The French family of Powershall End


Correspondence between David Bennett and Janet Gyford (oldest first)
The four photos referred to are in the Photos section:
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On Sun, Jan 9, 2022, at 11:15 PM, David Bennett wrote:

Good evening Janet, I hope you won’t mind me e-mailing out of the blue, but I have been browsing your very interesting pages on the history of Witham. My mother’s family came from Witham, and I have found many connections, especially after downloading their page on the 1921 Census, which was released this week.

In 1911, Edwin and Eliza French, my great grandparents, lived at Powers Hall End, and although I can’t identify exactly where it is/was, the attached photos show their wisteria-covered house. Edwin originally came from Kent and was a retired coachman and groom, but Eliza (nee Hicks) was from Witham. The children in the first photo (both photos seem to be from around 1908) are Gladys French (my grandmother), (Daisy) Cicely French, and Sydney French (with the outsized bicycle). Uncle Sid later served in the Essex Regiment in WW1 but was invalided out in July 1917, just before Paschendale. He doesn’t seem to appear on the Muster transcribed on your site (although I see there is a D French, who could have been his older brother Douglas, whose war service records I haven’t been able to find).

By 1921, Edwin and Eliza lived at Avenue Lodge. Four of their nine children appear at that address on the 1921 census, but most seem to have moved away – mostly to Chelmsford – soon afterwards. Cicely lived in Wickham Bishops until her death. Another French daughter, Etta, married into the Wadley family, who ran the village bakery in Newbridge Road, Tiptree for many years.

If you were interested in using these photos on your website, I would be only too pleased to share them. I do have further information on my Ancestry family tree, if anyone is interested, which I would also be very happy to share.

With best wishes
David Bennett (now living in Lancashire)

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On 16 Jan 2022, at 14:35, Janet Gyford <janet@gyford.com> wrote:

Hello David,

Thank you very much for your email and the fascinating photos. It must be a bit frustrating for you living so far from Witham !

I haven’t managed to find much more about the people; there are some people named French in places like the football teams, but if you do a search of the website for the name, you would know better than I whether they belonged to you.

But I think I’ve found the house. Powershall End can be rather difficult to decipher, because there were not many landmarks, and even its name changed – sometimes it was just called Chipping Hill, and so potentially indistinguishable from the real Chipping. But I’ve found that the houses in the census returns are usually given in the right order, as they are on the ground.

So I looked in the 1901 census returns (the latest which I’ve got – always so nice to be looking at the census) and found the French family. They are at RG13/1725, f.78, p.10., schedule 65. Immediately below them is the Victoria Inn, which is at the end of the road. Three places up in the other direction are the Turner family – I knew one of them, Edith Raven, who told me where their house was, a few places along from the Victoria.

If you look at photo M504 on my website, you can see the Victoria at the end of the road, left of centre, and your house on the right, in front of the tree (easiest just to type M504 into a search box). Also see
M812, M1577 (the Victoria),
m136 and M137 (the Turners’ house, with a grapevine – these houses faced south – hence your wisteria.

Also tape 010-013, interview with Mrs Edith Raven including map. This is quite long but she mentions ‘a French’  quite near the beginning – click Menu and choose Interviews, she’s number 10  onwards. I just had a quick glance and there are quite a few references including Mr French being ill and poor as a result.

Just a couple more points from your letter. I’ve found that documents like the muster rolls, and even the War Memorial, depended on a rather arbitrary interpretation of where people lived, especially if they had connections with several places. Second, the Wadleys. John Wadley came to live in Witham for a long time, married a schoolmistress. He ran the shop that came to be our corner shop, lived in a big house in my road (Chalks Road), and also had a row of four houses built here, that I can see from my desk out of the window. I’m sending a photo of the four houses, the diamond-shaped plaque reads JW. Mrs Ireland, another much interviewed lady, knew him well. I don’t know what relation he was to your Wadley.

And yes, it would be good to have your photos for my website, thank you. I’m a bit behind with doing the transfer of photos, but I have a queue of them waiting patiently.

All the best

Janet

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On 19 Jan 2022, at 00:15, David Bennett <bennett3860@gmail.com> wrote:

How very interesting Janet, and thank you so much for replying and sharing.

The information about the numbering of Powers Hall End/Chipping Hill explains why I was struggling to make sense of the different addresses shown on official documents. I can see now that the French’s house, as per my pictures, is the one in the middle of your photo M504. Since this is around 1904, the two little girls just visible in the centre of the photo are very likely to be Gladys and Cicely French. At the time, no-one could afford a camera, but professional photographers would tour towns and villages offering to take photos of people outside their houses, and would return later on spec with prints, in the hope that people would want to buy them, often as post cards; this is the reason that there are so many photos with the same pose of a family standing outside their house!

Mrs Edith Raven’s tapes definitely mention Edwin and Eliza (my additions in italics):

Mrs R:    Do you know, in those days, in my young day, I, Father, I don’t remember Father having it. But, er, in the first house, along of there, along Powershall End, from the Victoria, next – , just before you got to the Victoria, there was a cottage there [Powershall End]. There was a man, man French [Edwin], lived there and a Mrs French [Eliza]. And I wasn’t very old. And Father used to go every night. ’Cos he was ill. Used to go every night. And lift him, off of one bed on to another. So that he could get washed and changed. And I was horrified. I shall never forget it. They evidently were on ‘the parish’. See. Well, when I say ‘the parish’, dear. That was a very very small money. And the dreadful man that come round with that. And I heard him say. He went in. I heard him say ‘This is the last week I’m going to bring you any money. You won’t get another half a crown next week. You’d better get up and get to work’. And he was ill. So ill, that my father used to go and, I tell you, he couldn’t lift him up. He had to find – another man the other end of the sheets and put him over the bed like that. I thought, how dreadful. And I can remember, and that was half a crown, they got and it’d got to last them the week. (Q: Mm mm.) See dear. So you see .…

Q:    Who was that, that used to come round?

