Sunday, December 11, 2011

An Edwardian Memoir


My great-grandfather was the first resident of Wrexham to own a motor car. Born in London in 1871, he had moved north at the age of 16, eventually becoming director of a large Liverpool-based brewery. At 38, he embarked on a two-week cycling holiday in the south of England. His six children, all under the age of nine, remained at home with their mother, who was six months pregnant with the seventh. (In order to absolve him of mindblowing selfishness, let us presume that he employed nannies.)

A summary of the adventure, which I copied verbatim from his original journal, provides a nostalgic view of Edwardian life by an upper-middle-class gentleman.


‘Left Wrexham, 7:12 a.m. train, with bicycle. Broke journey at Birmingham for an hour. Arrived at Warwick about noon. Walked around Warwick and saw castle from river. Weather turned misty, slight rain. Cycled to Leamington Spa, 3 miles. Lunched at hotel near station. Walked in gardens and took waters in Pump Rooms (Figure 32.1). Good roads and very clean town. Cycled to Banbury, saw the ‘Cross’ (Figure 32.2) and market and had tea at the Olde Cake Shop (Figure 32.3). Took 4:35 p.m. train to Oxford. Put up at Dodson’s Hotel (Temperance) near station. Music Hall in evening. Catholic church.’

Figure 32.1: The Royal Pump Rooms, Leamington Spa. At the turn of the 20th century, people would travel many miles to ‘take the waters’ in the belief that the perceived purity would act as a panacea for illness. Today, the building serves as a museum, art gallery, public library and café.

Copyright 1999-2011 The Francis Frith Collection

Reproduced by kind permission

Figure 32.2: Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross, according to the 18th-century English rhyme

Copyright expired

Figure 32.3: A photograph of the Old Cake Shop, Banbury, Oxfordshire, taken in the 1960s.

Copyright 2004-2011 Banburyshire


‘Walked by river path and then to church 11 a.m. Cycled round city and to luncheon. Cycled in afternoon. Folly Bridge (Figure 32.4) etc.’

Figure 32.4: Oxford’s Folly Bridge is a two-part, stone construction, designed by London architect Ebenezer Perry, and built 1825-7.

Copyright expired


‘Left Oxford by steamer, Salter Brothers’ ‘Henley’ (Figure 32.5). Weather wet. Saw fishing contest 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Met two Americans on board. Lunched at Wallingford The Lamb (Figure 32.6). Arrived at Henley and stayed at White Hart. Lovely scenery – house boats and riverside. Flowers in profusion.’

Figure 32.5: Salters steamer ‘Henley’, painted by British watercolourist William Matthison (1853–1926).

Copyright expired

Figure 32.6: The Lamb, Wallingford circa 1906. The building now houses an antiques arcade, café and Thai restaurant.

Copyright expired


‘Continued steamboat trip. Weather brighter. Lunched on board. Visited Windsor Castle and St George’s Chapel. Left steamer at Hampton Court and, after leaving bicycle at Parcels Office, caught train to Waterloo arriving about 7:30 p.m. Taxi to Strand Palace Hotel – opened today – full up for one month. Booked room at Faulkner’s Hotel (Figure 32.7), Villiers Street, Strand side of Charing Cross.’

Figure 32.7: Although Faulkner’s no longer graces Villiers Street, London, the building remains a hotel.

Copyright expired


‘Visited St Dunstan’s in the East Church. Person in charge of Registers, Mr W J Lang, was away. Next visited St Mary’s Parish Church, Rotherhithe – no trace of Grandpapa Spradbery’s first marriage. Lunched at Strand Palace Hotel. Spent two hours in Strangers’ Gallery at House of Commons. Just Land Bill discussion in the House. Went to cinematograph entertainment.’


‘Went by Bakerloo to Waterloo and caught train to Hampton Court. Cycled there via Staines, Henley, Windsor, Maidenhead (saw Woolley Hall), Reading where I lunched. Detained over an hour by heavy rain. Cycled via Chatham to Alton, Hants. Put up at Market Hotel (not over comfortable).’


‘Cycled to Winchester, saw cathedral. Romsey (saw Priory) then thro’ New Forest, a delightful ride, beautiful scenery. Saw the ‘Rufus Stone’ (Figure 32.8) and on to Ringwood and Bournemouth, arriving about 7 p.m. Dunstan (brother) had secured rooms at Ferndale Middle Road, Westbourne, comfortable and very cheap. Enjoyed band on pier. Lovely gardens.’

Figure 32.8: The Rufus Stone, in the New Forest, marks the spot where King William II (c. 1056-1100) died during a hunting trip. He was given the name William Rufus because of his red-faced appearance.

Copyright expired


‘Took coach drive thro’ Rhododendron Drive to Cannock Rocks. Afternoon Winter Gardens. Evening church & pier.’


‘Church (a few doors off). Wait with Dunstan, Polly (sister-in-law) and Philippa (niece) to the shore – a lovely walk. Dined with Dunstan and Polly. Cycled to Poole – in morning to Boscombe in afternoon along the cliffs. A beautiful ride.’


‘Went for trip round Isle of Wight in Bournemouth, 2 miles most enjoyable and a beautiful day. Landed at Southsea.’


‘Said farewell to Dunstan and Polly. Cycled towards home via Wimborne, Cranborne, Salisbury (saw cathedral) over Salisbury Plain then Aylesbury up Avon to Hungerford. Put up in Three Arrows Hotel – very comfortable but expensive.’


‘Oxford (called for letters). Saw original picture ‘Light of the World’ (Figure 32.9) by Holman Hunt at Keble College. Banbury, had lunch. Leamington Spa – had a glass of the waters again – Warwick and on to Birmingham about 90 miles in all, arriving about 9 p.m. Put up at Waverley – read Belfast speech*, just delivered at Bingley Hall, before retiring.’

* On the 17th, prime minister Herbert Asquith had spoken on the subject of Irish Home Rule at Bingley Hall, Birmingham. The meeting was for men only. However, two suffragettes climbed on to an adjacent roof and threw slates at the PM’s car.

Figure 32.9: William Holman Hunt (1827-1910), a founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, painted Light of the World at night in a makeshift hut at Worcester Park Farm, Surrey. The original remains at Oxford’s Keble College, where my great-grandfather viewed it, 102 years ago.

Copyright expired


‘Thunderstorm at Birmingham. Delayed me 1½ hours. Had a vile ride from B’ham to Wolverhampton. Roads deplorable for about 15 miles, improving when W’hampton was left – Wellington – Shrewsbury (cycle carnival on) Ellesmere (took wrong road). Sheltered from rain and had wash and enjoyable tea at roadside public house near Ellesmere. Arrived Wrexham about 8 p.m. Machine and self very mud-stained.’

Madonna del Ghisallo would have been proud of him (Figure 32.10).

Figure 32.10: My great-grandfather (seated, left), photographed with his family circa 1946. He lived to the age of 82. (All that cycling ...)

Copyright 2011 Paul Spradbery

Copyright 2011 Paul Spradbery

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.