A History of Preston in Hertfordshire
Norah Gribble and Leslie Grace Seebohm (nee Gribble)
Lesley Grace Seebohm (of Poynders End) and her mother, Nora Gribble, were buried at St Martin’s, Preston in 1913 and 1923 respectively. This is the story of Norah’s life, Leslie’s burial and Norah’s son, Julian Gribble, who is memorialised in St Martins Church.
The Quaker, Frederic Seebohm, was born at Bradford, Yorkshire in 1833 and married Mary Ann Exton in 1857. He wrote the acclaimed work, The English Village Community which drew its inspiration from the area around Hitchin. The couple had four children: four daughters and a son, Hugh Exton Seebohm, who was born in 1867. In 1901, Frederic was living at 84 Bancroft, Hitchin and was described as a banker and magistrate. Meanwhile, the merchant, George James Gribble, married Norah Royds (born 1859 at Great Boughton,
Cheshire) at Chester in 1881. Included among their children was a daughter, Leslie Grace Gribble, born in 1883 at Chelsea. Hugh (then a Hitchin banker) and Lesley married in early 1904 at Biggleswade, Bedfordshire and moved into a newly built house at Poynders End (above) in 1906. They had four children: Derrick (born 1907), the twins Frederic and George (born 18 January 1909) and Fidelity (1912).
The news report of the funeral of Leslie Grace Seebohm - 24 September 1913
In the very sudden death of his wife, the sympathy of the town’s people of Hitchin and of a wider radius is extended to Mr. Hugh Exton Seebohm, a member of an old and revered Hitchin family. The death came with such unexpectedness that a tragedy of grief was experienced by relatives and friends. Previous to Saturday Mrs. Seebohm was apparently in perfect health. With her husband she had just returned to their house at Poynder's End, from a holiday in Brittany. In the early hours of Saturday morning Mrs. Seebohm was seized with illness and Mr. L. S. Barnes, of Whitwell, was immediately summoned, but the attack was such that death occurred at a later hour the same morning. A London physician who had been also summoned stated on arrival that everything possible had been done. It was on January 28, 1904, that Mr. Hugh Seebohm was married at Henlow Church to Miss Leslie Gribble, the late Mrs. Seebohm being the second daughter of Mr. George Gribble, then resident at Henlow Grange and later at Biddesdon, Hants. Nine months previously in the same church Miss Phyllis Gribble, a sister, was married to Mr. W. A. Fordham, a member of another well-known Hertfordshire family. Mrs. Seebohm was related by marriage to the Rowntree family, Mr. Joseph Rowntree, chairman of the firm of Rowntree & Co. Ltd., having married in 1867 Miss Emma Antoinette Seebohm. Mr. Hugh. Seebohm is the only son of the late Mr. Frederick Seebohm, the historian and a director of Barclay's Bank, who did so much for the cause of education in Hertfordshire. Mr. Hugh Seebohm has been elected to several important public offices so ably filled for many years by his father. There are three sons and one daughter of the marriage. Beside the little Parish Church of St. Martin, Preston, the mortal remains of Mrs. Hugh Exton Seebohm were interred on Wednesday. It was a scene impressive in character and many eyes were dimmed among those who had come to pay a last tribute. The esteem in which the late Mrs. Seebohm was held in the village of Preston was fully manifested by the presence of a large number of parishioners and there was a touching incident when a number of children in charge of a teacher visited the graveside a little while after the service had concluded.. It was a simple service by the graveside, for the cortege did not enter the church. The mourners were met at the entrance to the churchyard by several choristers from St. Mary's. Hitchin, with Mr. H. G. Moulden and the robed clergy—the Rev. E. P. Gough (rector of Downham Market), the Rev. J. W. Capron and the Rev. E. P. Tallents. The Rev E. P. Gough conducted the whole service. On reaching the graveside the hymn, "Jesu, lover of my soul", was sung, and the short but impressive service concluded with the singing of the hymn "Holy, holy, holy - Lord God Almighty!" There were many tributes to the deceased in the form of flowers, chief among which was a simple and beautiful wreath of blue plumbago from the husband; a bunch of arum lilies from "Mother and Father " and a similar bunch from "Brothers and Sisters." Mrs. B. P. Gough sent a floral tribute bearing the following inscription: "For my darling Leslie, with loving thoughts and prayers, from Ellen, who loves her so very much. How her bright and glorious spirit shines! God grant unto her eternal rest and let light perpetual shine upon her." The immediate family mourners were: Mr. H. E. Seebohm (husband), Mr and Mrs George Gribble (parents). Mrs Wolverley Fordham and Mr W. O. Fordham (sister and brother-in-law), Miss Vivian Gribble (sister), Mr Phillip Gribble and Mr. Julian Gribble (brothers). Mr. Seebohm's relatives present included: Sir Rickman and Lady Godlee (sister and brother-in-law), Miss Seebohm and Miss Hilda Seebohm.
