Tuesday 16th May, 1961

Leonard to the family:

Dear Alec June Susan & Carol

Many thanks for another newsy letter and drawing (from Susan) received today. Thank you very much Susan – it is such an important day for you isn’t it? Five years old today – how do you feel? We have been thinking of her quite a lot and pictured her telling all her school friends “I’m five years old today”.

So you have all but finished the cupboard in front room and find it is a good alternative storage place for wine – have you put a lock on it? You would want one if you kept it in Cornish’s house here. He knows where to find it and does when Mrs Cornish is out shopping etc.

Noted June not keen on broad beans – I must have misunderstood your previous reply on the subject. Am hoping we shall have a few carrots ready for the girls – its those I’m bringing on in one of the frames.

Yes you seem to be having a very busy time in the Work Study Section and I expect you are looking forward to your holiday – which reminds me the weather this week although dry so far is very much cooler and not nearly so pleasant as when we were away. Hope it will improve by the time you start off.

To get to Exmouth from Clevedon I suppose the shortest route – and the one we took a couple of years ago – would be via Cullompton, Pinhoe and Countess Wear (near Whittlesea)* but another way is via Honiton then on the Sidmouth road as far as Sidford then turn right to Newton Poppleford then left to get on to the Budleigh Salterton route. I reckon it would take 2½ to 3 hours direct Clevedon to Exmouth. Yes Tiverton to Exmouth is an hour’s run – 26 miles – but one has to get through the City of Exeter which at times can be very difficult.

So you have had mussels – I hate the things but enjoy cockles. Frankly a bucketful does not go very far once they are shelled but it’s worth it to go out and gather them. The best time to go out is about three hours after full tide has turned when the cockles are left stranded. They quickly burrow down about four inches and remain there until the tide returns. Incidentally as soon as the water has left them uncovered the gulls get busy as usually at this moment the shells are open and cockles feeding.

Regarding the sketch I sent you I meant ti have indicated that from the point shewn where you enter the area until you reach Morton Road** the distance is approximately one mile perhaps just under. Yes there are plenty of facilities for the children and given nice weather I’m sure you will enjoy the holiday. It is a place Mum and I like very much and you may remember Mum telling you it was her first place away from home – in Tuckers a big shop near the main shopping area.

No I don’t think Mrs Cornish had any cause to examine the fruit trees. At the moment the horse is away on the farm doing a little work but we expect it back any day now to get on with the job of clearing the grass.

So Susan was not very energetic when she went to the front on the first occasion – thought she liked washing. How is school going? You did not comment this week.

Can remember the name of Clegg at the wedding but am afraid I cannot picture Mr & Mrs Clegg now. There were quite a lot present including all the Uncles and Aunts and it would be difficult to recall them all. Still we expect you were glad to see them once more although perhaps did not anticipate seeing them at that particular time.

Note more friends visiting you this coming weekend. As you know Geoff and family are coming down on Whit Monday. Down on the 9.5 a.m. Paddington and back on the 4.35 Taunton – a very long journey each way and only just over five hours here but we shall be very pleased to see them.

Glad to hear you think three of the rose cuttings are pulling through. Fresh shoots should however be soon showing. Am afraid the slugs ate most of that clump of Chrysanths you gave me but it is possible I shall save one.

Since writing the above Norman Baker has brought back the horse so have been down the field to see him in safely.

Not a lot of local news this week again. Had local election on Tuesday last and the Labour candidate got in for this ward although the Conservative candidate polled more votes than the Conservative winner last year.

Your rhubarb brew should be alright – there is quite a lot of the yellow variety about but generally it is not quite so sweet as the red or raspberry kind. The addition of lemon balm leaves would improve it in any case. I’ve strained off my parsnip wine into the two sweet jars you gave me – filled one up and nearly filled the second. It is clearing very quickly and the taste is quite good.

When I next write Don & Joan – later this week – will tell them we shall be calling on them, as invited, on the afternoon of Wednesday 7th June. We asked them to look up this week while Don still on leave but they say they are very busy but would like to run up later on.

Bill Aston went on outing last Saturday and said that the happiest people present were the retired members – all the others were grousing about this and/or that. The lunch was not up to standard either. However he had a most enjoyable time and got back about 10.0 p.m.

The ground here is still like lumps of concrete and I’ve used hosepipe a lot to water runner beans and keep bath full. The greenhouse takes a lot of water carrying. It does not look as if I shall get much success with my second row of peas – not up yet and they should have been showing a week ago. I am fairly certain the soil is too rough altogether this year but must try once more. Picked peas are better than those you buy in a tin.

Found a thrush nest last week with young ready to fly – in fact they went next day. The nest is in the hedge between Heels and our garden within about four feet of the house. I had noticed the parent birds about for some time and thought nest was in Golden Privet hedge but could not find it. Anyhow unless Heel removes it shall have at least one to show Susan & Carol although the birds have flown.

Well I think this is about the lot for another week.

All our love to you both and lots of kisses for Susan & Carol.

Mum & Dad

[Scrawled at top of first page as if in afterthought: “?Time at Wincanton 27th May”]

*’Whittlesea’ in this context is the bungalow where Leonard’s parents/Alec’s grandparents, Tom and Emily Atkins, used to live. Its name was not taken from the railway station in Cambridgeshire, but instead from the town in Victoria, Australia, where Tom’s sister Mary Maud lived with her Chinese market-gardener husband and their descendants. It’s impossible to know when contact between the two branches of the family was lost, but as Mary Maud and Tom died within six months of each other (she in late 1940, he in April 1941) it would be fair to suppose that it was at some point during the war. Alec did have vague recollections of ‘packages’ from Australia being delivered during the war, but in later life treated the ‘Chinese relatives’ as a bit of a silly rumour incapable of proof. As far as I know his researches never uncovered the existence of that particular branch of the family, nor indeed of Mary Maud herself.

