The Meek Shall Inherit – A Banburyshire Family of Bodgers, Poachers and Smugglers: More Traces of the Gullivers…   1 comment

Extracts from A Letter from Vinson Gulliver (then aged 91) to his brother Frank in November 1979.

 002 (2)

… I was rather surprised to read in a letter from Sister Jessie, ’the meek shall inherit the earth’… Well, our family tree will stand some good judgement… and should qualify for the promise as given in Exodus 20, for all the family on our mother’s side were of good report… and Mam was a unique case. She once said that when she was eight years old she had eight grandparents and great-grandparents, and she herself lived to have great-grandchildren too… I think you may be interested to have report (mine) of her final passing… I have thought… many times to put it on record.


As you may know, Mother used to cook and ’do’ for the young curate at the Mission, corner of Lythall’s Lane Munitions Cottages in Coventry, and later he often came to see her when (she was)’bed-fast’. By then he was married and in charge of the new building where, prior to the final rites, mother was taken. He gave a very nice address praising mother’s qualities in remembrance, and as we came out for the last journey to the cemetary near our old home, large spots of rain as big as marbles fell, as (if) to herald us of what was to follow. We just about got loaded up when there came a flash of lightning and the roar of thunder. Then a deluge of rain (fell), so thick and heavy that it was like a heavy curtain. Traffic on the road drew to a halt and stood still. We passed slowly along through it all.


When we reached the cemetary entrance the storm quieted for a few minutes. We reached the graveside when it all started again, thunder and lightning. Bearers and Parson ran for cover for about twenty minutes. Then it cleared and the sun shone. Well, I with some others, sat quiet in our seats. I had some curious reflections, such as, “well, mother, you have had a marvelous send-off… such as never could have happened to Kings or Princes!” Did the storm disturb me, or us? I think not. In fact, I was thrilled by the grandeur of it all, which I shall never forget: ’Hail and snow, thunder and lightning’ (wrote) Shakespeare, ’when beggars die there are no comets seen; the whole heavens blaze forth at the death of a princess.’


… When last at Seymour’s, he related a (recent) visit to the environs of Oxford, including Great Rollright, and remarked that there seeds of the Tidmarshes were as common as Smiths… The Tidmarshes are from a place which is the opposite side of the Thames, west of Windsor. Therefore, we judge that the Tidmarshes were of very healthy stock.



I spent a lot of my time in my school holidays at Great Rollright and eventually went to see the ancient circle (of stones) of which I had heard so much from mother. I suppose that was my very earliest interest in the antiquities. Our oldest ancestor who lived in the village was Molly Harris, my grandfather Tidmarsh’s grandmother. As a lad, I carried water from her old well (still known as Molly Harris’s) to the church for the women cleaning up at Harvest Festival. I found the job hard work and not a bit interesting. The well has since been filled in, like many more… Mam seems to have known the cottage where Molly Harris lived to a good age and the bed of rose of Sharon. I also seem to remember what a lot of gravestones there were, some leaning against the western wall, of the early Tidmarsh family. Grandfather’s father, John Tidmarsh, was alive at that time, and was living in a corner house of the workhouse yard, he and grandma Webb, which I found a bit confusing, as the then great grandma Tidmarsh was really great grandma Webb, grandma Tidmarsh’s mother. She was very active for her age, more so than her daughter. She was still alive the year that Uncle Arthur came home from India.


When they had their last full family gathering, Uncle Fred was there from Bloxham. Our brother Arnold was a baby, and I, on that Christmas Eve, carried him, wrapped in a white shawl, five miles from Hook Norton to Rollright, in a snow storm, without a change of movement, that cold Christmas, only to find out that the halt on the old Banbury and Cheltenham line had been opened that very week. A full house, one may say: Aunt Polly, husband and child; Aunt Jessie, husband and child, Hilda, Tim, Uncle Alfred (and) daughter Emily. Grandma’s October brew was much appreciated. Goose roasted in front of the fire, and stuffed neck, shin of pig meat and two fowls, a gift from the vicar. Grandma had also made hop beer. Well, this was a real Christmas in the old style, even the snow in true picture postcard style: “It came upon a midnight clear, that glorious song of old.” One remark of Uncle Arthur was (that) we were a very good representative family gathering; the army, the navy, the church, the law and the railway.




