A History of Preston

in Hertfordshire

Charles Swain 1818-1881

Charles Swain 1878 - 1940

(I am grateful to Dennis Smith for preparing these life-stories and providing the photograph of Charles Swain)

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Charles Swain

(1818 -1881)

Auntie Dora had her wedding reception in this house marrying our Uncle Spencer, soon after the war had started.  Although I believe I was there, I do not have much recollection of the day. Whilst at Chestnut Avenue, I was given, for my birthday, my first roller skates, I remember trying to skate up the sloping front path and continually falling over. By the end of the day they were taken away from me, as I was covered with cuts, bruises & plasters.

 

During the middle of the war, my sister and I went to stay with our Aunt Alice, Nana & cousins Jean & Brian, as things were very bad where we lived, being next to a Battle of Britain Airfield.  We were truly in fear of our lives most of the time. I remember how kind our Nana was to us all, in these fearful times. One funny incident happened whilst here: we did not have a bathroom in Aunt Alice's house, so we had a tin tub often in front of the fire to bathe in. Nana was scrubbing my back with a harsh loofah, ( a rough sponge ) trying to wash off a black mark she could see in the middle of my back. She scrubbed and scrubbed to no avail as the black mark was a large mole, which by now had started to bleed.

Grandad had always promised me that he would make me a model steam engine. Each time I saw him, I asked him if he had started yet. He always said that he was waiting to get an empty treacle tin , I suppose this was for the boiler. One day, as I approached my father’s shed, I saw that Grandad, was bending some metal in the vice. ‘What are you doing?’, I piped up. ‘I am making a rail’, he said. Suddenly I got very interested in what he was doing, for did not steam engines run on rails. ‘Is it for my steam engine?’, I excitedly asked. ‘No’, he said, ‘it’s for these steps I have made so that you can get down into the air raid shelter!’ I never did get my engine. Incidentally it was Granddad, who had dug the hole and erected our shelter, with just a little help from my father.

 

Soon after this event the war started to take effect & Grandad and Nana moved down to High Wycombe, to stay near our aunty Alice, Jean & Brian. I never saw our Grandad again, he having passed away within a few months, of being there.

 

About a year before the outbreak of the war, our Nana and Grandad, had moved into a relatively modern house in Chestnut Avenue in Grays. Aunt Dora was still living at home at this time.  I remember how glamorous she always looked, with immaculate makeup, together with hair to match. Her clothes too, were always very smart and in the height of fashion. At this time she had a little black Scottie dog called Suzie. How Dora loved this dog. Sometimes it even had a blue bow of ribbon in its hair -a truly pampered dog.

By 1938, we had moved into a new house in Albany Road Hornchurch and before we actually moved, Grandad supervised my father in laying the linoleum around the house. There were no carpets in those days and they did this by candle light as the electric light had not been put on. I remember playing with the sharp knife and cutting my finger badly, so much so, they had to pack up early. I still have the scar to this day. My father was more academic than practical and although he had made an elaborate plan of paths and flower beds to fill the garden, I remember that it was Grandad that did all the cementing & ground work. As previously stated, I believe that Grandad had perhaps retired by this time, for we saw a lot of him, often during the week.

 

Yet another memory was that it was the fifth of November, Grandad was again staying over. My father was still at work at this time, but as it got dark the fireworks began to go off. How I yearned for some of my own, but it did not look like I was going to get any. I remember imploring Grandad to go up the shops to buy me some, pulling his coat in the direction of the door. Then my father came home and for some reason Grandad stood his ground. Later it became clear, that my father had already bought some on his way home from work and had tipped the wink at Grandad.

Beyond the dining room of the shop through a door, were the steep stairs to the upper storey. I remember having done some drawing and, Nana being in the bed room I wanted to show her what I had done. So with paper in hand I crawled up the stairs, whence, nearly reaching the top, I slipped and fell head over heels, hitting my head on the downstairs-facing wall. The next thing I remember was coming round sometime later, with the doctor standing over me, I have been plagued with migraines ever since. Whilst mentioning these stairs, I loved to stand at the small top landing, where there was a window overlooking the Thames, here one could see the black and dark-brown-sailed river barges, going backwards and forwards. Sometimes even a steam ship would sail by.

 

One of my most frightening experiences at the shop, were when Nanna would try to get me to serve the customers, I was so petrified. The one time I tried, I was so scared that I could not ask the customer what they wanted.

 

As mentioned our Grandad was a lively jovial soul, he would line up us children behind him in the dining room, put his hat on at a comical angle and, with a stick under his arm, would march us round the room, singing a song from the First World War called Colonel Bogey.

I first remember being taken often to our grandparents general shop, situated on the corner of East Street and the London Al26 Road. The shop sold almost everything that one would expect from a general shop and it had a lovely smell of spice, vegetables and paraffin. We travelled on the bus to Grays from Hornchurch, mostly on a Sunday afternoon and we always had tea in the dining room behind the shop. In this room was a very large table where we all sat, for often my other Aunts & cousins were there, we always had winkles for tea, how I hated them, I thought they were snails, I have never eaten them since.