**I suspect this would be the first ‘two centre’ holiday we had. We stayed one week with a Mrs Le Dieu, presumably in Morton Road, and this looks very much the sort of establishment we were in – although obviously very much improved since those days.

Emily outside ‘Whittlesea’, about 1936

Eva to the family, on the remaining three-quarters of a sheet of Leonard’s writing paper:

Dear Alec June Susan & Carol

Very nice drawings this week. I believe we’ve got nearly twenty altogether. We have been very busy tidying up this week. This weather is lovely & hope it will last for your visit to Exmouth & here.

Spencers have not sold their house yet, it seems to hang fire somehow. I believe they are asking too much for too little. Gibsons have not moved into Drewetts house yet although they are doing extensive operations inside the house. All the Capels have gone to Holland & Germany for a holiday.

Somebody has got me on cleaning the lectern for a few weeks while they are busy. Mrs Cummings is out of hospital but can’t do much yet so may be doing the mags again this time.

We had a good journey to Morlands Rug factory at Glastonbury. The first five minutes was a bit revolting as we visited the tannery but after that it was A1. The loveliest rugs & bootees & slippers, they didn’t slip us any only a few samples of sheepskin all colours. Some were going to make puffs of the pale colours. They gave us a nice tea however.

On June 1st we shall be going to Cannington Farm Institute then on to Taunton for rest of time & Maynards & tea.

The horse is back with a difference, he has had a fourpenny all off & looks a bit bald after what he was.

Well I think this is the lot. Note that I have allocated the singles for the girls so you will not need the cot mattress.

Love from Mum & Dad


Wednesday 8th March, 1961

Leonard to the family:

Dear Alec June Susan & Carol

Thank you very much for another budget received on Tuesday just as we were about to leave the house for the station – I read it in the train after leaving Yatton. What lovely drawings from Susan & Carol and one of them in a separate envelope with a stamp on it. Thank you both for sending them to us. This time I see you drew a little girl appearing on T.V. or was it Andy Pandy?

Now to your letter – it was a surprise to hear car had failed test. The orange coloured reflectors were on car when I first had it but with the use of that particular shade for the ‘winking’ indicator lights I suppose it is only right that they should be changed for red reflectors. The other fault is a new one to me and I must speak to Payne about it first opportunity. At the moment I cannot see the logic of it. However I hope it is alright now but will it cost you two fees of 15/- in addition to charges for the alterations?

Whilst on subject of cars Heel called to me over the garden fence today (this is unusual to start with) and asked me round to see his new car he had had delivered Monday night. Apparently he had just taken his other in for servicing (to a garage on Bristol Road) and the Hillman arrived whilst he was there. Jokingly the proprietor asked Heel if he wanted to exchange his car for another and after some haggling a deal was effected, although when he left home he had no idea of changing.

Well we had a pretty good day yesterday – trains late in the morning because of fog. Saw Don at Durston for about a minute. Arrived Exeter 12.30 p.m. (20 late) and went straight out to Heavitree where we found everything in order*. Mum picked from our garden and took down Daffodils – Narcissi and Anemones which quite filled the vase. We had a snack lunch in Cross Park and then back to the City to look round the shops. The road in the main shopping centre is torn up for half its width and for about half a mile in length making transport a bit chaotic. Caught the 3.35 p.m. Exeter and 4.35 p.m. Taunton and indoors by 6.30 p.m.

At Taunton on the way down I saw Sam Squire who was en route to Bridgwater. Said he saw you a little while ago. He is retiring in June having reached 65.

Note your method with the L.D.C. representatives what about the Yard Master? Does he not get a dose also?

The route to Ruislip – we do not go through Maidenhead – Godfrey’s house is very much this side of the town and our journey thence via Bisham cuts Maidenhead right out. Things should be different of course when Maidenhead’s bypass is available.

Mum and I think you must be mistaking Miss Weeks for Mrs Salway. The latter moved from the Avenue before Susan was born and has only been back on odd occasions for an hour or so.

Have not seen Aston since he was due to see his Dr again early this week so do not know how he got on.

Mum very annoyed with the deckchair suggestion & will probably comment on this later in bulletin.

Note your visitors last Sunday included two young children who could keep the girls busy – a bit late for them to be going home surely?

Peter evidently likes your wine. I have started the parsnip going this end and shall put yeast in tomorrow – Mum will bring some back from the baker’s.

Sorry you upset the coffee when typing letter. Could make one or two suggestions to avoid this but no doubt they have already been made.

Noted you will not require any more Chrysanth cuttiings. We shall pick out the best of the Jersey Beauty apples & bring along and they are lovely for eating just now. Can of course be used for cooking but I think you may prefer them for eating purposes.

Am afraid I must now continue the Gardener’s Gazette as other news now pretty well exhausted. After the rain at the weekend it has been lovely again with sharp frosts and fogs early morning but hot & sunny from about 11.0 a.m. Have managed to get a row of peas in but ground was very rough. Also have put in onion sets. Tomatoes sown in greenhouse still now showing but about 20 seeds put into a pot and brought indoors and stood on water heater are all up lovely. Must try and get some potatoes in this week. Our last season’s supply now running out and we shall be buying for the weekend. Have a hundredweight on order from Durston but do not know when we shall receive them. Have dug the two long trenches for runner beans and now putting all waste vegetable matter into them to make compost. The garden generally is looking fairly tidy again now if can only manage to keep weeds down. Should think your soil has had a chance to drain if not dry out by now.

