The isolation of a farm cottage surrounded by rolling Hampshire fields above Wootton St, Lawrence, just north of Basingstoke, England provides the backdrop for the beginning of the life of my Mum’s Mum’s Dad – my great grandfather, Reginald Richard Hale (1899-1981) – and likely infuses this tale with more than its share of solitude – the theme of this week’s #52Ancestors post.
Despite this sense that he was a man connected with solitude, it has to be stated from the outset that of all eight of my great grandparents, Reginald Richard is the only one I had a real, tangible connection with by meeting him while he was still alive. In his later years (he would have been about eighty years old at the time), he was living in a back bedroom at my grand uncle Jim’s home. He cut such a quiet, lonely yet dapper figure, sat on a dining room chair, looking out of the back window, obviously waiting for the inevitable.
As a ten year old child, I was transfixed that I was meeting one of my great grandfathers. He looked like a tanned version of the elderly character called ‘young’ Mr Grace from the popular sitcom of the era, ‘Are You Being Served’. At the time, I remember it feeling as if I was meeting an alien.
I’ve touched on much of his life in stories of other ancestors in previous weeks – his wife in Week 14 (my great grandmother, Emily Charlotte Vickery); his grandmother in Week 9 (my 3x great grandmother, Esther Kinge); and his aunt in Week 10 (my 2x great grand aunt, Charlotte Hale).
He was a father to eight children. They all bore a great resemblance to him, but since I knew them, especially my Nan Joyce, and the sons Jim, Bill, Bob and Michael.
They started arriving in 1924. My Nan was born on Castle Bottom, which would have meant a cottage in a rather remote location on the common above Eversley, Hampshire. The last of the children arrived during World War Two in 1942. By this point, the family had been living in a house called Ash Dene on Chequers Lane, Eversley, according to the 1939 Register. He’d been brought up as the son of a woodman, and one of his brothers was a thatcher/woodman, but by this point, my great grandfather had been recorded as both a gardener and a roadman.
Family testimony had already told me that Reginald Richard’s wife had left him some time after the War. A note added to the 1939 Register reveals that by 1951, his wife had changed her name by deed poll and was registered in Derbyshire. She did however return to the area by 1959 after which the couple did live again under the same roof, but very much separate lives, in separate rooms in a caravan on the Hawley Lane, Hawley, Hampshire.
In the intervening period, the Surrey Electoral Register reveals that his eldest sons Jim and Bob took him under their wing. The 1956 Register shows him living at No. 1, Sewage Farm Cottage, Vale Road, Camberley. Next door at No. 2 lived his sons Jim and Bob and their wives Florence and Mavis respectively. Bob worked at the sewage farm and obviously had a tied cottage that came with the job.
By the 1957 Register, Reginald Richard Hale, plus Jim and his wife Florence were living at No. 218 London Road, Camberley. Also living with them at the property was somebody called Kate Ward – a figure who went on to be particularly associated with Camberley for her love of dogs and promoting their welfare. They are still living in the same property in the 1959 Register. ‘Camberley Kate’ is arguably the closest we have to a local celebrity, so to discover my great grandfather lived in the same property as her for a few years has been quite a discovery!
Once the Sixties arrive, Reginald Richard Hale is reunited with his wife as already indicated. I’ve mentioned in previous weeks that when my Mum visited her grandparents there as a child, she always remembers her grandfather cutting a quiet figure in his own bedroom in the caravan in Hawley.
His wife died in 1967. There is no clarity on the date, but by some point in the 1970s, his son Jim had again taken him under his wing again, and they were living on Yorktown Road, Sandhurst over the border in Berkshire – the final house before the garden of the Wellington Arms pub, sharing the property with Jim and his partner Nora.
My great grandfather died in early 1981. He would have been 82 years old. It has been clear from my own meeting with him and other family testimony that his life and character were marked by solitude. His upbringing in rural Hampshire; his wife leaving him towards the end of them bringing up eight children, and then living in rooms in other people’s homes later in life also clearly point to a lifestyle of solitude through experience. I’m likely missing a great deal, but I hope I’ve got some measure of the man.
Thank you for reading this week’s post. If you can shed any light on anything, correct anything I have written, or have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact me. Don’t leave me all alone – hope to see you next week.