All writing © 2009-2015 by Colin Salter unless indicated otherwise. All rights reserved.
More information at

Saturday 29 August 2015


I am not one to glorify war or the injuries of war. I don’t think it’s clever of nations to send their finest young men and women to death or disfigurement: “the old Lie,” as Wilfred Owen put it with a capital L, “Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori.” It is sweet and right to die for your country. Did you know Owen’s middle name was Salter? No relation.
Frederick Gurney Salter (1874-1969)

Try as I may, I cannot understand the attitude of men like my grandfather Fred Salter (1874-1969) who, too old to enlist at the start of the First World War, persisted in trying until he found an enlisting officer willing to turn a blind eye to his age; and who was determined to return to active frontline duty even after his leg was amputated, having been hit by a German sniper in January 1916 while he was on a barbed wire patrol beyond the trenches.

He got a Certificate of Gratitude from the king and a wooden leg from the hospital, an actually wooden prosthesis, on which he walked painfully for the last 54 years of his life. Without complaint, my father always said.

Lieutenant F.G. Salter
5th Battalion The Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort’s Own)
Served with honour and was disabled in the Great War
Invalided from the Service 12th February 1919
George R[ex] I[mperator]

At least, my grandfather may have felt, he survived. A great friend of Fred’s, Tudor Castle, died later the same year that Fred was injured, when a shell struck his trench at Arras in August 1916. Tudor was a poet: I still have the first edition copy of Rupert Brooke’s first volume of poetry which Tudor gave Fred in 1914, and the first edition copy of Brooke’s posthumous collection which Tudor gave his sister May in 1915. Fred and May were married three months before Tudor was killed.

Tudor Castle (1882-1916) and Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)

When Fred enlisted, it was with his best friend Robert (the poet R.E. Vernède) who was also too old to sign up. Once he was hors de combat, Fred sent Robert knitwear, food and magazines in the trenches and Robert wrote Fred a poem which began
Peaks that you dreamed of, hills your heart has climbed on,
Never your feet shall climb, your eyes shall see:
All your life long you must tread lowly places,
Limping for England, well – so let it be.

Robert’s publisher rejected the poem for being too unsupportive of the war effort. But Robert too lost his life, on Easter Monday 1917, when his platoon stumbled on a German machine gun position. And Robert’s poem about Fred was included in the posthumous collection of his work published the following September.

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen was killed in action in France on 4th November 1918, a week before the end of the war.

R.E. Vernede (1875-1917) and Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

Saturday 22 August 2015


There’s very little documentary evidence for my Merseyside great great uncle Eyre’s life: records of his baptism, marriage and death, and an incomplete set of ten-yearly census returns. Where was he, and what was he doing, between those of 1871 and 1901?

His brother Richard Ralph Sadleir is similarly absent from the National Archives, reappearing only in 1911 when he describes himself as a “retired prospector.” Perhaps the brothers went off adventuring together. Eyre turns up just once during those thirty years, on a passenger list – he is in steerage when the SS Lake Superior leaves Liverpool on 2ndApril 1898, bound for St John’s in Newfoundland. Was he rejoining his brother in the Canadian gold fields?

Eyre is described in the Lake Superior’s list as a steam fitter, the same trade by which he defines himself in the UK censuses of 1901 and 1911. He seems to have gone where the work was. Presumably Newfoundland didn’t work out, because three years later in April 1901 he was back in Britain, in Walsall; and only a few months after that, in Belfast.

Walsall Station’s ornate canopy – Station Street in the foreground, and the large railways yard beyond. The canopy and the grand booking hall behind it were demolished in the 1990s to make way for a new Marks & Spencer store.

We know he was only passing through Walsall, because he was staying in digs at 27 Station Street right opposite the London & North Western Railway’s station yard. Digs is perhaps the wrong word. It conjures up images of fussy landladies and theatrical acts in chintzy lounges. 27 Station Street was one of two beer houses on the road, which also had three hotels (one of them a temperance establishment).

