Bessie G’s story

The name “Miss B Gramlich” is given as a co-chair of the West Wiltshire WSPU, alongside Lillian Dove-Willcox (a prominent member known to have relocated to Trowbridge from Bristol) in 1911-12.

This would appear to be Elizabeth Gramlick, one of several daughters of a wealthy family who at that time were living at the now-demolished grand house of Springfield, on Hilperton Road in Trowbridge.


Bessie was born in c1881, at least the fifth child of seven from Bethnal Green-born John Thomas Gramlick and his wife Emily Hornsby. Like most of her siblings (she had five sisters and a brother), she was born in Vienna, where her father made a good living as a plumber, putting in water supplies and indoor plumbing for grand palaces. The family were part of a good number of English people – despite their Germanic surname, John Thomas appears to have been English for several generations back – in the Austrian capital, and seem to have played a big part in that society. He is known to have been a founder of the Vienna Cricket and Football Club.

At some point around the turn of the century, Bessie and her family returned to the UK. Her father appears to have retired from running the plumbing business full time, and left his son and oldest child in charge. It’s unknown where they settled at first – the 1901 census has the family holidaying at a boarding house in Brighton – but by 1904 when Bessie’s mother died the family were clearly well settled in Trowbridge society.

The local newspaper report of Emily Gramlick’s funeral reports on many tributes from local people, and floral arrangements from all daughters including “Little Bess” – a pet name for Bessie.

There are sporadic reports of the family in newspapers of the first decade of the 20th century. The Misses Gramlick appear to have played tennis among other society women, and attended grand weddings – Bessie contributed a fancy cushion as a present to one, while her sisters offered a butter knife. There is also a report of Bessie being a fair amateur actress in a production of Red Riding Hood at Staverton School Room in 1906, which involved various of her sisters. Bessie played the Queen of Sylvania, and reportedly acted it in a “graceful and artistic way”.

Bessie’s name appearing as the co-chair of the West Wilts WSPU in 1911-12 is concurrent with her appearance on the 1911 census. On this document she is 30 and has no profession – like all of her sisters. She’s given by her full name Elizabeth. All her sisters are at home, and unmarried.

A reception for women to discuss votes for women was held by the WSPU at Trowbridge Town Hall on 14 March 1911, but while the invitation came from Lillian Dove-Willcox there was no mention of Bessie’s connection to the movement. There is no further connection of the WSPU to Bessie Gramlick in the newspapers at the time.

Instead, the next record available shows that she volunteered for the Voluntary Red Cross at Trowbridge in February 1916. She worked six hours per week at the Wilts War Hospital Supply Depot, as a member of the BRCS, and was retained until 1919. She was awarded a VW badge for this.

In 1921 it appears both Bessie and her sister Mary married, probably at the same time. Bessie Gramlick became Bessie LeCount as she married Charles J Lecount in West Ham. She would have been 40 years old when this marriage took place, and probably regarded as a confirmed spinster by the society circles she moved in.

However, her father’s will, enacted around six months after her wedding took place, refers to both Bessie and Mary as spinsters. Their married status probably hadn’t had a chance to be updated by the time he died in early 1922. Bessie, Mary and another spinster sister Emily inherited nearly £6,000 and were still given as living at Springfield in Trowbridge.

Bessie and Charles appear to have a son – Charles – in 1922, when she was around 40, and a daughter – Peggy – in 1929 when she was around 48, and lived in West Ham. Her unmarried sister Emily appears to have kept up the family home at Springfield, but used her inheritance to travel – the late 20s and early 30s have her going back and forth between the UK, Italy and Indonesia – while Bessie stayed in Essex with her husband and children.

Bessie Lecount died in 1955 at the age of 73, in Essex. Family trees online give Bessie’s death, unmarried, as 1951 in Trowbridge. However, there is no record that backs up this account.


Mary L’s story

If you happened to come into some money, enough for you to live on for many years without having to work, would you keep that wealth for your own benefit or give some of it towards helping under-privileged relatives?

Mary L faced that choice. It’s unknown exactly where her inheritance came from, as she came from a fairly working-class family in Hull, Yorkshire, in the 1840s, where her father worked as a labourer and an older sister helped the family finances by making dresses.

On the surface, this would not seem the type of family to have produced an annuitant, and indeed when Mary’s father died in 1860 her mother made ends meet by becoming a laundress – not a particularly lucrative profession, but an obvious one for an unskilled widow to pick up. However, Mary – who at this stage was living at home – had come into some money and referred to herself on the 1861 census as an annuitant.

