Author Archives: Bob_Hunter

Billy Hunter grows up

We have already seen how Billy Hunter was born to George and Dorothy Hunter in Sunderland on 5 June 1901.  He was baptised William Wilson in St Paul’s Church, Hendon, Sunderland on 20 June, William was a family name his Grandfather, Great Grandfather, 2 Greats Grandfather, and 3 Greats Grandfather had all been christened with that name, Wilson was his Grandmother’s maiden name.  Grandma Hunter was the matriarch of the family as was called “Mater” by all her children.

Billy was an only child for the first thirteen years of his life, when he was joined by his sister Dorothy on 9 October 1914. He attended Dame Allan’s School in Sunderland from the age of 14, and had a lucky escape as the 1st war ended just before he was due to be called up into the Army. Young Billy Hunter He was a member of the Schools Cadet Force however and won prizes for the quality and accuracy of his shooting.  In 1918 he joined his father in working for the ship building firm Swan Hunter as a Marine Engineering Apprentice. In 1920 he became an undergraduate at Newcastle and Armstrong College them a college of the University of Durham (and now the foundation of Newcastle University) studying for a BSc in Marine Engineering. On graduation he went to sea as the 4th Engineering Officer on the Ellerman & Bucknall Line ship SS Kathlamba, a tramp steamer with triple expansion reciprocating engines built in 1913. He served on trip on this ship which lasted for two years and which traversed the world!Kathlamba

Battle of Towton 29 March 1461

The bloodiest battle on English soil ever:

Palm Sunday, Lancastrian King Henry VI vs Yorkist King Edward IV:

Just to the east of Leeds in West Yorkshire is the small village of Towton.  This village sprang to fame on 29 March 1461 with what has been described as the bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil.

Lead up to the battle: Two rival Kings

Midway through one of the many English civil wars, the Wars of the Roses, the Lancastrian King Henry VI had been on the throne for 39 years.  Henry had succeeded his father Henry V (famous for his victories over the French at Agincourt and elsewhere) when he was aged only nine months old, unfortunately he grew up to be an ineffective ruler, was a peaceful and also frequently insane.  The ineffective rule lead to rival factions of the nobility squabbling amongst them selves two factions where that led by Richard of York  and Edmund Beaufort Duke of Somerset.  Both these magnates had claims to succession to the throne of the still childless King. In 1460 after the defeat of Somerset at the Battle of St Albans and of the King at the Battle of Northampton, parliament passed an “Act of Accord” which allowed Henry to remain King but made York Lord Protector and named York as Henry’s heir in preference to Henry’s infant son,

The Powerless and frightened King was forced to agree, however his queen, Margaret of Anjou, being of sterner stuff was not happy with the King’s and her son  being passed over.  She fled first to Wales and then to Scotland, rallying her supporters along the way.  (She was given support by Scottish Queen and Regent Mary of Guelders, in exchange for Berwick on Tweed).

York marched north to counter this threat and met with the Lancastrians at the Battle of Wakefield.  The Yorkist army was surrounded and destroyed, The Duke of York was killed along with his son Rutland and Salisbury’s son and son-in-law.  Salisbury was captured the next day and also killed.

The victorious Lancastrians marched south defeating the remains of the Yorkists under Warwick at the Second Battle of St Albans but failed to gain access to London.

The mantle of the York claim now fell on York’s eldest son Edward, Earl of March.  After winning a battle at Mortimer’s Cross on the welsh border, he marched to London and joined with the remnants of Warwick’s forces and was proclaimed King Edward IV.

There were now two rival “Kings” of England.

Towton Headwound

Skull from a victim of the Lancastrian massacre following their defeat at the Battle of Towton, showing sword slash across the front of the face.

The Yorkists now marched North to attempt to remove the Lancastrians from York.  After a skirmish as they crossed the River Aire at Ferrybridge, the Yorkists camped overnight at Sherburn-in-Elmet.  The Lancastrians Marched to Tadcaster and made camp there.