Yours gallon of Bravery’s Jungle Juice will not be ready in time for me to taste it but I hope it turns out alright. I think the two bottles of plum I’m bringing up are of the first grade – the labels have disappeared so cannot be absolutely definite. The orange in my opinion is really good and the Elderberry up to the standard you had before.

Tried to start the motor mower on Monday without success so when I left car at the garage yesterday morning took sparking plug of motor mower down and asked them to clean it out as I could get no spark**. Grass too wet this afternoon after a very wet fog early this morning so have not yet made a second attempt.

Am still waiting for Norman Baker to bring pony along to cut/eat grass in field. I saw him the other day and he said he would bring it along shortly but I hope it won’t be before Easter now.

Saw Ching last night on train from Yatton to Clevedon and he said he is under Soole on research work and that Soole is under Gallacher(?) & Burt. Not a very healthy atmosphere by the sound of it.

Well I think this is the lot once more – hope you are continuing to keep fit.

Al, our love to you both and lots of kisses for our dear little Susan & Carol.

Mum & Dad.

[*Although Leonard isn’t clear here, this is certainly a visit to his parents’ grave(s); they had both died in Exeter, Emily only two years previously and Thomas in 1941.]

[**This is Leonard all over, expecting other people to sort out his problems for him – especially ‘tradesmen’. It was an attitude that prevailed in the family well into succeeding generations and speaks to a class-consciousness that has still not completely disappeared from the world.]

Letter from Eva to the family on the remaining three quarters of Leonard’s sheet of paper:

Dear Alec June Susan & Carol

Many thanks for your letter & contribution towards the picture gallery. There is quite an expression on the big girl’s face looks as if she had been up to something.

I like the idea of me directing operations from the deck chair. My manual labours would be missed if they discontinued believe me. There seems to be an unusual weed this year & plenty of it, expect the exceptional rain has brought that one out. The flowers I took down to Exeter were really nice. None of them had come out four days ago but I picked them & brought them in the kitchen where they all opened. I did that before Xmas with the chrysanths (outdoor) & had flowers for weeks.

The shops looked nice at Exeter only needed the L.S.D. I bought Dad a 5/6 wove tie dorn to 4/1 at Horne’s. I see they have a Barnett-Hutton shop there* didn’t know they were down further than Bristol.

I was going to throw away the Xmas cards but Dad says perhaps the children would like them if so we cabn bring them plenty of scribbling space on them.

Mr Heel’s car is not so long or wide as ours & he has no wireless in it either so he is claiming rebate on his £1 licence.

They are renovating the promenade wall where the people sit so I expect they have had a few heavy weights on it at times.

No more now will close with love to all from

Dad & Mum

[*Apparently this was a chain of ladieswear shops owned by Hide & Co which in 1965 was taken over by Tootal but was not part of the deal when Tootal sold Hide & Co to House of Fraser in 1988. Hide & Co was put into liquidation in 1988 and the inference from this must be that Tootal still owns the Barnett-Hutton brand.]

Bill of Sale

As Leonard’s letter to the family, written on Thursday 8 December 1960, seems not to have arrived until Monday 12 December (i.e. the day after Alec usually replied), and has apparently not survived*, here instead is a curious item that presumably dates from the time when Tom accepted the posting to Cross Keys. It’s terribly sad that he and Emily had to part with so many of their household possessions, but it was probably much simpler and cheaper to do so than to try and transport everything to their new home – and they may, of course, have been going into furnished accommodation anyway.

It’s entirely possible, however, that this was the event which produced the packrat tendency in later generations of the family – which is in turn the reason for this blog’s existence in the first place. When so much had to be discarded or disposed of, the desire to hold onto what could be held on to may have become more tenacious, which is the reason why my spare bedroom is full of storage boxes the contents of which I have barely scratched the surface of.

This is not going to be a small task, readers, and we aren’t even a tenth of the way through it yet.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

[*I don’t rule out the possibility of its having been misfiled into a different year, but if you could see the volume of these letters and the way they’re stored you’d probably forgive me for not hunting for it!]

[**As a lifelong editor, I want to go back and make that compositor add a comma after ‘neighbourhood’ – among other things!]

Thursday 8th September, 1960

Leonard to the family:

[Alec’s letter, presumably of Sunday 4th September, has not survived. NB: for a change, Leonard is writing on plain white foolscap.]

Dear Alec June Susan & Carol

Many thanks for June’s letter received on Friday last and Alec’s on Tuesday this week and not forgetting Susan’s splendid effort at drawing. Your week’s leave was a proper ‘washout’ and all of you must have had a terrible time coping with the many preparations for base of garage. Reminds me of time Don & Geoff came to Clevedon to build shed. They had a week’s leave and every minute had to be used or the job could not have been completed. The first day (Sunday) it poured so everything was turned out of front room and the sizing and cutting of timber was done there. We hope none of you had any after effects consequent on working in such weather.