Among those present were :—Mr. and Mrs. Milne Watson, Mr W. F. Dalton, Mr W. Tindall Lucas, the Rev. F. H. Procter., Mr. Edward Brown (Luton), Mr A. Spencer, Mr R. de V. Pryor,. Mr Theodore Ransom, Miss Ransom. Mr Theodore Lucas, Mrs F. A. Wright, Mr and Mrs H. E. Harrison, Mr T. Fenwick Harrison, the Rev. R. S. Bagshaw, Mrs Armstrong, snr., Mr and Mrs Armstrong, Mr and Mrs A. J. G. Lindsell, Mr W. O. Times, Mr  Francis Shillitoe, Mr Francis Ransom. Mr Jack Ransom. Mr and Mrs W. Bailey Hawkins, Miss Bailey Hawkins, Mr and Mrs R. J. W. Dawson, Mr Lister Harrison (Woodford), Mr Frank H. Barclay (Cromer). Mr R. Seebohm (Luton), Mr Rushbrooke, Mr L. S. Barnes (Whitwell), Mr M. H. Foster and Mr R. Vaughan, The grave was lined with evergreens, Rose of Sharon berries, lilies, roses, plumbago and silver and golden variegated ivy by Mr. H. Peters (gardener at Poynder's End), Mr. W. Sharp (gardener at Offley Holes to Major Richardson), and Mr. J. Swain (gardener to Mr. J. C. Priestley). The coffin was composed of brown English oak, with plain brass fittings, and a brass plate bore the inscription: ‘Leslie Grace Seebohm; born 1883 ; died September 20, 1913’.
Leslie Seebohm’s grave (shown above) is in the north western corner of St Martin’s graveyard.
Of Norah Gribble - mother of Leslie Seebohm
In his book, Norah’s son, Philip, provided a description of his mother: My mother in her lighter moments was capable of charming flashes of frivolity, but her normal reaction to life was one of intensity. She was a marvellously beautiful woman, blessed with divinely golden-red hair, and immense, almost violet eyes, varying in depth with her moods; her full, sensitive mouth, firm chin and small but magnificently carved head were a delight. She was proud of her legs, and often pulled her skirts to her knees to allow us children to admire their symmetry. She had very advanced views, was self-centred, artistic, intellectual and convinced that her family were beyond reproach, an outlook that made her intolerant of even minor faults, and encouraged her to exaggerate their importance to a point at which she found an excuse for melodrama. Much as we all loved her, my mother's presence was usually accompanied by a sense of strain, and it was only when she left the house that the family could relax. She took an active part in local government, mainly from a sense of duty I think, but it was religion and its trappings that dominated her life. There were weeks when, day after day, she would lock herself in her studio and sit rapt in meditation while pondering over the manuscript of one of the several books she wrote on religious subjects, among them My Way Out, published by a close friend, John Murray; or at other times she might be writing poetry or be lost in painting some canvases. Her poetry was moving and was an outlet from frustration and a form of release. My mother was a rather frightening and utterly lasting influence on the characters of all her six children. Not only was she a thinker and a writer, but also a creative artist, and in her early or orthodox phase she was a competent portrait painter; she had studied at The Slade as a girl and taken her work very seriously. In later life she despised representational jest and emotive fragments, and concentrated on her search for new means of expression and the use of new media. Several rooms at Henlow were covered with her murals, executed in tempera. One and all we had to learn silence because Mother's moments of inspiration must never be spoiled by slamming doors, noisy footsteps or the yelling and shouting of the average large family. The rage and genuine agony that were the reaction to any such interruptions had to be seen to be believed. Our behaviour had been an outrage, the extent of which we soon grasped and the importance of which we never forgot; so now I am a good guest and have often been told by my hosts that they would hardly know that I was in the house. My mother was always boasting about "our family", by which she meant HER family, the royal family of Royds.
