Sunday, 30 September 2012

Herbert George Wilkins (1888-1951), cable maker

Herbert George Wilkins was a brother of my grandmother Gertrude Taylor nee Wilkins (1890-1919). Herbert signed Gertrude’s marriage certificate as a witness, so seems to have been close to his sister. However, I never heard his name mentioned by either my grandfather or father, so presumably they lost touch with him after her death.

Herbert was born on 10 Mar 1888 in Woolwich, the seventh of nine children born to Henry Wilkins (b1850 in Bethnal Green, London) and Jane Wilkins nee Cornwell (b1851 in Kelvedon, Essex).

The 1891 census shows Henry Wilkins aged 41, a grocer, living at 31 Kidd St (a shop), Woolwich Dockyard with his wife Jane (40) and their children Elizabeth (15), Albert (13), Alice (11), Ethel (9), Cecilia (7), Annie (5), Herbert (3) and Gertrude (1).

By 1901, the family were living at 11 Church St, Woolwich and consisted of Henry (aged 50, now a coffee house keeper), Jane (49), Albert (23), Alice (21), Ethel (19), Bessie (16), Annie (15), Herbert (13), Gertrude (11) and Mabel (9).

Herbert enlisted with the Army on 10th November 1902 at Woolwich, aged 14 years and 8 months, signing on for 12 years with the Colours. His record can be viewed in the British Army WW1 Pensions database on the Ancestry website. He joined the Army Service Corps as a saddler. At this time the British Army relied on horses to move their equipment. Men were needed to look after and drive the horses. The file contains a note from Herbert’s father giving permission for his son to enlist. There is also a letter from the headmaster of Herbert’s school (St Michael’s Boys’ School, Woolwich) saying “He is thoroughly well behaved, industrious and likely to make a good soldier. When he left school he had passed the seventh standard.”

Herbert was stationed at Woolwich. His army rank changed from Boy to Driver on 10 March 1906 when he reached the age of 18. In September 1907 he was transferred to Dover, then to Shorncliffe in February 1908. On 18 December 1909, Herbert (aged 21) married Mary Allan Kennedy (aged 20, born in Silvertown, West Ham) at Woolwich Register Office.

 Herbert was transferred back to Dover in February 1910. The 1911 census shows him (aged 23, a driver harness maker in the Army Service Corps) and his wife Mary (aged 21) as boarders at 14 Oxenden St, Dover. He left the Army on 27 May 1911 at Dover. His transfer document gives his intended place of residence as 350 Albert Rd, North Woolwich and his desired employment was “Stacker in Automotive Works”.

The first child of Herbert and Mary was Herbert Bryce Wilkins, born 28 July 1911 in Woolwich. They went to have five more children namely John Kennedy (born 1914), Bessie M (born 1916, died the same year), Marjorie (born 1923), Mary (born 1925) and May (born 1929) Wilkins, all born in the Dartford registration district.

Herbert was at the wedding of my grandparents Gertrude Wilkins and William Taylor in 1912. The  photo below of Herbert is extracted from a group photo taken then.


Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914 when Herbert (aged 26) was still in the Army Reserve. He was called up on 17 August 1914 and sent to France to serve in the Army Service Corps as part of the British Expeditionary Force. Army rules required Herbert to extend his period of service by 12 months if Britain was at war when the term of his enlistment expired. He was therefore obliged to stay in the Army until November 1915, which he did. Herbert was discharged from the Number 1 Depot Company of the Army Service Corps on 9 November 1915 at Aldershot. His rank was Driver (Saddler), age 28 years 8 months, height 5 feet 3 inches. His intended place of residence was 60 Stapley Road, Belvedere, Kent (which is in the Dartford registration district). Herbert’s discharge papers describe him as a “sober and reliable man, accustomed to care and management of horses” and his military character as “exemplary”. As a result of his war service, Herbert was awarded the 1914 Star, British War and Victory campaign medals.
Herbert in 1915

I have a newspaper clipping describing the funeral of my grandmother Gertrude Taylor nee Wilkins, who died of influenza in 1919. It says that Herbert and Mary were there.

Electoral registers show Herbert and Mary Wilkins living at 60 Stapley Road, Upper Belvedere from 1919 to 1951. The house still exists and is a modest mid-terrace property. It is close to the The Fox pub and a parade of shops in Nuxley Road. Herbert and Mary’s children are also listed (when they had reached the age of 21) at this address - Herbert Bryce Wilkins 1934 to 1937, John Kennedy Wilkins 1935 to 1940, Marjorie 1945 to 1948, Mary in 1946 and 1947.

The national register compiled in 1939 shows Herbert, a copper wire winder at a cable works, living at 60 Stapley Road with his wife Mary and son John (a capstan lathe hand), daughter May (at school) and Percy G Page (a builder's labourer).

Marjorie Wilkins married George Frederick Marsh in 1947 at All Saints Church, Belvedere. The marriage register gives the occupation of her father (Herbert George Wilkins) as “Factory Hand”.
Herbert and Mary in 1947

Herbert and Mary’s youngest child May Wilkins married Ernest William May in 1948 and became May May ! The marriage was witnessed by Herbert who signed the marriage register. His occupation is given as “Cable Maker”. He probably worked at the Callender Cable and Construction Company in Erith, which in 1945 merged with British Insulated Cables to form British Insulated Callenders Cables Ltd. May and Ernest lived at 60 Stapley Road after their marriage.

Herbert died on March 21st 1951 aged 63 in Belvedere. His wife Mary married Percy George Page in 1952. Percy seems to have been a long term lodger at 60 Stapley Road – electoral registers show him living there from 1932. Mary lived at 60 Stapley Road until she died in 1967 aged 77. Administration of her estate (£210) was granted to her daughters May and Marjorie.

Herbert is buried in Erith Cemetery, Brook Street, grave DD38. I visited the grave in 2015. 
Herbert's grave in 2015

The gravestone was inscribed
In Loving Memory of
Herbert G Wilkins 1951
Herbert B Wilkins 1955
Percy G Page 1961
Mary A Page 1967

Forever in our thoughts

Herbert B Wilkins was the eldest son of Herbert and Mary. The grave has recently been refurbished by Herbert's grandson Philip May.
The grave in 2018

May and Ernest May continued to live at 60 Stapley Road until 1973.

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