Uncle Bill Taylor, or Billy to his wife, was an “uncle” by virtue of marrying Mom’s aunty Gertie, sometime known to locals as “Nurse Taylor”. I first knew them as a small child when we visited them in the back lane, or Chapel Street. Aunty, as Mom called her, had been a nurse after leaving school at the age of fourteen, working at the Sister Dora (General) Hospital in Walsall, but, as was the rule at the time, was forced to give up when she married. Gertie would for many years tend to locals’ minor injuries, patching them up with plasters, bandages and boiled sweets as necessary.
Billy was a bricklayer of some ability. Upon leaving school, he followed in the footsteps of his father, William John Joseph Taylor, a master bricklayer, and his elder brother Edwin, otherwise Edward. Billy was given special dispensation to leave school early because he had satisfied the educational requirements and had a job lined up.
The guarantor, and prospective employer, was Mr G A Wright, of Manor House, Stonnall. As shown on the Labour Certificate, Billy was granted exemption from school on 5 February 1915. Billy continued to be a bricklayer until his retirement. Many years after that Dad decided to take out the fireplace and block up the chimney breast. We went to see uncle Bill at home in the old folks’ bungalows opposite the shops at the top of Howdles Lane. “What you need is a lump hammer”, he told us, and ambled off to the shed. After a minute or so he returned with said lump hammer, which we employed to strike off the protruding brick ends that had supported the stone fire surround. Sadly, our inexpertise led to a prolonged battle with brickwork that really did not want to go. After a time, uncle Bill came along, supported by his walking cane, to see how we were getting on. “Give it here”, said he, and proceeded with deft taps to sheer off the remaining bricks flush to the wall. A pity we had not just asked him to do it from the start, but with him in his early eighties, it didn’t seem right.
Where it began
William Samuel Taylor was born on 30 September 1901 the second son of William Joseph Taylor and his wife Emma Sophia. He was baptised at the Primitive Methodist Church in Walsall Wood on 20 Oct 1901.
In the 1901 census, a few months before Billy was born, the family lived at Green Lane, Stonnall, comprising William J, 28, foreman bricklayer, wife Elizabeth, 25, and their only child at that point, Edwin T, 1.
In the 1911 census William, age 9, appears with parents William, 37, foreman bricklayer and Emma, 35, married 14 years, together with brother “Edward”, 11, and twin sisters Suran and Minnie, both 2. They lived at Stonnall, where they had 4 habitable rooms.
In these last two paragraphs lie some of the pitfalls for the genealogist. Why was Emma Sophia recorded as Elizabeth? We know from the 1911 census that they had been married about four years by 1901. Perhaps the enumerator misheard? In 1911 the form was completed by father William himself, who recorded Sarah Ann as “Suran” (similar to the actress Suranne Jones), which my well have been how she was addressed.
Uncle Bill told me that he grew up at Prospect House, which still stands, above Castle Hill Road, overlooking the Chester Road and the village beyond.
Marching off to War
I suspect that if Mom had known about her uncle’s military service, she would have said something about it. As it was Dad and I only found out after Billy had died. Dad and one of uncle Bill’s nephews, Ray, were going through his personal effects, when as well as a couple of thousand pounds stuffed into various trouser, jacket and coat pockets, they found two World War I medals, probably the British War and Victory Medals, sometimes shortened to “BW & V”. When asked, Ray said that he had known, but that Uncle Bill would never talk about it, saying he had seen things that he didn’t want to remember. The images we see on TV and the descriptions of veterans are horrific enough, but I suspect only those who were there could imagine even the half of it. I have tried to find military records, but it appears they are among those destroyed by fire. Anyway, he was one of the lucky ones, who came back, and seemed none the worse for his experiences. What is obvious is that he was not 18 years old when he enlisted, but he was just one of many thousands, some even younger.
On 9 April 1928, at the parish church of St Peter, Stonnall, William Samuel Taylor, 26, bachelor, bricklayer, of Stonnall, son of William Joseph Taylor, builder, was married to Gertrude Elizabeth Taylor, 25, spinster, no rank or profession, of Watling Street, Brownhills, daughter of Daniel Carter, colliery banksman.
As I wrote, earlier, Gertie was forced to give up her service as a nurse. And that in the same year that some women were given the vote. Perhaps there was no shortage of nurses, and, perhaps, a surfeit of young women looking for employment as opportunities in service were drying up.
Remarkably, a rather tatty news cutting has survived. There is no information as to the source, but here it is, anyway, transcribed below.
A STONNALL WEDDING
The wedding took place at St Peter’s Church, Stonnall, on Monday of Miss Gertrude Elizabeth Carter, daughter of Mr and Mrs Daniel Carter, of Watling Street, Brownhills, and Mr William Taylor, of Stonnall, the Vicar, the Rev E L Freer officiating. It was a choral service, with Mr J Langford at the organ; and the hymns “Lead us Heavenly Father,” “Father of all to Thee”, and “O Perfect Love,” and Psalm LXVIII were sung. The bride, who was given away by her father, was attired in white georgette, trimmed with sequins and beads, she had a veil and orange blossom, and orange blossom posy at the waist, and a pearl necklace, and she carried a bouquet of arum lilies. The bridesmaids, Misses Winnie Carter, Minnie and Annie Taylor and Mrs Daisy Smith, were attired in blue and pink charmeline, and carried bouquets of pink tulips and white narcissi. The bride’s mother was in fawn crepe de chine, with figured trimmings, and the groom’s mother wore black morocain, trimmed with fawn silk. Mr Edward Taylor, brother of the groom, was the best man. There was about a hundred guests at the reception in the Stonnall Institute.
