We know from several locals that The Cottage, 1 Horseshoe Lane was occupied in the early 1900s by the Burns family.
William Henry Burns was born in Bristol in 1891, the second son of William Albert and Mary Burns. In 1913 William married Ella Peglar. Ella was born in Tortworth about 1896, the daughter of Ellen Lillian Peglar. The South Gloucestershire Chronicle said that Ella was a native of Charfield and that (in 1916) she had family in the area. William was a dentist by profession, although he was unqualified according to his son’s school records. He had worked for a time as a conductor on the motor buses travelling between Filton and Thornbury. He had been working as a dentist in Wales when the War broke out and he enlisted with the 7th Battalion Kings Shropshire Light Infantry in September 1914. After a period of training he was sent to France. He was a Private serving as a stretcher bearer on the Somme when he was killed on 25th July 1916. He was aged 25. At the time of his death, his parents were living at 135 Lower Cheltenham Place, Ashley Hill, Bristol and Ella’s address was given as “Pullens Green”. We have taken this to mean this house which was on the corner of Horseshoe Lane and Gillingstool but facing Pullins Green.
The 1916 Prewetts Street Directory lists W. H. Burns as an occupant of Horseshoe Lane at that time. Miss Joan Higgins, Nelson’s half sister, has told us that Ella was living here at that time.
William and Ella had three boys, Francis William Pegler who was born in Thornbury in June quarter 1912 before William and Ella married, Walter who birth was registered in Pontypridd and born on 26th May 1914 and Mervyn Albert Thomas born in Thornbury on 25th July 1915. Walter went to Rendcomb, a private school near Cirencester, the other two went to Thornbury Grammar School.
In June quarter 1923 Ella re-married, this time to Nelson Spencer Higgins, the son of Oliver Higgins, the blacksmith. Nelson had been born on 10th September 1896. Click here to read about Oliver Higgins
We understand that Nelson and Ella had one adopted daughter, Audrey Jean Higgins, born 6th January 1934.
Nelson had returned from the fighting in the First World War with shrapnel wounds. Although some of the shrapnel had been removed, he was warned that he would have major problems if the other bits moved, and they did! Nelson operated the coal delivery business for his father from the coal yard at the railway station. Nelson’s manhandling of the heavy sacks brought on pains and he had difficulty in maintaining the business. We have been told that Nelson sold part of his round to Alfred Davis in 1928 and when he finally gave up around 1935, the rest of the coal business was sold to Edward George Watts.
Having lost her first husband in the First World War, Ella lost two of her three sons in the Second World War. Flight Sergeant Francis William Burns was killed in the Middle East on 18th March 1942. He was on the R.A.F. Volunteer Reserve. Prior to the fighting, Francis (shown in the photo on the left) lived in Derby with his wife, Edna Maud and worked as a clerk for London Midland and Scottish Railways (LMS).
Flight Sergeant Mervyn Burns was killed in action on 11th August 1942. Prior to the War Mervyn had spent a short time as a police man in the Metropolitan Police Force. He joined them on 18th January and left on 24th October 1937.
The marriage of Mervyn to Isobel Rose Jones, the youngest daughter of Mr & Mrs George Jones of the Anchor Inn, Oldbury was reported in the Western Daily Press on 3rd May 1942. He had worked for Trayhurns the Thornbury butchers. He was also a member of the Home Guard and the Secretary of Thornbury A. F. C. The article on the history of that club says that the minute books were lost at Mervyn’s death.
Mervyn joined Bomber Command and was trained in Canada. We have been told that Mervyn was involved in the Battle of Britain and that he crashed near Dover when trying to get back to base. Mervyn was brought back to Thornbury for burial in Thornbury Cemetery on 17th August 1942. It is interesting to note that the burial record says that Mervyn died in Thornaby on Tees which is a long way from Dover. A website specialising in Yorkshire aircraft says that Mervyn was one of three flight crew killed when his aircraft crashed just after it had taken off from Thornaby airfield for a night flying exercise.
Isobel married Bernard Marden in 1948 and she died on 12 June 1997 aged 78 years.
Their other son, Walter, survived the war. The Gazette reported on 23rd January 1943 that Walter was a bomber pilot and had served in the Middle East where he had been awarded a D. F. M. The report adds that on leaving school Walter had turned down a position with London County Council to join the Royal Marines. He served with the Marines for about eight years, sailing on such ships as HMS Eagle, HMS Royal Oak and HMS Dorsetshire. At some time before the start of the War he was transferred to Singapore Naval Police, but soon after War commenced he applied to join the Royal Air Force and underwent his training in Canada.
Nelson and Ella were still living in Horseshoe Lane in the 1939 register which was created in preparation for the War. We don’t know when they moved. Nelson and Ella were shown to be living at The Malt House in 1942 when Francis died. We understand that Nelson moved there to ‘help Mr Judd’ and that the house in Morton was used to house child evacuees. Click here to read more about the evacuees
By 1946, the family had moved to 46 Castle Street. Nelson died there on 28th May 1947. His obituary shows that he had been a rent collector for Thornbury Rural District Council for a number of years. It said that in his younger days he had been a ‘clever footballer’ and prominent member of the local football team. Ella died in Almondsbury Hospital aged 61. She was buried in Thornbury Cemetery on 16th June 1953. In 1950 their daughter, Audrey had married Edward Blaszczyk, a Polish man who was living in Thornbury, and they carried on living at 46 Castle Street.’