It’s unknown exactly where this money came from. There was no lottery for Mary to win in those days, and she does not appear in any UK will or probate record of the time. However, her maternal grandfather, who had emigrated to the mid-western United States in the 1830s and had done well for himself, died in 1858 – and it is possible that this is the source of her money, although it is uncertain that they ever met.

Whatever the source, Mary had enough of a cushion to support herself comfortably and become of a class somewhat above others in her family. She could afford a household of her own, and a domestic servant to help her look after it.

Later on, she occasionally took in a boarder, but still could afford domestic help. She also helped to raise two of her sister’s children. One, an older girl, seems to have lived with her for a little while. The other, a five-year-old boy, came to her when his mother died. It would seem to be the obvious choice, for relatives in insecure circumstances to send their child to a wealthy aunt to be looked after and have a better life.

This nephew lived with her for many years, and helped her to run the boarding house she eventually ran. He had an apprenticeship to a monumental sculptor, which Mary supported him through, and he married from her household in the years just before the first world war.

Mary lived to see the end of the first world war, dying in 1919. However, significantly, her money that remained was left to neither niece nor nephew, nor any other family member, going instead to a local architect.


The Women Who Made Me actively welcomes submissions from anyone who has a story to tell about women from their family. To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.

Jane T’s story

Jane T was a coal miner’s daughter, Yorkshire born and bred, too jolly to be formidable but still she was no shrinking violet – she could hold her own against opposition. She used her talents for cooking, baking, home-making and even a little animal husbandry to benefit her close and wider family and the community in which she lived. Business-minded (her sisters were all shopkeepers of sorts) she also used her talents to make money, taking in a variety of lodgers to her gas board-owned home.

Jane T was born in the early 1880s in Featherstone, Yorkshire to Sam and Hannah. There were three older sisters, Harriet, Elizabeth (Lizzie) and Clementine (Clemmie) and a younger brother called Seth, who died in WW1. Jane’s nephew Wilf was also brought up as if he was a younger sibling to Jane (although really her nephew). Although Jane moved to Derbyshire (a good train journey away) she kept close to her sisters and their offspring, especially those of Clemmie who died while her children were still young. she also had occasional visits from Seth’s widow and nephew Wilf and family.

Details about Jane’s childhood are elusive, except that her mother was a strict Methodist and wouldn’t let her go to the fair (or feast as they probably called it), so her boyfriend James Walker, brought a ladder to her bedroom window and she escaped through it and went to the fair – reader, she married him, it was a good marriage.

Jane and James married at the turn of the 20th century when Jane was 19. On the 1901 census the couple were living in Purston Jaglin (near Featherstone). The following year their daughter Hannah was born and two years later, the family moved to Clowne, Derbyshire. Jim had been promoted there by the gas board and Jane remained there and made friends. In 1905 Jane and Jim had another baby, this time a son called James (Jimmy) but sadly he died in 1912 in a flu epidemic. The next day, Jane gave birth to her third and last child, another boy, called Leslie – a time of grief and joy.

It’s unclear if Jane worked before she married, but she was probably in service and it seems likely this is where she picked up her interest and knowledge of food. A friend once commented that Jane’s custard was particularly lovely and rich, “have you put in two eggs or three?” – she had put six eggs in.

After marrying she made extra money by taking in lodgers and the census in 1911 shows a Robert Smith boarding with them; a regular short-term lodger was a Jewish man called Lewis Lichtenstein, he was a jewellery salesman, he sold the family a few items over the years as well as restoring some tarnished goods. Jane would sometimes cook fish for breakfast and we wonder if she picked up this idea from him.

After first moving to Derbyshire the family lived in a house owned by the gas board near the station. The family next door had a large family and were very poor. Jane would give them her children’s outgrown clothes. One day, on the way home from school, daughter Hannah saw her old dress in the pawn shop window. Horrified she went home and told Jane about it, who immediately went to the shop and redeemed it with her own money rather than let Hannah bear the indignity of being seen to have her clothes pawned!

Jane had her eye on a larger gas board-owned house and after some pushing the family moved there. She made the most of its capabilities, continuing to take on lodgers and to feed and entertain her family and friends. The house had a nice garden, but Jane also kept chickens in the next-door field and from time to time, a pig, which she would fatten up for slaughter. Jane abandoned keeping chickens when she no longer had access to the field for them to run around in (obviously an early free-range advocate).

