This Appreciation of P. G. Hawkins & Sons, builders, decorators and ironmongers of Thornbury was written by Derrick Hawkins of Vancouver, B. C. in 1991. We are fortunate that a copy of this document was given to the Thornbury Museum by the Hawkins family.
(Note – the photos of James Hawkins, his wife, Sarah Ann and of Philip aged 13 are taken from faded photocopies of photos and we would love to have copies of the originals).
Philip George Hawkins (1870 – 1937) was the son of James (1842 – ?) and Sarah Ann (1842 – 1903). James moved to Rudgeway in 1873.
Philip started work in his father’s building business, but at the age of 19, due to differences of opinion (which is not unheard of between father and son) he moved to Thornbury and established his own building and decorating business.
(As a youngster I remember his story about walking across a field in the dark and stumbling over something on the footpath and running away, then realising that this was not ‘manly’ he returned to find that he had tripped over a donkey.)
He built his own hand-cart for transporting ladders and equipment, and son, Lyndon still has this preserved in his workshop. The business prospered and Philip acquired the builder’s premises owned by Burchell Brothers, which had been inoperative for 4 years. Competition from Pitchers & Tucker Bros builders and decorators was severe and Philip had to solicit work in Chipping Sodbury, Pilning, Filton etc. He also acted as local undertaker on occasions, making oak or elm coffins in the carpenters shop. The builder’s premises were behind Warwick House, St Mary Street and comprised a very big builder’s yard with walled garden behind it. Part of this is now occupied by the Safeway Supermarket.
Philip married Mabel Isaac (1879 – 1921) of Hall End Farm, Wickwar, Jan 12 1909, and they lived at Warwick House on St Mary Street. Here they had three sons, Leslie (1914 – 86), Lyndon (1916 – ) and Derrick (1919 – ). Sadly, Mabel died in 1921, leaving Phillip to raise the three boys with the assistance of his widowed sister, Mina, and a series of housekeepers. The last and longest of these was Edith Quarrel, a truly gentlewoman from Hereford, who continued to look after the boys until Leslie married in 1938.
Philip’s business prospered. Between 1920 and 1932 he built ten red brick cottages on Easton Hill Road which still stand proudly. In 1926 he built and opened a hardware store at the corner of St Mary Street and Silver Street, facing the Barrel Inn, in competition with two similar shops on The Plain. The building was demolished to make way for St Marys Way shopping centre.
In 1925 Philip acquired Severn View Farm (about 70 acres) as an investment and hobby farm. He claimed to have lost £1 per week on the farm for the 10 – 12 years he owned it. But, it was a great enjoyment and relaxation for him.
(I certainly enjoyed sucking new cider through a straw from the top of the barrel, which was stored at Warwick House).
The farm was sold shortly after his death, August 9th 1937 and is now largely built upon.
In 1929 Philip was low bidder for the construction of 16 brick Council houses at Rudgeway and a year later he won a contract to build 12 similar Council houses just north of Berkeley. Lyndon, and later Derrick, used to cycle the nine miles to pay the workmen by Saturday noon. They would then sometimes go otter hunting in Damery Creek, following the Wye Valley Otter Hounds.
On many occasions Philip worked until 2 am or later, preparing estimates for various projects, and was up again at 7 am to direct his employees for the day’s work. In 1932 he won a contract to build the ‘hospital’ at the Thornbury Infirmary.
(Both Lyndon and I still remember the 1½ “ – 2” pencil stub which he carried in his pocket at all times. In fact I find one in my own pocket, even today.)
For a few years before the World War 2 Philip G. Hawkins & sons carried out many improvements to the local farms, replacing knee-high muck with concrete yards, sheds, and modern stalls for milking-cows etc. Incidentally, Philip loved cattle himself and for a number of years, from about 1926, about 9 Hereford beef cattle wintered in the low NE corner of the builder’s yard, and in the adjacent shed.
