The faces of history – Elizabeth Prosser Sternberg – 1854 – 1918
I have written already about the ancestry and descendants of Francis George Sternberg who was born in Lüneburg in 1761 and was my 4G Grandfather. This post will be more about those Sternbergs who are not my direct ancestors, but about whose lives and relationships I have information and indeed continue to learn, mainly through contacts via the internet. This, I believe, is a growing and important way of exchanging history and background. It is so much faster and responsive than traditional library research and communication. With this in mind, I am eager to hear from anyone who has information about the Sternbergs and related families. I should mention that by ‘the Sternbergs’ I mean those connected with Francis George and his descendants who branched out from Northampton area in the nineteenth century. Many Sternberg families, particularly those in the USA are the result of migration from Eastern Europe and Russia and appear to have no link apart from the same name.
On which note: where does the name ‘Sternberg’ come from ?
1) German – habitational name from any of various places so named all over Germany.
2) Jewish (Ashkenazic): ornamental name from German Stern ‘star’ + Berg ‘mountain’, ‘hill’.
The first of these seems to fit, There is for example a village called ‘Sternberg am See’ (Sternberg on Sea/Lake) about 80Km east of Lüneburg on the shore of the ‘Grosser Sternberger See’ and there are many more examples of the place name in North Germany.
Whatever the origins of the name, the Sternberg family was established in Lüneburg with strong musical connections from at least 1716 when Heinrich Sternberg is first recorded. Heinrich was Musician at the Monastery School in Lüneburg from 1716 to 1734 and Town Musician (Ratsmusikant) from 1734 to 1757. He married Anna Catharina Otzmann on 14 November 1719 in St Michael’s Church, Lüneburg. This is now the focus of a Bach Festival, since Johan Sebastian Bach studied at St Michaels Monastery school from 1700 to1702 as a choirboy and later played the church organ. It is quite possible that Bach and Heinrich Sternberg were acquainted. Furthermore, when Heinrich’s daughter, Hinrietta was baptised at St Michaels on 3 December 1733, one of her Godparents was “Capellmeister Telemann”, the famous composer. Heinrich’s second son, Hartwig Sternberg succeded him as Town Musician in 1757.
Hartwig Sternberg had one daughter, who died young and one son Franz Georg Sternberg, anglicised to Francis George
He is my ancestor who came to England and enrolled as a trumpeter in the Royal Horse Guards Regiment in 1786 and established the branch of what I refer to as ‘The English Sternbergs’.
Since the marriage certificate of his son George refers to his father as ‘George Sternberg, Professor of music’, it is fair to assume that George was the name by which he was commonly known.
Frances Furnivall was the daughter of Sergeant Major Thomas Furnivall of the Bedfordshire Militia.
He was appointed Sergeant in the Leighton Buzzard Company when the county militia was raised in March 1760 during the Seven Year’s War, and was promoted Sergeant Major in April 1779 during the war with America. He died in Bedford in March 1800.
So it seems likely that Francis George Sternberg the young musician was befriended by (or billeted with) Thomas Furnivall, his wife Elizabeth and their family in Bedford in 1788 and that a relationship between FGS and Frances led to marriage in October 1789. FGS is recorded as a ‘widower’ on his marriage register entry at St Mary’s Church, Bedford, but no record has yet been found of his first marriage or indeed the name of his first wife.
FGS and Frances had ten or eleven children. This tree shows how I am descended from them.
It is, of necessity, simplified since many branches had lots of children !
Not shown on this tree is William Sternberg. William is a bit of a mystery, since no record of his birth has yet been found. It is possible (and I believe, likely) that he was FGS’s son from his first marriage. He appears in the records only after 1820. William’s business, as a gilder, was located at Bradshaw Street, Northampton in 1823-4. Bearing in mind that my 3G Grandfather George Sternberg (FGS’s son b 1798) was a carver and gilder, it seems highly probable that William was related. I have, for the time being, left William out of the main tree until more is known about his parentage. Another pointer to William not being the son of Frances (Furnivall) is that Thomas Furnivall Sternberg, born in 1791 was clearly named after her father and that would suggest that Thomas was her eldest son. Following the child’s presumed early death, their next son was also baptised Thomas in 1794. What is more, Eizabeth Furnivall Sternberg, born in 1793 was given the name Furnivall too, so it seems unlikely that William really was a Furnivall grandson.
