first full-time minister at the chapel and had baptised Vera shortly before. After their marriage, Seymour and Vera set up a home in one of the gardeners’ cottages belonging to the Wakefield Estate. However, Seymour’s decision to work underground was costly, eventually ruining his health.
At the pit, he became involved in the trade union, The Miners’ Federation. In May 1926, Seymour went out on strike and was locked out of the colliery for six months in support of the miners, especially those in South Wales, who worked in difficult places and had their wages cut. He urged his fellow miners to continue their strike in support of the starving Welsh miners, even though this meant privation and an eventual return to work for less pay. There were many miners in Walsgrave at that time, so the Lock-out hit the village hard. Vera had to return to work as a skilled weaver at Cash’s factory, and Seymour took over the housekeeping and looked after their two children. He and the other colliers could only earn money from tree-cutting up at the Coombe, a wooded area on Lord Craven’s estate around the historic Coombe Abbey, the Cravens’ House since the late seventeenth century. The miners earned a little money from the timber they cut, caught rabbits, pinched the odd pheasant and were given scraps from the Abbey kitchens, bowls of dripping and left-overs from banquets held there, which Seymour would bring home. He later helped to settle unemployed miners from South Wales in the village and at the colliery.
School House Lane, Coal & the Blitz on Coventry:
Nevertheless, by 1928, the couple had saved enough to afford a mortgage. That year, the young family moved into their newly-built house in Walsgrave, which that same year had been adopted by the City Corporation, where my mother was born in 1931, by then the youngest of four children, three girls and a boy, who had seven children in all, three girls and three boys. The Gullivers had also become well-known characters in the village, especially in the Baptist Chapel, where Vera was a deacon, as well as in the Co-operative Society and the nascent local Labour Party. Almost as soon as they moved in, their front room became the Headquarters for the Labour Party during the elections, and the bay window was full of posters at these times. Of course, it was in a strategic position, next to the polling station, the Village School, so no one could doubt Vera and Seymour’s allegiances. They helped get the first majority Labour government elected under Ramsay MacDonald in 1928. In 1937 the party swept to power in the City for the first time, beginning its programme of municipal socialism.
As prosperity returned with a boom in Coventry, coal-miners’ wages also improved. However, many chose to desert the pits for cleaner, high-wage jobs in engineering in the city, especially in the car factories and later, during rearmament, the Shadow factories. However, Seymour stuck to his job at the colliery because he liked the economic security that came with it and the sense of camaraderie. Although not a hard drinker, like many colliers, he naturally liked to call into the pub for a much-needed pint on his way home after a hard shift at the coalface. The Baptists frowned upon and shunned the pubs in the village because there were many well-known heavy drinkers, but they understood that it was natural for the miners to enjoy a drink together on the way home. The only problems in some families came on weekly paydays when they received their wages in cash. On these days, all the wives would send their children, and Daphne was one of these, to wait for their fathers and get their pay packets from them in case any of them might be tempted to donate too much into the pub’s coffers! Every mother would direct their kids to stand outside The Craven Arms and The Red Lion to collect the wages. This, of course, was more of a show of traditional solidarity by the wives than an act of necessity, especially as the local publicans were strict about not serving those who had, in their opinion, had one too many.
As Daphne grew up in Walsgrave in the thirties, she remembered The Walsgrave Show, a vast agricultural and horticultural event. She could remember her father winning prizes for vegetables and children making bouquets out of wildflowers. It was a show run by local farmers like Harold Green, whom the Gullivers had worked for before the first war, but it attracted farmers, showjumpers and other participants from far and wide. It eventually combined with the Kenilworth Show and became the forerunner of The National Agricultural Show at Stoneleigh.
Walsgrave and the Second World War:
When the second war broke out in 1939, the excellent community spirit in Walsgrave continued. The most noticeable difference, at first, was in the availability of food and rationing. There were queues for tomatoes, but the Co-op Shop was fair to everyone, and the vegetable cart continued to do its village rounds. One day, Daphne went out with her mother to buy oranges, rationed to one per person per week. So, they could have five. A group of internees were making their way up the Lane to the farm at the top as the cart passed. Vera asked the vendor Albert for a knife and cut all five into slices. Then, she went over to the boys and gave each one a slice of orange. Daphne, quite naturally for an eight-year-old, protested, but Vera told her, “oh well, these lads are very young, and they’ve been living off potatoes up at the farm, so they need that orange much more than you do”.