Grandfather Tidmarsh, with only one arm, did a turn at night as a watchman at, or near the tunnel leading to Chipping Norton, and I have no doubt some others worked on the Banbury and Cheltenham line. One of the family, I understand, was a victim of the Hook Norton Viaduct. Great grandfather (Gulliver) worked on the making of the GWR between Banbury and Leamington, the Harbury Cutting particularly. He was a Primitive Methodist preacher. He knew Joe (Joseph) Arch and was a secretary of the Agricultural Union, and later his son Henry took it over until he was the only paying member, although by what grandfather said, he acted in that service until he left the district.


While I can find no record of wealth in our family, there are also no records of any being in what… has been referred to as ’the submerged tenth’. In fact, they seem to have held some important positions in the country’s progress and well-being. Grandfather’s brothers are, shall we say, prominent in that which they undertook… one was an Inspector on the railway (at) Bristol Temple Meads. He later had his nephew… his brother Joe’s son, Horace… working under him, and he explained… that he should make good with the Morse Code and use the Single Needle Telegraph if he wanted to get on… that was essential… which he did, to follow in his uncle’s footsteps. He used to receive the signal during the War for the train where the Royal princesses were taken for safety to take refuge in the Box Tunnel.


AlfredHenryTidmarshAnother brother, Alfred, joined the Navy, before the age of ironclads and did twelve years ’before the mast’, changed his rating to the Marines and then became Master at Arms and finished up as Chief superintendent of Portsmouth Dockyards. Brother Will followed his father building railways, and did fifty years under the contractors Logan and Hemingway (becoming) a chief. My mother’s eldest brother Alfred also joined the Navy, following his uncle Alfred. He did… five trips to India on HMS Malabar, the troop ship, as a stoker and became the chief stoker and later diving instructor. He was serving on HMS Ramillies, the flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet at the time of an earthquake, and he raced to give assistance to Admiral Sir Charles Beresford. He did twenty-one years’ service and during the First World War, although pensioned, joined up and met misfortune when HMS Vanguard was blown up at Scapa Flow… I believe he was interred in Kirkwall cemetary, probably due to (his) identity disk (revealing) him as a prominent mason. Only two men were picked up, one of them an Oxford man. My brother Alfred was there on ’Thunderer’,… the third Alfred in the family… he later became Chief Petty Officer and was also, due to exceptionally good eyesight, range-finder instructor.


Mother’s younger brother Arthur, served in the Dorsets throughout the… Boer War. He was a signaller, corporal, and was at the relief of Ladysmith. (He) claimed to be able to use the key with either hand, which he said was helpful when one had to transmit a long message, especially with the heliograph, and mirrors as sun-reflectors. During the war in France their cabin received a direct hit and he was badly torn up, badly tied up in the field and transported home in such a bad way that life was despaired of… but he recovered and did duty at Oxford Post Office, where due to his knowledge of Morse Code and Single Needle, his job was collecting (telegraph messages) from the various colleges. Then in (the) late evenings he was a violinist in the clubs. His wife (played) the piano and his son the clarinet, so they formed a dance band. Later, his son had his own band and did some tours of the USA… Uncle Arthur was taken ill and it was found (to be due to) a shell splinter that was left in his insides and had now taken bad ways. …It now had to be removed. This left him bed-fast, or nearly so, for the rest of his life… sorry, poor chap! We were taken for brothers at Oxford, but I think he was better looking than myself. I make no claims in that direction, but one thing I will say and that is that the women of the family have not been deficient in good looks…