The known ‘sightings’ of a William Sternberg during the early part of the nineteenth century are mainly taken from the International Genealogical Index (IGI), which records the marriage of William Sternberg and Elizabeth Redmayne at Lancaster on 23 October 1834 and the baptism of an (Emily) Amelia Elizabeth Redmayne Sternberg to a William and Elizabeth Sternberg on 12 May 1837 at Leek, Staffordshire, This could be the same William (His possible ‘little sister’ Amelia died in 1810 at the age of five, so perhaps William’s daughter was named after her)
In the 1861 census Elizabeth Sternberg widow, mantle maker, is living in Barnstaple with daughter Amelia E.R. age 24 Elizabeth’s birthplace given as Yorkshire. Amelia is a milliner, born at Bolton le Moors, Lancashire.
In the 1871 and 1881 censuses, Elizabeth Sternberg is, sadly, a patient in the Devon County Lunatic Asylum at Exminster. She died in 1884.
Amelia married Stephen Henry Wadham in 1876. Stephen was a widower and he and Amelia were living in Barnstaple at the time of the 1881, 1891 and 1901 censuses. They do not appear to have had any children, this is, perhaps not surprising, considering the fact that Amelia was almost forty when they married. The couple did however have a reducing number of Stephen’s children living with them as the decades progressed.
In between the two Thomases were born Elizabeth and Rosina.
Elizabeth Furnivall Sternberg was born in 1792. In 1837, Elizabeth Sternberg, whose marriage certificate gives her (deceased?) father as ‘George Sternberg, Musician’ married William Rose, a printer, who was a widower and son of James Rose, gentleman. Elizabeth was therefore forty five at the time of her marriage. They seem to have moved from Newport Pagnell to Portland Place area of London in both 1851 and 1861, but Elizabeth has changed her place of birth to Birmingham.
George, Frances, Frederick, Amelia, Caroline and Samuel Hartway (an anglicised version of Hartwig, the name of FGS’s father ?) followed between 1798 and 1809, but Amelia died at the age of five in 1810 and Samuel lived for less than three months. There is no further record of a Caroline Sternberg, so she may have died in infancy.
Rosina Sarah Sternberg was born on 11 June 1793 in Northampton. She was baptised on 30 June 1793 in the church of St John, Bedford. A second baptism took place on 22 January 1794 at St Giles, Northampton.
On 28 July 1842 Rosina married William Amerson, a tailor, at All Saints Church in Northampton. They appear to have had no children.
In the 1841 census she is living at Woolmonger Street, Northampton which was also occupied by eighty year old James Rose, presumably the father of her brother in law, William Rose.
Frances Maria Sternberg was born in 1800 and clearly followed in the musical tradition of her family She taught Italian and English Singing and the Pianoforte, being described in the Northampton Mercury in January 1827 as a pupil of Ferrari, Knyvett & Beale
She was married in September 1826 to George Carver Cuffley, in the presence of Francis George Sternberg and John Wright. Frances and George do not appear to have had children.
Sophia Sternberg was born 1 December 1801 in Northampton, and died 15 June 1874 in 8 Heaton Road, Peckham, Surrey. She married Alexader Viner, who was described as a Wine Merchant and Gentleman on 15 December 1825 in St Margaret, Leicester. He was born 1802 in Oxford, and died 24 September 1862 in Walthamstow. Essex.
Thomas Sternberg, born in 1794 was, I originally thought, the likely author of ‘The Dialect and Folk-Lore of Northamptonshire’, published in 1851. I had no definite proof that the author was the same Thomas Sternberg, but the combination of the name, plus the unlikely coincidence of there being two Thomas Sternbergs of the right age and background in Northamptonshire in 1851 pointed decisively to that conclusion.
However, recent correspondence with Stephen Miller, an expert on Folklore writing, has revised this assumption. There was a second edition of ‘The Dialect and Folk-Lore of Northamptonshire’ also published in 1851. The author’s name on this publication is Vincent Thomas Sternberg, Thomas’s son, born in London in December 1831 (see more below). Vincent would have been only nineteen in 1851, so clearly displayed a precocious literary talent at an early age .