Of Norah’s son - Captain Julian Gribble
What follows is an article written by John Medland that was published in the Newport Beacon (Isle of Wight) in November, 2007 (publisher - I W Beacon Ltd.). Julian Gribble was born in 1897 and educated at Eton.
At 9.30am of March 23rd 1918, as the final German bombardment began, Captain Julian Royds Gribble reported to Battalion HO that masses of German infantry were advancing towards them. Two days earlier the Germans had launched a million man offensive which had over-run a fifty-mile stretch of the British Western Front. British soldiers were surrendering in tens of thousands. The 10th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment dug in behind the British lines and were given orders “to fight to the last”. As the hillside erupted in explosions and the shattered British army withdrew in chaos around them, the placid sights and sounds of the Isle of Wight, where many of these men had trained must have seemed a world away. This Remembrance Sunday also falls on Armistice Day. At 11 am on the 1st November 1918 the guns on the western Front of the First World War (1914 -1918), finally fell silent. As we look at the long lists of names on our war memorials it is hard to visualise these were sons, brothers, lovers, husbands, fathers and friends. However if we take just one name, one man who knew and loved the Island, perhaps we can come a shade closer to understanding. Julian Royds Gribble was born into a privileged wealthy family on January 5th, 1897. He was enrolled at Eton school in 1910. He grew up a tall, graceful. and popular boy. interested in art and music. When the first World War began Julian transferred to the officers' training school at Sandhurst.
The Isle of Wight
In early 1915 Julian Gribble was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and was posted to train recruits at Albany Barracks, Parkhurst. In a letter to his mother, Norah Gribble, from Parkhurst in 1915: “Although we have sent out over 8,000 men to France from the battalion since the war began, we sent our first draft to the Dardenelles yesterday. I went down to Cowes to see them off.” Julian spent his off-duty moments exploring the Island on his motorbike. He loved the countryside and the seascapes. He took advantage of every sporting opportunity and made friends “with any sort of man” in his mother’s words “ who had led any sort of real life”. His love of the Island is reflected in the many letters he wrote to his mother from Parkhurst, Culver Down and The Wheatsheaf in Newport which she published after the war. In the winter of 1915 -16, Julian was posted to Culver Down gun battery “a Godforsaken spot on the extreme end of the Island” Later he wrote "There are thirty men under me here. I have to do absolutely everything for them, which is really rather Interesting - find and pay the women to do their washing, arrange with the contractors for food, mount the guard and visit sentries by day and night. This last is the worst job of all at night. Last night it was blowing as I have never felt it blow before, driving sleet with it" Conditions were basic and Julian shared them with his men. "My hands are sore today and covered with blisters, as we have been digging a subterranean passage in the chalk, which is very hard work." The stunning sea views provided some excitement. "a torpedoed Dutch steamer of 3,084 tons came in yesterday escorted by a destroyer. Her engines had been put out of action and she was being towed along by two tugs. The same submarine torpedoed a French barque off St Catherines. Both these appeared in the papers this morning, but we actually saw them yesterday" He remained on the Island for a year, sometimes taking drafts of newly trained troops as far as the French ports. "Nobody was in such a good position" his mother wrote, "for realising the ravages of war as those who spent their time in filling and filling again its ravening jaws and those who saw its wreckage perpetually cast up into the military hospitals." (The regiment enlisted a total of 47,500 men during the war, of whom 11,500 lost their lives.) (On a personal note, my grandfather was posted to Sandown IOW in October 1917)
Posting to the Western Front
In April 1916 Julian was ordered to France. Over the next six months without leave he was in the thick of the fighting of the Battle of the Somme. In October he was sent home as sick with "trench fever". Although he was recommended three months rest after just one month he reported back to Parkhurst. From there he was posted to the 10th Battalion with the rank of Captain. At a time when the average life expectancy of British army officers at the front was 17 weeks Julian was already a veteran. In peacetime he would still have been at Eton. Julian was a good officer. He got to know the men of his company as individuals, learning in detail about their lives. Julian's Sergeant wrote "I am an old man in the service of my country, but I have never loved or respected any one so much as he, God bless him" Julian spent the winter of his twentieth birthday in the mud, frosts and floods of Flanders "wet up to the middle and never warm or dry. He had another short leave in 1917 and then endured the final dreadful winter of the war back in the trenches. In the opening months of 1918 Julian was due leave, but after the epic horror of the hundred day Battle of Paschendaele, the British army was seriously undermanned. Julian's leave was postponed month after month.
The Kaiser’s Battle
In the darkest hours of 21 March the unsuspecting British III and V Armies were shocked by the most intensive barrage of the war. In eight hours 6,500 German guns delivered 1.16 million poison-gas and high-explosive artillery shells into the British defences. Supported by the close fire of over 5,000 mortars, the barrage moved forward 200m every four minutes, annihilating defences and leaving the surviving defenders deaf and stunned. It was the beginning of the decisive German spring offensive, code named Kaiserschlacht, the "Kaiser's Battle". The 10th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshires were in reserve in the III Army when the German barrage began. Julian dashed off a goodbye letter. 'All I pray to God is to give me strength to lead D Company well – as they deserve. I know mother that in any case you will not grudge to England your youngest son. We have always been cheery so lets go on being so – thanks to you and Father I have had as happy a time in this world as possible, almost." Behind the creeping barrage 76 German divisions, equivalent to the entire British Army in France, advanced. They were led by "Stormtroopers" armed with wire-cutters, grenades and flame-throwers. Behind them came large "battle groups" of infantry with field artillery and heavy machine guns, followed by more masses of marching infantry. To Sir Arthur Conan Doyle it seemed as if fresh divisions were "rolling in like waves from some inexhaustible sea." The four infantry companies of 10th Battalion hastily dug in along 1,600 yards of the Hermies Ridge behind the rearmost British defences with orders to hold the position to the last man. The Battalion was supported by its own battery of field artillery, flanking infantry, and further batteries of artillery and heavy machine guns. On the second day of the offensive the Germans began to shell these new positions and the command structure of the British Ill Army began to break down as it joined the V Army in a fighting retreat. The next morning, as Julian reported the Germans massing to attack, the Battalion's artillery were galloping away under conflicting orders. As the German attack intensified more supporting artillery and infantry retreated. The battalion found itself increasingly isolated and surrounded. Even the HO staff and any retreating stragglers they could rally were thrown into the desperate fighting. They held on for three hours. By 12.30 just D Company was left holding onto the top of the ridge. When he was the last officer standing Julian finally allowed his men to retreat, keeping six with him. Private Madeley was one of them. "I got hit and I am glad to say I broke through, but not so with the Captain" Julian was last seen emptying his revolver into the final assault. "I saw him go down under about seven big German brutes and that was the last I saw of one of England’s finest officers". The "Kaiser's Battle' lasted just two weeks. A new French Supreme Commander combined dogged British resistance with a French counter-attack. 425,000 men fell on all sides in fifteen days of fighting that is now almost entirely forgotten.