Beer houses were the lowest form of drinking den, the product of an 1830 licensing law designed to steer poor people away from mother’s ruin, gin. It was so successful that in 1869 they passed another act prohibiting the opening of any new beer houses. They were the original spit-and-sawdust bare-boarded establishments, no more than the front parlours of family homes, barred from selling gin and other spirits. The last of them disappeared in the early twentieth century, all either closed down or upgraded to public houses.

William Hogarth’s satirical 1751 images of the evils of gin and the merits of beer were part of an earlier attempt to reduce public consumption of the ruinous spirit

Because no new beer houses could be opened, they became assets and changed hands frequently. In the three Kelly’s Directories which I’ve seen, for 1904, 1912 and 1914, 27 Station Street is owned by three different families. In 1901 when Eyre Sadleir was staying there it was run by a family of … saddlers, the Hills. Into that typical small railway terrace home was crammed a family of ten – father Charles Hill (“saddle- and harness-maker, publican”), his wife, his widowed mother-in-law, two daughters, five sons (four of whom were old enough to join their father as harness-makers in the leather industry for which Walsall was famous). Of nearly forty houses in Station Street nearly half were connected with the leather trade. Also in the Hill household were three itinerant tradesmen: another leather worker, a plasterer, and steamfitter Eyre.

Most beer houses, including the two in Station Street, didn’t even have names until they sought the respectability of being a Public House. I don’t know for certain what 27 Station Street became. By the time the Great War broke out, the street was the (un-numbered) address of the long-established Queen’s Hotel, the Railway Inn, the Commercial Inn, the Star and Garter and … the Saddlers’ Arms.

I’d love to think that the house Eyre Sadleir stayed in, the house Charles Hill the saddle-maker sold beer in, became the Saddlers’ Arms. The building is, I'm delighted to discover, still in use as licensed premises, now also selling wines and spirits, in its present guise as Smokey’s American Diner.

STOP PRESS! I've just heard from the good people at Smokey's that their premises are indeed the former Saddler's Arms. So a Sadleir DID stay with a saddler at the Saddler's!

Smokey’s Diner, 26-27 Station Street, Walsall

Saturday 15 August 2015


John Cozens, an ancestor by marriage of my Pilkington cousins, was a grocer in Norwich at the end of the eighteenth century. His shop stood in the town’s huge marketplace, on the side known as Gentleman’s Walk because it was where the local gentry promenaded and spent their wealth.

The location certainly worked for John Cozens – in 1801 he was turning over £400 a month, a huge amount. It’s interesting in the light of subsequent developments that £300 of that sum was in wholesale – selling not to the public but other traders.

Norwich Marketplace (Robert Dighton, 1799) 

By 1809 Cozens was in partnership with one John Copeman, who was on the payroll in some capacity in 1802 but was now putting money into the company of Cozens & Copeman. The two men became connected in a personal way when Copeman, whose first wife had died, married Elizabeth Hawkins, the sister of Cozens’ wife Mary.
John and Elizabeth’s son joined the business, and when Cozens retired in 1837, the firm became Copeman & Son.

That in a sense is the end of the Cozens element of this story. But the firm remained in Copeman hands and under the Copeman name (latterly as Copeman-Ridley) until 1987 – almost two hundred years after John Cozens first moved to Norwich from his father’s farm in 1789. 

Successive generations of Copemans built up the wholesale side of the business and in 1873 sold off their retail premises in Gentleman’s Walk. From then on (to my unbusinesslike mind) it’s a fairly dull tale of expansion, of mergers, of weathering economic storms. But in 1954, following a study tour of northern America, the then chairman W.O. Copeman launched a name which will be familiar to high street shoppers throughout Britain and Ireland – Mace convenience stores.

My local Mace, South Bridge, Edinburgh

Mace was one of the first franchise operations in Britain, in which independent store owners subscribed to the group and received benefits of economies of scale in national branding and wholesale supply which they could never have as individual traders.

It was a huge success and the model for subsequent “symbol groups” such as Premier and Nisa-Today. When the brand was sold out of Copeman control in 1987 it suffered from a series of new owners who sometimes struggled to understand the needs of its franchisees. Many retailers left Mace for other so-called “symbol groups,” but even now there are 1200 Mace stores in Britain and Ireland. At its height Mace supplied nearly 5000 affiliated corner shops and convenience stores, and all because of the grocery store which John Cozens began 226 years ago in the marketplace in Norwich.