Note from June’s letter you had a trip to wembley on the Monday and did a bit of shopping also a trip to Richings Park then later in week a long run to Westcliffe on Sea with June’s Father & Mother – how nice for them to be able to get away together for once – expect they enjoyed the day out even if not suited regarding bungalow. The map I have of the area shows Hadleigh but not Westcliffe. Which way did you go? Query north of London then South East. We hope they can get fixed up soon as that will be one worry off their minds and what a relief it will be to get away from the shop* and district.

Turning to Alec’s letter again I imagine he was glad to get back to work this week for a rest. I used to feel like that after a good week on the garden in the old days. Note position re: vacancy applications but no doubt you will keep us advised of any developments. Heard this week that Saunders of Yatton is going to Bridgwater (Spl. A) and that Norman Allen had an interview for two jobs at Transom House yesterday – had to see Hallen and Arthur Price.

Yes the bellringing is quite good fun and last Saturday at Portishead we had 10/- each for our trouble. Only two of the regular Portishead ringers were available and they were most glad of outside assistance. Our next one here at the Old Church is on Monday Oct. 3rd – wedding at St. Peters and bells at Old Church. The Old Church at the moment is upside-down, roof off (temporary galvanised sheeting to keep rain out) part of inside sealed off and piano being used in place of organ. All this due to renovations being carried out consequent on work of death watch beetle. Now feared that damage worse than first anticipated and estimated for.

Our house too is upside-down this week as we have Frank James and his assistant in repapering and repainting Hall & staircase. Fortunately since Monday weather has been grand & we can keep doors open & let paint dry quicker and incidentally to let some of the smell out.**

Assume by now you have completed minutes of meeting and had another trip to Cardiff. Presumably progress being made with the scheme in hand for Cardiff area.

Have you heard from Geoff and family since they returned from Italy? Should have been home again sometime yesterday.

Had a line from Don yesterday to say that Mrs Elston (Exeter) died on Sept 1st and that Joan and he went to funeral on Monday. Mrs Elston was a very great friend of Grandma Atkins as I expect you may remember.

Don & Joan are coming up to dinner on Sunday 18th inst. – in style presumably in the new Countryman. Have not told him yet that we have changed cars.*** Your LTA 259 now safely garaged in St Andrew’s Drive and cannot be moved again until it is covered by your Insurance. Quite safe where it is and in the dry. Radio Licences are not transferable hence the desire to renew in your name. We seldom used it when out in car and shall not miss it in the future. Must admit though that if anyone out for a picnic like you were at Richings Park it could be very enjoyable. Query any moves regarding your present car GJO 120?

Shall have about ten pints of elderberry wine in due course and you must have a bottle or two later on. An afraid it is too late now for you to think of getting any berries. The orange wine seems to be maturing all right but a little on the ‘sharp’ side at the moment – more sugar in due course – hope to bottle about nine pints.

Managed to cut grass on Monday but it was hard work even for the motor mower.

Bad luck on football pool effort – obviously wrong week to get an all correct line as you say – still the permutation is good.

Have now passed the 1 cwt mark with tomatoes and quite a number still on the plants to ripen. Runner beans practically finished except for a few odd pounds but I shall have several hundred for seed. Broccoli now turning in and even a few savoys are formed in the seed bed. There has been an unmistakeable sign of Autumn in the mornings down here this week and some fog but yesterday and again today we have had glorious sunshine all day and I’ve been able to get on with hedge cutting – the ground is still much too wet to get on.

A lot of work going on next door now-a-days – somebody there most of the time painting or hammering until 10.0 p.m. nightly. Today an electric cooker was taken in and fixed by Electricity Coy.

Susan made a very good drawing on her own – how did they react to the work being done in the rain last week? Or were they otherwise occupied? Note Pauline was with you part of the time so no doubt Aunty Pauly had a rough time.****

Have asked Don if any more cider available. How did your neighbours like the lot you took back?

Note you may be going Cardiff again next week and if possible will make Clevedon for a short visit. Of course we shall be delighted but, if you can, let us know in good time so I can meet you at station.

Mother has just picked up June’s letter and said she is going to reply later to look out June.*****

Not much more to tell you this time – hope you are all keeping well and that this break in the weather will enable Susan & Carol to get outdoors again.

All our love to you both and lots of kisses for the girls.

Mum & Dad

*There do not appear to be any photos of the shop – at least, I haven’t found any. I remember it as being narrow and dark, with an odd little triangular garden filled with nettles. I was told as a child that it was being bulldozed ‘to make way for an extension to the runway at Heathrow’, although a quick look at the map shows this to be patently ridiculous. It was clearly bulldozed at some point in the 1960s-1980s, though, as the address is now a branch of Aldi.

**Anyone familiar only with modern paint can have no real idea of how much paint – even emulsion – used to stink in the 1960s. It was foul, and it took a very long time to go away!

***This one-upmanship over cars is a seriously unattractive trait IMHO, but mercifully not genetic; as long as a car does what you need it to do, who cares what bells and whistles it’s got? (Although I must admit heated seats sound more attractive as one gets older.)

****Because looking after children is such an imposition. Good job there are women about to do it.

*****And yet more disrespect towards women; clearly a letter from Eva couldn’t have any value whatsoever and is something to be avoided if possible. The self-importance and belittling comments about other people get very old very quickly, don’t they?