I am grateful to Stephen Miller for his input into this story. His article on the book was published in Folklore magazine on 25 Jun 2012
The volume is famous for being the first book to use the word ‘Folklore’
To quote from the introduction
“Folklore is a word with a short but turbulent history. An Englishman named William John Thoms coined it in 1846, to replace the cumbersome ‘popular antiquities’ then in vogue to designate the loving study of old customs, usages and superstitions. Five years later (in 1851) the first book appeared with ‘Folklore’ in its title, ‘The dialect and Folk-Lore of Northamptonshire’, by Thomas Sternberg”
I am pleased to say the I have obtained a copy of the book, which I believe is out of print. There is, disappointingly, no reference to Sternberg’s family, but he alludes to German and Scandinavian influences at many points, commenting that one particular story is almost word for word the same as the German version by the brothers Grimm. This suggests that Thomas had a detailed knowledge of the German language, which would fit well with having a German born father.
Thomas was a wine and spirit merchant, although he did take over his father’s music business for a time. His ventures seem to have resulted in bankruptcy, however Thomas’ business (wine and spirit merchant) was located at Abington Street, Northampton, in 1830; and at Parade, Northampton, In 1841,
Took over his father’s Pianoforte Selling and Tuning business in 1828, but disposed of his pianoforte tuning to a Mr Klitz in August 1841 .
He and his wife were married ‘in the presence of John Whitton Scriven, Edward Pretty, Elizabeth ?; they lived at 65 Abington Street in 1851.
Bankruptcy recorded in ‘Times’ of 2 August 1856 (cf. 24 May 1848).
Address given as 20 Abington Street in cutting from Northampton Mercury on 18 September 1858.
A later correspondent says they occupied a house on the site of the present Post Office (N I? Chronicle, 25 August 1900).
Thomas and Elizabeth (née Scriven Kirby) produced a line of no less than four Vincent Sternbergs.
The first of these Vincents, Vincent Thomas Sternberg was born in London in 1831 and became Librarian of Leeds Library until his death in 1880.
Vincent Thomas was believed by some to have haunted the library after his death. For an account click – Vincent Thomas Sternberg and the haunting of Leeds Library
Vincent W. B. Sternberg (William or Bill) became a journalist and was London and political editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post.
The arrival in England of Francis George Sternberg in 1786 has led to some seventy five people being christened with the surname ‘STERNBERG’ plus many more who have adopted the name upon marriage.
As far as I am aware, the last of these ‘English Sternbergs’ was born in 1954 and the last person to die still using the surname was Ella Marion Sternberg, born in Birmingham in 1894 and died in Felixstowe in 1985 at the age of ninety. Many have lived well into their eighties and nineties.
I was fortunate enough to meet ‘Aunt Ella’ a few years before she died. Her father was the third Francis George Sternberg.
It is fascinating to reflect that all of us have this family history because of one man’s journey across the North Sea.
FRANCIS GEORGE STERNBERG
THE HISTORY OF WINCHURCH BROTHERS LIMITED
In 1905 two young brothers established Winchurch Brothers Limited. Initially trading as Cycle Dealers, they recognised the growing importance of the motor car in the Edwardian era and eventually built a substantial garage business in Sandon Road, Bearwood, selling and maintaining Austin, Morris, Standard and Triumph cars
Percy Walter and Roland Victor Winchurch were respectively only twenty three and twenty two years old at the time.
Benjamin Winchurch, the boys’ father was born in Lord Street Birmingham on 3 December 1829 and christened at St Phillip’s Birmingham on 1 January 1830. There appears to be an error in the Bishop’s transcript of this christening, since his name appears as William (an elder brother of that name was still living). His parents were Thomas and Ann (Shakespeare – at the time of her marraige to Thomas). Despite Ann’s famous surname, it is very unlikely that she was related to the Bard of Stratford. In fact both Thomas and Ann had been married before (they are described as ‘widow’ and ‘widower’ when they married in Tipton in March 1820) Ann was probably the Ann (or diminutive, Nancy) Brooks born in Dudley in 1793, who married Joseph Shakespeare at Clent in 1812.