The citation to the Victoria Cross in the London Gazette of 28 June 1918 read: ‘For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. Captain Gribble was in command of the tight company of the battalion when the enemy attacked and his orders were to hold on to the last. His company was eventually entirely isolated, although he could easily have withdrawn them at one period when the rest of the battalion on his left were driven back to a secondary position. His tight flank was in the air, owing to the withdrawal of all troops of a neighbouring division. By means of a runner to a company on his left he intimated his determination to hold on until other orders were received from Battalion HQ and this he inspired his company to accomplish. His company was eventually surrounded by the enemy at close range, and he was seen fighting to the last. His subsequent fate is unknown. By his splendid example of grit Captain Gribble was materially instrumental in preventing for some hours the enemy obtaining a complete mastery of the ridge, and by his magnificent self-sacrifice he enabled the remainder of his own brigade to be withdrawn as well as another garrison and three batteries of Field Artillery.’
Prisoner of War
Julian's body was robbed and left for dead, but later it was discovered that he was alive. He began to make a good recovery in hospital in Germany, but found himself on the losing side in the terrible final months of the war. The Allied blockade of Germany was so effective that the whole country was in a state of starvation. When Julian arrived at the new officer's prison at Mainz Castle, he and his fellow inmates suffered six weeks starvation before the first Red Cross parcels arrived. In May, Julian heard that he had been awarded the Victoria Cross for his stand on Hermies Ridge. The other officers saw the letters "VC" on the envelope and carried the embarrassed invalid about the barrack square on their shoulders. On 4 June Julian celebrated Eton's special day with four other old Etonians "with a soup made of a few scraps of lettuce". The First World War finally came to an end after the German Revolution of October 1918. By this time some two million German civilians had starved to death, but worse was to come. A bird 'flu' had mutated. We know it as "Spanish Influenza". After more than four years of wartime food shortages it became the greatest pandemic in history. Recent estimates put the death toll at more than four years of wartime food shortages it became the greatest pandemic in history. Recent estimates put the death toll at 50 to 100 million worldwide. Eight days before the Armistice Julian himself fell ill. On the morning of November 24th his fellow prisoners were released and boarded the train home. Julian was left alone in the castle hospital. He died shortly after midnight. His last words were to dismiss his nurse: "Go away gnadiger Frau." (gracious lady). The following day the French army arrived with food and medicine. Taking his love for this Island into captivity with him, in his last letter to his mother he wrote "The only trees we have are a row of small planes which I to/ to imagine In different surroundings - boulevard at Amiens - a sea front at Cowes." Julian's mother never recovered from the loss of her son. She visited the grave at Mainz the following year. Her older son describes his embarrassment as "my poor mother kneeled at the grave and wept. She scraped the snow away with her bare hands and kissed the ground, gathering earth and leaves in her fingers as if these were part of her son." This description of the grief of Norah Gribble brings into stark relief a grief that was echoed throughout eleven million homes and families in all the lands whose sons were lost in this pointless war. These eleven million men & boys may have died for misguided notions of European nationalism, but they died to give us a better future.”
The impact on Norah Gribble of losing her son and daughter - by Philip Gribble:
‘....to my mother's everlasting grief, he (Julian) died there on Armistice Day, a victim of Spanish Influenza then sweeping Europe. Many millions died, and their deaths far exceeded the total casualties of the whole war. My mother was broken hearted. She went into a spiritual decline and never recovered a balanced view of life. The early death of my sister Lesley after a few years of marriage had much affected my mother. She believed that Lesley's death was due to carelessness and she brooded over this loss. Julian's death, again, as she thought, due to neglect, seemed to break down her final defences. She was the victim of regret and mourning throughout the remainder of her not very long life.’ Norah Gribble died in March 1923 and was buried with her daughter, Leslie Seebohm in St Martins graveyard. A copy of Norah Gribble’s book, ‘The Book of Julian’ (1923), devoted to Julian, was recently held by a Preston villager and made available to interested folk through the local parish magazine. Inside St Martins are wall plaques in memory of Mrs Seebohm and Julian Gribble. There is also a stained-glass window in the south chancel memorialising Julian Gribble which was designed by his sister, Mrs Vivian Doyle-Jones.
(Acknowledgements: I am grateful to John Medland author of ‘A Soldier’s Story’ and the publishers, IW Beacon Ltd, for their kind permission to reprint the article about Julian Gribble. I am also grateful to webmaster Nigel Watts for allowing me to include extracts concerning Julian and Philip Gribble)