Thomas and Nellie Garratt: Finding The Benchmark

I was all set to complete the Springhill and the Birches Sun Club story, and it will done be next, but then this cropped up. I was, as is usual for me, sitting with Mrs Blog in Harrison’s Club (note, I use an apostrophe) when I was approached by St. George’s mother – well, in the form of Cath Caddick, matriarch to Great Wyrley’s own St. George!

Cath was interested to see if I knew anything about a man named Thomas Garratt, who seemed to have been involved in the Great Wyrley community sometime prior to 1958. I said I didn’t, but I could have a look into it if she wanted – which was actually not quite true, as I had covered a slice of his life in a previous Blog story. Cath was happy with this and of course I promptly forgot, that is until Saturday night, when Cath found Mrs Blog and I in the same seats and reminded me of Garratt and the little mystery attached.

A Tale of Two Seat-ies
Some months back, Robert, Cath’s son, came across the remains of an old bench seat in the garden of someone that he was doing some work for (he has his own garden business). It had been there for years, under wraps, to protect what was left of the wood. It had, apparently, once stood outside the Senior Citizen’s Centre on Broadmeadow Lane; here it had been vandalised, so the story went, and so was removed and the remains housed in the garden, under covers.

The remains of the Garratt bench prior to restoration last year (Cath Caddick).

Alerted by Rob, Cath took Gary Smith – from Great Wyrley Local History Society (GWLHS) – to view the bench and, with the aid of donations from two anonymous District Councillors and the support of the GWLHS, the bench was renovated by an Owen Ingals from Great Wyrley. The intention is to get the bench placed into the Great Wyrley Memorial Garden, if permission is secured from the Parish Council.

The renovated bench, 2018 (Cath Caddick)

The bench has a dedication on it, as many do. It is actually carved into the wood rather than being on a plaque, which is lucky or it would likely have been lost. The dedication can be seen on the above pictures if you click on them to expand it. The dedication reads: IN MEMORY OF THOMAS GARRATT FIRST CHAIRMAN OF THIS FELLOWSHIP AND OF NELLIE HIS WIFE 1959.

This dedication of course begged the questions: who was Thomas Garratt? Who was Nellie Garratt? And what was the ‘fellowship’ in question? I had no answers at this stage, but this gave me gave me two solid clues to start: that Thomas was once married to a Nellie (although this could be a familiar name) and that both Thomas and Nellie were of course dead by 1959. It also seemed likely that the couple were in fact local to Great Wyrley.

The bench executed in 1958, outside of St. Mark’s Church in Great Wyrley. 2018.

It was then that Cath informed me that there was a second bench in existence that was dedicated to the same couple. A few months previous to our discussion an article had appeared in the GWLHS magazine mentioning the bench and if anyone knew anything about it – this article found its way to Jenny Bond, grandchild of Thomas and Nellie, and now living in Tasmania. She contacted Geoff Hackett – her cousin in Great Wyrley – and asked him to go and look at the bench; Geoff did and reported that it was fine, and so a confused Jenny quizzed the GWLHS on the misreporting. That is when both parties found out there were in fact two benches.

This second bench can be found in the grounds of St. Mark’s Church in Great Wyrley and is executed in the exactly same style. This bench must have been constructed by the same person, but they were not completed at the same time and of course the dedication on this bench is different: IN MEMORY OF THOMAS GARRATT ONE TIME CHOIRMASTER OF THIS CHURCH AND OF NELLIE HIS WIFE 1958.

Thomas Garratt was the ‘one time’ Choirmaster at St. Mark’s in Great Wyrley. 2018.

So, does this bench add a little more to our knowledge? I suggest it does: first, it definitely places the Garratts further within the heart of Great Wyrley; second, it places them both within the sphere of the Anglican church and the musical community; third, the couple are dead by 1958, but it would suggest, as there are two benches, that the last of the couple to pass away, which I suspect is Nellie and not Thomas, has done so around 1958.

Nellie proved to be no ‘after thought’, she was equally as valued within the community. 2018.

And so I started upon my research to try and answer who these people were and what that fellowship was. As I sat down to write it all up for the Blog, Cath sent me through a delightful email that Diane at the GWLHS had received from Jenny Bond; I use some of her memories, and I hope she doesn’t mind, to add a little of the human touch to my more colder, factual findings.