 

My first memory was going to our Aunt Katie's wedding in 1936. She wore a shimmering gold dress. Cousin Jean being one of the young brides maids, the reception was held at the shop. After the proceedings, Jean and I played in the dirty cardboard boxes out the back, both being told off for getting Jeans dress dirty. Jean and I were often in trouble there. One day whilst our Nanna was out of the shop, we stole some stale cakes from the counter and ran off down East Street, to eat them. I believe they were hard and horrible. Again I think, we were reprimanded.

The first thing that I must say is just how much we all loved them, this very different couple.

 

Our Grandad, had a dry, witty sense humour and a twinkle in his eye. He was always busy doing things, mostly for other people. He was, I think, a hard drinking man. Considering he was born and bought up mostly in public houses and worked most of his life in breweries, this perhaps is understandable.

 

He was not overly tall, with sandy, ginger hair and a small moustache to match. This hair colour is, I believe, carried within the Swain genes. I do not think it emerged within our generation but showed itself, with variations, in my mother Grace and our Aunt Bertha. I believe it again surfaced within some of our children and maybe also their children. It would be most interesting to know if this hair colour dominated throughout the Swain family tree.

 

Our dear Nana, was very different - being a gentle soul, always caring and kind. I always felt very loved in her presence. She was of about the same height as our Grandad, I never heard her have a cross word, but I suppose she did on occasion, for I believe she had a lot to put up with, seeing the flamboyant character of our Grandad.

 

It has been stated by some of our mothers, that our Grandad was the black sheep of his family, I can honestly say, that I do not know why this was said about him and I am sure, that ,as far as I know, it cannot be true.

REMINISCENCES OF MY GRANDPARENTS by Dennis Smith

Charles’ health worsened due to lung problems and at some point, certainly by 1938, he left Seabrooks brewery. With the outbreak of World War II and the threatened Blitz, Charles and Alice moved to the village of Sands, Bucks to be near their eldest married daughter, Alice. They rented a bed-sitting room from Mr and Mrs Herbert. Charles worked for Pullens Optical, making glass lenses for the war effort.

 

Soon after, Charles became very ill and died on 20 August 1940. He was buried in Grays Cemetery. Alice moved in with her daughter, Alice jnr.. After the war, she bought a small bungalow in Gordon Road, Grays and despite the proximity of three of her daughters and their families, perhaps she felt lonely and isolated. Around 1950, she moved to a small, three-bedroomed house in Stifford Long Lane, Grays, letting the upstairs storey to a young married couple who eventually bought the house.

 

Alice grew frail, being plagued with respiratory problems in later life, and the family felt that she should move in with her daughter, Kate. Here, she died in February 1962, aged 83. She was buried at North Stifford Churchyard.

Alice kept a corner general store at Grays. It sold everything from cakes to candles and had a mixture of aromas including fruit and vegetables. Apparently, in the early 1930s, Charles also constructed and ran a small fish and chip shop at the back of the shop which opened onto East Street. If there was any surplus cooked fish at 10 o’clock, he gave it away until he realised that business fell off as the evening wore on, only for a large queue to form for a free supper around ten o’clock.

 

Charles and Alice continued to move around rented properties. In 1937, they were living in a large house at Rectory Road, Grays. It was on a slope with a large, dark cellar. The next year, they were at Chestnut Avenue, Grays next door to a large bungalow where their daughter, Bertha lived with her family. Alice’s sister, Sarah Ann, (who had fallen on hard times) lived with them here until her death.

In the early 1920s, the family moved to Grays, Essex and Charles was appointed as Chief Engineer of Seabrooks brewery. He was also chief of the in-house fire brigade. After a serious fire which was dowsed by Charles and his crew, the directors showed their gratitude by giving a special dinner in Charles’ honour. During the speeches, Charles thanked the directors saying, he sincerely hoped that it would not be the last time that they were all gathered together on an occasion like this!

Charles (shown right) was posted to France. He was at a battle front struggling underneath a broken-down lorry to effect repairs, when a mustard gas shell was dropped beside the vehicle. Charles inhaled some of the gas. This affected him for the rest of his life and was a major factor in his death. He was brought home and invalided out of the army, rejoining Wethereds in June 1916. But he resigned in February, 1917 and took a light job as a lock-keeper on the Thames.

Now, the clouds of World War loomed and Charles (living in a brewery-owned, small, terraced cottage at 192 Oxford Road, Marlow) enlisted in the Army Service Corps on 3 February 1915. He gave his trade as a motor fitter/turner. At home, in cramped space and receiving only a private’s pay, Alice struggled to raise six young children – twins having been born in 1913.

Charles and Alice settled at Station Road, Marlow, Bucks. Here, Charles worked as an assistant engineer for Wethereds brewery. He excelled in this trade – appropriately in view of his family heritage in the brewing trade. At home, Alice likely ran a small general shop and cared for the first three children who were born.

 

The family moved around Marlow, renting various homes - in 1907, at Chapel Street; in 1911 at 1, Bolts Corner (possibly aka 1 Clermont Gardens) – a large prestigious house, which indicates Charles’ progress at work.