Thomas too was born in Dudley, in 1787. The Winchurch / Winchurst family origins are recorded in that area back into the seventeenth century. Percy was well aware of his ‘Black Country’ antecedents, he often adopted their sing-song accent and used dialect expressions and words such as ‘youm’ for ‘you am’ (are).
From the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution the family members were nailmakers and glassmakers and the grime and horrors that gave rise to the description ‘Black Country‘, plus the rise of Birmingham in importance as a centre of manufacture of a wide range of products probably led to the move eastwards to Aston.
Thomas and Ann had four children between 1821 and 1829, the youngest being Benjamin. They are recorded,with their children, (including Benjamin) in the 1841 census at 1, Lord Street Birmingham. Thomas died in Upper Windsor Street, Aston, in 1856 and is described on his death certificate as a ‘publican’. The year before he appears in Post Office Directory of Birmingham at the Cross Keys at 45, Upper Windsor Street.
In the Business Directory of Birmingham, published by J. S. C. Morris in 1862, Ann has become the publican of the Cross Keys. She died in 1875 at the age of 82. It may have been at this point that Benjamin and Eliza took over as landlords, although this is not clear.
Benjamin married Ellen Eliza Tester on 15 November 1862 in London (East London Register Office). Eliza (as she was known) was the daughter of Edward Tester a whip maker and his wife Ellen (nee Hawkesford). Although she was born in Birmingham, her origins were in London and her family (the Testers) came from Sussex. According to Marion, my grandmother, she had a ‘Cockney accent’
Benjamin and Eliza had eight children (click on tree to enlarge)
Benjamin was a glassmaker like his father and brother Thomas. Examples of Benjamin’s work survive and he was followed in this trade, by at least one of his sons, Fred (b1868). In White’s directory for Birmingham of 1873, there is listed ‘Mrs Eliza Winchurch, milliner’ at 177 Great Lister Street (which intersects with Windsor Street). Hers is the only Winchurch entry in that directory.
In Kelly’s directory of 1880 Benjamin is listed as a shopkeeper at 83 King Edwards Rd, the address at which Percy was born two years later.
Interestingly, there is no mention of the Cross Keys, but Percy’s lifelong abstinence from alcohol was, he said the result of seeing drunkenness all around him being raised in a pub as a child..
Also in the 1880 Kelly’s directory, Thomas Winchurch is listed as a glass maker in Phillip Street; surrounded by gun manufacturers and finishers.This is almost certainly Benjamin’s older brother. The proliferation of new businesses and technologies in this area must have made it the ‘Silicon Valley’ of the late nineteenth century.
Benjamin died in 1891 at the age of sixty two, around the time of Percy’s ninth and Roland’s eighth birthdays.
Possibly Eliza had to leave the Cross Keys at this time, although Fred is the last of her children to be recorded as born there in 1868; the following four all being born at different addresses around the north city centre/Aston districts of Birmingham. Later, Eliza had a grocer’s shop. In the 1901 census she is described as a widow aged 58, Head of household. Shopkeeper Grocer ‘on own account’ (i.e. supporting herself) ‘at home’ at 64/65 Wheeleys Road Birmingham.
At the same address were:
Percy aged 18, an Engineer fitter, Roland aged 17, a Machine Tool Maker and Lizzie Smith aged 15, a servant
How difficult life was financially at this time is difficult to judge, but Eliza was certainly concerned about money, or at least the mysterious ‘Tester fortune’.
I heard as a child my Grandfather (Percy) joke about being ‘descended from a German Baron’. He was not alone in the family to have heard of an ‘unclaimed will’ originating from the early 1800s. There survives correspondence between Eliza, her youngest sister Clara and their cousin Maria about the existence of a will and their mutual cousin Betsy’s attempts to lay claim to any proceeds.
Eliza wrote to Maria on 6 Feb 1897 from Iron House, Moor Street, Birmingham
‘Clara seems to think there is a lot of underhanding work going on and that she (Betsy) don’t intend us to know’
In the same letter she says: ‘I know the will was made 90 years ago.