Their Lives
I need to open the story a little further back than seems necessary, but there is of course a reason.

On Christmas Eve in 1849, John Garratt, a 23-year old miner from Wilnecote near Tamworth, married Sarah Walker at St. Mark’s Church in Great Wyrley; Sarah was from Cheslyn Hay and the 17-years old daughter of a miner. Despite marrying in the locally, we know they were in the Pelsall Common area soon after as their first child, John, was born there in early 1851. As we will meet a few people with the same name in this story – it is important to state at this point that this John will grow-up to become our Thomas’ father.

John and Mary’s wedding at St Mark’s Church, 1849: they were Thomas’ grandparents. (Findmypast).

Within a couple of years, John and Sarah are back in the locale and living on the Walsall Road, Great Wyrley; here several more children follow: Edward (1853), Sarah (1855), Pheobe (1858), Thomas (1860), William (1862), Samuel (1868), Albert (1873) and Ernest (1877). The couple did move to Broad Street, Bridgtown, by 1881 and onto Coppice Lane, Cheslyn Hay, by 1891. John would pass away in 1895 and Mary, I believe, in 1906.

Why do I go this far back? Well, back in 1860, John and Mary had what I believe to be their fifth child – whom they named Thomas (and no, this not our Thomas). Growing up to be a miner, in 1883 he married Martha Wootton, settled in the area and started a family. As an interesting aside it was Henry Garratt, one of Thomas’ sons, who stumbled on the mutilated brown pony at the Great Wyrley Colliery in August 1903 and so went on to appear at the George Edalji trial. Thomas died in 1919 and when the current Great Wyrley (Wesleyan) Methodist Church was opened in 1925, his family paid for the large stained glass window at the front.

It was, however, William Joseph Garratt, Thomas and Martha’s first child, and cousin to our Thomas, whom I wanted to mention – and is the reason why I went as far back as I did to start the story.

William would become a stamper – possibly at Gilpin’s – and in time would at the heart of the Great Wyrley community. In 1906, he was appointed to the Parish Council and served, including as chairman, for at least 54 years. He also served on the Cannock Rural District Council (the Authority of Great Wyrley before the South Staffordshire District Council) for at least 27 years. For this and other community work, including being the organist and Choirmaster at Great Wyrley Wesleyan Methodist Chapels for decades, and co-founder of the Senior Citizen’s Centre, he was awarded the M.B.E. in 1960. In my opinion, he becomes pivotal in the story of what I think the ‘Fellowship’ is. I believe he died in 1965.

So, going back, John, our Thomas’ father, was born in 1851. He is still living at home in 1871, which was then on the Walsall Road in Great Wyrley. Like his father, he too has become a miner.

John Garratt married Sarah Jane Dutton at St Mark’s, Great Wyrley, in 1876. (Findmypast).

John Garratt likely moved out of the family home when he married Sarah Jane Dutton on 26 January 1876. Sarah was five years older than John and was the eldest child of Thomas and Ann Dutton, he being a miner. The Duttons were an extensive family from Great Wyrley, although I suspect Sarah had spent some time out of Wyrley in domestic service prior to their wedding. The church entry of the marriage suggests that John Garratt was illiterate.

The couple settled down to life on the Walsall Road, Great Wyrley. At the end of 1876, our Thomas was born; he was followed by John (1878) and Mary Ann (1880), all three being named after John and Sarah’s parents. It is interesting that William Dutton, Sarah’s brother, is living with them in 1881.

The Garratts on the Walsall Road, 1881. (National Archives)

Things would soon take a new direction for the family. The Royal Oak, on Norton Lane, Great Wyrley, was owned by a William Bowen. Bowen lost his wife in 1884, he then remarried in 1885 and went to run the Old House at Home in Pelsall. Bowen didn’t sell the Oak, instead he sought a tenant and the first tenant that Bowen installed was John Garratt on 16 November 1885.

