27/11/2022

GF – Robert Soulsby Denton – (1882-1946)

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Robert Soulsby Denton (1882-1946)

We saw (or will see?) how Robert acquired his middle name here.

In the 1901 census Robert was a nineteen-year-old, still living at home with his occupation shown as ‘machine operator’. His brother Peter was a 23-year-old ‘machine engineer’, his 21-year-old sister Mary a ‘dressmaker’ and James, a 16-year-old, was an ‘errand boy’ – all living at home. Their father Joseph was, as we learned earlier, a ‘tailor’. Their mother’s entry showed no occupation. They lived at 23 Airton Street, Stockton-on-Tees.  Airton Street is on old maps but no longer exists.

More surprisingly the 1911 census shows Robert aged 29 still living with his parents. He is described as a machinist for an engineering company. Brother Peter is now a labourer, James a painter and 19-year-old Arthur is an apprentice – all still at home. They are now living at 19 Alma Street, Stockton-on-Tees. Alma Street still exists but Google Streetview shows a car park area to one side and a high-rise set of flats to the other.

His future wife Betsy Walton was twenty-two in 1911 and living in the Grimley household, Wolverhampton Street, Willenhall. They were described as ‘house furnishers’ and Betsy was a ‘general servant (domestic)’.

There was a prominent Grimley family in Willenhall. In 1812 a John Grimley moved to Willenhall from Birmingham and used a drop hammer to start a drop forging business, primarily of keys. This became a major successful thrust for the town. Willenhall was Britain’s centre of lockmaking, and therefore keys, from the 1600s. In 1855 there were 340 lockmaking businesses there. These later consolidated, with Chubb, Eaton and Yale becoming the best-known brands. A George Grimley inherited the family business from his father, later acquiring a property called ‘The Old Hall’. He moved in with his family and two servants. He built a factory in the grounds which he called ‘Hall Works’ and part of the house became his warehouse. Perhaps house furnishing was a diversification.

In 1919 Robert Denton married Betsy Walton in Chorlton-on-Medlock, Manchester. He had moved 123 miles from Stockton-on-Tees, Durham to 115 Rusholme Road, Chorlton-on-Medlock and is described on the marriage certificate as an ‘engineer’. Betsy had moved 78 miles from Willenhall, Staffordshire and was living at 109 Rusholme Road, described as a ‘spinster’. He was 37, she was 31.

Betsy Walton as a young woman – and when I knew her, as Nanny Denton

They remained in Chorlton where they had a daughter Margaret in 1920 (my Auntie Peg) and a son Robert Soulsby in 1921 (my dad). At some date before WWII that I cannot establish the family moved to Bristol.

Margaret (Peggy) and Robert (Bob)

Major employers in Bristol were the cigarette maker W D & H O Wills (my Uncle Bill worked there), Mardon Son & Hall printers and the aerospace companies based at Filton.

My grandfather Robert was described as an aircraft engineer while living in Bristol. Filton had become an airfield in 1911 when the owner of Bristol Tramways began to make aircraft. It expanded in WWI to build thousands of Bristol fighters. Between the wars the site became the Engine Division of the Bristol Aeroplane Company (aka BAC) after the acquisition of Cosmos Engineering in 1920. By 1929 it was an RAF base. In 1935 the Rodney Works and East Works on Gypsy Patch Lane expanded its aero-engine manufacturing. By 1939 the RAF was flying Hawker Hurricanes from there but later moved the base to France. The Germans bombed Filton and a squadron of Spitfires was based there to protect the factories. The BAC went on to produce Blenheims, Beauforts, Beaufighters and Brigands aircraft throughout WWII. Post WWII the operation transformed into two large employers – the BAC (British Aircraft Corporation) and Bristol Siddeley Engines.

Presumably one of these operations attracted Robert to Bristol and presumably his involvement in aerospace would have influenced my father’s decision to enlist in the RAF when war broke out, although I seem to recall that he told me he went to Park Street in Bristol to sign up and the RAF recruitment office was first he came across.

The BAC would become the employer for three of our (Jane and my) parents – my wife’s father Ivan Allen for much of his post-war working life, my Mum for a spell and my Dad, after retirement from the Fire Service.

ASIDE: I went to Bristol Siddeley at fifteen years old (1963) to discuss becoming a computer programmer. They showed me their current computers with thousands of hot valves making for a harsh environment and gave me a glimpse of a new generation they were constructing. This was a huge rats’ nest of cabling under the floor, around the walls and across the ceiling. They advised me to do my O-levels first which I did. By the time I passed these (1966) their recruitment policy had changed to insisting on A-levels. By the time I had completed these they were only recruiting graduates. However, just five years after this I was working in Stockholm on the very first Intel 4004, 4040, 8008 and 8080 microprocessors, each able to do more than the one they showed me.

There is a mystery concerning my grandfather. My father was believed, in the family, to be a confirmed bachelor before he met my mother. Like many of his generation he was a steady, reliable guy but there was a suggestion that this was in part because he had looked after his mother who had been a long-term widow. But this was not true as Grandad lived until January 1946 and my Dad was married by July 1947, so not that long a widowhood for him to help out with.

However, I vaguely recall other family mumblings that my Grandad had come home from work one day and simply chosen to stop working, effectively declaring himself an invalid. I have no idea as to when this was, but this my only picture of him must be when he was close to his death, given the setting and age of Dad and Peggy. Grandad would appear to be quite healthy in this shot.

Aunt Peg, Grandparents and Dad

I guess you have to suspect depression given their description but I have no means of establishing more detail. I do have his death certificate and it offers a choice as to cause (a) Myocardial degeneration (b) Hemiplegia (c) Cerebral thrombosis – however this was not a doctor’s opinion but recorded as that of PC M B Joscelyne? The heart and blood supply is clearly the Denton weak point, with Nan dying of a cerebral haemorrhage (certified by a doctor in her case) and Dad having a series of strokes that progressively took him away. My brother John and I have stents in our coronary arteries. Hopefully this will remedy our design fault.

What I also find remarkable was that when I was a child we all lived at 14 Ludlow Road, Horfield which was a small three-bedded mid-terrace council house. Aunt Peg, Uncle Bill and my cousin Edwin in one room, Mum, Dad and I in the second and Nan with my eldest cousin Beryl in the third.

I recall we were bathed, not that regularly, in an aluminium bath placed before the living room fire and topped up with kettle-heated water. For washing clothes there was a boiler in the back garden with a washboard and a rubber mangle. On the window sill was the ‘blue bag’ containing chemicals to whiten the laundry.

ASIDE: I was amused to learn that Horfield is Anglo-Saxon in origin.
It derives from ‘horu’ and ‘feld’ and means ‘filthy open land’.
Possibly this had something to do with the fact that historically when it was a very rural place
it became lawless. Horfield Wood had once been the haunt of thieves and vagrants.
It wasn’t that improved when I grew up there, regularly mentioned in the Bristol Evening Post
as someone local was sent off to Horfield Prison to bide a spell.

Note on shorthand acronyms being used in the DFB:
GGF1 / GGM1 – means first great-grandfather /mother;
GU11 / GA11 – means eleventh great-uncle / great-aunt;
1C3 – means first cousin three times removed

Forward to GGF1 Joseph Denton – (1921-1982) – Forward to Family Trees
Back to F- Robert Soulsby Denton – Back to Denton Family Bible

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