Mrs R:    That was from the Braintree Union people. Poor law, see. [Parish relief – pre-welfare state handouts for the destitute]

So that would be around 1915-20, they were living on 2/6 a week (12.5p, equivalent to perhaps £20 today). They must have had to move to a smaller and cheaper single storey dwelling in their old age. In 1901 Edwin is described as “domestic groom”; in 1911 “disabled coachman” and in 1921 “old age pensioner” while Eliza is an “invalid” by 1921. I must admit to being surprised at just how poor the family were. That may be why the French family all moved away, as there wasn’t much to keep them in Witham. Gladys (my grandmother) married a Chelmsford man, Billy Cowell, who subsequently became an auctioneer and very respectable and middle class, owning a new house in 1938, and being the first in the street to have a radio, car, telephone and television. Cis never married but stayed “in service”, and was gifted her little cottage in Wickham Bishops on her retirement, now Grade II* listed and no doubt worth a fortune. Con French married John Cole, who was a chauffeur in Uxbridge to Miss Tetley, of the Tetley’s Tea family. Olive French married Willliam Gray, who worked for HM Customs & Excise in London.

The French family were all linked to the Wadleys and the Hicks, which I suppose is not surprising in a fairly small town when everyone had such big families. Harry Wadley, the Tiptree baker who married Edwin and Eliza’s daughter Etta, was John the builder’s older brother. His son Dennis Wadley went off to fight in the second world war, but came back to carry on running the bakery in Tiptree, and even after retiring he got up at 3 every day as he had for years to make bread; he lived his last days in a caravan next door to the bakery. Cicely Wadley, Harry’s daughter and therefore John’s niece, and also one of Edwin and Eliza French’s granddaughters, had an interesting life. My sister records “Cicely was the youngest headmistress in the county, having been sponsored to be educated to that level by her aunt Gertrude Wadley (Harry’s sister and thus Etta’s sister-in-law). Gertrude, known as Gertie, was a headmistress herself and saw potential in her brother’s daughter and paid for her to be trained and helped her get a good post. Gertrude was unmarried and rich, owning several properties in the area and was head of King’s Road Infants school. The union of her protegee Cicely and Luther Howard was not a happy one: Cicely carried on teaching, he took up with their housekeeper and when Cicely found out, she shot herself in the stomach with one of Luther’s hunting guns. She survived somehow, eventually dying of tetanus from an infected scratch from the garden, in Attleborough”.

Then, curiously, also on Mrs Raven’s tapes, there is a mention of Winifred French (who was always known to the family as Gar), who was the companion to Mrs Raven’s sister Madge:

Mrs R:    My house was just here. (Q: Off the edge.) Yes, on the edge, here. So, that’s, that’s the other house starting there (Q: Yes.) Well, our house was here. (Q: Yes.) Then there’s the Vic, you see [Victoria Inn]. [Q: Fine one, isn’t it?] The person that I’m still friendly with [Winifred], was born in that house [ie the Frenches’ house]. In fact, she was my sister’s companion, and, of course, I’ve lost my sister [Mrs Raven’s sister Madge (Margaret) Turner 1889-1969] so of course, she’s not there now. She is over in Bocking, in one of the Homes, there now [presumably Georgian House in Braintree, a onetime Abbeyfield old people’s home, now made into flats]. I couldn’t have her.

Q:    What, the ….(Mrs R: Not that person.) The lady that lived there, what was her name?

Mrs R:    French (Q: Oh, that was French) French, Um, Miss Winnie French, Winifred French. And she was, likely, four years with my sister, five years. She did work in a shipping office [this ties in with my research]. And that, she got retired. And the flat that she was in, they wanted so that’s how my sister took her in. And she took her in more or less as a companion. (Q: Yes.) My sister was better off than I am, I was. She lived .…

Q:    Is she the one you said went to London?

Mrs R:    Yes. She, um, she lived at 68 Prince’s Square, Bayswater [Madge Turner’s house, where Gar lived too]. She had a very nice house …. [Noise on tape, Mrs R moved?] I used to go up every September, when this person [ie Gar] went on a holiday, to be with my sister. After she lost …. [noise on tape, sounds as if microphone disconnected]

Gar (Winifred) was something of an enigma, she never married but used to turn up with all sorts of interesting antiques, and seemed to have a somewhat mysertious past, she was very entertaining.

You should be able to link to my Ancestry page here https://www.ancestry.co.uk/family-tree/person/tree/17435732/person/510872628/facts including a picture of Sydney French (in his Essex Regiment uniform). I knew him as an elderly man shuffling about his garden growing beans, strange to think of him fighting at Ypres.

Thank you again for sharing your research, it has been really interesting for us!

With very best wishes, David

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To:

Janet Gyford <janet@gyford.com>

Good afternon Janet, I hope you are well.

A couple more photos of Ponders [Powers] Hall End/Chipping Hill have turned up that match our conversation below, which you would be welcome to add to your website as before if they are of any use to you. The first is Sydney French, seemingly taken on the same day as the one of Edwin and Eliza, as it is an exact match for the flowers etc; these appear to be from around 1910-1915. The other one is dated “July 1934” and is clearly the same now-demolished house, but since Edwin and Eliza were dead by then, I’m puzzling over who the people are, especially that rather overgrown schoolboy! I’ll let you know if I do work it out. Kind regards, David

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