Joseph & Edith May Holborow

I’m slightly surprised that I haven’t written a post dedicated to my mother’s maternal grandparents here yet. Why am I surprised? Partly because my great-grandmother, Edith, was the oldest person I ever knew as a child. Or at least that I remember knowing.

She also had the most amazing puff of white hair that I’d ever seen.

But who was she, and what about her husband, Joe, who died two years before I was born?

We’ll start with Joseph Holborow, born on 28 April 1898 in Knockdown, within the parish of Sherston Magna, Wiltshire. He was the youngest child (all boys) of Joseph and Mary (nee Teagle) Holborow.

The first record that he appears in is, in fact, the 1901 England census. The family is living in Knockdown with Joseph senior listed as ‘shepherd on farm’. Whatever else, Joseph could afford for all three of his sons to go to school and to house his father, Henry. No doubt the income was supplemented by having a board – at this point one William Hicks. Mary’s mother was a Hicks by birth so no doubt William was some degree of cousin.

Talking of extended family, next door seems to be living a G. W. Holborow, Esq. Gerald William Robert Long Holborow (to give him his full name!) was a third cousin of Joseph senior.

The next record Joseph appears in his baptism. He and his brother John were baptised on 29 March 1908 in their mother’s home parish of Didmarton, Gloucestershire. As can be seen, their parents are still living in Knockdown, with Joseph being a labourer. (The other brother, Frederick, had been baptised at Westonbirt in 1895, 3 months after his birth.)

Skipping forward three years, we reach the 1911 census. Joseph’s older brothers, aged 14 and 16, are now working on a nearby farm, whilst Joseph himself (aged 12) is still listed as a scholar.

Now I have to admit that I’m cursing myself. I remember scanning the below photo from a book as the caption originally read that two of the choirboys were Joseph and his brother John. However, nowhere can I find any reference to the book’s title, subject (possibly historical photos of Didmarton? Tetbury? Leighterton?) or which boys specifically were the Holborow brothers. I believe that Joseph is sitting at the end with the longer face, but I could be wrong. There are at least 3 others that look like Holborows! So mea culpa and apologies for being a bad, bad family historian.

What next for Joseph? Like much for the world, Joseph’s life was undoubtedly turned upside down by the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Two years later, aged 18 years and 2 months, Joseph signed up, swearing his oath in Cirencester. However, his official enlistment date is recorded as 1 December 1916, as this is when he was mobilized and when his service with the Royal Field Artillery as a Gunner began.

I will come back with a more detailed account of Joseph’s time in the Army at a later date, but he certainly saw action in France and Germany. He was also ‘awarded’ 3 days of Field Punishment No. 2 in August 1919 for having been absent from parade. In F.P. No. 2 the prisoner was placed in fetters and handcuffs but was not attached to a fixed object and was still able to march with his unit. (Joe had also overstayed leave home in 1917 and was also once absent from parade – he received 3 days confined to barracks on both occasions.) He luckily escaped any serious injury (unlike one of his brothers who was shot in the buttocks). He was transferred to the Army reserve in November 1919, and then I assume demobilized shortly after.

After the war, he went back to life working on the farm, and returned to Didmarton, where he and the family had been living in 1916. Several years later he married Edith May Hurcombe on 28 July 1923 in the Chapel of Ease in Tresham (cover image). One of the witnesses, John Burrard Neale, had married Edith’s cousin, Millie, the year before.

Edith was a little over 4 years Joseph’s junior, and her father (Alfred William Hurcombe) was described as a shepherd in 1911, as his father was before him. Of particular note is that Edith was born in September 1902, with her parents not marrying until 2 November of that year. Her birth registration, therefore, is in her mother’s maiden name of Robins. Interestingly, she was baptised after her parents married. Despite this, the baptismal register shows her full name as Edith May Hurcombe Robins, with only her mother Harriet listed under parents’ details.

By 1911 the family had moved to Tresham, and other than being joined by a younger brother, Charles, there was also another youngster in the house: William James Meacham. I can find no familial link between the Meachams and either Alfred or Harriet’s families so I can only assume that they knew the family on a personal level.

Little Edith with her mother, Harriet.

Edith’s father actually worked on Burden Court Farm in Tresham for Dick Holborow (quoted in a newspaper article of 1921 as “the well-known young farmer”). However, shortly before Edith’s wedding he moved the family to Heddington in Wiltshire (close to Calne and Devizes) when he became a shepherd at Netherstreet Farm. In the Heddington school logbook it is recorded:

6 October 1924 – 3 children from Leighterton admitted, Eva, Lucy and Emmeline Hurcombe.

Joe and Edith stayed in Tresham and two months after the marriage, their eldest son, named Joseph William, arrived. He was followed in fairly short order by four more children – the eldest daughter being Eva, my grandmother. However, by 1939 the family had joined Edith’s in Wiltshire and was living up at Heddington Hill where the below photo of Joe and one of the farm horses was taken (it was also in Heddington that my mother was born):

Joe and Edith lived in Heddington for many years, but did move down into Netherstreet and then later to the village of Easton Royal.

They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary together in 1973, but unfortunately Joe passed away whilst visiting his daughter and son-in-law in Berkshire 5 years later.

Edith later moved into sheltered accommodation, but that didn’t put a dampener on her zest for life or her ready smile. It is at this point in her life that I remember her. My mum describes her grandmother as the best person that she’s ever known, and she was a proponent of ‘you do for people when they’re alive’ – once they’re dead they’re beyond your apologies or guilt. Unfortunately this kind heart could be – and was – taken advantage of by people, but that never stopped Edith from helping the next person who came along.

Edith passed away on Valentine’s Day 1990 in Savernake Hospital, near Marlborough and is buried, along with Joe, in the cemetery at Easton Royal.

Little me (green shorts) with one of my brothers, my mother, my grandmother and my great-grandmother, Edith, outside of her flat in Pewsey. Very early 1980s.


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