The Faces of History-Percy and Roland Winchurch. Letters, 1936

On 24th March 1936 Roland writes:

” I understand that you have no wish for either your son or my son to take any part in the business with the view to carrying on after we are both deceased”

In the event Vic was not involved in the business until after World War 2 and Barry never worked there.

Roland begins his letter:

“We have now been running together in a more or less amicable partnership for 30 years and obviously we cannot expect to run a great number of years more before one or both of us are incapacitated or depart from this troublesome world for good and all.
As far as I am concerned I quite anticipate that I shall be booked in for another operation in the not too distant future”.

I do not know what the nature of Roland’s illness was, but he was a heavy smoker and eventually died of cancer. Percy too smoked cigarettes, but gave up around 1950 after warnings from his doctor.

Roland’s letter continues:

…… it appears to me that it is up to us to anticipate the future and plan accordingly the ultimate destiny of the business and property.
Also there is the question of Fred’s interest in the business to be dealt with when the time comes. One has to face facts.

Fred (Frederick William Winchurch) was born at the Cross Keys in 1868, the third of Benjamin and Eliza’s children. My own childhood memory him is as a jovial and outgoing man, know to much of the family as ‘Uncle Fred’.I don’t think he was involved in Winchurch Brothers until after his retirement from glass manufacture, but he wasclearly there in 1936 and up to about 1950, when I remember him working in the Billiard Hall(of which more later). He is not mentioned in company reports and in the absence of any other information, he was an employee rather than in any way a driving force in the company.

A notable aspect of Roland’s letter of 1936 is the fluency with which it was written. It has to be remembered that the brothers were raised at a time during which there must have been considerably hardship for the family and as far as I know, neither Percy or Roland had an extended education.
It is a lasting tribute to their drive and foresight that they succeeded in building up a successful and prospering business.

Nevertheless, Roland clearly felt he was not benefitting in the way that he and his family should:

As regards my share of the Partnership I suppose you will not dispute that I am entitled to share equally with yourself in our assets and liabilities and I want to know if you have any objection to me drawing any money to be charged against my capital account and/or raising a loan on my portion.
You see it takes me all my time to carry on. I have no clothes and my children are of no material help as yet.I should like to Re Furbish as the few sticks I have are worn out after 23 years.Also I should like to help the hildren to get a decent living as the amount I should be able to leave them will not be of too much use when it is divided.
You of course will not have the same problems to face, as far as I can see, your dependents should be adequately provided for.(subject of course to the vicissitudes of life)
As you are aware my boy Barry is very unhappy in his work and can only see a life of clerical drudgery in front of him if he stays on.
He feels that he has wasted 3 of the most valuable years of his life and after long consideration I have told him he had better give in his notice. I only mention this by the way as I know you have no regard for him or my other children or for the matter of that anyone else’s children to the best of my knowledge but you may appreciate that it adds to my personal problems.

Roland then turns to their working relationship, which had by this time clearly become soured. It remained that way for the next seventeen years:

Now as far as our personal relationship is concerned, I frequently wonder whether you consider I pull my weight in the business, as your manner towards me more particularly dating back to your 2nd period of association with the Paytons, has been even less cordial than in the past. In fact your everyday attitude makes me wonder if you desire to be rid of me. If this is the case, we had again better face facts and try to come to an equitable arrangement to terminate our active partnership. On the other hand, should I be in error as regard above remarks I certainly think we should make some effort to work together more in Harmony and Cheerfulness
and by so doing make life more pleasant for all concerned.

The Paytons, Fred and Beattie, were friends of Percy and Marion who used to accompany them on holidays. Vic referred to them as ‘Uncle Fred and Auntie Beattie’, but they were not related.
Fred Payton worked at Winchurch Brothers, but I suspect that was a result of their ‘association’ rather than the other way round.

Perhaps the most barbed comments in his letter comes next::

Your suggestions as regards a Holiday Rota would be appreciated. The holiday period has always been rather a nightmare to me, when I have had the whole lot to manage with a depleted staff at the worst time of the year with usually no office assistance

Percy and family took regular summer holidays, usually in Devon or Cornwall at this time. but as far as I know for two weeks. The real point about this is ‘usually no office assistance’
Percy’s secretary (she would be referred to as a ‘p.a.’ now) was Olive Parr, who joined the company in 1920. Percy and Olive had a close relationship, certainly in the post WW2 years and Roland would have had plenty of ammunition by then, since Olive regularly accompanied Percy, (sometimes with Marion and a host of friends too), on weekend outings and holidays.
This relationship is probably in Roland’s mind as he concludes the letter.

In conclusion, I would remark that I have written this letter because I never have any opportunity to talk to you privately and if you had agreed to my suggestion of a monthly conference I need not have written a great deal. Further no other person is acquainted with the contents, so if you so desire you may treat the subject matter as strictly private between our two selves.
I leave it to your judgment anyhow. I write with no ill feeling out rancour

And  Sign myself

Your somewhat weary brother


Anger and irritation are evident in Percy’s reply. The version I have is clearly a draft, with numerous crossings out, probably destined for typing by Olive before being sent ‘next door’. The irony is that Roland and Percy worked within feet of one another as well as living next door to one another in Hagley Road West.
I include the text in full:

Dear Roland,

I propose taking your letter in paragraph order.

1. I have expressed the opinion, several times, that we should be better apart, always with this qualifying remark – ‘unless pleasant business relationships can be arrived at’ – this is definitely up to you. Life is much too short to spend needless time going into trivialities. Also, your remarks about myself which no doubt are intended to come back to me from time to time, although I do not say anything, are very hurtful.

2. The business relationship could be a quite agreeable one if you cut this kind of thing out and left the general business decisions to me, being answerable only to you. This practice would relieve you of a lot of trouble I think, or alternatively you could take on that position yourself.

Referring to your remarks re your conversation with a keen business man in property and business, I am fully alive to all this, but if you desire to terminate your partnership with me and find conditions impossible, you would have to agree to sell out altogether or come to some reasonable arrangement with me to let me carry on the business.
I cannot and will not keep on working without some agreement on the future of this
business as I have repeatedly told you

If I cannot come to some arrangement with you, I should buy another business elsewhere.
If you will carry your mind back over the last 10 years you have repeatedly passed the (impression?) that you are semi retired, but I shall point out that you have drawn a very good income during those years, so that I cannot see any cause to complain.

As far as Fred and Jinnie are concerned, they are no doubt able to look after themselves.

As far as the B Hall is concerned, last year is definitely not a year to take as criterion and will no doubt revert to normality again.

As far as the future is concerned, you are not in a position to forecast and I myself face the future with quiet confidence and in conclusion, instead of asking other people
things, you should ask the people concerned, in a pleasant and brief manner you would get on much better.

You are at perfect liberty to show this letter to whoever you like, there is no sarcasm intended and I loathe and detest Cheap Sarcasm from you.
I have always tried to do my best for this Firm and while I am with the Firm I shall continue to do so.

I remain
Sincerely Yours

The Billiard Hall, or to give it its full name ‘The Regent Billiard Hall’ was situated adjacent to the garage fronting onto Bearwood High Street. It features in Kelly’s 1933 trade index to Birmingham and judging by references to its profitability in 1936, it had only been running for a few years. My guess is 1932.
I remember Fred Winchurch and Fred Payton serving behind the bar in the late 1940s. That bar, however served only non alcoholic drinks, a legacy of the aversion to alcohol that Percy had throughout his life, resulting from his upbringing as a publican’s son.