Tenants at No 23

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Mary Ann Salmon

I’ve already mentioned that, in the early part of last century, there were two William Salmon’s living in the village – distantly related. At the same time, there were two Mary Ann Salmon’s living in the village! All four lived comparatively near to each other.

In No 23 lived one! Mary Ann Salmon (Diggie’s mother and mother to the Sophy mentioned before). She was a gentle poverty-stricken lady. Before her marriage to Thomas Salmon (a shepherd on the Manor Farm) she was Mary Ann Odell. Her husband died when Diggie, the youngest of their four children, was quite small. Diggie could just remember his father saying sternly to him “You will call me Father!” – when Diggie (copying the other children in the village) called him “Papa”!

George, their eldest son, never gave his mother financial support. In fact, all the family referred to him as the Black Sheep, and deliberately lost contact with him when he left the village. Years later, the family was contacted to say that George had died, and could the family contribute to the cost of the funeral. The answer was “No!” It is assumed he was buried as a pauper somewhere in Salisbury.

Annie and Sophy, the daughters, married as soon as they could. Annie lived with her husband in a delightful Pub called “Cottage of Content” at Barton. When Len Salmon took his wife Phyllis, to see his aunt, Phyllis was disgusted that Aunt Annie never brought her out a cup of tea! No way would Phyllis walk into a Pub!

Sophy, after her marriage to Darkie Mullis, the boy next door, may have lived with her In-laws for a while, but eventually moved away. They weren’t too far away, for Sophy kept an eye on her Mother, visiting her regularly and bringing her meals – until she did the Dreadful Thing!

Diggie was constantly at No 23, and would often take his Mother along to Manor Cottages for a meal. His two children, Len and Kath, adored her.

The Workhouse

Len especially loved staying the night with her. His evenings at her cottage where he could chatter to her without fear of any scold, and get a chuckly and humorous response, gave him many delightful memories that lasted his lifetime. However, she was so poor, there was not enough food in her house to feed him, - and little for herself! For supper, and breakfast the next morning, Len had to slip round the corner to his dreaded Granny Coldicot at No 28. There he had to sit in complete silence, eating everything that was placed before him, before going back to his Granny Salmon,

Mary Ann had a sore develop on her breast which did not heal. Diggie came each evening to wash and clean the wound. Sophy attended to this during the day. She evidently found it too much of a strain to look after her mother. It is possible she consulted her sister Annie about her proposal. She certainly didn’t tell Diggie! One afternoon, as the children were coming out of school, a wagon arrived, stopped at No 23, and Mary Ann was bundled in it, with Sophy’s help, and told she was going to the Workhouse. Kath Radbourne told me of this. She was only a little girl coming out of school with her friends, but she can remember this little old lady sobbing on the wagon, and the sound of her crying could be heard all the way up the street, as the wagon set off for the Workhouse at Stratford.

Diggie, that evening, turned up at No 23 to wash and put his mother to bed, only to find the door locked. That was when the neighbours informed him what had happened. Diggie went straight back home, took a gun and went up Galley Oak to shoot himself. Then he remembered his two children; went back and, as soon as he could, travelled to Stratford Workhouse to see his mother. He visited her every day and was greeted each time with her tearful, “Have you come to take me home Will?” She only survived a few days in the Workhouse. It was a cold place. Babies and the elderly never lasted long in that loveless place. Such a tragic way for a gentle and loving lady to die!

EXTRACT FROM STRATFORD-UPON-AVON HERALD 2nd JANUARY 1914

“At the Workhouse

In the future, Stratfordians will be able to look back with pleasure on the Christmas of 1913 as one of the most agreeable of winter festive seasons.

The weather on Christmas Eve was fine and crisp and Christmas Day itself was all that could be desired.

At 50 Arden Street (and possibly better known as the Workhouse) the day was passed in the good old fashioned way, and the most eloquent testimony of the generosity of the Guardians was furnished by the tramps themselves.

