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Friday, 30 March 2012

7. A Passion for Cycling

Bert on his racing bike, 1910
Bert had won his first cycling medal at the age of 12, cycling for the Heston and Isleworth United District Cycling Club. In some years Hounslow had its own Harriers and Cycling or Wheelers Club and when it didn't there were locals lobbying for one.
Cycle racing was banned on public roads from 1880, so timed trials developed as a way of beating the ban.

The local newspaper followed both the fortunes of local riders and the disagreements about how the clubs should operate.Letters to the editor of the Hounslow Advertiser and Gazette in 1910 and 1911 express the grievances. Bert kept some of these letters, carefully pasted on cardboard and kept with his medals, along with an article from the same newspaper, dated July 31 1910, which places him at the centre of one controversy.

Bert had raced at a meeting of the Feltham Club and won the quarter, half and one mile races with handicaps of 35 yards, 100 yards and 200 yards respectively. While the report from the Hounslow Advertiser indicates it is 'satisfactory' that 'a Hounslow lad' won three races, it goes on to suggest no-one should be allowed to win more than two prizes in handicap events.

The enigmatic comment that 'It is better to be born lucky than rich' seems to reinforce the argument of Dave Moulton's cycle racing blog that cycling was a class-based sport in England in the early twentieth century. In any case, by 1910 Bert is clearly viewed as 'lucky' rather than rich.

The sport of cycling as we know it today was just beginning, and there were plenty of opinions about how it should be organised and operated.

Bert kept letters to the editor about the reinstatement of a Hounslow Club. It seems likely that Bert, and his mother, agreed with the view expressed that:

You hear them complain about the quietness and slowness of Hounslow. Whose fault is it but their own? Where will they find more life than in a well attended club run, or where more sport than in excelent club fellowship among healthy young fellows?

He also kept clippings about a disagreement over whether a 'scratch race' organised by the cyclist section of the Hounslow Cycling and Harriers Club in 1911 should have been a sealed handicap. Members were suspended and dubbed "North Pole Swankers" by the Club Secretary Mr Pizzey.

We do not know which side Bert was on in this dispute. By 1911, he and his family had moved from Hounslow. The clippings for that year were sent to him by family or friend, at their new home in Cheshunt.

Bert's last cycling medal was won in 1910, when he was 19, for the 'Old Bird Average'.

Monday, 26 March 2012

6. Without a Father

There are few records to tell us the detail of how Emily steered her family through the first couple of years of her widowhood. They kept the business going somehow. Bert took on the job of delivery. Doll took on more and more responsibility for the younger children as Emily looked for, and found work as a housekeeper.

It is not clear whether Bert left school before or upon his father's death. Years later, a letter to Bert from an old school friend, Edd Button, mentions their school masters, Bazely Chinn and J Hardwick Barker.

 We do know he won a scholarship in 1908 to attend Handicraft classes at the Houslow Polytechnic, presumably at night and attended until 1910.

He made a chessboard that he kept his whole life.

The back is lined and signed, A.E. Ray Xmas 1908.

We have no record of what else Bert made in his classes. He was, however, always handy and interested in making things. The classes, rather than being recreational, appear to be part of his attempt to improve himself and learn useful skills. His view of education remained practical throughout his life.

Bert's recreation was his cycling, but even that was not free from stress.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

5. The End of Security.

Bert's parents were 21 and 20 respectively when he was born in 1891. Their lives were busy and physically demanding. By the time Bert won his first cycling medal in 1903 they had six children, the youngest just born. We know little of how they manufactured their mineral water but the process was demanding and continuous.

C Ruffles delivering mineral water in England 1914
We do know they made deliveries - primarily to hotels - as part of their business, using a horse-drawn dray or van, and that Bert sometimes helped his father with this task. Horse-drawn vehicles delivered most food and drink at the time - to markets, houses and shops.

In the early 1900s Bert's father developed severe angina. Bert's sister, Dorothy, known as Doll, told the story of her father having an angina attack one day at home, grabbing the curtain and pulling it down on its rod as he fell to the floor.