Thursday 17th March, 1960

Leonard to the family on the reverse of Table 31 – continued – WEST OF ENGLAND to SOUTH WALES VIA BRISTOL

Dear Alec June Susan & Carol

Many thanks for letters received on Saturday & Tuesday. It was a shock to hear about Graham Adlem – he was so young for such a complaint. Thank you very much for including us on the card attached to sheaf of flowers – will settle when we meet. We wondered on the Saturday morning what to do but time was so short – your idea put things right in that respect. It must be a terrible blow to Iris & family. I think both his father and mother are dead – in fact I believe I understood many years ago that when in the Westbury Control he lived with his sister – query at Steeple Ashton near Trowbridge. Hope the Esso people look after them – he could not have had many years’ service to qualify for various funds of the firm.

Now to your second letter. Susan must have a pretty good memory to remember parts of the seafront and the Mobo toys – after all she was only just over three years of age when she was here in July last. I thought you would like the Clevedon Guide – a bit fanciful to people who know anything about the place but quite attractive to others.

We both had a good laugh over Susan’s ‘painfully’ experience – I expect you did also behind her back. They must be very interesting now-a-days in spite of all the work and worry they give you.

We went to Exeter on Monday but it was a poor day really. Rained most of the time and it was also much cooler. Got out to Heavitree about 11.30 a.m. and found everything in order.* Did not stop many minutes owing to the rain and took bus back to centre of City where we had lunch. A look round the shops then but weather still unpleasant so made our way back to station and home.

Saw Don at Durston going down in train seemed to be looking his normal self again but of course we only saw him for less than a minute. He and Joan are coming up to lunch on Sunday the 20th inst. – a date arranged when we went to Lyng in January.

Yet it was rather strange how I saw Snow at Gowan’s funeral. After we had found a seat in back row but one of the church the person in front of me turned round and it was Snow. It was the only time we met as when we got outside again there was no trace of him – in fact quite a lot disappeared in that short space of time including Charlie Rust. I thought Snow was beginning to look old – gone quite grey. George Grant was at one time the chief divisional inspector – he was predecessor to Willmott and Ashton followed Willmott. The Lovemore you mentioned was Yard Insp. at Temple Meads – responsible for working at Dr Day’s – Malago Vale** and the Midland [????]? Stacey now holds this job.

I did not study the Guillebaude report very closely and handed it on to Don on Monday as per Geoff’s wishes. Noticed he was trying to blind everybody with figures though. I see the ASLEF want increase to date from August 1956 – pity they could not go back to 1912 when I should get another picking.***

Bad luck for Ronnie Grey but hope he is getting on alright again now. Appendicitis is something they have to deal with very quickly or serious developments occur. I remember G. A. V. Philips was rushed off to Cottage Hospital many years ago here and operated on immediately for same trouble.

So you have bought a new hat and had a job to get a fit – why? The last I bought was the cap I use occasionally – got it in Exmouth about three years ago when we went there for the day.

Thank you very much for remembering 21st March and I shall look forward to receiving whatever it is when we are with you too – two years old, how time flies.****

Weather still generally unkind down here but am plodding on with garden – have now put out 84 lettuce plants and given them a dose of Sluggit mixture. So far so good. Ground still much too wet for seed sowing so I’ve put in a lot in three of the garden frames. Might as well bring them on in there and plant out later. Have taken a few more chrysanth cuttings and will bring up one or two rooted plants for you. Have cracked up all the bricks and stone alongside Heels fence – this was a tiring job and only accomplished in small sessions since Christmas. The shallots are all shooting out now and I have two nice long rows of them. Mum has been busy cleaning up some of the flower borders. You are ahead of me with dahlias. I’ve only just tipped mine out of winter quarters onto one of the concrete paths. Have far too many to try and bring them on in greenhouse and all the frames except one are in use. The one exception is the frame I’m keeping for a hot bed for cucumbers. Am wondering if Don will bring up a sack of dry poultry manure***** – as he did last time – to go in there. By the way rabbits are again plentiful on the hills and they destroy a lot of the flowers on graves in the churchyard & cemetery. Some men get after them with guns – not without result but I should not fancy any now-a-days. Hope they will leave garden alone this year.

Well I think this must be all once more. Lots of kisses for our two cherubs.

Dad & Mum

*’Everything’ was presumably the gravestone for Emily that Don and Geoff had arranged.

**Now a trading estate.

***I’m not sure what ‘another picking’ may be in this context, although 1912 was the year Leonard joined the GWR and presumably he had to decide (or be told) which sort of work he would be most suitable for. He may have thought, rather cynically, that driving a train would have been more lucrative than the traffic management work he ended up doing.

****This would be a reference to Carol, about to turn two in April.

*****Don and Joan kept chickens, of course, but I wasn’t previously aware of him trucking sacks of dry poultry manure around the country!

Christmas Day: Expect the Unexpected!

I’m not sure what most people expect when they start on family history research. In my case there was a lot I already knew, and plenty of well-trodden ground, so I was fairly confident that except for ferreting out a few quirky details I would probably not make much new progress.

I had never in my life imagined that I would end up acquiring, and investigating, a whole group of distant (both in family terms and geographically) Chinese and part-Chinese relations, who would open up the hitherto staid and predictable landscape of yeomen and minor clerks to present me with gold miners, coal trimmers and market gardeners on the other side of the world.

I’m acutely aware that I haven’t yet produced a family tree so you’re going to have to take my word for this for the time being. However, let’s do it this way: Alec Atkins (1922-2001) was my father (I’m one of the awful manipulative children he complains about in his letters). Leonard Atkins (1897-1986) was his father. (Leonard has a story all his own; his diary of the First World War was featured in Michael Portillo’s Railways of the Great War.) Leonard’s father was Tom (1869-1941), who hasn’t appeared very much in these posts so far, and Tom’s wife/widow was the Emily of The Mother Problem.

