The Children of Oliver Higgins

Children of Oliver Higgins2018-08-26T15:46:11+00:00

There were five  children of Oliver Higgins who was a blacksmith in Pullins Green and a staunch family man.

Claude, Nelson & Harold Higgins

He and his first wife Mary Ann (nee King) had four children: Edith Blanche born about 1887, Claude Wilfred born on 21st February 1893, Harold Oliver born on 30th January 1895, and Nelson Spencer born about 1896.  The photograph above shows Claude, Nelson and Harold.  On 14th August 1917 Oliver had another daughter, Joan Dorothy by his marriage to Emily Winifred Champion when Oliver was 54 years old.  Read more about Oliver Higgins

The three boys fought in the army during the First World War, the eldest, Claude, was a casualty, and the youngest, Nelson, came back with shrapnel still in his body.

Please click here to see an album of photographs of the Higgins family

Edith Blanche Higgins. We know from the Ancestry website’s records of registration of deaths that she was born on 30th April 1887.  She continued to live in Thornbury until at least 1911 and presumably until her mother’s death in 1916.  She died in Bournemouth on 19th September 1977 at Florence Road.

Claude Higgins  – We know that Claude was moved on from the Council School and admitted to the Grammar School on 1st January 1905.  He received an ‘Attwells Scholarship’ ensuring that his parents were exempt from having to pay the school fees for three years.  Claude left school on 18th December 1908 to become a junior draughtsman at the Bristol Waggon Works.  The 1911 census shows he was working as an improver draughtsman.  Harold also moved from the Council School and he was admitted to the Grammar School on 21st September 1908.  He received a total exemption of fees for 4 years from the Governors.  He left school on 28th July 1911 when he was at the end of the 4th Form.  He became a bookkeeper for his father.

We are grateful to Keith Sampson, a volunteer at the Imperial War Museum for the following details of Claude’s service in the First World War.

On 28th August 1914 Claude enlisted in Bristol in the Royal Army Medical Corps.  He was promoted to Corporal on 20th February 1915.

There is a little report in the South Gloucestershire Chronicle dated 26th February 1915 which shows that Sergeant Claude Higgins was selected to represent the Aldershot Command at football.  It said that he was a member of the R.A.M.C. and that he had played for the Thornbury Grammar School Old Boys in 1914 and had several matches for Bristol Rover Reserves.  A week later the newspaper reported that Claude played well as centre forward and scored Aldershot command’s only goal.

On 25th August 1915 Claude embarked at Folkestone and landed in Boulogne, France with 23rd Division which concentrate near Tilques.  (This had the 69th, 70th and 71st Field Ambulances with it)

On 20th  October 1915 he returned to England for Officer training.   On November 8th he was appointed Temporary 2nd Lieutenant of 10th Battalion, North Staffordshire Regiment, which was then a training base.

We understand that on completion of his training he served with the North Staffordshire Regiment in Karachi.

On 29th March  1917 he disembarked at Basra, Mesopotamia.  Sadly on 25th April 1917 he drowned in River Tigris at ‘Scindiyah’ in Mesopotamia  with his friend 2nd Lieutenant F. Harrison.  We believe that what we have been told was ‘Scindiyah’ was actually Sannaiyat which had been recaptured by the British troops only a few weeks before in February 1917.

There is a poignant account of what happened to Claude in the local newspaper.  The article has a letter dated 27th April 1917 written by a fellow officer, J.L. Craig.  The letter describes how Claude, a Second Lieutenant, was posted to Mesopotamia and was camped there while waiting to join the North Staffordshire Regiment.  He went down to the river Tigris one afternoon (25th April) with a friend Frank Harrison and another officer, Mr Kirby.  Frank went into the river first and Mr Kirby saw him suddenly throw up his hands.  Next thing, Claude and Frank were both struggling in the water.  Both boys were unable to swim.  It appears that Claude had gone in to try and save his friend.  Both men were swept away by the strong current and never seen again.

