I arrived in England at the beginning of last week and headed north to Chester where I would spend the next four days. Much of the first day was spent at the Cheshire Archives researching obituaries and the history of The Cottage Hospital but on Wednesday I set out on the final leg of a long journey, a visit I’d been looking forward to for a very long time. The weather forecast was dodgy but the sun was shining when the #22 bus dropped me off in a small village on the Wirral.
This was not my first visit to Willaston nor was it the first time I’d walked through the wooden gate in front of Christ Church Willaston. In 2012 I visited in hopes of finding the cottage that Herbert and Christina called home in 1924 but unfortunately it was no longer standing. Seeing the churchyard I decided to have a quick look around, secretly hoping that I would spy a headstone with Herbert’s name on it. No such luck in 2012 but here I was again and this time with the knowledge that Herbert was here and that he lay buried in a plot with a white headstone not far the war memorial.
Greeting me at the entrance to the church was Alex White, the very friendly and helpful church warden. I corresponded with Alex and Rev. Stephen Bazley prior to my visit and Alex was on hand to show me the burial register and the location of the grave. And it was immediately apparent that there was to be at least one more twist in the long and winding road.
Reverend Bazley had informed me weeks ago that Herbert’s name was not on the stone but what I didn’t know was that he was sharing the plot with his second wife Christina and her first husband Thomas! I always knew this was a possibility and so I wasn’t entirely caught off guard but I was genuinely surprised to see Herbert listed as Henry in burial register. There is no doubt in my mind that the person buried in this plot is Herbert so one can only guess as to why the name was written down incorrectly. Was this Herbert’s final attempt to throw me off the scent?
We also located the burial register entry for Thomas Jones and there was a very curious entry directly above it. At the time I had no idea who “Tom’s baby” was but the fact that the child was buried two plots away implied a family connection. Later that day I returned to the Cheshire Archives and found a burial record for a 2-month old named Thomas William Jones who died on the Wirral in November 1913. The birth indexes contained a corresponding birth in October to a woman whose maiden name was Jones. Christina and Thomas had children in 1910, 1912 and 1915 and so it is very likely Thomas William was theirs. However Jones is such a common name in this part of the country that I will need to order the birth certificate to be certain.
After examining the burial register I spent some time at Herbert’s grave, next to the headstone that bears but one inscription, that which Christina chose in 1920. It’s hard so say why inscriptions for Christina and Herbert were not added. Was it a simple matter of money or was this another attempt at anonymity?
From Willaston I intended to walk to Neston however I accepted Alex’s generous offer to drive me there as it freed up more time to visit the archives later in the day. My first stop was to a simple terraced house at #3 Raby Road, where Herbert spent the last two years of his life. When he died on February 25, 1960 it was not at home but rather at the Cottage hospital also known as the Neston War Memorial Cottage Hospital.
During the First World War the Neston Institute was converted to a Red Cross Hospital. When the war ended surplus funds from the Red Cross hospital were combined with public subscriptions to purchase and convert Dee View, a large sandstone mansion next to the green at Little Neston. The Neston War Memorial Cottage Hosptial was officially opened by Lord Leverhulme on June 26, 1920 and was the source of much local pride. In 1948 it was taken over by the NHS and remained in operation until 1964. Sadly the building was demolished in 1967, much to the anger of local residents.
Before making the short walk to Little Neston I decided to check out the neighbourhood near the top end of Raby Road. A sign outside the Methodist Church advertised the “Tea Pot” was open. Tip: when you’re in need of local history and archivists are thin on the ground you could do a lot worse than spend half an hour sipping tea and listening to gossip at a pop-up church cafe! Not only did I enjoy a friendly chat and a cup of tea for 60p but I also met people who had spent time at the Cottage Hospital.
Incidentally two of the four people I chatted with were named Jones, including one, who like Christina, was born a Jones and married a Jones. The other Jones, a very friendly gentlemen named Ken, took me on a short driving tour which included a trip to Little Neston, Parkgate and Thornton Hough.
In Neston I boarded the bus back to Chester but decided to hop off at Willaston for one final visit to the grave that had eluded me for so long. While waiting for the next bus I dropped into The Nag’s Head and toasted Herbert with a fine single malt.
I met so many friendly and helpful people today it is no wonder that Herbert chose to live out his final days on the Wirral. I would especially like to thank Alex White and Rev. Stephen Bazley for their help in bringing my long search to a successful conclusion.