While on this topic, I will put another experience of the family tree on record… I knew my Grandma’s mother, her age was unknown; she was one of two daughters born at Moreton Morrell in Warwickshire. Great Grandma married a shepherd named Webb; her sister married the village blacksmith. Their surname was Hemms (… phonetic, as we never saw it written, and Great Grandma could neither read nor write.)… Their daughter married the Squire of Idlicote, that estate… at one time known as the White Farm, as all was as white as possible in the stock buildings and gates, etc. My Grandma Tidmarsh, whose maiden name was Webb, on one occasion was on a trip with the Rollright Mothers’ Union… they called at the village church, which was considered well worth a visit, and she took advantage to see her cousin, the squire’s wife… Usual exchanges about the family, I suppose, as no doubt Grandma had kept in touch through the post. The Lady asked if they were in need, (but) Grandma replied (that) those days were over… to some extent through the efforts of Squire Hall of Rollright, but she thanked the lady and said that she would like something as a keepsake. The Lady reached (for) a shell off the mantle-piece, white and speckled with brown fingers. My grandma gave it to me on my last visit… I was taking my annual holiday, and went to Rollright to see them. The barley was ready for reaping and I realised their difficulty, so I mowed it, tied it into sheaves… as grandfather was no longer able, and so I left them rather sadly and with misgivings of the future.


GeorgeGulliverNow I must record what I know of the other side of the family, the Gullivers, and that’s what one might say mostly hearsay and fragmentary, for father’s mother died when he was a little boy about three years old, so he must have led a solitary life in everybody’s way,.. a ’grumps’ and a ’grizelcatch’. His younger brother Henry was taken over by his aunt, Mrs Waypole. I remember her, she was a very big woman, and Dad’s mother was nearly six foot, named Green of either Prior’s Hardwick or Wormleighton… She made her mark on the (marriage) register… Sarah Green… Great Grandfather’s name thereon William Gulliver, occupation I don’t remember… probably he was a kind of independent, such as hedge-cutter, rough joinery, what used to be called ’bodgers’. Anyhow, Mam said that Grandfather Gulliver had several small legacies, that information due to me commenting on seeing my name on a corn sack. He did at one time have a horse in the village and in the stable of The White Hart there was an old style chaff box which he made, which enterprise fell through, and he took to shepherding. While I was still too young to really remember he left the village to go as a shepherd on Lord Leigh’s Stoneleigh estate and lived at Ashow, where he died unexpectedly some two or three years later, Dad said due to infection after skinning a diseased sheep. (It) led to a row between him and the farmer and led to him taking the job at Stoneleigh. He was later interred at Ufton, near to Uncle Jack’s (John’s) grave. I might also add that he married a second time, Hannah Ward of Bloxham (and they had) one son, Walter, who… made his will leaving all to his other half-brother, Harry Ward… How he came to know this is a story worth telling, and unusual. At the time sister Olive was at the Sturdy’s Castle Inn. A traveler called for refreshment and business. He said,


“I have had an unusual experience this morning. I called at the rectory as usual, and was invited in in a very pleasant manner. I wondered what all this was about; on the table were bottles, glasses and papers. ’We have been waiting for you to sign a paper that we don’t want the villagers to know about.’ It was the will and testament of Walter Gulliver, (to be) signed by me, the Rector and Walter Gulliver. Then drinks.”


Olive said, ’that’s a rather strange thing that you tell the story here, as Walter Gulliver is my Dad’s half-brother.’ The man was dumbfounded… Olive said, ’Oh, you needn’t worry about the secret getting about as that was always expected. Rather a coincidence anyhow.’


Fred Gulliver, Jack’s son, also did a turn in the Royal Navy. He did well, and was in the Torpedo Section (which) also had a lot to do with electricity. So… he had a good training in that capacity which stood him in good stead. After he did his twelve years’ service, he was able to take on a maintenance job at the Southam Cement Works. Brother Alfred seemed to resent his advantage, but as he himself (Alfred) went on to do twenty-two years and retired on a pension, he was perhaps the better off, as he got a job in Coventry at Alfred Herbert’s Engineering, attached to the office.