People were encouraged to produce their own food on their allotments. So, as well as growing vegetables, Seymour kept pigs and poultry on his allotment along Woodway Lane. You could keep pigs during the war, but you had to have a permit to kill them. You could sell them to the authorities, but they didn’t pay much. So Seymour decided to take his sow into hiding in their house when her time came. Daphne remembered these war-time pigs and piglets well:
…we had a litter of pigs; we decided we were going to have a litter, and then we had some sleeping quarters for these piglets, and when the time came, the wretched sow had all those little piglets on the hearth, and we were giving them drops of brandy, trying to revive them and keep them going. I think we saved about five.
But they got to be little suckling pigs and one of them wasn’t quite right. So they decided they were going to ‘knock this one off’. So Bill Gately worked up the abattoir and we persuaded Bill to come and knock this little pig off. They’d just gone up the garden, ’cause he was working all day so it was dark now, and the air-raid siren went. So, no one dared shine a flashlight or anything and well, you can imagine these little pigs running and squealing all over the sty, and them trying to get hold of this particular one, and Bill was muttering and stuttering, you know. Well, eventually, we caught this pig and killed it quietly at the kitchen sink.
We had no permit, and then someone came around afterwards, knowing that we’d done this, and he asked, “what did you do with the Tom Hodge?” So Seymour says, “what’s that?” and they said, “well, you know, its innards!”Dad says, “oh! We buried them up the garden”. “Oh, oh dear!”he says, “the best part of the pig!’”Anyway, he comes back after a few minutes and says, “well, if I know Seymour, it won’t be buried deep!” So he goes up the garden with his fork and forks all this up. Eventually, he took all these chitterlings and well, of course, to anyone who likes chitterlings… but it put me off pork for the rest of my life!
Daphne also remembered the first significant air raids and the first use of the communal shelter at the school. The Anderson shelters that people had put up in their gardens by the summer of 1940 had become flooded, so they had to go to the shelter at the school, which had been put there for the school children. However, as there were no day-time raids, it had not been used and was still locked. Nevertheless, the schoolmaster, ‘Gaffer’ Mann, refused to open it when the first night-time raids on Coventry began in early autumn. So Seymour fetched his collier’s pick axe to break the lock, and all the residents of School House Lane went in.
Though Walsgrave was of no military importance, Capability Brown’s huge landscaped pool at Coombe Abbey, a mile or so away from the village, was on the German ‘Baedeker’ map books and was used as a landmark by the German bomber crews. The Rolls Royce Engine Factory at Ansty was manufacturing aircraft engines less than a mile from this. There was also an aerodrome there, built before the war. The then Rootes assembly plant at Ryton-on-Dunsmore was only a few miles away on the same side of the city, with its shadow factory producing aircraft and military vehicles. Planned under Chamberlain’s Government in 1936, these factories did not appear on the Luftwaffe’s maps nor on Baedeker’s; hence the importance of incendiary bombs dropped around the city’s outlying areas and the largely wooden medieval city centre in the 1940 Blitz. On the evening of the 13th November through the ‘full moon’ night to breakfast time on 14th November, Coventry was subjected to an eleven-hour sustained Blitz, giving both the English and German dictionaries the word Coventration as a synonym for blanket-bombing rather than lightning raids, which had been the previous strategy in attacking London and other regional ports and cities, including Coventry. ‘Operation Moonlight Sonata’ as the Germans named was, like Beethoven’s famous piece, designed in three ‘movements’ in order to set fire to the city and light up the sky so the bombers could locate the factories at a three-mile radius or more. The Rootes Shadow Factory had only just begun production in 1940. The German blanket-bombers searched for the shadow factories on the ground, using the Coombe Pool as a focal point on which to reflect their beams. Huge craters were left on the landscape around the village for many decades afterwards. I remember Seymour showing me these when I joined him on one of his mooches. He described his arrest as an ARP Warden of a German pilot who had bailed out over Coombe Park, landing in the farm lane and breaking his legs. Seymour had to use his bicycle to get the airman the mile or so to the village police station. Daphne recalled the night of 13th-14th November and the effect of the bombing of the city centre, three miles away, as they ran for the shelter:
We put up the cushions from the furniture, put them on our heads, and ran up the shelter. It was a bright moonlit night; tracer bullets were flying around like tracer bullets everywhere, and the whole city was on fire. Everything was lit up like it was daylight; it was a most awesome sight and of course, for days afterwards, the burnt paper was coming down.
The School Log for 15th November echoes this description of destruction:
School reassembled – about only 130 were present – this is due to the results of a terrific 11-hour raid on Coventry and the immediate neighbourhood. The Church Hut used for 70 to 80 infants had to be used as a home for the people who were bombed out of the city.
