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Berkshire Family Historian
March 2001

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A letter from Canada

Joan Vinall

This letter was sent to me by my cousin Mrs. Eileen Herman. It was found among old documents and memorabilia in the home of May Williams Clift.

The letter was discovered (in Canada) by one of her nephews, Richard Sheridan. Cousin May is 91, living in Canada. Fortunately contact was made before my mother died in 1994 and my cousin Eileen and I still exchange letters and cards with May.

My grandfather, Samuel Williams, was born with his twin brother Emmanuel, at Checkendon in Oxfordshire but the family moved to Abingdon while they were still very young. Samuel must have arrived in Reading in the early 1890s and he married my grandmother, Emily Flay, in 1895.

My mother, Gwenneth, was the youngest of eight children, and her father, Samuel, after many occupations including Colliers the brick works, innkeeper at The Queen in Waterloo Road, and at The Gardeners Arms in Surley Row, ended up with a market garden in Waterloo Road, a shop in Spring Gardens, Reading, plus a horse and cart and a greengrocery round.

The letter from great uncle David is remarkable for the mention of many places in and around Reading where he worked, and his good memory and detailed recollection. The use of the early X-ray is also fascinating. My mother spoke of uncle David, but I'm afraid I don't know when he died, and I certainly never knew him.

The original letter is written in beautiful penmanship on both sides of bookkeeping journal paper. Individual pages are well worn at the edges and there are holes and abrasions at fold lines, but the letter is quite legible.

89 Gosbrook Road,
Caversham,
Reading,
England

13.1 - 1910

My Dearest Brother & Sister, Nieces & Nephews, no doubt,

You will be surprised to receive this letter from me after so long. I have often thought of you so far away from friends and relations with such a remote chance of ever seeing any of us again, that I some-times wish I could afford to pay you a visit and see your home and surroundings so far away.

You have an advantage in that respect as you have lived here and know what things are, but ours is only imagination in regards to your side of the sea. I wonder if you could refresh your memories and go back to the day you left (Abingdon for Reading) when I was working at Wallingford and accompanied you in the train on your way to Reading as far as Wallingford - rather Moulsford, that was in May 1890. I believe I well remember your remarks to me when I left you - we shall send for you some day. Well, my chance has come and gone. I shall never come now and perhaps you some times wonder how I have fared in this world of trouble.

Well, I am glad to say, fairly well until about two years ago. Perhaps it would interest you to read my history a bit from the time I saw you before mentioned.

I remained at Wallingford until the following October then I went to Reading and was employed by *** Smith going from place to place with furniture, for about six months. Then I got a start at Wilders Foundry in Minster Street at 14/- per week as labourer. When I had been there about one year, I was put on with a Mechanic as his Mate and got on so well that in 12 months I was put on jobs alone. Then began my trouble. I was not satisfied with my wage because I was doing the same work as men getting 30/per week. I asked for more money week after week. I was promised more but it never came, so I gave my notice in; then I got 2/- per week more.

But I was not being paid what I earned as rated in piece work prices, so I made up my mind to get another job. At the second place I tried for, at a place called Compton about 14 miles from Reading, I got on at 22/- per week. I done well there getting three rises in 15 months, in all 5/-, making a wage of 27/- per week of 6o hours. That's what I didn't like - a 60 hour week, so I looked for a job elsewhere again.

But next time, I was not successful. It was at Mackies in the Caversham Rd, Reading, at 26/- per week of 54 hours - less money but more per hour worked but very hard work. They almost expected you to take your shirt off, they expected so much work done and after about 5 months I quarrelled with the foreman and left. That, for a time, proved very unfortunate for me as I could not seem to get work again, try how I would for four months.

Then Sam was laid up with something the matter with his foot and I done his work for about 13 weeks but this was a fall in wages to 16/- per week. Sam, at that time was getting 21/-. That was in 1897 when Sam came back to his work. I had to go and was idle again for about 5 weeks. All this time, I was lodging with Lizzie and as thev was taking hands on at the biscuit factory, I tried there and got a job in about a week. That was the beginning of October and then I went to lodge at a Mrs. Pococks, 578 Oxford Road. My work at the factory was only promised to Xmas so I was on the look out for another when that was finished and about a month before I expected notice I was successful this time at Mackies in Katesgrove back at my trade.

Oh yes, I had a trade then - at least I thought I knew one which after events proved to me I did not know one quarter there was to learn. This was in November 1897 when I got this job to start on the first of Jan 1898 came the event of my life as you will see. We arranged everything and finished in 27 days. That was from the 27 of November 1897 till the 24 of December 1897 the day I got married, of course after a courtship of about 4 years.

Well, I took up my duties as a Benedict on the first of Jan as arranged but this proved to be a short job as the firm went into liquidation the following June. But in May before we had notice to leave, I obtained a job in London at 36/~ per week in the East India Dock Rd. My wife did not want me to go but my will prevailed and I went about the middle of May, coming home once a fortnight. This proved an expensive job and my high wages was made small keeping two homes. At last after about 3 months Aug Bank Holiday came round and I came home the first time for three weeks. Well, the wife made such trouble when I was going back after the Holidays that finally I promised not to go back and wrote for my tools, etc. and threw myself out of work.