Saturday 8 August 2015


I realise that I have unwittingly been following a family tradition in not ever writing here about the Norfolk branch of my Gurney antecedents. My father, who in matters of ancestry spoke with pride only of Gurneys, never spoke of the Norfolk Gurneys, only of “our” Bedfordshire ones.

The Norfolk Gurneys (with whom the Bedfordshire ones fell out around my 7x great grandfather’s generation in the early seventeenth century) were the senior branch of the tree. They produced all sorts of interesting people, including some of the most powerful Quaker banking families of England (the Barclays for example). Others reflected the Quakers’ more spiritual side, and those include the social reformer Elizabeth Fry (née Gurney) (1780-1845) and her brother who lent his name to Gurneyite Quakerism in the US, Joseph John Gurney (1788-1847).

In keeping with tradition I am writing today not about the latter but about his namesake, who was born a year before the Gurneyite’s death. “My” Joseph John was a mechanical engineer, the nephew of my 2x great grandmother Emma Gurney (1815-1893) and son of Joseph Gurney (1804-1879) who headed the family firm of parliamentary shorthand writers in London.
 Joseph Gurney (1804-1879)
Father of Joseph John Gurney (1846-1903)

Shorthand Joseph and his sister’s husband my great great grandfather Rev William Augustus Salter(1812-1879) were lifelong friends and died within weeks of each other. It’s interesting that they both had sons, Joseph John Gurney and Frank Salter, who followed not their fathers’ callings but instead the very modern world of mechanical engineering. Both sons, moreover, worked on steam engine design.

Frank and Joseph must have known each other quite well through their fathers’ friendship and it’s tempting to imagine them in boyhood comparing notes on mutually understood mechanical problems. In the 1860s Frank trained in the locomotive workshops of the London & North Eastern Railway at Crewe, while Joseph moved to Gateshead on the ship-building Tyne to learn his trade. In 1870 Joseph and a friend, Joseph Watson (another Joseph!) went into partnership with William Clarke, a manufacturer of steam winches. When in 1872 Frank was looking for a new apprenticeship after serving his time with LNWR, it was the firm of Clarke, Watson & Gurney that took him on.

William Clarke (c1832-1890)
with whom Joseph John Gurney formed a partnership and Frank Salter served an apprenticeship

Frank moved on in 1874 – I’ve written about his career elsewhere in this blog – but Joseph John remained on Tyneside for the rest of his life. It wasn’t just the work that held him there. In 1870, the year he and Watson went into partnership with William Clarke, Joseph John also formed (in Rye Hill Baptist Chapel) a lasting partnership with Watson’s sister Helen.

That union produced a daughter, Helen Mary Gurney. Joseph John’s business partnership saw the firm expand from winches into boiler-making, and from steam power to oil-fired and electric motors. The innovation by which I am most impressed was the company’s 1882 decision to employ women as draughtsmen. I don’t know the scale of this “experiment” (the company’s word), but it was long enough and large enough for Clarke, Watson & Gurney to build a separate building to house the draughtswomen in.

Clarke, Chapman & Gurney steam winch, 1882

Joseph John Gurney resigned from the firm in 1882 at the age of 36. Watson had by then also departed, and the firm continued to grow with William Clarke’s remaining partner as Clarke, Chapman & Co. It survives today as the Clarke Chapman Group with operations throughout the world in virtually every area of civil engineering, and still has its headquarters in Gateshead. Why either Joseph left I don’t know; but Joseph John’s father had recently died, and perhaps the provision of his will meant that JJ no longer had to work.

He seems genuinely to have retired from the field, and to have lived out his days in comfort: first at Rodsley House on Alexandra Road in Gateshead (demolished in 1931) and then in the White House, north of the River Tyne, on Grainger Park Road in Newcastle. Frank died too young, only 40, from pneumonia caught in the line of his work on water pumps in 1888. The White House with its 32 rooms was only demolished in 2011, and the site developed as the stunning new Newcastle Central Mosque.

The White House, Newcastle upon Tyne, in 2009, and an artist's impression of the Newcastle Central Mosque which replaces it

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...