Thomas was nine when exposed to the delights of public house life. John would have continued to work down the pit, so the daytime running of the pub (and the care of the children) would have been left to Sarah. As the children grew-up, they would have helped as well. We know the family kept fowl, as one was stolen on 20 September 1886; Sarah accused a James Brookes, a local miner who had been in the house moments before, and the case did go before the magistrate. Brookes was dismissed through lack of evidence.

The Royal Oak in the early 1980s, Garratt would recognise the front to some degree.
(Stuart Attwood)

It seems the Garratts did run a clean pub, although they did have at least one scrape with the law: in November 1886, miner James Evans was fined 13s for having been drunk at the Oak, playing cards and refusing to leave –
Garratt did manage to escape a fine for permitting gambling and drunkeness.

A plan of the pre-1900 pub, before extensions, in which Thomas Garratt lived
(Staffordshire Record Office)

By 1891, Garratt’s family had increased with Charles (9) and Sarah (4) joining the brood. Garratt was a miner still, but it is interesting to note that Thomas was clearly no fool as he had become a pupil teacher – that is a child chosen on account of their intellect to receive further education and teacher training at the same time (for up to 5 years, after which they took an examination to qualify). William Dutton was still living with them.

In time Mary Ann would become a pupil teacher as well, however, Thomas would eventually pull away from education, as would Mary when she married; we know he was still a teacher in August 1895 as Thomas attended a meeting of the Parish Council about separating the Great Wyrley and Cheslyn Hay School Board. His presence is suggestive that Thomas was working at one of these two schools. Thomas was then 19-years of age and this may have been his first experience of committees. All we know is he leaves teaching sometime between 1895 and 1900 and we do not know why.

On 24 July 1899, after 14-years, John Garratt handed-over the licence of the Royal Oak to Thomas Yates and the family moved out – likely to a place on the Walsall Road.

We know Thomas had ditched his teaching career by 1900. In March of that year he stood for the position of Parish Clerk against: E Thacker (Churchbridge), W Harvey (Wyrley), J Aston (Solicitor, Cannock) and W Simkin (Schoolteacher, Wyrley). Simkin, the current although temporary clerk, won on the casting vote of the Chairman. He went on to do the job through the war years.

As an aside – W. Simkin’s cryptic message in February 1901 to Pupil-Teacher Emily Watson. (Walsall Local History Centre)

By September 1900, Thomas was employed as a miner at the Old Coppice Colliery (Hawkin’s Colliery) in Cheslyn Hay. This seems a far cry from his original vocation.

On 3 September, between 6 and 7 am, Thomas was one of 8 men of the day-shift that were heading down the pit-shaft in the cage when a terrible accident occurred: the cage descended far too quickly and smashed into the floor with such force that it bounced back up. All the men were thrown out of the cage and it landed back on them, crushing them. Joseph Lawson, Henry Stanton and Enoch Lloyd all died at the scene; Oliver Connolly, William Buck (I believe died some months later), Thomas Skidmore, Joseph Vernon and Thomas Garratt all suffered serious injury and were conveyed to the Wolverhampton Hospital. Thomas had had both of his legs broken.

The grave of Joseph Lawson in Great Wyrley Cemetery, victim of the cage accident in which Thomas had his legs broken on 3 September 1900. 2018,

The cause of the accident, which destroyed the winding gear, isn’t fully clear. The Company were swift in absolving their equipment, although the winder, William Hill, said the lever stuck when trying to reverse the system. With twenty odd years experience, the winder was open to questioning at the inquest (held at the Woodman Inn, Cheslyn Hay) on his physical and mental fitness for the job and, whatever the full truth, and we don’t know, it was he that was sanctioned in the inquest verdict: William Hill was cited on three counts of manslaughter.

An inquest is not a court of law, but one to establish the facts around a death. The verdict saw Hill’s arrest and him being sent for trial as the Assizes in the December, he was, however, acquitted.

It is Jenny Bond that supplies the next part of the story. It appears that after recovering in hospital for a period, Thomas was sent ‘for 6 months [recuperation] at the Miner’s Convalescent Home at Weston Super Mare… Nellie visited him, travelling by train’. This is the first we know of their relationship.

Jenny states that ‘Tom and Nellie probably met at St Mark’s Church. Tom was in the choir and Nellie played an active part in the congregation for many years’. I would like address the Anglicanism now, as it was clearly a part of their lives before the accident.