A letter from Clara to Maria says ‘ Are you aware that our Grandfather was a baron and did you ever hear of any estates in Brighton’
There seems to have been no substance to this case. It was a ‘Bleak House’ type of longing for unclaimed riches. Eliza refers also in 1897 to ‘upset with her family’. Being a widow with three children in their teens, it is easy to imagine that life was hard. Her son Harry Edgar Winchurch married in 1896 and is described on the marriage certificate as a ‘cycle maker’. A pioneering cycle manufacturer ‘Guest and Barrow’ was established in Philip Street, Aston at this time, so Harry may have been employed there.
This background suggest the origins of the ‘Winchurch Brothers cycle shop’ that preceded the garage.
How many of the brothers were involved in addition to Roland and Percy, I don’t know, but it is fair to assume that the cycle business prospered, because in 1905 Percy and Roland set up ‘Winchurch Brothers Limited ‘. The business was initially at 152a Ladypool Road (Kelly 1907 and 1908)
By 1912, no less than four cycle shops are listed by Kelly at Ladypool Road, Moseley, Waterloo Road in Smethwick and at 134 Sandon Road in Bearwood.
At some point after 1912 ‘Edgbaston Garage’ in Sandon Road Bearwood was opened. The premises eventually occupied numbers 102 – 120 involving the demolition of several houses as it expanded. Certainly the earliest driving licence I have for Percy, dated 20 October 1914, lists Sandon Road as his business address.
The selection of the name ‘Edgbaston Garage’ is in itself interesting since, as anyone familiar with districts of Birmingham will be aware, Edgbaston is (even now) very much more ‘upmarket’ than Aston. This seems to have been part of a shrewd move by Percy and Roland to target a wealthy section of the population who were about to lead the country into a long lasting love affair with the motor car.
In the same year as Winchurch Brothers’ foundation, Herbert Austin formed the Austin Motor Company and began production at Longbridge in 1906.
There are gaps in my knowledge of many aspects of Winchurch Brothers in the early years, from 1905 until my Father’s earliest memories from around 1918.
Percy’s surviving driving licences from 1914 to 1919 include an endorsement ordered by Kings Heath Police Court on 21 November 1916 for ‘not obscuring headlights’ on 29 October 1916, for which he was fined 10 shillings. This was, of course at the height of the Great War, but how much real risk ‘not obscuring headlights’ caused is a matter of speculation !
Percy Walter Winchurch married Marion Brown, the daughter of Henry Ambrose Brown, a tailor, and Alice Plucknett Brown (nee Sternberg) on 18 April 1911. Percy was 29 and Marion 28.
On their marriage certificate Percy’s address is 11 Newton Road and his occupation is ‘Cycle Dealer’, underlining the fact that the motor side of the business was less important than bike sales in the early years.
Their first child, Francis Victor Winchurch, known for most of his eighty three years as ‘Vic’ was born on 5 February 1914 at 12,Waterloo Road in Bearwood not far from the garage. Interestingly, Percy is described on Vic’s birth certificate as a ‘Motor Engineer’. So only three years later,the motor side of the business had presumably become the more important. His birthplace was the family home where Percy, Marion and Vic lived until the move to Pargeter Road (I think in around 1918).
Jeanne Marion Winchurch was born on 5 July 1919.
The business clearly prospered during the 1920s since photographs show Percy and his family in increasingly comfortable surroundings and on holiday in Devon and later Cornwall moreover, the children both had private educations at primary level.
There was always a car somewhere in the pictures, as in this one taken in what looks like the Welsh border country; a popular destination for Midlanders on a ‘Sunday day out’. The car, I think, is a Morris Oxford ‘flatnose’
Roland meanwhile had Married Alice Wood in 1914. They had four children, Barry, Betty, Molly and Pat between 1915 and 1927. The brothers bought houses in the newly expanding suburb of Quinton. Roland, with his larger family, probably moved from Galton Road to 757 Hagley Road West in 1931, with Percy following to 755 a year later. A high wooden fence separated the back gardens ! The brothers also owned the semi detached ‘other half’ of Percy’s house 753, which was rented to a childless couple from London called Perrott. Hugh Perrott was a travelling salesman for a childrens clothing manufacturer.