Tom’s mother was Mary Jane (1845-1910). We don’t know who Tom’s father was, because Mary Jane was never actually married – although she did have two children. This was a surprise to me; I only found out accidentally that Tom had an older sister, Mary Maud, and whether my father knew or not is unclear. However Tom does seem to have been in contact with her until the end of her life.*

Mary Maud (let’s call her Maud, from now on) appears on the 1881 census living in Frome and working in a factory there. However by 1885 she’s in Australia, married to a Chinese market gardener, and having her first child – Violet. Maud married twice, in fact, both times to men of Chinese origin, and had two sons and two daughters. One of the boys died as a baby, and the other son remained unmarried, but in due course both daughters married (one twice within the Chinese community, one outside it) as a result of which there are numerous Chinese and part-Chinese second cousins of my father and third cousins of mine to be tracked down. I’m not including any names here, because (a) some of these people are still alive and (b) I’ve discovered through being in contact with two of Maud’s great-grandsons that they are a little bit reclusive and publicity-shy. I don’t know their reasons for this, and I’m not going to speculate; I’ll simply take them at their word. The family history information quoted above is a matter of public record, however, and if anyone else cares to spend time and money investigating they could easily come to the same conclusions as I have.

I mean no disrespect to people of Chinese origin when I say that, fascinating though it is, this is proving a very difficult area of research. Names have often been transcribed incorrectly, for example, and usually by people with little or no understanding of Chinese languages or naming conventions. Also, they seem to have considered ‘China’ to be sufficient description of where the individuals were born, whereas even a province name would have been more helpful; China covers 3.7 million square miles but has always had a very efficient bureaucracy – tracing these men’s exact birthplaces might almost have been possible if we’d only had a little more information to go on.

What’s puzzling me at the moment is when and how Maud travelled to Australia. (Her name does not appear on any of the passenger lists I’ve been able to consult.) It’s likely to have been as part of a charitable endeavour, with people from underprivileged backgrounds being recruited to start a new life on the other side of the world, not unlike the later Child Migrant Programme. Whether Maud was satisfied with her decision or not is impossible to say unless any correspondence from her comes to light – which could well happen, as there are family archives held by another second cousin of mine that I hope one day to be able to access. How Maud met either of her husbands is also a fascinating question; knowing where she landed in Australia – probably Melbourne or nearby – and what work she did after arriving might be useful in that respect.

I had only really scratched the surface of this investigation ten years ago when I suddenly found myself running a small business which proceeded to eat up most of my time. Now that the business is being wound-up, I’ve returned to the research with better resources and a clearer idea of what I’m looking for – but with much less energy. However, although I plan to continue sharing the letters, photos, clippings and diaries that I have in my extensive collection, I’ve decided to confine any future new research to those relatives on all sides of the family who went to live in Australia – including the one who eventually came back with his tail between his legs. If I ever get to the end of this line of investigation, I’ll return to the Huguenots on another branch – just as well-documented as the Chinese, but suffering from the same difficulty of being strangers in a strange land and often having their names transcribed incorrectly.

Watch this space, as the saying goes, for future updates as and when they become available!

*That correspondence between Maud and her brother continued at least until the mid-1920s (and probably longer) is borne out by two pieces of evidence. The first is that Tom and Emily’s bungalow in Exeter was named ‘Whittlesea’, the name of the town in Australia where Maud and her family lived. The second is that one of Maud’s great-grandsons sent me pictures of Leonard and Eva’s wedding and of Alec as a baby – the latter one that I had never seen before but of course recognised him instantly. This means that in about 1924-25 there was still an exchange of correspondence, and as Maud did not die until 1940 I can see no reason why it wouldn’t have continued for at least another decade. If the packrat tendency extends to the entire family, there may still be letters in an attic somewhere that could shed considerable light on some of these unanswered questions; if only my second cousin Sara would get in touch again, we might be able to join forces to find out!

Friday 4th December, 1959

Leonard to the family, once again on the reverse of Timetable 179, Leamington Spa, Stratford-upon-Avon, Bormingham, Stourbridge Junction, Kidderminster, Bewdley, Dudley, Wolverhampton and Wellington:

Dear Alec June Susan & Carol

Many thanks for your letter received on Tuesday and you should have had Mum’s the same morning. I see by date above it is five years ago today you were married. Congratulations to you both and very best wishes for the future. It’s also five years off the payments for house and although very little difference as yet in your pay packet it is that much further towards the place being your own. That was a splendid effort of Susan’s and the drawing shews she can put her ideas on paper. Noted they both keep you on your toes. They used to say “Boys will be boys” but we must alter it to “Girls will be girls”. Good job the hand bell was used in Sunday School as presumably she was not allowed to bring it home. Yes we heard from Geoff that you had called on them having lost your way when out in car shopping. They were pleased to see you and said “How the girls have grown.” Stella was apparently away working in Watford (query in Marks and Spencers). Geoff made his usual annual visit to Ireland last week* but crossed over one night and recrossed the next – cut the trip by two days this time. I also see British Railways dispensing with their Christmas [illegible] cards this year – about time too.

Thanks for information re your Parcels effort at Paddington – the electronic computer will save hours of calculating work by the sound of it. So manning has gone to Euston – query whether he would be an applicant to get back on WR when suitable sideways vacancy occurs. Don’t think I’m a Job’s comforter but things like this happen all too frequently. Note your remarks re garage and I agree the arrangement of the door on garage at Whittlesea is an ideal one but must obviously cost more*. I believe Don & Geoff fixed it between them but it’s a job I should not like to tackle.