Fred Gulliver told the story of the peculiar coincidence of meeting his cousin Jack (John) Gulliver in Egypt. Fred was on the HMS Resolution. Their ship was at Alexandria, and he and about two hundred or more others were (taken) off for a trip to Cairo. They were marched to the Army barracks and were surprised to find stacks of rifles laid about. After a suitable address as to their behaviour, they were paired off, soldier/ sailor. He recognised his cousin Jack and paired off as on a friendly visit. They climbed the Great Pyramid and scratched their names on top and all went off peacefully… Our term of influence under Kitchener was about up, and it was considered that trouble might be possible. The sailors presence did have some effect, as the soldiers were to see that, in the event of trouble, the sailors were to get straightway to the barracks. Date uncertain (1898?)


John (’Jack’) Gulliver was a good scholar, did well in the Royal Artillery and during the war in Europe. He was in West Africa (Ashanti). He was promoted to Captain and Acting Major and practically took command as his seniors were taken ill and incapacitated. The expedition was a success. He later retired on half-pay, visited South Africa, but took a dislike to the folks there, took his brother Richard with him to Australia, set up a ranch in Queensland, and was 84 years of age when I last heard of him.


William Gulliver lived and worked all his life at Ufton; he received two gold medals from the Royal Agricultural Society for working on one farm and for one master for over fifty years, The Manor Farm and Mr Thomas Reed. (His family were known as) ’the best hedge-cutters for miles around’ and for ’other things such as fighting and poaching’. Nearby Marston Pole, on the Oxford Canal side, was the favourite place for prize-fighting. (We know of this) from ancient gossip and the story of one of the Green family who was the Hostler at the inn at one end of the canal tunnel, on the Grand Union at Ferney Stratford or Stoney Stanton, and was useful in keeping order. There, it was said, the scum of the earth congregated, to which the police turned a blind eye, as they were useful in lugging barges through   that awful dark dampness.


DSC00018 (2)I had this story from Mam, married at Rollright on a Wednesday, just over a hundred and ten years ago. They came back to Ufton on the Thursday, next day Banbury Fair, and had dinner at the White Lion. Dad says to Mam, ’My wench, if our old man had his rights this place should have been his’. Anyhow, our family name was, and is, likely to be popular for a long time to come by the story of Dean Swift who, according to some historians, most likely spent a lot of time at the White Lion in the company of our namesake. Anyhow, the altar monument tombstone goes to show that the Gulliver family were of some prominence, also the number of stones moved, leaning against the church wall, which may have been damaged when the original building was destroyed. Thirty pounds-worth of gunpowder was used to blow up, or down, what was considered to be unsafe.


One story Dad used to tell was about one of our ancestors who lived near Buckingham, and used to drive the heavy wagon between there and London. He was said to be of enormous strength. Before the Grand Union Canal was made, some of the family were sawyers and woodcutters and bodgers, who sorted out the various timbers for carts and wagons and furniture, for which that district was noted and, to some extent, still is.


A Gulliver is on the list of Nelson’s HMS Victory crew… There is also a knighthood, but the most important person of our patrimony was interred at Wimbourne Minster. His…(?) is kept under lock and key at Bournemouth. He was, in their own language (of that time), a ’free-trader’, and was apprehended by the authorities for smuggling. He, or his defence (counsel), said ’I must see the King (George III) and make some matter known to him for his personal safety’. I suppose he told the King what he had discovered in the Netherlands, which he suggested the King should take steps in his own personal interest to prove. (This) the King did straightaway and was apparently very pleased (probably more secret talks following). Our namesake explained that he had to have some means to maintain his ship and crew in good shape and order, but that if allowed, he would see that the King’s interest would be considered. The King gave him the freedom to carry on, and also a considerable parcel of land in the vicinity of Bournemouth and Christchurch, where he could berth his vessel. Well, our man Gulliver took full advantage, had a crew of first class sailors and men at arms, two to five hundred, dressed in white uniforms. They took three foreign vessels in the Channel (probably French) and it is recorded that it took a train two miles long to carry the booty away on carts, wagons and pack horses; where to is not recorded as far as I know.


Vinson Gulliver.

One response to “The Meek Shall Inherit – A Banburyshire Family of Bodgers, Poachers and Smugglers: More Traces of the Gullivers…

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Reblogged this on hungarywolf.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: