A History of Preston

in Hertfordshire

Aunt Flossie indirectly provided the only evidence that the Wrays were remotely interested in their family history.  When I began contacting my cousins, several produced (with an air of reverence) the distribution document of her estate which detailed her siblings or their children who were alive in 1978.  Even my father, who was not known for nostalgia, had kept his copy.

 

Although we knew her as ‘Flossie’, her parents named her ‘Florry’.  She was born on 15 August 1889 at Back Lane, Preston and was eventually baptized on 12 July 1891.  She started school very early - on the 25 April 1892 - indeed the headmistress commented that ‘Florence Wray is young for Standard Three’, in 1898.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The nursing service was ‘incredibly concerned with social class and status’. They gave preference to daughters of professional people such as teachers, chaplains and Army officers. The following are typical comments in the minutes of the Nursing Board:

 

    ‘Not in the least acceptable; her father is a shoemaker.’

    ‘Not a lady by birth nor by education.’

    ‘Hardly up to standard, personally and socially.’

 

Quite how Flossie ‘got through this social net’ and later married above her station (as we shall see) is a mystery. However, sometime in 1919, this thirty-year old nurse from Preston sailed for five weeks to India through the Suez Canal and then travelled a further two days across the Indian sub-continent to the dust and heat of the North West Frontier. She received a medal for her service at Waziristan from 1919-21.

 

A niece remembers being spellbound by Flossie’s stories of her Indian experiences – of panthers who carried off small animals from the camp at night.

 

On 14 April 1921, Florence (sic) Wray (25!) married Harold Sugden (31) at St Thomas’ Church, Dera Ismail Khan in the diocese of Lahore, Pakistan. The occupation of the couple’s fathers was not required on the marriage certificate – it would have been interesting to read her description of Alfred Wray’s occupation.

Harold Sugden’s ancestry was quite different to Flossie’s modest origins.

 

When she returned to her parents’ home at Preston, she became a matron at ‘Foxholes’ maternity home in Hitchin (right) which is a measure of her ability and strong (not to say stern) character. She was known as ‘Matron Sugden’ and was nursing there in 1951 when her mother died. She would drive there (somewhat erratically) which again was comparatively unusual for a woman at that time.  Later, Flossie worked in a home for the elderly at Stevenage.

 

As soon as she heard that the cottage at Chequers Lane could be bought, she visited the owner, Mr. Vickers, and purchased it.

 

Her sister, Maggie, remembers that Flossie was very generous to her children.

 

Flossie’s next door neighbours were the Newells (at 6 Chequers Cottages). Chris Newell’s instant memory of Flossie was that she saved his sister Barbara’s life when a boiled sweet lodged in her throat. She was turning blue, when Flossie ‘popped it out’.

 

 

Flossie died intestate in the summer of 1966 at Fairfield Mental Hospital, Stotfold, Beds. Her immediately disposable estate was valued at £4,500. Her sister Nan continued to live at the family home until her death in 1978. Then, 5 Chequers Cottages was sold for £18,000.

 

As a young boy, I was a little afraid of Auntie Flossie.  She seemed fierce, strict and demanding.  She glared at me and bristled with trembling lips during the most trivial of chats.

 

 

Towards the end of her life, Flossie became a little unbalanced. She locked her sister, Nan, out of the house and a villager remembers being terrified at school because Flossie arrived there declaring that there was a terrible epidemic and demanding that all the children had to be inoculated.

I am so pleased to have a photograph (shown, top) of her next to me at a family wedding in 1951 - smiling and enjoying herself (top right).  I only wish I could remember the occasion!

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Flossie Sugden

(nee Wray)

Her school record is only noteworthy because she was knocked down and injured in the playground by Herbert Robinson (the son of Preston’s tailor) in 1899 and was later absent for ten days in the summer of 1902 with ‘a gathering in her head’.

 

Perhaps it was inevitable in view of her Christian name that Flossie should become a nurse. Her acceptance by the nursing profession shows some resourcefulness. Flossie served in the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service Reserve during World War One. When the armistice was signed, she then was either transferred or “lent” to the Queen Alexandra’s Military Nursing Service for India (QAMNSI).

His grandfather, William Sugden (born 1816 in Bath) was a surgeon and apothecary. Harold’s father, Edward Sugden, was born in 1850 at Backwell in Somerset. At the age of 21, he studied to be an architect. He then switched careers and trained as an Anglican clergyman at Chichester Theological College.

 

He was a curate at St Mary Magdelene, Dundee (1878-82) and later the priest in charge of the Episcopalian Churches at Carnoustie (1882-89) and Coupar Angus (which is 10 miles north-west of Dundee 1887-1900).

Using his architectural expertise, he also designed several church buildings in Scotland such as St John the Baptist Episcopal Church, 116 Albert Street, Dundee (1885) and the Church of St Margaret, Lochee, Dundee.

Edward married Elizabeth Mary Sparks in 1887 at Chepstow, Monmouthshire and they had a son, Harold (born 8 June 1891 at Coupar Angus, Forfar), and a daughter. In 1901, Harold was at Heaton Lodge boarding school at Kirkheaton, Yorkshire.

According to the Indian Army records at the British Library, H. Sugden was appointed to the Indian Army on 4 September 1918. In January 1919, he was a Lieutenant in the infantry and became a temporary Captain in 1920 until October 1922 - he described himself as a Captain when he married in 1921. He was released from the army in October 1924.

It is generally believed by Flossie’s family that the marriage foundered because of pressure from Harold’s relatives. That she kept her engagement ring and passed it on to a favourite niece perhaps indicates her feelings about her marriage.

(Above): Flossie’s marriage certificate

There was an announcement in Pioneer Mail and India Weekly News Vol 48 Page 46:

“A marriage has been arranged and will shortly take place between Miss F Wray of Preston, Hertfordshire

and Captain H Sugden IAR”

(Above) Flossie’s WW1 medal card and her India General Service Medal - Waziristan 1919 - 21

Addendum re: Harold Sugden

For some years I have tried to find the whereabouts of Aunt Flossie’s husband, Harold Sugden after the mid-1920s. The break-through happened with the publication of the 1939 Register which provided this information:

 

 

The presence of Harold’s mother and sister here at  St Annes, Park Avenue, Westward Ho, Devon (a detached bungalow) confirms that Flossie’s husband was living in the West Country in 1939. He was noted as ‘M’ (ie married) and his occupation was ‘locomotive fitter’.

 

In 1911, Harold was also with his family as revealed by the census:

They were living in the nine-roomed, semi-detached 21 Westbridge Road, Portswood, Southampton. The family were able to employ a servant. Harold was an apprentice in a locomotive department. Further records of his railway employment at this time were discovered. He had worked probably as an apprentice at the London and South Western Railway engineering yard, Eastleigh, Hants from 7 October 1907 until October 1912. He was then employed by a motor company before starting work as a fitter back at the Eastleigh works on 8 July 1913. He left this job because he was considered to be ‘unsuitable’ on 13 July 1914 when his character was assessed as good and his abilities as fair. A fortnight later, the Great War began.

 

On 28 October 1914, Harold left London on the Khiva bound for Calcutta, India. He was described as a fitter. Harold’s destination was Assam which had recently become a more settled area after the border with Tibet had been agreed. It may be that he was going to work on the Indian railways, but more likely he was to work as an engineer on a tea plantation - this employment was sometimes advertised in the British press. Harold was initiated into the Freemasons at their Unity Lodge, Nazira, Assam on 11 January 1918 when he was noted as a tea planter. He took up a commission in the Indian Army on 4 September 1918 and resigned from the Lodge on 30 March 1921.

 

Harold’s mother Elizabeth Mary Sugden died at Park Avenue, Westward Ho on 9 July 1956. Perhaps significantly probate to her estate (value: £822) was granted to her daughter, Ethel. Ethel died on 26 June 1969. She left an estate of £2,366 and was living at Donnington House, Westward Ho - which was probably a care home on the coast then, as it is today.

 

I cannot trace details of Harold’s death. Perhaps he passed away before 1956 and this was the reason that his sister was granted probate to their mother’s estate. Or maybe Harold had emigrated once more.

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