Yes we heard Bill Harper had finished and am wondering how he will pass the time as he has no known hobby and no garden on house – he lives in Brislington not so very far away from the Newmans who we visit two or three times a year.

I nopte re: apples and will pick out some nice ones from the Bramley Seedlings [sic] and Jersey Beauty – the former are the best cookers and can be used from November onwards whilst the Jersey beauty is eater and cooker but must be kept for a while as at the moment they are very hard. Should keep until February or March in good keeping season but you must keep your eye on them as season not so good. Weather here has been pretty bad but not so foggy as in your area.

We went to Weston on Tuesday and although we came away again about 7.0 p.m. had to run through blankets of fog for most of journey.

Apart from sawing wood up for logs and chopping for firewood have not done very much out of door work since I last wrote because of wet state of ground. The pond filled with water overnight but soon returned to normal level (top of deep part) when it stopped raining – have not yet been able to mend leak although have had a couple of goes at it. House next door still empty and garden now looking like a piece of waste ground. I notice the broad beans Cornish put in for me on Nov 5th are breaking through the soil and about 25% of my spring cabbage plants look as if they may recover in due course. There is still a lot of white fly about in spite of frost and torrential rain and greenstuff generally is going to be scarce later on. We are using cabbage which normally would not be cut until towards end of January.

Am glad to say Mum is much better although still troubled with a cough – these appear to be very common at present – she will write to June in reply to her letter later. I’m still getting on alright but as mentioned above have not done any serious gardening yet – fortunately the weather would have stopped me in any case.

Shall be looking forward to seeing you next week and you must let us know time due Yatton or Clevedon.

No more now – all the best once more and lots of kisses for Susan & Carol.

Dad & Mum

*’Whittlesea’ was the name of the house in which Emily lived before she began her peripatetic lifestyle (see ‘The Mother Problem’). It was in the immediate vicinity of the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital premises at Wonford in Exeter but I have been unable to establish whether or not it’s still in existence. The derivation of the name is an interesting one; it was named for the town in Victoria, Australia, where Emily’s sister-in-law Mary ended up living. Mary is an interesting character whom we’ll be meeting in more detail at a later stage. At any rate, it sounds as if a segmented sliding garage door may be what Don and Geoff installed on the premises, and what Alec was craving. When he did get one, many years later, he decided it was more trouble than it was worth.

Emily and Tom

Tom and Emily are the parents of Leonard, Donald and Geoffrey. (And therefore the grandparents of Alec and great-grandparents of Yours Truly.) It’s clear from the photos that Leonard took after his mother and Donald his father, in particular, while Geoffrey was a satisfying blend of both.

This is Emily (Beacham) Atkins, the focus of ‘The Mother Problem’ as described in the correspondence between her sons. This photograph was taken at Christmas 1946.
Here’s her husband Tom (front row centre). On the back of the picture are these words: For Alec from Grandfie Atkins taken on his retirement from the post of stationmaster at Cross Keys Mon. Oct 27th 1928. Alec would have been three years and four months old at the time.
And this, clearly, is Cross Keys station from which Tom was retiring, although this was taken slightly earlier in 1922. According to Wikipedia Cross Keys – near Ebbw Vale – was open in its original form from 1851 to 1962, and was presumably then demolished and rebuilt (on a slightly different site) in 2008. Take that, Dr Beeching!

Jesus paid my fare/A Little Pilgrim

This item is a bit of a mystery. It’s handwritten, and I suspect it may have been copied from a newspaper or magazine; although I don’t recognise the handwriting I think it’s a safe bet that it may have been Emily’s. Emily comes through from all the documents I have as being a very devout – not to mention stern – Christian, who had a tendency to impose her views on other people. (No doubt believing she was doing so for their own good.) I could well imagine this being the sort of sentimental thing that would appeal to Emily, particularly towards the end of her life. Frankly I find it rather mawkish myself, and the quality of the verse is pretty average. I haven’t been able to track down an author’s name, but a publisher called Bible Truth is still charging money for italthough I suspect it is Victorian in origin and any copyright that may once have existed on it has long since been extinguished.


One summer evening, ere the sun went down

When city men were hastening from the town

To reach their home, some near at hand, some far

By snorting train, by omnibus or car

To be beyond the reach of city’s din

A tramcar stopped, a little child got in.

A cheery looking girl, scarce four years old;

Although not shy her manners were not bold

But all alone one scarce could understand

She held a little bundle in her hand

A tiny handkerchief with corners tied

But this did not some bread and butter hide

A satin scarf, so natty and so neat

Was o’er her shoulders thrown, she took her seat

And laid her bundle underneath her arm

And smiling prettily, but yet so calm,

“Please sir,” she gently said, “may I sit here?”

The guard at once replied, “Oh yes, my dear.”

And thus she seemed inclined to make her stay

While once again the tram went on its way.

The tall conductor over six feet high

Now scanned the traveller with a business eye

But in that eye was something kind and mild

That took the notice of the little child.

A little after and the man went round

And soon was heard the old familiar sound

Of gathering pence and clipping ticker too

The tram was full and he had much to do.

“Your fare, my little girl,” at length he said.

She looked a moment, shook her little head.

“I have no pennies, don’t you know,” said she;

“My fare is paid; ’twas Jesus paid for me.”

