Memories of my grandfather in early 1900s

Photo:Hubert Baldwin with his two sisters, Ethel Townsend (left) and Amy Johnson (right) 1964

Hubert Baldwin with his two sisters, Ethel Townsend (left) and Amy Johnson (right) 1964

Chris Baldwin

Life-story extract written by Hubert Baldwin (1954)

By Christopher Baldwin

A Short Story of my Life, by Hubert C Baldwin, dated December 1954

My grandfather wrote a short history of his life which I think is interesting from two points of view; firstly, it tells about his life in the Army towards the end of WWI, and secondly throws some interesting insights into the musical scene in Gloucester and Cheltenham from his time as an organist on Barton prior to WWI to that as a band musician into the 1920s.

[Added comment in italics]. 

He says:

I might describe myself as a Tuffleyite, having spent the whole of my life within a mile or so of Tuffley near Gloucester. Born on July 3rd 1879, my parent’s home had been at Hempstead near Gloucester. They ‘migrated’ to Tuffley where they spent the whole of their lives, in Reservoir Road, then known as ‘Waterpools Lane’. Here I was born.

At the age of 8 I joined the choir of St Paul’s church having to walk 2 miles or so from Tuffley to the church for the 2 services Matins and Evensong. I rose to be solo boy at St Paul’s and I remember I sang the contralto solo “He shall feed his flock” from Handel’s Messiah, following on with the soprano solo “Come unto Him”, and was congratulated by the Choirmaster, a Mr T.W.G. Cooke (who was an Alto Lay Clerk at Gloucester Cathedral) on this rather unusual sequence, for a boy.

I had been having some first lessons on the piano soon after joining the choir, and I remember one Practice night at St Paul’s, my father did not come to the practice, but said he would call for me on the way home. He had been to the piano shop of Thompson & Shackell’s [this was situated in Eastgate Street on the corner of Brunswick Road, a site now occupied by Boots] and when he called for me at the church, he was taking home my first musical instrument, a Bell American Organ with 7 stops. On this I persevered with my first year or two at music.

I left Tuffley School and went for about 6 months to St Luke’s School, not far from the old Church.  Then I was transferred to Sir Thomas Rich’s School where I remained for 2 years [from 1890/1]. There were no scholarships then for County boys so my father at great sacrifice had to pay my fees. Now it was over two miles to walk to Sir Thos Rich’s right in the town [The Bluecoat school was set up in 1882 for boys up to 15, and moved to the site in Barton Street vacated by the Crypt in 1889 as Sir Thomas Rich’s with 500 boys].

And so my schooldays came to a close and at the age of 14 I left school. I was taking lessons now on the organ at All Saints Church under Mr W.H. Morgan. The organ was a large 3 manual by Nicolson of Worcester, with a terribly stiff tracker action - quite a physical effort to play for a youngster of about 14. The Vicar was Revd Herbert Foster later Canon Foster.

At the age of 17 I was appointed Organist & Choirmaster at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Derby Road a sort of Chapel of Ease or branch of All Saints.  I remember my grandfather died on the very same evening [26.5.1897] I played my first service there. The Vicar was the Revd W.C. Macklin.

So I sort of drifted into music as a profession and started teaching a few pupils, practising diligently and passing a few Exams Theoretical and Practical. I remained at the Church of the Good Shepherd for about 2½ yrs (a voluntary appointment) at the end of which they made me a small presentation of a few pounds.

Then in 1900 [aged 21] I took an appointment at Matson a village about 2 miles from Gloucester, and about a mile from home walking across the base of Robinswood Hill across fields or nearer 2 miles by road.  A Mr A.J. Dolman was acting as Choirmaster here, and I spent quite a happy 6 years here from 1900 to 1906. Revd W. Bazeley was Rector then later Canon Bazeley, a great archaeologist. One of his activities at the time being the unearthing of Hailes Abbey, and I remember he organised one of our Choir outings there.

On leaving Matson in March 1906 I was appointed Organist & Choirmaster of St James Gloucester. The Revd Frederick Billett was Vicar, later Canon Billett. The Salary I remember was the magnificent sum of £17 per annum. The former choirmaster was a Mr H.K. James – Headmaster of St James School, and on my appointment he took the opportunity to resign the post as Choirmaster, but still sang as a member of the choir. His son Gerald James later became a firm friend of mine, and we took some little holidays together – one I remember at Symonds Yat just about the time of the outbreak of the 1914-18 War.  Mr Gerald James was a great friend of the late Mr Ivor Gurney, whose songs in considerable quantities are become well known to-day, from the 1930’s.”

Ivor Gurney had been in the choir at All Saints during the late 1890s whilst my grandfather was there, whilst the curate at the time, Arthur Cheesman, became Gurney’s mentor.  

On August 14th 1907 [aged 28] I got married at St James’ receiving several gifts, amongst those which gave me great pleasure was a gift from the Choir Boys. A brother organist Mr Lionel Stephens, then Organist at St Mary de Crypt now deceased) officiated at the Organ, and my bride and I set off for Aberystwyth which was our favourite Holiday spot for many years.

The great war of 1914 - 18 came along and I was rejected on Medical Grounds. In the winter of 1914 I was engaged with Mr Frank Dawes, Bandmaster Royal Gloucestershire Hussars and his son Leo in the Café Orchestra at Boots, Chemists in Northgate St. However, Mr Dawes and his son had to leave and proceed to the East Coast with the band of the R.G.H., leaving me in charge of the Orchestra at Boots Café. I carried on here till August 1917, when at the age of 38 I was called up for Military Service with the R.A.M.C.

[Frank William Dawes married Bessie Smith at St Marks in 1888, and lived at 24 London Road.  Frank later had his own ‘Dawes’ Military Band, which played in the Park, but is described as a painter in the 1911 census. Their children included Lionel (probably this is Leo, b. 1889), Elsie, Hilda b.1893, Nora b. 1898, and Harry Elgar Dawes, born in1902. Harry subsequently taught music at Crypt School between 1931 and 1967, whilst I believe one of his sisters taught music at Ribston Hall.]

When I left home and proceeded to Horfield Barracks, Bristol I was first sent to Blackpool, on Aug 30th 1917. Well I remember the journey from Horfield - I and a few others left Horfield Barracks 5.30 pm. My wife met me as we passed through Gloucester, and brought with her some provisions (luckily) as we arrived Blackpool about 6am next morning (with no chance of getting any food en route and arriving at the Camp at Squires Gate about 2 or 3 miles out of Blackpool) arriving just too late for the 1st meal in Camp and having to wait till midday, when I was far gone. I could not eat a thing (of) the meal then provided, but in a few weeks or so could tackle anything.

My wife was left with the 3 boys, with the magnificent allowance of 28/- per week, to carry on, pay rent, feed and clothe herself and the 3 boys, rates, gas and electric and all the rest of it  - Wonderful !!! This meant a great struggle for her and necessitated the taking in of two boarders and all the work that entailed. My ‘wages’ I remember were 4/- one week and 5/- the next alternately, rising at the end of my service, when a Registered Laboratory Attendant to 11/- per week.

I was under canvas at Blackpool until the winter gales arrived about end of October 1917 going into very crowded billets. I was drafted to my first Hospital at Halifax – St Luke’s War Hospital about 1000 beds.

[The hospital, at Salterhebble, had previously been a workhouse infirmary, but was operated and manned by the R.A.M.C. between 1914 and 1920. In December 1915 it had 400 beds, with another 300 in marquees in the grounds.]