Leslie and Lyndon joined their father’s business when they left school at the age of 16 and 19 (1930 and 1932 respectively) and they continued and expanded the business when Philip died in August 1937. Leslie then concentrated on the administration, commercial and the undertaking side of the business, while Lyndon looked after the building trades and direction of employees.
In 1936 Philip G. Hawkins & sons built a home at Olddown for Mr & Mrs Goss of Whiteladies Road, Bristol, and Lyndon introduced their daughter Joan to his friends. Leslie also had an appreciative eye and proposed to Joan. They were married in late 1939, and in due course were favoured with to daughters, Claire and Philippa, who now reside in Somerton and Newent restively. Leslie and Joan lived at ‘Warwick House’ and later at ‘Shen’ Gloucester Road. For some years during the war, Lyndon and ‘The Floyds’, friends from Bristol, stayed with Joan and Leslie, who also had periodic visits from Derrick, who had enlisted in the Territorial Army in September 1938.
Leslie was Parish Councillor, governor of the Grammar School and an active church warden of St Mary’s Parish for many years.
In the meantime, Lyndon had an eye on Kathleen Olive, an accomplished young lady whose father owned and operated the grocery and outfitting store in Olveston. Despite some initial paternal resistance, they were married August 19th 1942, and lived at Rudgeway in a yellow brick house which Philip had built in 1930. Here they adopted son John and daughter Rosemary, who now live and work at Westbury-on-Trym and Stow-on-the-Wold respectively. Later on, on July 1959 they moved to ‘Park House’ Thornbury and 19 years later to ‘Park Acres’. Ten years later they moved into their newly rebuilt ‘Coach House’ 12 High Street where they presently live.
Derrick served with the 224th & 227th Field Company (Bristol) Royal Engineers, West Midland Division from September 2nd 1939 in the UK and France as Sapper-Lance Sergeant. He was commissioned 25th April 1943 and served in Italy as 2nd Lt. Captain until he was demobilised in July 1946. He then held engineering positions in the London area before emigrating to British Columbia in August 1949 after qualifying as a Civil Engineer. In B.C. he specialised in municipal, sewerage and water works projects. He married Mabel Duggan, a native of Kampoops, B. C. on December 21st 1957 and they now have two children, Barbara Jane and Philip James.
But to return to the Hawkins business. After a few very difficult years, the Agricultural Committee of Gloucester County Council requested the form to produce truck-down trailers to transport farm tractors over paved roads. By dint of much hard work and searching for suitable components this became a flourishing business, serving Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire during the war. At one stage the business was producing six such trailers or trolleys per month.
After the war, the building supply business prospered under Lyndon’s direction and moved to Cooper Road in December 1976.
The hardware store, under Leslie’s direction, was relocated to 49 High Street in 1956 and prospered. Leslie also acted as the local undertaker for many years until that business was taken over by a Bristol firm in about 1976. During the period 1960 -62 the Oldbury Power Station was built. Since then the town has expanded rapidly and Severn View Farm has become a housing estate. Both developments afforded many good opportunities for growth of the business.
But the years take their toll.
In 1976 Leslie and Lyndon retired and sold the operating business to Mr Khan and Mr Crayston who now operate the hardware business only. Leslie and Joan moved from ‘Shen’ to Buckover and enjoyed semi-retirement until Joan’s death in 1977. Leslie visited Canada later that year and returned to marry Peggy Goodsell in 1978. Peggy had been a close and good friend of the family for many tears and remains so.
After retirement Lyndon busied himself with improvements and building at the ‘Park House’ property and he and Kathleen also visited Canada. More recently they have enjoyed touring various parts of the UK and Europe. Derrick and Mabel enjoy their home and harden in West Vancouver, British Columbia and have travelled to New Zealand, Mexico, Spain, Yugoslavia and Greece and of course, a number of visits to good old Thornbury! They also enjoy kayaking on the west coast of B. C. and hiking in the Coast Range mountains.
As author of the above, I must express my gratitude to Leslie for his notes and a copy of the family tree which he provided me with before his untimely death. Also, to Lyndon for reviewing and amplifying the final draft.