In February 1930, Vic was 16 and a pupil at King Edward VI Grammar School at Five Ways. He took his School Certificate examination that year and in January 1931 he began training with Smethwick Borough Council as a weights and Measures inspector.
Clearly a decision had to be taken in the long term with regard to his involvement, if any, in Winchurch Brothers. Correspondence between Roland and Percy in 1936 touches on this subject and the parallel matter of Roland’s son, Barry.
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 children 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:
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.
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.
Fred Payton at back left.
On leaving school, Vic worked in the Weights and Measures Department of Smethwick County Borough Council from January 1931, just before his seventeenth birthday until 1938. He was initially an unqualified assistant, but obtained the necessary qualifications to become a fully-fledged Weights and Measures Inspector in January 1936, when he was almost twenty two.
In October 1938 he left Smethwick to work in Northallerton as an Additional Inspector of Weights and measures for North Riding of Yorkshire Council. He was there when war broke out in September 1939, but left in December 1940 to move back to his parents’ home.
To quote from a letter of application to Buckinghamshire County Council dated 30 January 1941
“I resigned voluntarily owing to unsatisfactory service conditions”. Now my father was generally a tolerant, loyal and uncomplaining man, so I can only conclude that things in Northallerton must have been really bad for him to leave a return south without a job!
In the same letter and in a similar letter of application to Dorset he notes that he is “twenty seven and single…I am of course liable for military service, but as far as I can ascertain it is not likely that I shall be called up for some time to come….”
Within two weeks of writing this he was married and had joined the Royal Navy !
Vic Winchurch married Margaret Downing, who worked as a typist for the engineering firm Bellis and Morcom in Birmingham on 8 February 1941.
Margaret lived with her widowed mother Annie Elizabeth Downing (nee Smith) in Topsham Road, Smethwick. Her father, Arthur Lionel Downing, who worked as a signalman for Great Western Railways, had died in 1937 from angina. Margaret had been present at his death and told me that he begged her not to call a doctor because having health problems associated with his heart would mean that he would, almost certainly, lose his job. Just twenty years old, Margaret walked to the doctor’s home during the night, although Arthur was obviously dead. The doctor refused to attend, but simply and contemptuously, threw the death certificate to her from his upstairs window. Unsurprisingly, that event left its mark on her attitudes, particularly towards poverty,
Vic and Margaret were married at St Paul’s Church Smethwick on 8 February 1941.
The years during the war cannot have been easy. Car production ceased and fuel was rationed.
Vic joined the Royal Navy in January 1941 and became an operator of the new equipment known as Radar.
Percy, along with a large part of the population on Britain, ‘dug for victory’ growing vegetables and keeping hens. He slept at Sandon Road on fire watch on a regular basis in a concrete ‘Pill Box’ next to the showroom. Birmingham was bombed by the Luftwaffe on several occasions between August 1940 and May 1941. Bearwood Road School was hit, fortunately at night and there were no casualties. I don’t know how much fuel was stored at the garage at this time, but it can’t have been a comfortable place to be. I still have Percy’s wooden and canvas camp bed from this time. It became my bed for several years when I was a child.
A letter to Vic just after I was born in 1942 offers a glimpse of life at that time:
‘Brotheridge’ was Denham (Den) Brotheridge, a friend and colleague of Vic from the Weights and Measures Department of Smethwick Borough Council. His name became well know a few years later for a very tragic reason.
Den Brotheridge was the first Allied Serviceman killed in the D Day landings.
(see Wikipedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Den_Brotheridge)
This is the newspaper photo of HMS Valiant – The Royal Navy ship on which Vic was serving as a leading seaman in 1942
Two days later on 20 October 1942, Jeanne wrote to Vic :
..and again just after Christmas 1942. Possibly the worst time to be in Britain in the second world war.
In addition to not being old enough to go visiting I had a near fatal dose of gastro enteritis according to my mother ! To be honest, I think the contact between Percy and Margaret was minimal due a mutual dislike. I was certainly aware of this as a child. It seemed to centre on Margaret’s view that she was getting little support and Percy’s view that Margaret had married for money….but I could be over simplifying !