Soon after my first leave from Halifax in November, I attended a course of lectures for a month at Cambridge, in Lecture Rooms at Downing St, in Theoretical Bacteriology and Pathology. We were billeted in a sort of open-air hospital, while the snow drifted on to our beds, and our boots froze to the floor, and to shave, had to rub a block of ice over our face, the water supply being frozen up: a hard winter with about 10 inches of snow. From Cambridge I was sent back to headquarters at York, then from York to Sheffield University for a month’s course of practical experience in laboratory work and practical work in Pathology and Bacteriology. I was sent back to York again, and again returned to Sheffield University where I remained until June 1918, before I went back to Blackpool. There I found myself on a draft to Russia, and later for Salonika, but was returned from both Parades for these drafts, as a Registered Lab Attendant was not wanted, luckily for me. So we struggled through until November 11th 1918 and by Xmas 1918 I was home again.

How well I remember the morning of Nov 11th 1918 seeing all the flags go up on the hotels and other buildings as the Armistice was declared. Blackpool, and the masses of officers and men at Squires Gate Camp went mad, what a night, I got off home to my billet out of the way of some of the mad scenes of revelry.

During the 18 months or so I was in the R.A.M.C. a pupil of mine Mr E. Parsons was appointed Organist at St James and Mr Hayden one of the choirmen, undertaking the duties of Choirmaster. The appointment was kept open for me till my return from my Army Services. Rev Martin, later Canon Martin being now in charge there I only remained there for 1 year and in 1920 resigned and my post was again filled by Mr E Parsons who remained there for about 20 years or more.

On my return from the services, I should have liked to taken up some other occupation, rather than music, but meanwhile one had to live – so I advertised for pupils starting with 32 pupils increasing later to about 40 or more. In 1920 I was offered the post of Pianist to the Cheltenham Municipal Orchestra, Mr Leo Dawes being then Musical Director. To accept this I had to reduce the number of my pupils to about 12 which I endeavoured to keep going, on arriving home about 7pm after my Cheltenham work finished for the day. With this engagement continued till 1926, we spent a very busy time. Still living in Gloucester, travelling back and forth to Cheltenham and in addition to our 2 regular engagements daily – a morning and afternoon Concert most days, A Symphony Concert on Monday afternoon, Dance Teas in the Large Hall (Town Hall) on 2 or 3 days a week, and afterwards Dance work in the immediate  vicinity Gloucester and Cheltenham. Out most nights finishing 12 midnight and very often 1-2-3-4- even 5am in Gloucestershire and adjoining counties, some in evening attire, some in Royal Gloucestershire Hussars Uniform. At a Birmingham Hotel I remember a remark by one of the guests on gazing at my long, thin form, he said to his companions “Thank God, we’ve got a Navy”. I was known as the “Human Hairpin”. The R.G.H. Uniform was very tight and the trouser part of it extremely narrow, strapped down under the ankles, spurs and all complete.

Then amid our Cheltenham work, we did a camp for several years with the R.G.H. on Salisbury Plain at Tidworth or Larkhill, and on one occasion at Lulworth Castle, near Lulworth Cove, and all sorts of interesting experiences enough to fill a book.

I remember one incident, which occurred at LulworthCastle. On leaving after the dance, no one warned us to keep to the drive, and of the moat (now dry) surrounding the Castle. So we took what was thought would be a short cut back to our Camp, when without warning we fell into the remains of the moat, a drop of a few feet. I was carrying a bag, music and 2 Violin Stands, but escaped unhurt, but one of our Officers Lord Apsley was more unfortunate, he fell full length and one of his companions fell on top of him, treading on his face and breaking his nose, necessitating a rush to London for an operation to try and put things right. On another occasion, at Tidworth I believe we arrived in a snowstorm and being under canvas for the 2 weeks I don’t think I really got warm the whole of the time, except perhaps in bed for a few hours.

In 1927 Leo Dawes died and the engagement came to an end. I had to look round for other work, still continuing in Cheltenham. I was engaged at Boot’s Café in High St opposite the Promenade and while there did considerable deputizing some evenings with Cinema Orchestras.

This page was added by Christopher Baldwin on 21/10/2014.