On 26th April 1917 a Court of Enquiry found that ‘the river was particularly strong and deceptive in this part and that all was done that could have been to help them and no blame lay with anyone else’.

Wedding of Claude & Rhoda Higgins in WWI

It was particularly tragic because Claude had only married in 1916.  We have a photograph on the left of his wedding to Rhoda Revers at Elmley Castle near Evesham in the September quarter of 1916.  His brother Harold is on the left and Edith Higgins, his sister, is seated in front of him. Click on the photograph to see a larger version.

Nelson Higgins – Nelson also went off to fight in the First World War.  He came back with shrapnel in his body.  It was Nelson who operated the coal delivery business for his father from the coal yard at the ra ilway station.

Nelson lived in The Cottage a detached house on the junction of Gillingstool Hill with Horse Shoe Lane.  After the First World War, Nelson married Ella Lilian Burns. Ella was a widow and her husband, William Burns, had been killed in the First World War.  She had three sons from her first marriage, and two of these, Francis and Mervyn, were to be killed in fighting during the Second World War.  Click here to read about the Burns family and Nelson’s later life  

Nelson’s manhandling of the heavy sacks brought on pains which eventually led to his retirement and closing of the business.

Harold Oliver Higgins

Harold Oliver Higgins

Of his other children, Edith became a nurse, Harold (shown here on the right) worked as a signalman on the railways and he died in September 1980 aged 85 years.

Joan (shown on the left below) became a teacher.  Joan was the last survivor of Oliver’s children.  Apart from a short time away at College, she lived on the Green for most of her long life and had a very good memory of the people who lived around her.  We are grateful to her for sharing some of those memories with us.  Miss Higgins kindly donated many photographs and other material to the Thornbury Museum which have been used to make a display about the trade of blacksmith in general and Oliver Higgins in particular.

Joan belonged to a religious group known locally as the Black Stockings or Church without a Name.  A website which explains the group tells us that “members dress plainly, with little jewellery and no makeup.  Many women do not cut their hair, but wear it collected in buns at the back of their head.  They typically wear dresses.”  One need look no further for a description of Miss Higgins.

Joan Higgins at ForgeJoan observed the Sabbath very strictly.  In 1984 when she agreed that Dick Shipp could rent her workshops for storage of car accessories she stipulated that no one should use or enter that part of the building at any time on a Sunday.

The group meet in houses rather than churches and Joan’s home was a regular venue.  Their beliefs are based on the King James bible.  Their meetings are very simple with an unaccompanied hymn, no sermon and only extemporised prayers from the individual members.  The prayers must never refer to personal problems, material needs or current events.  This attitude was reflected in Joan’s house which was simply furnished and as far as we know lacked a radio or television. Her funeral was equally plain and unadorned.  Although it was led by an elder of the group who must have known Joan very well indeed there were few if any references to her or her life in the simple service.

In addition to 13 Pullins Green and the various pieces of land which inherited from her parents, Joan also acquired other properties.  In 1958 she was conveyed a large part of Field number 222 at Alveston.  Her uncle, William Charles Champion had acquired the whole field and used the land fronting the A38 to build a series of houses (those running from the junction with Forty Acre Lane (opposite St Helens Church) towards the Masons Arms.  On William’s death in 1954, the remaining property had been transferred to William’s sister, Elizabeth Maud and then in 1958 to her niece, Joan Higgins.

In 1959 Joan bought 15 Pullins Green, the house which had been the home of her mother’s family, the Champions.  Joan paid £787 10s to the Trustees of George Hodges for the property.  In April 1978 Joan bought 15 St John Street.  She paid Mrs E. Fox £9250 for the property and arranged for the building a two story extension and the conversion of the house into two maisonettes which she let out.  Joan also acquired 13 St John Street, but we don’t know when this happened.  She told us she bought it from Jack Hodges.  Joan died in March 2008 aged 90 years.

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