This was rather foolish as my wife was just in a quandary as to her condition and more so as I remained out about two months then started again at Mackies Caversham Road Reading. This was Oct 1898. I remained there till the following Sept, about ii months at 26/- per week. During that tiine, the gth of April 1899, my first daughter was born - Gladys.

When I left Mackies, as stated, I had a great desire come over me to gain experience and wanted to go further afield so I answered advert in Mechanical World and obtained appointment with a firm at Chatteres in Cambridgeshire about 25 miles from Peterborough taking up my duties on or about the 2nd of Oct 1899 at 32/- and remained until Nov 1900, coming home only 4 times while I was there. I left on my own accord on the advice of my wife as she was expecting with Cassie who was born on the 3rd of December 1900, about a fortnight after I came home.

I remained at home till after Xmas then went to the Eagle Foundry, Oxford to work at 30/- per week. Remained there about a year and 10 months, riding my machine home every week end. I think it was about Jan 1902 that I went to Wallis & Stevens Engineers, Basingstoke at 32/- per week, staying there till June 1903 when I left to go to a job as Bookmakers clerk at Ascot Races. This was not successful, so I obtained a job at a new firm as was building at Caversham Bridge Reading - Mssrs. R. Allen & Son, the Reading iron Works, at 32/- per week. Remained there till May 1905 when I returned to Wallis & Stevens at Basingstoke. This time taking my wife and family with me and resided in Basingstoke till the following March 1906. Returning, I lived on my savings in Reading for a while living in Oxford Road in a house built on the Elm Park in your time here. From here I went to Coventry at 38/- per week- was there about six months. From there to Shrewsbury Shropshire - was there about 7 months. From there to John Thornecrofts, shipbuilders, Southampton was there about 4 months as leading hand. Then I obtained a position at Vantage Engineering Works as Foreman at 2 per week holding that position till March 1908 when I had to hand in my resignation owing to ill health and my suffering from a diseased knee bone, which unfortunately, has caused me trouble ever since that time. But I will tell you all about that when I have finished my narrative.

Well, I came with iny wife and family now - 4 daughters - to Reading and am glad to say after five weeks was able to look for and get another position - the first I tried for was successful and the one I am in now. My late employer gave me excellent references, adding he was very sorry to lose me find wishing me success.

Now you will have followed me up till the 28th of March 1908 the day, I started here at a reduced rate as I was in failing health - 35/- and extra which makes this as good as 1/- for every hour worked, as I only worked 40 hours per week and very often less now. After I had been here about 2 weeks, I was offered a position as foreman for. a five year engagement to Horig Kong China. But before accepting, I thought it my duty to inform them of my medical unfitness, which you will understand was the only reason for me not going.

This was unfortunate for me as it was five years work at 375 per year and residence. Sani saw the negotiations in reference to this job and could inform anyone of its genuiness.

Now I have brought you tip to the present time. I am afraid I shall tire all of this but forgive me - I thought it would be the best way to explain.

Now dear Brother &- Sister, I will tell you about my knee. Two years ago on the 14 of Nov 1908 when I woke up I had a terrible aching at my left knee and much swollen. I thought it was a strain but it proved after that it was riot. It got from bad to worse several doctors treated me but none did me any good. Finally, I went to the hospital but unfortunately, they treated me wrongly at first for a complaint I had not got - gout; gave me bottle after bottle of medecine which did no good till one day I suggested the Rongion Rays (probably means Roentgen Rays discovered by Wilhelni Roentgen in 1895 and commonly referred to as x-rays) and the next time I went the doctor told me all the medecine in the world would not do me any good - I must go under operation.

I consented and after waiting about a fortnight for a bed I was admitted on the 4 of September last year, went under operation on the 6th of September - had a piece of the knee cap taken away. This relieved me for some time but I am sorry to say it got quite bad again, in fact much worse than it has ever been and am expecting to go under operation again shortly. It is known as Tubercular Knee Joint.

Now dear Brother & Sister and all the family, I have told you my history as far as I can remember and considering I had no apprenticeship and no one to use any influence on my behalf, it has been gratifying to me to see myself pass by those that was apprenticed paying 50 premium. And had I been in good health, I was told by a Mining Engineer I could have got to the top of the tree and that was a man holding a position in the Engineering trade which brought him in 1400 a year.

So you will quite understand how my prospects were blighted by this knee joint of mine. You will also notice that I have left every place I have worked at; not once being discharged - except when doing Sam's job.

Now I am glad to tell you Sam and his family are all fairly well but I think Sam has written you lately. Lizzie and her family are all quite well. I saw her last Saturday night but I think they have been in very straightened circumstances owing to Redge being out of employment so much this last 2 or 3 years. But the family are all at work except one and Lizzie goes out to work.

Now I must tell you my wife and daughters all wish to send their kind regards and would very much like to see you all, but I am afraid that cannot be.

Dear Brother & Sister, I shall be pleased indeed to receive a line from you, then I will write again. Meantime, I will be thinking of you and hoping you may not blame me for taking up so much of your time with this letter. You may remark, 'He has sent a book', but never mind, keep on till the end now.

I will close trusting this note will find you are happy and well. Believe me, your ever loving Brother, the Plough Boy.

Good bye & God Bless you all. I am glad to tell you Mother dear is fairly well. God Bless her.

From Dave xxx


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updated 5th August 2001