St Mark’s Church, where Thomas and Nellie likely met. 2018.

I have no proof of it but what Jenny says would make perfect sense, as the name Garratt does pop-up in newspaper accounts of helpers and stall-holders at church fetes and bazaars and, not only that, she was chosen as one of four delegates (along with the Vicar’s wife) for the Ruridecanal Conference in 1932.

I think at this point it is good to deal with ‘the choir’. Being in a choir, to me, means you can more than carry a tune – although I suspect St Mark’s in 1900 would have had a larger pool of talent to draw on the it can today, despite the massive increase in population within the area.

The truth is that Thomas could more than carry a tune: in 1920, he was one of the soloists at a packed Good Friday service at St Mark’s when the choir performed John Henry Maunder’s (he had passed away a few months before) ‘From Olivet To Calvary’. I have no idea of his singing career, but his obituary did say that he had been a member of the choir at St. Mark’s ‘all his life’ and that he had achieved ‘many prizes at Welsh Eisteddfods’.

And so, returning to Great Wyrley in 1901 after his recuperation, the courting minstrel found his way home to his family. The Garratts now lived in a house next to Orchard Place on the Walsall Road. John Garratt is still a miner, John junior has become a miner, Charles has become a carpenter’s apprentice and sister Mary has become a schoolmistress. William Dutton is still living with them, and he too is a miner. It maybe surprising that Thomas returned to mining, but then it may seem that he had little option.

In April 1901, Thomas Garratt was elected President of the Great Wyrley Working Men’s Institute. This means that he had been a member for some years (and he was now only 24 still). The Institute had opened in 1870, the land and building having effectively been donated as workingmen’s temperance centre for entertainment and education – so I wonder if Thomas abstained from alcohol. The Institute had a committee and they organised dances, shows and other events to keep it running and now Garratt was leading it.

The Workingmen’s Insitute, for which Thomas was President in 1901. 2017.

They also had a library of several hundred books, with newspapers and other literature. We know at some stage, according to his obituary, Thomas Garratt acted as one of the librarians as well and it is suggested that he had a hand in founding the Local Authority library.

On 26 July 1902, Thomas Garratt married Nellie Hemingsley at St. Mark’s Church. Jenny adds that ‘for a honeymoon they went for a walk along Love Lane, Great Wyrley and ate strawberries’.

Nellie Hemingsley was born weeks after Thomas, with Jenny giving the date of 27 January 1877.

Her parents were Joseph Hemingsley and Ellen Thomas from Cheslyn Hay. Joseph had been widowed once before their marriage and was, and remained a coal miner all his life. The couple married at around at Cannock St. Lukes in 1860; their ages vary considerably on the censuses, but when taken together it would suggest that Ellen was around 17-years when they married and Joseph around 21-years. In 1861, the couple are listed as being in Wyrley Bank (which is Cheslyn Hay) and their first child, John, is a few months old.

In 1871, the couple are in Red Lane, Cheslyn Hay. The 10-year old John is now at school and has a sister, Sarah (8), and a brother, Joseph (5). There is, however, another child: George Hemingsley is listed as being 14-years of age and was listed in the 1861 census in the Thomas household under the Thomas name and so is in fact the child that Jenny says was of one of Ellen’s siblings.

In 1881 the couple are still in Red Lane. The eldest three children have flown the nest, but Joseph is still at home and working as a miner. Four other children have arrived: George (bearing in mind the previous George would be George Thomas) (9), William (7), Nellie (4) and Annie (2).

In 1891, the family are in Low St, Cheslyn Hay. The same five children are listed: Joseph, George and William are all now a coal miners, Nellie has left school but has no profession, while Annie, and the youngest, Emma (10) are both at school.

Jenny says that ‘Nellie and her sisters Annie and Emma were very close and Joe was her favourite brother. I remembered her saying there were 12 children plus one who was a child of an older sibling but can only find 6 children in the census records’. I have located eight and George Thomas, so I would sadly suggest that if Nellie was right – and I assume she is – the other children did not reach adulthood.

Jenny offered a little more on Nellie’s parents at this stage: ‘ Her mother ran an off licence in Cheslyn Hay. Her father was listed as a ‘butty collier’ which meant he contracted to do an amount of work in the pit and was responsible to the management for the men involved. He received the pay and some butty colliers would try to get the men to take goods instead of cash. Hence the off licences run by the wives.

She also offered more on Nellie: ‘Nellie went to a Dame’s School. At the age of 12 Nellie obtained a job as nursemaid to the Graham family in Wolverhampton and was sent off in the horse drawn cart to travel the 10 miles. She loved the work, the Grahame family were very good to her and she worked for them until marrying Tom.

And so after their wedding the couple moved into 107, Station Street, Cheslyn Hay. The couple’s first child, Gwendoline, was born in 1903. This happy occasion would be followed by sadness: Mary, Thomas’ mother, passed away in 1906; in 1909, Ellen, Nellie’s mother, passed away; and very sadly, the couple’s second daughter, Mary, born in 1909, passed away soon after (Jenny said this was due to pneumonia).

In 1911, the widowed John Garratt has moved in with Thomas and Nellie, as too has his sister, Sarah, who is now a schoolmistress. What is interesting is the Gwendoline is listed in the census and then crossed through. It turns out she is stopping with her Aunt (Mary Ann Brookes, nee Garratt) in Lancashire.

This is interesting on two counts: first, why is she not there? Well, that may have something to do with the fact that Nellie was pregnant at this time. Indeed, Marion was born later that year; and second, why is she there? This calls for a longer explanation.

Mary was married to Frederick Brookes, who was the son of William Brookes, grocer, the Post Office and Parish Councillor. Frederick was, along with George Edalji, mentioned in a series of obscene, anonymous poison letters in the 1890s. In his obsession to clear Edalji’s name, Conan Doyle would later suggest Brookes knew more about the letters than he claimed. Whatever, it is clear the Garratt family didn’t agree with Doyle.

Marion completed the family; I believe that Joseph, Nellie’s father, died in 1912.

Thomas did not join-up in 1914, nor was he conscripted in 1916; I would hazard that his damaged legs may have something to do with it, as well as his age –  he would have been 40 in 1916 – and the fact that he was likely more valuable as a coal miner. He was a hewer in 1911, we don’t know where. What we do know is that it seems ‘for many years’ Thomas was employed at Harrison’s no 3 pit on the now Hazel Lane; here he ended up as a fireman (also called a deputy), which mean’t he tested for gases and air quality in the mine.

Thomas was a longtime Labour Party member and also a trade unionist. He was a founder member and longstanding President of the local branch of the Deputies and Fireman’s Association (Cannock Chase Overmen’s, Deputies and Shotfirer’s Association). He also attended a number of national union congresses on their behalf.

Thomas’ obituary also states that at some stage he was the Treasurer of the Parish Council, when and how long for I cannot say without further research.

At some period after 1911, the family moved to ‘Mayfield’, their last house, situated on the Walsall Road. The couple clearly continued as they had done at St Mark’s. Now, Thomas’ obituary stated that he had been a member of the choir all his life, but it also states that he was Choirmaster for around 10 years. Assuming this was in all in one go, he couldn’t have been appointed later than 1941. Vestry minutes may help narrow this down.

I assume this is ‘Mayfield’, where the Garratts moved to and where they died. 2018.

Nellie also had other interests. Jenny says: ‘the wonderful Art Deco Cooperative Society shop which gave a dividend (the ‘divi’) according to what one spent… guided Nanna into starting the Women’s Cooperative Guild branch. The Cooperative Women’s Guild (name changed in 1960s) was founded in 1883 to ‘educate women in the principles and practice of Cooperation and to work for the Improvement of the status of women’. A group of Wyrley women met each Tuesday night, laughed, played jokes, and Whist and Beetle. Nellie was chairwoman for over 20 years. I was taken to the meetings every week and, post WW2, when life became less poor, they used to go on day trips to the seaside, such fun times with singing, joking, eating ham sandwiches (the food coupons saved for weeks for the ham) and drinking tea from thermoses laced with brandy. All plain good fun, with the occasional feud, but these were strong, working women who had lived lives of great hardship’.

