We are very grateful to Andrew and Mary Niblett for sending us a transcription of Charley Davis’s life story. Charley had originally dictated his story to Andrew’s mother, Nancy Niblett (nee Davis) about 1975.
“I was born at Northfield Cottage, Crossways on 22nd March 1879 and christened at Thornbury Church.
My father, George Davis, grew up at Spar Cottage and was a stonemason. My mother, Sarah Anne Davis nee Barrett, was a farmer’s daughter and lived at Crossways House and Woodbine Farm.
I was the sixth of eight children with three sisters and four brothers. My father rented a field opposite the cottage and we all worked in the field every holiday. My brother Bill, who was two years younger than me, and I dug the whole field. We grew wheat one year, which was ground at Morton Mill, and potatoes the next year. My mother made her own bread and sometimes it was very heavy. We also used to keep pigs.
I started school when I was five years old attending Thornbury Church School. I was the only one of the children to gain a scholarship to the Grammar School. I was given 7/6 by Miss Screen, which I had to give to Mother. Father would not let me go as there was a Free School at the bottom of Castle Street for the second poor. There were only thirteen pupils going to the Grammar School, so I stayed on at the Church School where Mr Fill was Headmaster, until I was fourteen.
When I left school I went to Eastwood Mansion to work as a mason for two or three years with Father. It was not my first choice as I would have liked to have been a carpenter. Unfortunately my father could not afford to apprentice me. After working with my father he put me with Mr Nelmes at Hill to build houses in Stowe Hill, Tytherington. Then we went up to Stancombe Park, Dursley working on the estate. We used to walk from Thornbury and worked from 6am to 6pm Saturdays included. Sundays were rest days and we did no work at all. The firewood was always got ready on Saturday for Sunday. After this we worked on the Berkeley Estate on two houses at Ham. We got them up to window sill height and then went to Tytherington and worked on the Quarry Managers house on the top of Tytherington Hill.
In 1900, when I was twenty-one years old and my brother Bill was nineteen, we went to Barry to build two houses. We went at the Whitsun working just for our food and finished just before Christmas. My brother tidied up and I went to work on the Docks at Barry. We paid our lodgings and had just enough money to get home, but then we had no work and went for three months without a penny. Father kept us for just what we could do at home. I would not go to church because I did not have any money for the collection. All I had was an old Verge Watch which I bought for a pound when I left school.
My brother Bill went to a sale and bought a piece of land in Gloucester Road from the Burchell family to build some houses. Time after time the plans were rejected so in the end we went to see Mr Harold, Chairman of the Board, who finally passed the plans. We cleared out all the muck as it was a disused Quarry. We started building the first two houses in 1911. The stone was dug at Baden Hill and we dressed it ourselves. I made the windows out of Thornbury gravel and cement and it was the first piece of reconstructed stone done in the district. The gravel was dug from the land on the opposite side of the road where the canteen now stands at the Grammar School. We had a job to let the houses at £15 a year, but eventually let them to Mr Thomason the schoolmaster and my brother Bill and his wife Alice.
I was called up for the First World War in 1915 when I was in my late thirties. I went to the Colston Hall and wanted to join the engineers but they didn’t consider me fit enough so I went into the Labour Battalion. I trained at Portsmouth and Reading and lived partly under canvas and partly in Barracks. The food was poor and we were given square biscuits which were too hard to eat. We had no normal bread for a fortnight to get us used to the rations. The physical training played havoc with me and I was discharged medically unfit because of my heart in 1916. I walked from Temple Meads to Filton hoping to get picked up there but my parents had not received my telegram and so I walked all the way to Crossways. I had a Banjo Weather Glass under my arm and when I got to the mile straight I was so tired I was tempted to throw it over the hedge, but I still have it.
I took up building again at Eastwood and Tytherington. They would not employ me through the winter because of frost so I finished the two houses in Gloucester Road. When one of these houses became vacant one lady, who still lives in the town, said she would like the house very much but it was “too far out of Thornbury”! We went on building the rest of the houses in the row. Several of them were let out to Grammar School teachers – Mr & Mrs Rabley had the first, then my brother Bill and his wife moved into the next one and his house was let to Mr Morse. Mr & Mrs Willis had the next and then the last one, which was much larger, was let to Mr Appleby who was then the accountant at Thornbury Bank. Unfortunately, my brother, Bill, died of meningitis so I built the last two houses myself with the help of my youngest brother, Jim. He had been apprenticed as a shoemaker but did not like it.
While I was working with Mr Nelmes he persuaded me to join the Tytherington brass band. He was a Bass player for the Tockington Band. I used to cycle to practices in the beginning and afterwards went by pony and trap. I played First Tenor Horn and the Band won the Severn Vale Trophy three times in succession. We used to practise in the Church Room and played at all the local shows etc. I gave it up when we were building some cottages at Charlton as I couldn’t get to the practices. We used to sleep in a hut there to save travelling each day.
Several years after my brother died I married Leah Allen and came to live at The Firs, Crossways. It was just a small cottage with two rooms at the front and a scullery at the back. There were two pigsties at the back too. There was a small bungalow next door owned by a man named Samuel Ball. I eventually joined the two properties together and used the bungalow for a garden shed. It is still known as Sammy’s house. Over the years we laid down lawn, made a driveway and turned the pigsties into two garages”.
We have another page with details of the life of Charley Davis which we have gathered together from a variety of sources. Click here to see it