The above photograph shows the row of houses now called 13 to 31 Gloucester Road in Thornbury. The house known as 25 Gloucester Road was once called Devonia. We assume the name was derived from the home county of the first family to occupy the house, the Rableys. Number 25 was the house on the extreme right of the photograph.
Planning permission for the house that became Devonia at 25 Gloucester Road in Thornbury, the terraced house on the extreme right edge of this photograph, was submitted in 1920 by the brothers William Valentine and Charley Davis. We are uncertain when the house was actually built. However we do know that it was occupied by the time of the 1925 Valuation List and 1925 Electoral Register. Please note we have photographs of the Davis family on our family album page
In the case of this house we have very little information about the occupants, apart from William George Rabley and his wife who lived there for almost fifty years. We would very much like to hear more about the property and the families associated with it.
William George and Florence Mabel Rabley. We are not sure of their address in Thornbury up to 1925 when William and Florence Rabley first appeared in the Electoral Rolls for 25 Gloucester Road. However the 1921 Electoral Roll indicates that it was probably in Silver Street.
William George Rabley was born in Great Torrington, Devon on 5th July 1890. He was the son of a police constable William Albert Rabley and his wife Fanny. The census of 1911 shows him living with his family in Lympstone in Devon and working as a certificated teacher. He trained at St Mark’s Training College in Chelsea. He was an assistant master at Thornbury Grammar School from 1911. His war record seems to suggest that he served with the Duke of Cambridge’s own (later the Middlesex) Regiment from 1914 to 1919.
He married Florence M Willsman in St Thomas area of Devon in the December quarter of 1919. The 1901 census shows that Florence also lived in Lympstone in Devon and that she was the daughter of a coachman Thomas Willsman and his wife Jessie. She was born on 19th July 1886.
“Bill ” Rabley, as he was generally known, was registered as a teacher on 1st September 1920. We understand that Florence Rabley also taught at Thornbury Grammar School for a time.
In addition to his schoolwork he was also very involved in other aspects of Thornbury life. He was President of Thornbury Tennis Club which he captained for 21 years, and Vice-President and Treasurer of Thornbury Cricket Club. He was a prominent Freemason and held the rank of inspector in the Gloucestershire Special Constabulary.
Bill also found time to be a Parish Councillor, Chairman of the Thornbury Scouts Association and Secretary of the Parochial Church Council and shortly before his death he became a Governor of the Grammar School.
When he came to leave the school in 1951 after forty years an entry in the Thornburian Magazine shows the deep affection in which both Mr and Mrs Rabley were held.
“MR. W. G. RABLEY It is a sad thing to bid farewell to Mr. Rabley. Some of us remember him when his hair was red and his sportsmanship more vigorous. Certainly no red-head was ever blessed with a more even temper, and no all-round sportsman of his calibre was ever more patient with the eager but unhandy learner. Hundreds of pupils have gained skill and confidence from his understanding advice, as well on the playing field as in the wood-work department and the class-room. He has always had his own happy methods of obtaining results and of maintaining discipline, and not the least of these has been the example he has set by his own high personal standards of workmanship. When Mr. Rabley married in 1919 he brought a new friend to the school in Mrs. Rabley, who has always taken the warmest interest in our doings, and whose kind hospitality so many of the staff have enjoyed. Both of them are well known in Thornbury for their public-spirited activities in local affairs, and we are proud of the esteem in which they are held throughout the neighbourhood. As Senior Master, Mr. Rabley has accumulated an amazing number of responsibilities, small and great, and he discharges them all so faithfully and unobtrusively that perhaps not everyone realises, at first, how much he contributes to the well-being of the School. All sorts of carpentry are his special care. He understands also the locks, the clocks, the lighting and heating; he keeps a check on National Savings, on bicycles, and on seating accommodation, and yearly provides us with that ingenious and intricate daily itinerary known as the time-table. With it all, he rarely seems hurried or worried; he is never too busy.”
Bill Rabley retired in 1951. He was elected to the Board of Governors and continued his close relationship with the school.
The couple were still living in Gloucester Road when Bill Rabley died in Thornbury on 17th August 1955. He was buried in the cemetery at Thornbury. The footpath alongside the school was called Rabley Road after him.
His colleague and friend, Bath Stafford Morse wrote a particularly affectionate portrait of Bill Rabley in the Thornburian of 1951 which would have made a suitable obituary
“I have known Bill Rabley for nearly thirty years, and I hope I may say we have been friends throughout that fairly long period. I shall always remember his many acts of kindness to me. I feel that if you want to know what kind of person he is, you should watch his tennis. His game is not spectacular—though there are occasional flashes of splendour!—but it is solid and safe and achieves the desired result—usually a win! In the early twenties, when he was captain of the tennis club at Lower Marlwood. His tact, good humour, and common sense made of the rather heterogeneous lot of players a happy family. where jealousy never came to the surface: the stars were not temperamental and even the rabbits were content. For twenty-five years we worked together without a cross word at that dangerous trade of giving children ideas, which is called teaching: the staff-room had no quarrels, the school atmosphere was serene, and I am quite certain that T.G.S. would have been a different place and far less the excellent institution it is but for W.G.R.’s quiet, kindly, unobtrusive forty years there.”
We have a record of the Rabley Field Prize being awarded in 1959, but we do not know how long this practice continued.
After her husband’s death Florence lived in the house until at least 1970. Florence Rabley was buried at St Helen’s Church in Alveston in 1976.
Leila Beale. The Electoral Roll for 1975 shows that the occupant of this house was Leila Beale. Miss Beale was another teacher at Thornbury Grammar School where she was Head of History there and later at Marlwood School. In 1967 The Thornburian magazine announced “We welcome in their place Miss Beale who comes to us from Merrywood Girls G.S. to be Head of History.”
Leila may have been born in the Southampton District in 1935. In 1991, after her retirement from Marlwood, she became Secretary to the Severnside Support Group for St Peter’s Hospice.
We would like to know more about the more recent occupants of the house.