On 26th June 1907, their father, Albert Ray, had an angina attack while on cart the delivering mineral water. At the corner of Kneller Road and Twickenham Road Whitton, he fell from the van and was unable to be revived.  He was 38. A coroner's inquest was held on 28th June 1907 and issued his death certificate on 29 June 1907. Albert Edward Ray was buried at St Leonard's Heston on 1 July 1907.

Probate was granted on 28 September 1907, awarding Emily eleven hundred and eighty three pounds. It was a significant sum, but not enough to raise six children.  Fred, aged 5 and Les aged 3 needed to be cared for. Bert was 15, Doll was 13, Sid 11 and Stan 7 when their father died. In addition to their grief, their lives changed dramatically.Their secure Edwardian existence was based on an income from a business that depended on the physical labour and mature acumen their father had provided.

They would need to generate income to support the family. The heaviest burden fell on their mother, but the older children carried a share.

Monday, 19 March 2012

4. The Transition: Albert Ray's Grandparents, Thomas Ray and Eliza Johnson.

Thomas was the eldest child of Robert Ray and Mary Susannah Tue. He was born in 1819  in the Buckinghamshire village of Charndon and was baptised privately, presumably for a health reason, either doubt about his survival or fear of contagion. He married  Susannah Howes from the nearby village of Poundon in 1840. She was 19 and working as a servant, Thomas, like his father, was an agricultural labourer.

Iver Village 1908.
Within two years, Thomas and Susannah moved about 20 miles closer to London, to the Buckinghamshire village of Iver where Thomas worked as a servant. Their first two children, Mary Susannah and Jesse, were born in Twyford.  Mary Susannah died before reaching the age of two. Their other five children were born in Iver. The youngest, Susannah, was five years old when her mother died early in 1858.

St Peter's Church Iver, Bucks, Photo by John Chisholm
In November of the same year, Thomas married a widow, Eliza Mouncer (nee Johnson), ten years his junior, originally from Norfolk, with three children of her own between the ages of nine and five. They were married in Christ Church Surrey - Southwark. Their marriage record says they were neighbours in Stanford St, Surrey. Thomas was a 'shop proprietor'. Thomas might have moved to the city to try his luck after the death of Susannah. He and Eliza settled back in Iver Village where Thomas ran a greengrocer's shop, the first of his family to use his agricultural skills in a different way.

By  1871, Thomas and Eliza, have five children from their own marriage. The youngest of these, barely two, is Albert Ray, father of our Bert. Their oldest child is Arthur William. Along with Susannah, the youngest child of Thomas's first marriage, they are living in Harlington, Middlesex, at the Crown Inn (49 Bath Rd., now demolished), and Thomas is a ginger beer manufacturer. Ten years on, Thomas is a mineral water manufacturer in the same area, but now living at 2 Holly House Harlington.

The mineral water industry had its beginnings in mineral springs as early as Roman times. The waters of various spas sold well - Leamington, Epsom, Clerkenwell, Malvern and Sadlers Wells, for example. The discovery of lime and lemon juice to prevent scurvy contributed to experimentation with mineral waters, as did the introduction of ginger beers - all associated, as were  the spas, with health and apothecaries.

It is, however, after the publication by Dr Joseph Priestley in the 1772 of Directions for Impregnating Water with Fixed Air and the subsequent identification by Antoine Lavousier of 'fixed air' as carbon dioxide that equipment for carbonating water and fruit juices was developed and commercial production of soft drinks was taken up across Britain. In the late nineteenth century the temperance movement also boosted the industry.

Thomas Ray was one of those who recognised the potential, adapted his skills, gained knowledge, and went into business. He seems to have had the support of both wives and his children. There continue to be family links between children of his first marriage and Eliza's family, and further stories could be researched and told round this venturesome man.

from Hounslow Council Library Local Studies website
Thomas died in 1889, aged 70, a mineral water manufacturer living at 102 High St Hounslow, leaving an estate of just over one thousand pounds to his widow, Eliza. Two years later, she is still living there on her own means, with her son Arthur Ray, who is now the mineral water manufacturer.  Arthur soon moved his family and mineral water manufacturing to Woolpack Farmhouse in Dawley, Harlington, and then to Bourne Bridge in Hayes, Middlesex. When he died in 1916 he left an estate of 2256 pounds to his two surviving daughters who had worked with him in the business.