He looked bewildered, all the people smiled;

“I didn’t know; and who is Jesus, child?”

“Why don’t you know, he once for sinners died,

For little children and for men beside

To make us good and wash us from our sin

Isn’t this his railway I am travelling in?”

“Don’t think it is, I want your fare you know.”

“I told you, Jesus paid it long ago.

My mother told me just before she died

That Jesus paid when he was crucified

That at the cross his railway did begin

Which took poor sinners from a world of sin.

Why, mother said his home was grand and fair

I want to go and see my mother there.

I want to go to Heaven where Jesus lives

Won’t you go too? My mother said He gives

A loving welcome. Shall we not be late?

Oh let us go before he shuts the gate.”

He knew not why-he fumbled at his coat,

He felt a something rising in his throat

Whilst all the people listened to the child

Some were in tears, the roughest of them smiled.

“I am a pilgrim,” said the little thing;

“I’m going to Heaven; my mother used to sing

To me of Jesus and his father’s love;

Told me to meet her in his home above.

And so today when Aunt went out to tea

And through the door the sunshine I did see

I got my bundle, gave my doll a kiss

And put its Sunday frock on pretty miss

And got my hat and then I left my home

A little pilgrim up to heaven to roam.

And then your railway stopped and I could see

You looked so kind, I saw you beckon me

I thought that this was our dear Saviour’s train

To take me up to mother long the empty lane.”

The poor conductor only shook his head

Tears in his eyes, the power of speech had fled.

Had conscience by her prattle roused his fears,

And struck upon the fountain of his tears;

And made his thoughts in sad confusion whirl?

I loved her much; she was my little pet,

And with great fondness I remember yet

I loved her much; she was my little pet,

And with great fondness I remember yet

How much she loved me, but one day she died.”

“She’s gone to heaven,” the little child replied.

“She’s gone to Jesus-Jesus paid her fare.

O dear conductor, won’t you meet her there?”

The poor conductor now broke fully down

He could have borne the harshest look a frown

But no-one laughed, while many sitting by

Beheld the scene with sympathetic eye.

He kissed the child, for she his heart had won

“I am so sleepy,” said the little one.

“If you will let me, I’ll lie here and wait

Until your railway comes to Jesus’ gate.

Be sure to wake me up and pull my frock

And at the gate just give one little knock

And you’ll see Jesus  The strong man wept.

I could but think as from the car I stept,

How oft a little one has found the road,

The narrow pathway to that blest abode:

Through faith in Christ has read its title clear,

While learned men remain in doubt and fear.

A little child! the Lord oft uses such

The stoutest heart to break, or bend, or touch;

Then by His Spirit bids the conflict cease,

And once forever enter into peace.

And then along the road the news we bear, –

On our way to heaven-that Jesus paid our fare!

A Little Pilgrim

Monday 25th May, 1959

From Don. Emily had died at Heavitree on 16 March – presumably at Fort Villa – and Don was clearly acting as her executor.


Monday 24th May, 1959 [sic]

Dear All,

A copy of this letter has gone to ‘Devonia’*, Headstone Lane** and Queen’s Walk***. It replies to Geoff’s letter, no date but postmarked 10/5/59 and two ex Leon – one dated 9/5/59 and the other 22/2/59.

Nothing has been decided to date regarding the investments ( in trust ) for Rebecca, Sara, Susan and Carol. The best effort forthcoming so far is National Savings Certificates which would be registered under the Holders Card Nos. already advised.

The certificates, if and when purchased, would be the 10th issue and held for 7 years when every 15/- would be worth £1 – not bad for a start – the snag being that a reinvestment would then have to be found by the trustee – the best available at the time – either say a 11th issue Trustee Savings Bank. If the trustee made a bad investment he would have to make good the loss. Now the point you all appear to emphasise is put the money in GWR Savings Bank @ 4.5% until they are 21. Good show, but tell me please under what rule a separate trustee account may be so opened for the persons concerned when as each becomes 21 the book may be given her on the day. You will appreciate, no-one, except the trustee may have access thereto during the intervening years. However. assuming such accounts may be opened, these would have to be closed by the trustee if either father passed away and the widow remarried outside British Railways. I hate to touch upon such a morbid subject but life is so uncertain apart from the age factor that some of us may not be around to see all the legacies paid out. If your replies on the GWR Savings Bank are negative ones have you any other ideas please on how the various sums may be invested to give the best return during the waiting period and at the same time protect the trustee from any loss. The question is on the table.

Headstone Lane: I note Geoff bought 500 bricks and hopes to brick edge some flower borders. Unless a low wall is required I prefer whole sleepers. Much quicker and a good one lasts about 15 years. Also not subject to frost eating bricks away.

Clevedon: Thanks for news re: S/M****s at Yatton and Highbridge. Both having a pretty rough time. Always someone worse than yourself. (I expect you know the Chinese story – the beggar grumbling because he had no boots until he met a man who had no feet.) However I should like to know how both are getting on now if not back to work yet. Am not too bad myself. Am please to say all your onions have taken root here. A lot of my similar ones keep throwing seed heads. Glad you and Geoff were able to have a look together at some of Mother’s treasures – also very pleased you were able to satisfactorily sort them out between you and that Alec came into the picture. Talking about pictures, the one I would like to have had was an oval one showing trees in a glade. It had no frame or glass. Strange no-one can say where it went. Like the jewellery must take it as read I suppose. No more for now.


*i.e. Leonard and Eva **i.e. Geoff and Stella ***i.e. Alec and June ****Station Masters