The ‘Jimmy’ referred to is Payton’s wire haired terrier, the brother of Percy and Marion’s ‘Jack’. Another indication of the the two families’ close association, alluded to by Roland.
Jeanne was avid supporter of West Bromwich Albion Football Club, whilst Percy remained true to his roots as a season ticket holder and shareholder in Aston Villa.
It is interesting that he was persuaded to cycle to the Hawthorns (WBA’s home ground). This was much nearer to their home in Quinton than Aston Villa and Percy was now sixty years old. It is a clear indication that even he could not get enough petrol for even short journeys during the bleakest period of World War Two.
Jeanne finally got her wish early in 1943 and joined the WRNS.
Following the revelations about the Enigma decoding process, involving literally hundreds of WRNS acting, in effect, as a human computer in an operation led by Alan Turing at Bletchley Park in Bedfordshire, it seemed very likely to me that her rapid recruitment happened because of her mathematics and accountancy qualifications.
I was surprised to find from Jeanne’s service record that she spent the early part of her wartime service at HMS Pembroke, nominally the supply department, based at Chatham, but there is no doubt that her recruitment corresponded with this surge of WRNS personnel with Maths qualifications.
By the spring of 1943 she was on leave at Quinton in her new uniform
Vic’s car; a Standard Twelve, I think, was used by Percy during the war and might have been in general use at the garage.Certainly at a directors’ meeting at the Offices of Flint and Thompson at 63 Temple Row Birmingham on 3 April 1947, Roland proposed that Vic be paid £30 for the use of his car during the year, This was not seconded !
This meeting was probably the turning point in the affairs of Winchurch Brothers and certainly the events of the following six years had a profound effect on all our lives.
In the post war years, the business prospered. Restrictions on prices meant that second hand cars with low mileage were more valuable than new ones. Consequently, Percy and to a lesser extent, I think, Roland had a succession of new cars often for no more than six months. I can remember well the excitement of being collected in the latest of ‘Grandpa’s new cars’
My brother David Christopher Winchurch had been born a few months earlier on 13 December 1946 and I can now understand how Percy must have felt at this point that he was laying a path for all of us for the future.
Vic had been added to the payroll of Winchurch Brothers after demobilisation from the Navy in 1946. I don’t think his employment did anything to remove Percy’s earlier misgivings about his involvement in the business. After a spell in the workshop, which I believe was not a great success, he was moved to the stores ! My pleasure as a result of this was derived from having a typewriter to play with when I called there. David
remembers that too and additionally a narrow passageway between the back of the line of timber buildings and a brick wall behind. We both think used engine oil was stored there before being burned as fuel in the heating system.
The minutes of this meeting and the associated financial report reveal that Winchurch Brothers Limited was on a sound financial footing. Percy proposed that the directors’ fees be increased to £520 per annum from 1 October 1946, This was carried.
Some £1500 was paid out in dividends that year and I believe that at this point only Percy and Roland were shareholders.
Percy made a move in 1947 to appoint three extra directors, Horace Bench, his brother in law through Millie, Marion’s sister plus Vic and Frank Angel, the company secretary, of whom I know very little, but he seems to have had a legal background since he was asked to produce a report on the operation of the company if these appointments took place and also in the light of a further proposal by Percy to issue shares to Vic, Jeanne, Betty, Molly and Pat ( but excluding Barry, who seems to have left the family behind him by this time – he eventually died in Rochdale in 1975)
This is quite clearly marks the intention, on Percy’s part to marginalise Roland and lead to a breakup, or takeover, of Winchurch Brothers.
In the same year, 1947, Percy staged a dinner and concert at the Red Cow Hotel in Smethwick
‘To commemorate the completion of 25 years service of Miss O. Parr with Messrs Winchurch Brothers Limited’
It is noticeable that it was Percy who sent out the invitations although Roland does seem to have been present to perform the presentation to Olive. He is, however totally absent from photos I have from that evening.
About this time, Millie Bench reported with some amusement that Roland had sidled up to her, cigarette in mouth and in his broad Birmingham accent enquired :
‘D’yow think as ower Percy’s susceptible to flattery’ ?