After Arthur moved from High St Hounslow, his young brother, Albert, and his family, moved in with Eliza and operated the mineral water business. Eliza was there as Bert Ray, his sister and brothers, were born into a reasonably comfortable, industrious household, built on the efforts she and her husband Thomas had made over many years in a journey, with a large blended family,  from agricultural labourers, to servants, to greengrocers, to manufacturers of gingerbeer and mineral water.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

3. Albert Ray's Buckinghamshire Ancestors.

Family mythology had it that Albert Edward Ray's name had been passed to him from his father and grandfather and before that came from France - Albert Eduard. While the name Ray is probably originally French (either Roi, from the servants of the king or from Old French 'raier', to gush, for someone who lived near a stream), Bert's father, like many of his time, was the first Albert Edward in the family, the result of Queen Victoria naming her first son Albert Edward (Edward VII) in 1841.

Whether this Ray family's forebears came to England with the Normans in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, or with the Huguenots in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries - or indeed acquired the name another way, remains to be researched. There is a River Ray in Buckinghamshire that might bear investigation.

Bert's grandfather was in fact, Thomas Ray, his great-grandfather Robert Ray and back through two generations of John Ray's to William Ray, 1675-1727. William was born in Piddington, Oxfordshire, probably a farm worker, and married Margery Mukell, born in Buckinghamshire in 1677.

Their son, John seems to have married Sarah Coxhead, of Buckinghamshire, by licence in St Mary Magdalen, Beckley, Oxfordshire and the couple settled in Marsh Gibbon, Buckinghamshire in 1836 where they had seven children, all of whom lived their lives either in Marsh Gibbon or the neighbouring Edgcott as agricultural labourers.

Their son John drew the attention of authorities in 1806 at the age of 57, when he was accused of stealing a rail fence, an accusation dismissed by proclamation.

St Mary's Twyford
The same John had married Mary Pangston of the neighbouring parish of Twyford in 1775 and this couple also had seven children, baptised in the local parish of Twyford. All their children were agricultural labourers. Their youngest son, Robert, married Mary Susannah Tue of Charndon, Buckinghamshire in 1818 and Robert and Mary's son, Thomas, born a year later, was our Bert Ray's grandfather.

Robert and Mary had eight children,  at a time when enclosures and urbanisation were forcing people off the land. Mary died aged 61, but Robert lived into his 80s, a pauper for the last decade, taking in lodgers to make ends meet.

the ground of Bucks lace
Their children were mostly labourers or married to labourers, but the women and children began, as did many others, to take up lacemaking to supplement their income. Bucks lace, worked on bobbins, was bought by travelling middle-men who visited the main lacemaking villages, amongst which were Charndon, Chearsley and Marsh Gibbon.

At least 16 of the women in Robert and Mary's extended family in these three villages were lacemakers in the nineteenth century: Susannah, Ann, Fanny, Mary, and two Sarah Rays, Rebecca, Martha and Mary Ann Lamburn, Ann, Mary and Martha Parker, Sarah and Elizabeth Badrick, Mary North and Anne Neary.

The industry was served by lacemaking schools, run by a village woman in her home. Parents paid a small amount for their children to attend and be drilled in lacemaking. As they learned, their lace was sold to the laceman and the profit shared between teacher and parent. More than one Ray female aged 8 is listed as lacemaker on censuses.

As the century drew to a close, machine-made Nottingham lace put the cottage industry out of business. In 1880 legislation made primary schooling compulsory, speeding up the closure of lace schools.

There was a lot of hardship and exploitation associated with Bucks lace. It did, however, enable families on or below the poverty line a tiny margin that gave them options they would not otherwise have in a society that was shedding the agricultural way of life on which so many depended.

The one who saw his chance and seized it, was Thomas Ray, Robert and Mary's eldest son, and Bert Ray's grandfather.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

2. Albert Ray's Childhood in the 1890s.

Albert Ray's mother, Emily Grace Higgs,  had two older and three younger sisters as well as two younger brothers, all living within the Heston or Hounslow area. Emily was the first to marry, and Bert was the first grandchild for Emily's parents, David and Lydia Higgs.  Others, however, soon followed. By 1901, two of Emily sisters and one of her brothers were married.