Seymour was on air-raid duty that night and recalled one bomb that fell in what was known as The Hollow, just past The Mount Pleasant. He said that the old, cruck-beamed cottage was severely damaged as the patrol went towards it, and he was sure there would be at least one person dead inside. But when they went inside, they found that the main beam had fallen across the fireplace, and all the family were protected by it, around the fireplace. He said that it was a miracle no one was hurt. During the raids, an evacuated family slept in every room of the Gullivers’ house, even under the table.
School records for 1940 show that a total of six hours and ten minutes was spent in the school shelter, with one visit lasting over two hours. But, of course, nearly all the raids took place during nighttime. Even the attack of the 14th/15th of November was not detected until after 3 p.m., the end of the school day, and the bombing had ended in time for the school to open ‘as normal’ the following morning. Though the sirens went off earlier that evening, most people recall being at home having had tea or supper when the bombing started. The schools nearer the centre were far more badly affected, and many of those rescued in these areas were still under the rubble until about 7 a.m., having been trapped for more than twelve hours in some cases. Walsgrave escaped lightly compared with the mass destruction of the city centre and the older factory areas in the suburbs, though it might have been a different story had the Luftwaffe been able to locate the Ansty and Ryton factories. Many in the village realised this vulnerability and though not forced to, sent their children away to safer rural areas if they could. Daphne was evacuated to relatives near Bridgwater in Somerset for a while. In addition to his ARP duties, being in a reserved occupation as a collier at the pit, Seymour took on responsibility for the Bevin Boys, the well-educated young graduates and undergraduates sent to work in the pits.
A Sense of Justice:
Seymour had a strong sense of social justice and was a keen member of the Binley lodge of the Miners’ Federation. On one occasion, he stuck up for a fellow collier who was bullied by a foreman, whom he struck, and was dismissed from Binley Colliery on the spot. He had to go to Newdigate Colliery to get work there. The conditions there were far worse than at Binley, and when he undressed to bath in front of the living room fire, his clothes would stand up by themselves from the combination of mud, coal dust and sweat which had caked them in the pit and then dried on them during his long walk home at the end of each shift. His body was covered with boils, and he had to have special treatment at the Coventry and Warwick Hospital, where they made an experimental serum to cure his condition. Eventually, his wife Vera told him,
“… you’ll just have to put your pride in your pocket; you can’t go back down Newdigate; you’d better go back to Binley and ask for your job back.“
So he returned to Binley Colliery, apologised, and got his job back, later becoming a pit overseer and a safety officer for the National Coal Board. In 1978, I began researching the Welsh colliers who had come to the Midlands between the two world wars, many to work in the car industry. Many also found their way into Warwickshire’s pits, especially Binley Colliery, and worked alongside my grandfather at the coalface. He remembered one family in particular, arriving in the village with the children and all their worldly possessions on a cart. Before his death from pneumoconiosis, the Dust, in 1982, I got to know Seymour more fully as an ‘autodidact’ who read avidly and rapidly. He gave detailed reviews of the books I brought home from university in Cardiff on the Welsh miners, referencing his experiences working in the Warwickshire coalfield. I had frequent, lengthy conversations with him about these experiences.
Conclusion – Joy, Opportunity & Dignity:
By nature, Seymour was the quiet member of his sixty-year partnership with Vera, who died in 1978, a gentle, calm man who liked to spend every available moment out of doors, especially in his garden. He was the backbone of his family and a provider who seldom lost a working day and was always ready with wise advice. His charity extended beyond his own home, and there was always a bed and a meal for all comers. When his hard-earned allowance of coal was tipped up at the gate, there was always a barrow-load for some needy neighbour, and his silent acts of kindness were many. He was never aggressive on his own behalf but always hated any form of injustice and, on occasion, suffered much hardship as a result, and even lost his job by sticking up for others.
His four children and seven grandchildren were the joy of his life, and the growth of the welfare state, enabling his grandchildren to attend good schools and colleges, and to qualify for varied professions, always seemed a miracle to him as something happening during his own lifetime, more than making up for his own lack of opportunity. For the summer when he died, he had planned several expeditions, just as it had been his choice to visit Torquay in the Spring of 1982. However, his many health problems suddenly overcame him. He succumbed and died of a chest infection, which led to pneumonia within the short time since his last daily walk from one end of the village to the other three weeks earlier. He had always known that the effect of the coal dust would end his life. He died peacefully, with courage and great dignity.
Based on an obituary by his daughter, Daphne Irene Chandler (neé Gulliver), 1982, letters & family histories recorded by Vinson Gulliver and Jessie Gardner (née Gulliver); transcriptions & articles by Andrew J Chandler, 1992-2012, Daphne’s son. Daphne married the minister of Walsgrave Baptist Church, Rev. Arthur J Chandler, in 1953 and died in 1993. Jessie lived to 101, dying in 2002.