Winnie Carter was the bride’s younger sister. Minnie and Annie were the groom’s younger sisters.
The Home Front
By the time Herr Hitler threatened our shores Billy was too old for active service, but he was able to serve his country and local community in a different capacity, as a Special Constable.
In 1939 the Government carried out a survey, in essence a limited census, of all people resident. This is accessible via a subscription to Findmypast, both in searchable transcription and images of the original records (see footnote for more). At that time, at 45 Chapel Street, Brownhills (two doors from my mother and her family) were:
Taylor, William S, M[ale], [born] 30 Sept 01, M[arried], Bricklayer, Special Constable
Taylor, Gertrude E, 14 Oct 02, M, Unpaid Domestic Duties, A.R.P. First Aid
Jones, Derek A, M, 14 Feb 28, At school.
So Gertie was available to use some of her skills, in case of emergencies. As it happens, as Brownhills was not much of a target for the Luftwaffe, she was still treating minor scrapes and sprains. More likely to treat Selwyn Smith than his donkey!
The interesting thing, for my money, about this is that being a housewife is recognised as something useful. But if you look ahead to the post-war years, perhaps having seen ongoing or recent TV series, such as Back in time for tea and Back in time for dinner, the mothers felt isolated and unable to fulfil their potential. I know my mother felt that way, too. Having said that, in the more recent series, Back in time for tea, the larder was stocked, so the shopping trips that Mom did were not replicated (not really possible). Mom used to go into shops just to catch up with the people selling goods, even when she had no intention of buying anything. The shopkeepers seemed not to mind, even if it was rather boring for four-year-old me. This was an important part of her social life, so perhaps women were less isolated than was portrayed.
Just as in the First World War young men joined the armed forces or found work in munitions factories, there was a need for older men to plug the gaps. However, Billy was ahead of that game, and on 7 November 1936, became Special Constable W S Taylor. I have no idea what activities that SC Taylor was involved in, though I suspect if he had been involved in some gruesome murder or tracking down bank robbers someone would have told me. He continued as a Special until 24 November 1962. His conduct was “Exemplary”.
The letter, from the Chief Constable of Staffordshire, is dated 16 January 1962, and reads:
Dear Mr Taylor
I have pleasure in forwarding herewith a Certificate of your Service in the Special Constabulary of this Force, and take this opportunity of expressing my sincere appreciation of the services you have rendered in the past. I send you my very best wishes for the future.
[I can’t decipher the squiggles]
47, Watling Street,
7 January 1944
To Special Constable W S Taylor
I feel I cannot sever my connections with you without expressing my appreciation for the loyal and generous assistance to me at all times whilst serving under me.
We have had tiring and trying times together; I refer now chiefly to the Blitz period of 1940, when you presented yourself for duty night after night, sometimes only being able to snatch and hours rest before setting out for another arduous days work, and yet still came up smiling and ready again the same night prepared to meet and deal with the uncertainties of those times.
However, on my part, my associations with you have been most enjoyable, and I can say quite definitely that I am sorry our direct association has come to an end.
I hope, however, that you will be happy and comfortable under the jurisdiction of my successor, and that you will continue to give him the same valuable and unstinted assistance which you have at all times given to me.
Thanking you once again,
F G White
This glowing letter is from local Police Sergeant White, whom folks with longer memories will recall – it was Sergeant Bloor in my day – Aer Reg? I assume Sergeant White was about to retire from the Force. The address sent from is 47 Watling Street, which was known as the Police House; it stands off Watling Street, on what has become Pinewood Close, not quite opposite the primary school. Billy was evidently an enthusiastic Special.
Billy frequented the Prince of Wales, on Watling Street (A5), Brownhills. On the mantle piece at his home were two engraved silver cups. One presented to the Prince of Wales champion at darts, William Taylor; the other to Derek Jones. They had adopted him as his mother found it hard to cope with many children, “Bertha’s tribe”, Mom called them. When he was old enough he upped and left, never to be heard from again. Gertie never got over it. They had no children of their own.
Sometime around 1970 the old houses in the back lane were condemned and Billy and Gertie were rehoused in a new development of bungalows for old folks. I used to visit once a week after school or work. Billy would still visit the Prince from time to time, but was more likely to take a glass of Teacher’s whisky, which he sourced from the local shop, what is McColl’s today. Gertie died in 1980 and Billy was never the same; understandable after such a long marriage.
When uncle Bill died in 1983, Dad was his executor and trustee, which is why these various personal effects fell into my hands. Both Gertie and Billy were cremated and their remains interred at Ryecroft Cemetery.
Footnote: The 1939 Register
On September 1st, 1939 Germany invaded Poland, putting the wheels in motion for Britain to declare war on the 3rd. On September 5th, the National Registration Act received royal assent and Registrar General Sir Sylvanus Vivian announced that National Registration Day would be September 29th.
Having issued forms to more than 41 million people, the enumerators were charged with the task of visiting every household in Great Britain and Northern Ireland to collect the names, addresses, martial statuses and other key details of every civilian in the country, issuing identity cards on the spot.
From Findmypast: What is the 1939 Register?
One thought on “Billy the Special”
What a fascinating biography, wonderful to read.