Whatever form Percy and Olive’s relationship took at this time (he was now 65 and Olive 46) there was no attempt to conceal it. Olive acted as chauffeuse on family outings as well as business and her family, particularly her sister Hilda Martin, husband Harold and children Denise and Roddy, were part of a large circle that Percy gathered around himself.
This behaviour earned the vociferous contempt of Margaret, my mother, particularly when Olive went on holiday with Percy, Marion and entourage. Percy however had no evident signs of the received morality of a late Victorian childhood ! He was equally contemptuous about organised religion. I remember how, towards the end of his life, on a trip to Pembrokeshire with Marion, Jenny, (Fred’s widow) and myself in the car, he replied to Jenny’s favourable comments about the picturesque appearance and setting of St Issels church at Saundersfoot with the remark :
‘Yes Olive and Midge went there one Sunday. God knows why. Some time when they were feeling extra religious, I suppose.’
I can still hear those words today, over fifty years later and to me as a ten year old, such deliciously daring blasphemy both amused and horrified me.
I don’t think I ever told my mother !
The final years
In June 1949, Jeanne commited suicide, as I have reported on the pages that I have written about her here
The plans that Percy Winchurch made in the four years after Jeanne’s death were far reaching and profoundly affected my life and the lives of many members of my family.
In 1939 Percy, Marion and the Paytons (Fred and Beattie) had gone to Pembrokeshire instead of the more customary West Country. I think this might have been on the recommendation of Frank Collins, who was a Winchurch Bros employee and who later retired to Penally, I believe.
After Jeanne death, Percy and Marion immediately put the house in Hagley Road West on the market and they moved to Stennels Avenue in Halesowen within months. Devon and Cornwall would have brought back painful memories, I guess and Percy’s thoughts must have turned to alternative holiday destinations. Pembrokeshire quickly moved to prime position and he began to make retirement plans. These included roles for my father and David and me (his grandsons). I don’t know whose idea boatbuilding was, but it clearly had links with my father’s wartime service in the Royal Navy.
Percy entered into negotiations with Vic Morris, who owned St Brides Garage in Saundersfoot, to either purchase the business outright or go into partnership. I don’t know how the formula was arrived at, but plans were drawn up to add a boatbuilding venture to the motor business, to be known as ‘Saundersfoot Marine Company Limited’.
In January 1953, Percy, as Chairman of the Birmingham branch of the Motor Agents Association, hosted a lavish dinner at the Botanic Gardens in Edgbaston. His health was beginning to fail and he can be seen falling asleep at one point. As I have mentioned, Percy was a teetotaller, so the fatigue was not due to Alcohol.
Anyone who was anyone in the motor trade in the West Midlands was at that dinner
Click on the picture below for photos from that night:
A few months later, Winchurch Brothers was bedecked with flags and bunting for the coronation in June 1953
Then, early in September 1953, Percy suffered a major stroke. He was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, but never regained consciousness and was dead within twenty four hours on 9 September 1953.
Suddenly, Francis Victor Winchurch, was thrust into the limelight. A decision had to be made about Vic’s involvement in Winchurch Brothers. I remember vividly being taken out for a drive in the green company van that my father habitually drove (Percy and Roland had cars – Percy’s an Austin A70 and Roland’s a more modest A40 Devon at the time of Percy’s death). My parents involved me in the discussion about the possibility of a move to Tenby, which I viewed with unrestrained glee. For one thing, I was in my final year at Hagley County Primary School and was expected to pass my eleven plus exam the following year and transfer to King Edward VI School in Stourbridge, a prospect which filled me with something considerably less than enthusiasm.
Vic was to move to Pembrokeshire in advance and set up the boat building business and look for a house for us to move to.
In the meantime, negotiations took place for the sale of Percy’s share of Winchurch Brothers to Roland.
Percy’s estate was left in trust to my grandmother Marion, so she and the trustees were parties to the sale. As far as I know, agreement was amicable and went smoothly. Roland had been heartbroken at his brother’s funeral, showing a deeper affection than the grumpy indifference (and sometimes direct hostility) that had marred the last twenty years or so of their working relationship.
Roland’s own health was deteriorating rapidly and it was only two years before the business passed out of the ownership of any members of the Winchurch family.