Alice Ada Higgs
Harry Robert Chitty
Her older sister Helen married Charles Keen, a local signwriter.

Her younger sister Alice married Harry Chitty, a whitesmith from Richmond. In 1901, her brother Richard married Katherine Bravery, a commercial clerk from Richmond.

all portraits courtesy of  Peter Furze

Kate Chitty
Her brother Charles married Kate Chitty, grocer's book keeper and sister of Harry, in 1904.

David Higgs
Lydia Higgs
David and Lydia Higgs were market gardeners with 50 acres on the Bath Rd, employing both men and women, some family, some not.

In 1903, David and Lydia must have been very proud of their growing family, as demonstrated by the photo below.

Back row, Albert Ray, unknown, Jack (John) Keen, Middle Row, Harry Chitty, Doll (Dorothy)Ray, Fred Ray, Sydney Ray, Percy Keen, front Row: Stanley Ray, Jessie Higgs ,Janet Chitty, Gordon Chitty, Kate Chitty, Winifred Keen. (It is possible Fred Ray and Winifred Keen should be reversed) . The photo is from the records of Molly Keen. Thanks to Peter Furze.
The Rays were living in High Street Hounslow, the Keens in Cross Lances Rd Hounslow South, the Chitty's in Lydia Villas on the Upton Road, Hounslow North. Richard Higgs and his family lived on the Bath Road market garden property with David and Lydia. The cousins saw a lot of each other in their childhood. There were three National schools in Hounslow in 1903, Hounslow Heath, Heston and Spring Grove and at least some of the children would have attended the same one.

In 1903 Bert also won his first cycling medal, in a competition organised by the Heston and Isleworth United District.

It was an optimistic, relatively secure and predictable world for Albert Ray, surrounded by capable, enterprising adults in an extended family.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

1. The birth of Albert Edward Ray in 1891

Albert Edward Ray was born in 1891, the first-born child of Albert Edward Ray, mineral water maker and Emily Grace Higgs, market gardener, living on Staines Rd near Hounslow, Middlesex, England.

His parents appear to have been hard-working, supported by extended families and keen to combine their assets and skills as business partners. They were well placed.

Both families had reached Middlesex from Buckinghamshire and were taking advantage of the demand for food and drink that arose from the growth of London where buildings were taking over the agricultural land close to Chelsea and the Covent Garden Markets.

In 1913, John Weathers in his book Commercial Gardening wrote:

Market gardening has been a great industry in the Thames valley for generations, and notwithstanding the operations of the builder, and the enormous growth of the London suburbs, there is still a large area around the metropolis devoted to market gardening. Of course the market gardener is being pushed farther and farther out, but with improved methods of transit, and better roads, the man twenty or thirty miles from London is probably in as good a position as his predecessor was fifty or sixty years ago, when only a dozen miles from Covent Garden. Old market-garden districts like Deptford, Fulham, and Chelsea have been wiped out by the builder, and buildings and roads now take the place of cabbages,rhubarb, fruit trees and bushes that not so many years ago made those neighbourhoods truly rural. This pressure from the centre has naturally driven the market gardener farther out, and such places as Feltham, Ashford, Sipson, Staines,West Drayton, Harmonds-worth, Bedfont, Shepperton, Stanwell, and Cranford, in Middlesex, are becoming covered with fruit and vegetable gardens. ... Chiswick, on the north bank, still contains some of its ancient market gardens, and these extend to Brentford, Isleworth, Heston, and Hounslow; but in these famous market-garden areas the builder is rapidly covering the ground with bricks and mortar.

The mineral water business was also growing.

So Albert Ray was baptised at the less than 20 year-old church, St Paul's Hounslow Heath, on 18th October 1891.

His godparents gave him a Bible, which he kept, all his life, in a hand-stitched white cotton bag.

By 1895 Bert, as he was known to his family, had a brother and a sister and they wore the fashion of the day.

All seemed promising for his future.