Though Jane spent a lot of time in the kitchen her legs gave her a lot of pain, so she would often prepare the meals (peel potatoes etc) sitting down. She would also usually eat alone in the “living kitchen”, while the rest of the family would sit round the table in the dining room. When her sister Clemmie’s grandson Geoff came to visit she would have him sit with her in the kitchen and she would let him eat whatever he fancied and nothing he didn’t. She tended to take a child’s side over an adult’s, “leave the poor kid alone” being her general philosophy. She rescued her niece from being locked in the cellar and from having to wear a bonnet she didn’t like.

Jane wouldn’t be bossed about by people, when her granddaughter Joan was in service and wasn’t given leave to attend a family wedding Jane told her to attend the wedding anyway (so Joan lost her job). When daughter Hannah had been in labour for hours, she told the doctor in no uncertain terms “that poor lass has had enough pain to bring an elephant into the world, put her out!” (he did), and the baby weighed 12 lbs. Jane was doted on by this large baby, her grandson Ron, who used to try and sit on her knee when he was about 15 and would slide off her sloping lap on to the floor.

She wasn’t an early riser and when her daughter got up for school as a small child Jane would shout downstairs “give that babby an egg”, (the babby never wanted one). She made custard with six eggs and trifle with “bottoms”* in it, and she sharpened her own knives!

Grandma Walker

Despite her strict Methodist upbringing, Jane never went to church but would happily bake for chapel events if the occasion demanded, a tray of jam tarts or something similar. She would sing Old Time Music Hall songs to her granddaughter Mollie in bed. “The man that broke the bank at Monte Carlo”, and others of a similar vein. It is unclear how she ever learnt the words.

Jane was house proud and hardworking, she didn’t see the value of education over earning a living and encouraged her granddaughter to go into service. But she wasn’t averse to employing help or to spending money where needed. She employed a woman to help with the washing each week and another woman would decorate a room each year in slightly garish wallpaper (chosen by Jane). The woman who delivered the milk would come in and play the piano from time to time (unpaid). Jane’s corsets were specially made by Mrs “corsetière” Rogers, she was well upholstered for special occasions. So, Jane single-handedly lined the purses of several local women, helping their families in the process. She had a “gang” of friends who would come around for supper.

When a mole on her leg became cancerous, Jane was sent to hospital in Sheffield. It was wartime and during her stay the hospital was bombed and she was sent back home with the dirt, from the rubble, still on her face. The cancer spread and Jane was confined to bed, she tried to knit but had to call on granddaughter Joan to unravel her mistakes.

Jane never returned to hospital and died in bed at home, close to the family she loved and who loved her in return, husband Jim close by to the end. She was visited daily by the doctor who would come and dress her wound, letting himself in by the back door if nobody was around. She died when the cancer reached her liver. She was 59 years old.

* sherry

Story submitted by Johanna Heath (


The Women Who Made Me actively welcomes submissions from anyone who has a story to tell about women from their family. To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.

Marion Young’s story

Marion was at the forefront of new art teaching in elementary schools in the 1930s, but her contribution has been eclipsed by that of her rather better-known colleague Robin Tanner, and her part in this teaching epoch has been buried – possibly as her medium, needlework, was not considered worthy of a traditional art focus either then or now, and instead is often viewed merely as a woman’s practical skill.

She was born in Marlborough, Wiltshire, in the summer of 1902 – the fourth child and second daughter of an insurance agent and his wife. The family were almost certainly non-conformists in religion – Marion’s older sister was baptised in a Methodist church, and Marion herself was later reprimanded for teaching scripture lessons from the perspective of a non-CofE denomination. After moving when she was small, she was brought up in Chippenham, a well-connected Wiltshire market town, and would probably have been initially educated at St Paul’s elementary school, just across the road from her family’s home.

In her teens she decided to train as a teacher, and went to Salisbury Teacher Training College, an institution that trained women teachers for National Schools. Here she would have been given two years’ training to instruct children in English, history, geography, music, needlework, arithmetic, drawing, domestic economy and scripture – all subjects that were felt essential for children’s basic education at the beginning of the 1920s.

teacher training salisbury

It’s likely that her first job post-training was at Melksham Boy’s National School, in a town about six miles away from home, but the log book of this institution for that period is not available. In September 1923, the boys’ school amalgamated with the girls’ school, and Marion is on the staff of this new school – the head teacher’s comments about her in the school log book perhaps indicate a longer acquaintance, and she is certainly not on the staff of the previous girls’ school, which leads to the assumption that she had taught at the boys’ school.

At this newly amalgamated school, Marion taught Standards I and II and was an assistant mistress. She left her post in the summer of 1924, with no reason given – there is nothing in her personal life that would indicate why she quit. She did not get married, which was the usual reason young women teachers resigned, as a marriage bar prohibited them from working, nor did she transfer to another school. The head writes: “The departure of Miss Young from this school is a matter of deep regret to all. She has rendered extremely loyal service during her period of service at this school.”

Marion returned to the same school a year later, with no remark made upon her return, and taught there until the winter of 1930, when she secured a post at a school back in Chippenham, where she was still living.

This school was Ivy Lane Elementary School, which had Robin Tanner on the staff at that time. Tanner – an etcher and artist whose work was starting to be noticed – had been at the school for about six months, and was beginning to work with the pupils on arts and design, book binding, and painting on enamel. To this portfolio he later added weaving, with the school purchasing its own loom to achieve this. The headteacher, seeing the benefits for his pupils of this creative outlet, encouraged Tanner to include the girls’ decorative work from the needlework classes in this design work – and to this end he worked with Marion as she was the school’s needlework specialist.

Needlework at this time was very much seen as a practical skill, with utilitarian needs, and part of a preparation for girls’ future lives as wives and mothers. Because it was viewed as a woman’s skill, the decorative aspect of needlework was not considered as art in the traditional sense, but the work of Robin and Marion together changed this for pupils at Ivy Lane Elementary at least, and later displayed this to the education community nationally.

A report of late 1930 says that a striking feature of the art teaching at the school is the linking up of design with decorative needlework, and in 1931 the headteacher of Ivy Lane – Frederick Hinton – remarks that: “Mr Tanner and Miss Young have co-operated and the lessons in Design and in Needlework have been correlated with remarkably pleasing results.” He also notes that as a result of this collaboration, the girls in the school are showing a much greater interest in art and design, and that the approach was helping remedial children in the school to feel more confident about their work.

There is no doubt that Robin Tanner was the driving force behind the new approaches to art within the school, but he was ably supported and embellished by Marion’s skills. Indeed, the work going on at the school started to be noticed – initially by local schools’ inspectors within Wiltshire, and then further afield. An exhibition of the school’s handicraft, art and needlework led to senior inspectors visiting the school directly to look at the work. Then a party of students from the Salisbury Teacher Training College came to visit the school, and every class worked on art for an afternoon with them. Packages of artwork, including needlework, were sent to education conferences elsewhere – the work went as far as Dartington and Truro in the south of the country, and Durham and Newcastle in the north. Principals of art schools also visited the school, as did specialist art lecturers, and in 1934 the needlework was borrowed for a course by the Board of Education. This achievement by Robin and Marion, alongside Miss Miles, another needlework teacher who joined in the work later, brought the school to national renown. One famous comment was that those seeing the exhibited work could not believe that they had been done by children.

Robin Tanner left Ivy Lane Elementary School in 1935 to become an inspector of schools himself, and the requests for exhibited art and needlework dried up almost immediately. A new art master took over, but there is no further mention of decorative needlework being combined with art teaching. Instead, Marion’s speciality at the school became Physical Training – the older name for PE – and she attended various courses to improve the instruction for the pupils.

Towards the tail end of 1940, with Chippenham’s schools already overcrowded and waves of evacuees swelling pupil numbers still further, education in the town was reorganised. The three highest forms from all the town’s elementary schools formed a new temporary senior school, based in a building that Chippenham’s grammar school had recently vacated, and Marion’s teaching job moved to this new school. Here she remained a PT specialist, while still providing class-based general education for the 11-14-year-olds still in the elementary system.

The school drew children from across the town, some of them travelling a great distance to attend, which meant that the traditional dinner interval where children went home for a hot meal was more difficult. Until the second world war every child went home for lunch, and were given up to an hour and a half to achieve this, but rationing of food meant that collective ways to eat were becoming more popular as nicer meals were achievable if everyone’s share was amalgamated. The temporary senior school established their own canteen to provide hot meals for the children, with their own cook and Marion as the staff member in charge of the venture.

The blitz on Bath of 27/28 April 1942 meant that the gas supply to the surrounding area was cut off – including Chippenham. Marion worked with the cook, Mrs Whittle, and a troop of New Zealand soldiers that were also stationed at the temporary senior school building at that point in the war, to ensure that every child had a hot meal that day. This involved cooking in pots over camp fires.

The Butler Education Act of 1944 formalised Chippenham’s Temporary Senior School into a mixed Secondary Modern School. This also gradually moved the education format from class-based general teaching to separate subject specialisms – and Marion, as a senior assistant mistress, was still the PT specialist for the school. The marriage bar for women teachers was also lifted that year, meaning that Marion and her colleagues could marry and keep their jobs. However, at 42 she may have felt that marriage was not an option open to her. Nonetheless, it was Marion who was nominated to attend courses on how to deliver sex education to her pupils.

The school split in 1956, with the boys remaining in the old grammar school building and the Girls’ Secondary Modern School moving to new premises at Hardenhuish. Marion went to teach in this new girls’ school, as the most senior assistant mistress (today’s equivalent to a Deputy Headteacher). By this stage her specialism was English.

Here she remained as a prominent member of staff for another eight years, until retirement in 1964. When she left the school had a special assembly for her, and she was presented with a record player and record case. The staff also had a party for her in the school library.

She died at the tail end of the 1970s, having lived with her widowed sister in a sizable house, and left a great deal of money. She is buried in Chippenham’s St Paul’s churchyard, alongside her parents and one of her brothers.


The image accompanying this post is by Hannah Hill.



To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.

Caroline T’s story

Caroline was steeped in the cloth trade of the East End of London. Both her parents came from weaving stock, so had been around the manufacture of cloth since childhood, but by the time Caroline – their first daughter and oldest child – came along her father was making a living from making straps and dog collars. Since the neckwear of vicars in the 1880s was more usually referred to as a clerical collar at that time, it’s likely that Caroline’s parents’ income depended on fancy collars for pampered pooches.

Production of luxury, non-essential items, was far from unusual in Shoreditch in the last two decades of the 19th century, where Caroline and her seven siblings grew up. The households surrounding them housed tailors and other cloth workers, invariably of Jewish descent and having arrived in the UK from Russia or Poland, and from the census records of their occupations it is clear that their work involved non-essential clothing and fancy or decorative items.

edwardian embroidery 1

By 1901 Caroline – who by this stage was in her early 20s – and her whole family were working together to produce luxury fabric items. Her father still made dog collars, while her mother stitched shirts, two of her sisters were machinists while a brother worked with them. Caroline herself was an embroidery cutter, so would have be involved in fiddly and intricate work that put the gloss and style on the products the rest of her family made.

By this stage, Caroline might have been expected to get married, but instead she chose to continue her embroidery and stay working within the family business. This was also a choice made by several of her sisters – the entire family stayed working together for the next decade. The sister closest to Caroline in age died in 1910, in her early 30s, but had worked closely with the rest of the family until that point.

With seven active family members working, their fortunes went up. They were able to move from Shoreditch to Mile End, and Caroline’s father acted as the official salesperson for their products, as a hawker. Caroline herself, alongside one of her sisters, embroidered ladies’ jackets, while one brother made belts, a sister produced garments for horses, another produced hand lace, and the youngest sister was apprenticed to a dress maker.

edwardian embroidery 2
Walking suit ca. 1905. Hunter green wool in herringbone weave. Long jacket, trimmed with passementerie and faux buttons and with a faux vest in velvet with cream embroidery. Lined in cream silk satin; weighted hem. Pleated skirt with decorated front panel.

The difference in the economy caused by the First World War meant that luxury items were less in demand and the situation changed for Caroline’s family. She, alongside several of her younger sisters, married during the four years of the war.

The man of her choosing was a widower with three young children – who had relied on his younger unmarried sister for family support for five years after his wife’s death until Caroline came into the picture. She gained a new family, but at the age of 40 was probably getting past the age of child-bearing, so did not have any children of her own. They moved to Marylebone, where her husband worked as a French polisher and undertaker.

Caroline died ten years later, at the age of just fifty, making her husband twice widowed.


To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.

Frances B’s story

A minor member of the peerage, through both her birth and her marriage, Frances B was one of the early recruits to the Auxiliary Territorial Service at the beginning of the Second World War, and died while on active service.

Born in Bermuda, while her naval commander father was serving in the area in the 1890s, Frances was the oldest of three children. Her parents had married in Malta, and Frances had by far the most exotic of her sibling’s births – the others occurring in Kent and Oxfordshire.

Despite her father’s position in the navy, which would have required him to be at sea for long periods of time, the family settled in Portsmouth while they were in England, and had a comfortable existence supported by domestic staff – including a nursemaid for the children.

Later on, as her father’s career was winding down, Frances’ family moved permanently to a village in Kent, to a house that her parents had returned to when they were between periods of service. By 1911 she was the only child left at home – her brother was at public school, and her sister was elsewhere. Frances, having left any education she was given, was at this stage of marriageable age, and would have been expected to make a good match.

Her brother was killed on active service in France in the first half of the Great War, and both Frances and her sister married the following year – her sister to a military musician, and Frances to a naval lieutenant in active service, so the pattern of traveling she experienced as a child continued into her adulthood.

Her husband saw service on many naval vessels, and their daughter and only child was born while Frances was based on the north-east coast of England at the tail end of the first world war.

In peace time the family settled in Cheshire. Her husband retired from the Navy on medical grounds, becoming a company director, and their daughter grew up and married. Frances led a comfortable existence during the early half of the 20th century.

However, the outbreak of the second world war ended that lifestyle. Frances’ husband was recalled into the navy. Frances herself, who had always lived alongside the military, joined the fledgling Auxiliary Territorial Service. This unit for women was attached to the territorial army, and members received two thirds of the pay that a male member of the TA would be given.

At the time Frances joined the ATS, the women in the service were employed as cooks, clerks and shopkeepers, helping to keep institutions and structures running during war time when men were getting scarcer. Some became telephonists, with more than 300 women sent to France to support troops in the very earliest part of the war. Frances, with her background in the military and high social standing, became a senior commandant – an equivalent to the male rank of major – and would have been in charge of many other women volunteering to help the war effort.

Later on, the roles of ATS members expanded to include orderlies, postal workers, ammunition inspectors and drivers. However, Frances did not live to see these changes. She died while on active service at a hospital in Oxford, during the spring of 1941. The hospital does not appear to have been part of the blitz, however. She was included in the UK Army Roll of Honour.

Frances’ personal effects and her money were given to her husband – who was also awarded during World War II – and her married daughter.


To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.

Lilian Y’s story

The railway age is often seen as a romantic one, with clouds of steam and breathless brief encounters perhaps eclipsing the reality of filthy hard work and clothes full of soot smuts. However, the community around railways could at least partly be described as romantic in that many people met their partners among the multifarious professions employed on and around the rails.

Lilian Y was one of these, as she came from a railway family, and married a railway man. However, where her tale differs is that she did not remain associated with the rails and instead became landlady of a pub.

She was born in Bristol, the second child of a railway platelayer – someone who inspected the conditions of the track – and his wife at the beginning of the 1890s. Six younger siblings followed, and the family grew up beside the harbour railway  in Bristol’s docklands, alongside boats working with tobacco, coal and other heavy industry.

In her teens her father moved to a similar role on the Strawberry Line or the Cheddar Valley Line, and the family went with him. Upon leaving school Lilian found work as a waitress in a restaurant, possibly in the station café, and boarded out of the family home.

By 1915 Lilian was in a Wiltshire market town with a strong railway industry, possibly due to her father’s next job. She married that year, to a railway guard who was more than ten years her senior.

Initially they lived behind the town’s brake and signalling works, and their first son followed later that year, with another born five years later. The gap in their children’s ages would perhaps suggest that her husband served in the first world war, but there is no evidence for this.

Things changed in early 1932 when they bought a pub – including all the fixtures, fittings and cutlery, and even including the 60 tulip bulbs in the garden – which was one of two frequented by railway workers and those employed in the next-door bacon factory. This had several rooms – a bar, smoking room, club room, drawing room, and kitchen with meat safes.

Her husband, who had long been employed on the railway, kept his job as a railway guard while being landlord at the pub. However, in practice with him employed down the road – despite gaps in trains arriving and departing the station, and the pub being only a stone’s throw away – it would have been Lilian who would have opened the bar for trade and served the beer, in addition to providing any food that the pub would serve and keeping the place clean and tidy. She was aided in her landlady’s role by her two sons, but they also had jobs elsewhere – one at the post office and the other at the bacon factory. Despite this huge amount of work, and her official role as landlady, the 1939 register tersely gives Lillian’s profession as “unpaid domestic duties at home”.

A year into World War II, her husband died – only in his late 50s – and Lilian ran the pub alone with the help of her sons. However, with pressure to join up and fight the eldest son went into the air force not long after his father’s death. He was killed in a nearby flying accident around nine months later, while awaiting his wings, leaving Lilian with two close bereavements within a year of each other.

She continued to run the pub, now landlord in name as well as action, sometimes with her remaining son, alongside a bar manager until 1957, when she retired and moved elsewhere in the town. She died around a decade later, and is buried alongside her husband and elder son in the grounds of the church in which she married.


To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.