Charles was born at Luton on 13 October 1878. Aged 15, he served a five-year apprenticeship with George

Humphrey to be a sewing machine and cycle engineer at Luton. (The apprenticeship document survives) After two years, his masters became Hayward Tyler in the centre of Luton who manufactured hydraulic presses, mineral water machinery and plumbing accessories. Charles earned six shillings a week during his first year, rising to nineteen shillings after five years. His apprenticeship ended on 23 April 1899.

 

About eighteen months later, Charles married Alice Clara Crisp on 20 October 1900 at St Choysostoms Church, Peckham, South London. Alice’s father had died and her mother, Louisa was keeping a lodging house which is how she met Charles.

By 1891, however, William and his household were back at The Albion in Luton. When this was sold around 1897, the family moved to North London, setting up a completely different business as a carman and contractor and living at 154 Hornsey Road. They moved once again south of the River Thames to Clapham where William (now, a retired baker – perhaps helping his son, William Alfred jnr who was also a baker) died of a heart attack and dropsy on 1 October 1904 at 18 Grafton Square. He was buried in a ‘family grave’ at Streatham Cemetery, South London.

 

Caroline was living at 47 Brookes Mews, Mayfair and Knightsbridge with her married daughter, Kate Brown in 1911. She died in March 1925 at Paddington, aged 78.

 

Louisa Swain (a gown maker in 1891) married Arthur Trussel

William Alfred (a self employed baker in 1901) married Ann Smith at Wandsworth in 1906.

Kate Swain married the chauffeur/domestic Walter Brown

William probably served an apprenticeship as a blacksmith in Luton, possibly with a relative as his master. He was to be described later as a master wheelwright. On 8 March 1869, he married Caroline Brown and the family settled at Park Street, Luton. As this address is in the town centre, William may have had his forge here.

 

Between 1870 and 1881, William and Caroline had six children and by his father’s death in 1881, William had taken over The Albion tavern from his brother, Charles. Sometime after 1886, William and his family moved out of Luton as five years later they were at the Silver Lion public house in Lilley, Herts. where William worked as a publican and wheelwright. Two more children were born here.

Sometime between 1871 and 1878, Charles and Mary moved to the larger premises of the Royal Hotel in Mill Street, Luton, leaving their son, William in charge of The Albion. The Swain family ran The Albion for twenty-eight years. It was sold to the JW Green chain of breweries just before the death of Charles’ widow, Mary.

 

Charles died on New Year’s Day, 1881 at the Royal Hotel from a liver complaint. As well as his hotel interests, Charles was also involved in local politics as from before 1871 he was elected to the Luton Town Council. Charles jnr, took over as proprietor of The Royal until his early death in June 1891. Then, his mother, Mary, and sister, Sarah kept The Royal until Mary’s death (aged 81) from senile decay in August 1898.

 

Charles Swain remained single and ran the Royal Hotel until his death in June 1891.

Mary Ann Swain married the butcher and publican, James Ellis. The couple had five children. Mary Ann, now a widow, was the proprietor of the Royal Hotel in 1901.

Catherine Swain married Albert Puddephat, a carpenter and builder, in 1880. They lived in Wellington Street, Luton (A Sarah Puddephat owned the Bell Hotel, George Street, Luton in 1876)

Charles then joined the exodus from the Hertfordshire countryside to local towns – in 1861, he was an inn keeper at George Street, Luton (a busy main thoroughfare) while still breaking-in horses. As his inn has six other people staying there at the time of the census, it was probably a hotel. There were only two hotels in Luton in the area at this time. One was the George Hotel – with a large stable and coaching yard, facilities for music and dancing and a sports room for cards and billiards. The other public house in George Street was the smaller Bell Hotel which is more likely to have been run by Charles. By 1861, Charles’ son, Charles jnr was helping his father run the hotel and horse-breaking businesses.

 

The family stayed at George Street until around 1869 when he took over The Albion Tavern which was on the corner of Inkerman Street and New Bedford Road, Luton. He brewed his beer in a small manufacturing unit at the rear. His family were helping to run the inn – daughters, Sarah and Catherine were noted as house keeper and barmaid, respectively. William and Mary Ann had married and left home.

Charles probably was born and raised in Preston. He married a local girl, Mary Reed, at Clerkenwell, London on 25 October 1838  – both were nineteen. The couple had nine children, three of whom died in infancy.

 

Charles and Mary settled first in Whitwell where Charles was recorded as a grocer in 1841. Living with them was Mary’s brother, John Reed. They remained in the village for at least five years as three of their children were born there. During the late 1840s, the family moved to Langley Bottom, probably living with Charles’ mother who kept The Three Horseshoes public house. Here, Charles worked as a horse breaker and two children were born.

 

Between 1850 and 1851, Charles and his household relocated to the Red Lion at Preston where he was its publican. As was common in those times, others may have run the inn while Charles continued to work as a horse breaker. Three more Swain children were born at Preston between 1852 and 1857.