Last year, the vagrants were regaled with the extra fare as well, and the tidings had evidently been noised abroad, for on Christmas Eve, sixty three individuals without any settled habitation, presented themselves for admission to the vagrant wards, making, with the ten who had been detained over the previous night, a total of seventy three.

To provide for such an array was out of the question and so, on the 25th, a dozen were sorted out and allowed to stop, and the remainder had to take to the road again.

The decorations at the Workhouse reflected the highest credit on the officials who,co-operating with the Guardians, did everything in their power to promote the happiness of the inmates.

The Master and Matron (Mr. and Mrs Pickett) directed the adornment of the general body of the house with special attention to the dining hall, and illuminating mottos - all more or less original – were hung upon the walls with seasonal greenery and shields, while a skilful arrangement of artificial flowers imparted a glow of colour which was at once pleasing and effective.

This was very noticeable in the sick ward where the Superintendent Nurse (Mrs. Worth) and her staff of nurses had wrought a delightful transformation by utilising imitation apple blossom, and everything looked spick and span.

The majority of the old folk received individual gifts from friends outside, who realise at this season that:-

It is easy to be pleasant When life flows along like a song But the man worth while is the man who can smile When everything goes dead wrong.

The Mayor gave £1 - Mr. C. T. Garland £1: 1s - Lady Trevelyan £1: 1s - Mrs. A. B. Foster 10s. - and Colonel Studdy 5s. to be devoted towards the entertainment of the old and young assembled within the workhouse walls.

Miss Townsend followed the admirable example set by her sister (the late Miss Harriet Townsend) and sent tea and sugar for the women, tobacco for the men – and a penny each for the children.

Miss Agnes Smith of Rhine Hill dispatched lucky packets (each containing 6d) for all the patients in the infirm wards. Mrs. Whytehead sent sweets, cakes and oranges, and the old men in the infirmary received pipes from Mrs. Mansell: Mrs. Richardson cards for the children: Miss Justins forwarded oranges and crackers, and |Mrs. Bucknall a bag of crayons, while the Mayor had provided a toy for each of the children; and three juveniles recently admitted from the Wootton Wawen Parish received a pleasant surprise in the shape of 1s. each from Mr. W. J. Fieldhouse of Austey Manor.

Naturally the event of the day was the Christmas dinner, and among those who attended this function were the Mayor and Mayoress (Mr. and Mrs. F. Winter) Master N. Winter, Miss Winter, the Rev F. C. Watts, the Rev A Barber, Messrs. G. Hemming, W. Parrot and F. Hawkes (Guardians) Mr. S. C. Warden (clerk to the Guardians), Mrs Warden, Miss M. Cox, Miss Brown, Miss F Winter, Mr. G. Edmunds, Mr. A. Tompkins, Master Barber and Mr. and Mrs. E. Davies (Knowle)

Roast beef and pork, with mutton for the sick, formed the principal joints with vegetables and seasoning in abundance, followed by Christmas pudding served steaming hot, and for the few who did not partake of beer, there were mineral waters of various kinds.

At the close of the repast, Mr. Hemming proposed a hearty vote of thanks to the”

and here follow many speeches

…..finishing with:-

“The thanks of the inmates to the Guardians were expressed in the usual way and Mr. F. Hawkes in response said it was his first time among them, but he had been much pleased with what he had seen, and he knew it was the wish of the Guardians that they should all enjoy themselves to the uttermost. “In the afternoon, there was a celebration of holy communion at the Chapel, the Rev H. Peers doing duty for the chaplain (the Rev F. H. Hastings).

After a substantial tea, the inmates assembled in the dining hall again – and thanks to the very kind manner in which the artistes who had been appearing at the Hippodrome and Picture House during the week, came forward, and gave their services, the inmates had the treat of their lives.

