I was born on 4th April 1902 in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, the third son of Frank Wilson and Alice Elizabeth White and was christened Hugh Brian. At least three and possibly four of my known forebears had lived in Dunstable.
Joseph White’s younger brother Henry possibly lived at the Carpenters Arms in the High Street, Dunstable. Unfortunately nothing is known about him except that he was born in the 18th century and married Mary Wilson. They had five children – Henry, George, Elizabeth, Sarah and Henrietta.
It is through George (1800-1882) that the family has descended. George married Elizabeth Priest (1798-1890) and had six children Henry, James, Henrietta, Elizabeth, George, and Francis Frederic (8.3.1839-10.8.1908) who was my grandfather. George was a builder or carpenter by trade, working from the rear of the premises at the Carpenters Arms. My own father remembered visiting his grandfather there when very young — 3 or 4 years of age, about 1868 or so. The property at some later date was sold to Bennett’s Brewery of Dunstable.
On 24 April 1856 Worthington George Smith (WGS) married Henrietta. They first made their home in Islington, London; in 1885 they moved to The Hawthorns, 121 High Street South, Dunstable. Here WGS continued his archaeological and historical investigations, writing and illustrating numerous book and papers. Henrietta died after a short illness on 23 June 1917. WGS died of pneumonia on 27 October of the same year. Both were buried in the West Street Cemetery, Dunstable.
Francis Frederic married Martha Balderson (15.6.1839-14.5.1922). They had three children – Frank Wilson (31.1.1865-11.2.1951), Arthur Alfred (born 1870) and Ernest Frederick (born 1876 and who was to die five weeks later). Francis was a builder with his business premises in Princes Street where it would appear they lived. He also farmed the area between The Rifle Volunteer” public house and the Dunstable cemetery. He lost £5000 in two lawsuits, as a result of which it would appear the farming enterprise was abandoned, with his building activities suffering too. On his death my father took over.
My father Frank Wilson was also a builder. He lived at 26 Princes Street and later at West Parade off Princes Street, Dunstable. On 6 April 1893 he married Alice Elizabeth Nott at the Parish Church, Harpenden, Hertfordshire They had five children – Frederic Charles (b.1894), Gilbert AIan (1896-Mar 1957), myself, Kathleen Mildred (b.1903), and Marjorie Alice (b.1906).
My mother’s family descended from William Nott whose second son Charles (born 1820) was to marry Sara Weston, who was known as Cherry. The family is first recorded as living on a farm at the rear of Harpenden Church where my mother was born on 2nd June 1865. About this time a move was made to Pollards Farm, Kinsbourne Green, a property leased from Lord Ludlow of Luton Hoo Estate. Charles and Cherry had twelve children, with mother being the sixth born. Three of her elder brothers Henry William (or Harry), Ernest Charles and Francis Robert (or Frank) emigrated to Australia. George Edward was a grocer and provision merchant of 21/22 Charles Street, Tring, Hertfordshire. He died of pneumonia at the age of thirty. Edwin had a firm in Wood Street, London. His son Cecil had a straw hat factory in Guildford Street, Luton. Of the other six I was to know Joseph Newland – Uncle Joe – the best. On the death of his father he took over Pollards Farm, where I was later to spend many of my happy childhood days. At some later date Uncle Joe was to lose the lease on the farm. He went to Canada on a visit and was too late in returning to renew it. I regret I am somewhat hazy as to the sequence of events and dates, but about 1890 or so, mother had a bad fall from a horse and went to family in Australia for two years to recuperate.
About 1908 my father was planning to emigrate to Australia with the family, probably influenced by mothers glowing reports of that country. The business had been sold and we were all set to go when father was taken seriously ill with kidney stones and the move had to be called off.
Having recovered and re-established himself in the building trade, a couple of years later, father went to Canada alone and worked on the Parliament Buildings, Ottawa for a while. (I mention the following as I am very uncertain as to exactly when he went to Canada. It could have been years before, but the odd comment leads me to believe that while he was away we were living at Pollards Farm. The East and West blocks of the buildings were built between 1859 and 1865. Building of the library commenced in 1859; it was redesigned with a wrought iron dome and completed in 1877. After a spectacular fire the dome was rebuilt in 1916. The Central tower – Victoria Tower – was rebuilt starting in 1917 and was renamed the Peace Tower). He possibly visited Vancouver when in Canada.
On his return, we moved to Church Street Station, Dunstable and then to Portland Street, Luton where father continued in the building trade. He was involved in the rebuilding of Luton Town Hall after it had been burnt down in the riots of 1919. About this time we were living at 13 Bury Park Road, Luton. For one reason or another, father gave up building and by 1928 was employed in the Despatch Department of a local straw hat factory. Circa 1945 my parents were living in a rented bungalow on Whipsnade Road, Dunstable. In his younger days, in the 1880s, father was a great amateur cyclist and once won a gold medal.
There was nothing special about my youth. I went to Beech Hill School and liked doing things that all boys do. I played Cowboys and Indians and nearly lost the sight in my left eye when an arrow narrowly missed and hit the bone below. I have retained a faint scar from this injury all my life. I used to like visiting Pollards Farm and the outdoor life.
from ‘I had an Idea’, unpublished biography by J.D. White