The old Co-op, now an electronics shop: Nellie started the local branch of the Co-op Women’s Guild. 2018.

I can not only quote Jenny, I can at least prove she was ‘chair’ in 1932 and that the couple were then living at ‘Mayfield’, as it is listed in the Co-op Quarterly report:

The inevitable happened during the 1930s. In 1932, Gwendoline was the first to fly the nest when she married Edgar Hackett at St. Mark’s Church. Marion followed in 1935, when she married EJ Homeshaw. Homeshaw was a teacher and local historian, writing books that included co-authorship of the 1051 – 1951 pamphlet on Great Wyrley. Finally, Thomas’ father, John Garratt, I believe, lived to the ripe age of 86 and passed away in 1937.

Sometime in 1950, a Darby and Joan Club was formed in Great Wyrley. Darby and Joan Clubs began to flourish nationally after what was believed to be the first, Steatham in London, opened in 1942. The clubs were for senior citizens (old age pensioners in parlance of the time) and likely take their name from a line in the 18th century poem by Henry Woodfall – ‘Joys of Love Never Forgot’ – which mentions the man that once apprenticed him: ‘Old Darby, with Joan at his side’.

The Club first met at the Great Wyrley Wesleyan Methodist Church (in a wood hut), I think on a Monday. W.J. Garratt was one of the founding members as was Thomas, indeed, in his obituary in the Staffordshire Advertiser, it is stated that Thomas was the first President of the Club.

The Wyrley Wesleyan Methodist Church, where the Darby and Joan Club first met. WJ Garratt was pivotal in its affairs. 2017.

Thomas Garratt died on Monday 7 May 1951. His funeral was held at St. Mark’s at the end of the week, before being laid to final rest at Perry Barr Crematorium. The hymn ‘Lord is my Shepherd’ was played, amongst others and the service was led by Rev Parker. Thomas’ extended family were in attendance, as were friends from the Union, Harrison’s Club, Great Wyrley Labour Club and the Darby and Joan Club (W.J. Garratt).

Thomas’ death notice in the Cannock Advertiser, May 1951. It was the Staffs Advertiser that mentioned he was the first President of the Darby and Joan Club. (Cannock Library)

Jenny says of Nellie: ‘In her 60s Nanna developed heart trouble… she had to restrict her activities and take Digitalis tablets… Nanna gradually became weaker, had a great 80th birthday party and died at her home in May 1957, cared for by her family and the district nurse’.

So what was the Fellowship? Well I can’t prove it as such but all the evidence points to the Darby and Joan Club.

Unlike his union activities for example, for Nellie to be named on the bench means it must have been a fellowship they both belonged to – and there is already a bench at St. Mark’s to respect their church work. Thomas was the first President of the Club (Chairman), which is on the bench dedication, and may well have died while in the role as it was only founded around a year before.

The Senior Citizen’s Centre opened in 1959, the year of the bench dedication. 2018.

Two things, though: why date it to 1959 (when Nellie died in 1957)? And why would it have been at the Senior Citizen’s Centre? Well, the two are connected and add to the evidence.

According to the Great Wyrley Millennium Book (Kathleen Westmancoat), the Darby and Joan Club sought premises of its own and a plot of land was gifted into trust (with W.J Garratt being a trustee) for the benefit of the Club. After agreement with the Local Authority, a new building was proposed to be erected off Broadmeadow Lane, Great Wyrley. The Club moved there when the building was opened on 21 February 1959 (date from Hazel Whittaker). Hence, in my opinion, why the bench was at the Senior Citizen’s Centre and why it carries the 1959 date.

It is also why I have waited until today, 21 February 2018, to launch the story.

Well, I hope I have, with Jenny’s help, given some answer to who Thomas and Nellie were and, if you agree, as to what the ‘Fellowship’ was.

In Memory of Thomas and Nellie and the Pit Disiaster Guys (including William Hill) and is dedicated to Cath Caddick and Jenny Bond.

My thanks to:
Cath Caddick
Jenny Bond
National Archives
Owen Ingals
Stuart Attwood
Cannock Library
Walsall Local History Centre
Staffordshire Record Office
The Co-op
Great Wyrley Millennnium Book (Kathleen Westmancoat and Hazel Whittaker