Belford and Mars in their merry-making duets were irresistibly funny. Jimmy Baguley as a rollicking Scotch comedian kept the audience in a continuous roar of laughter and F. W. Reed with his clever songs at the piano also met with considerable success.

Two or thee of the inmates also figured creditably in the programme, and the workhouse girls (who had been trained by Mrs. Burton, delighted one and all with their rendering of “The Lobster Quadrille”.

The piano used for the entertainment was kindly lent by Mrs,. Brenbridge.

More speeches

The singing of the National Anthem brought to a close a memorable day.


George and Trixie Sylvester

George & Trixie Robbins

Sometime after Mary Ann’s death, Aunt Alice Bailey moved in, and it was on her death that George and Trixie Robbins arrived at No 23.

Trixie was the youngest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Sylvester – a great beauty. She was a big-built girl, but her laughing face, little turned-up nose, large eyes and beautiful curly hair, captured all the boys’ attention. George Robbins won her, married her and, by the time they arrived at No 23, their family had extended to Keith, Glenda and Mick.

Trixie Robbins and Mick

Keith was amazing! George and Trixie were told that he would be dead by the time he reached his teens. Throughout his life, he has done one thing after another that, in another person would have brought death! “He’s like a cat,” someone said to me. “He’s got nine lives!” The villagers lost count of the number of times he fell out of the hay loft opposite No 23 (now part of Barn House). A non-swimmer, he was fished put of the deep part of the river, almost dead – but not quite! He was knocked off his bike by a car going at quite a speed. He fell off the back of his father’s wagon when the horse bolted!

George and Trixie owned a fruit stall and went to every market, leaving early in the morning. Keith never went to school as he was considered, with his learning difficulties, to be unteachable, so he was left very much on his own. He filled the time by walking to Stratford and staying a while at the fruit stall. When he became bored, he would walk home and hang around his Granny Sylvester and Granny Robbins for any food. Getting tired of that, he would walk back to Stratford until his parents became irritated with him. Then he would trundle back to Clifford again to scrounge from his Grannies. Then back to Stratford again! Every weekday was practically the same for Keith.

Keith was strong, with his mother’s build and he was quite a worry to the villagers. He was so willing to help anyone. “I’ll carry that! I’ll carry that!” he would say rushing up to anyone carrying a bag of shopping. With his large head, heavy feet, big frame, plus a mouth that was inclined to dribble, he did present a rather frightening picture to any newcomer in the village who did not know him. His rush to help was so thunderous, one was always uncertain if he would be able to stop in time, and that you would finish up being flattened on the pavement, with Keith’s heavy body on top!

Mentally, Keith never reached adulthood. He was always a child. When both his Grannies died, he felt very lost and alone, often sitting on the doorstep of No 23 for long periods. People would give him food as he was always so hungry. Unfortunately, he had a quick temper and the least little thing would set him shouting and swearing. But instantly his temper would die down and he would start shouting, “Sorry! Sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

Trixie died of cancer while her two youngest, Vanessa and Tim, were in their teens.

Glenda, by this time was married and a mother, but she came over often to help her Dad, and to help with Keith. Mick left school and worked on the fruit stall with George, but George was beginning to have problems with drink.

George Robbins

He didn’t drink much, and while Trixie was alive, he hardly drunk at all, but George was one of those rare people who could become quite drunk on only a small amount of alcohol. Trixie was aware of this and always kept a watchful eye on him, but with no wife by his side to caution him, there were many times when he was brought home from the Working Mens Club in a wheelbarrow. Eventually he let Mick take over the fruit stall completely, but still cycled into Stratford frequently. Then he was involved in a terrible accident, and knocked off his bike by a car that dragged him along the road. The only thing that saved his life was his inebriated body, for he was so relaxed as he was knocked off his bike, he was more like a rag doll! After that, he always needed a stick as he walked, but he was always cheerful, and always getting drunk and falling on the ground, sometimes lying there for some while until he was found!

George Robbins in Pub