The Battle of Towton

Dawn broke the next day to dark clouds and strong winds and although it was Palm Sunday, the two armies prepared for battle. Contemporary sources claim the armies were huge, up to 200,000 in the Yorkist Army and even more in the Lancastrian though modern estimates put the combined figure at about 50,000.  Three quarters of the English peerage were present at the battle.

The Lancastrians under Somerset moved into a good position defending the route to York and with Towton Dale as a “defensive ditch” in front, and their flanks protected by marsh. The Yorkists were the smaller army and were still waiting for troops under Norfolk to arrive.  A critical point however was that the Lancastrian position did not allow them to take advantage of their superior numbers.  With superior numbers the Lancastrians were content to let the enemy come to them, so the opening move was made by the Yorkists.  Their bowmen took advantage of the strength of the wind which gave their arrows greater range, and unleashed both their own arrows and the salvaged arrows of their enemy into the thick of the Lancastrian force.  The Lancastrian’s only response could only be to abandon their well defended position and close with the Yorkists.  The Lancastrians with more and fresher men forces the Yorkists to gradually retreat up the slope.  Fighting continue for three hours, till Norfolk’s force arrived and attacked the Lancastrian left flank.  The Lancastrian line broke and men began fleeing for their lives.  The land to the north of the battle is still known as Bloody Meadow after the slaughter of the fleeing soldiers. Contemporary sources suggest between 28,000 and 38,000 casualties, a more realistic figure might be around 9,000.  However the Lancastrian nobility and power-base was destroyed with large numbers of their nobility killed (whilst the Yorkists only lost one noble in the battle)

The Mauretania

Mauretania trails

RMS Mauretania at speed on her Sea Trials – how she would like to be remembered.

By the start of the 20th century British dominance of the Atlantic Passenger Trade had been lost to Germany and America.  Cunard the British flag bearer in the trade had concentrated on smaller slower more efficient ships, but that policy was loosing out to competitors’ speed and luxury.  So it was in 1901 Cunard began discussing building two new fast steamers, they entered into an agreement with the British Government for a cheap loan in exchange for building the ships to be capable of conversion to warships in case of need.  Originally designed to be driven by reciprocating steam power, Charles Parsons who was on the Design Committee and was the inventor of the marine steam turbine persuaded the Admiralty and Cunard they should be turbine driven.  They were in fact the only ships of any size and speed to be driven by directly coupled turbines, future ships would have their screws driven by the turbines through reduction gearboxes, but these had not been developed sufficiently for these ships.  One of the ships the Lusitania would be built on the Clyde in Glasgow, however George Bernard Hunter of Swan Hunter was determined that his company would build the other on the Tyne.  To this end he drove through an amalgamation between his company Swan Hunter Ltd, Wigham Richardson and Co Ltd and Wallsend Slipway and Engineering Co. The new company which would be Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd was formed in February 1903.  George Albert Hunter the draughtsman moved into the new business rising gradually through the ranks of the Technical Staff forming at the same time a close friendship with Harry Bocler, the man who would be Technical Manager of the new firm.Mauretania Harry Bocler trails

 Harry Bocler was Godfather to George Albert’s son William Wilson (Billy) Hunter when he was born in June 1901.  Harry kept in touch and supported Billy throughout the rest of his life, I remember receiving regular Christmas and Birthday presents as one of Billy’s sons.

The Mauretania, as the Clyde ship was called, was officially ordered in May 1905 (which was long after work had started on the ship), was launched on 20 September 1906 and left the Tyne on her preliminary trials on 17 September 1907.  She finally left Liverpool on her maiden voyage to New York on 16 November 1907.  The Mauretania and her sister the Lusitania were unrivalled on the Atlantic run, with the Mauretania holding the “Blue Riband” for the fastest crossings in both directions for over 20 years.  In accordance with the Governments loan agreement the Mauretania was requisitioned by the Admiralty on the outbreak of WW1, and she saw service as a troop carrier and hospital ship during the Gallipoli campaign and finally she made seven trips across the Atlantic ferrying American Troops to Europe during 1918. (And after the war ended she ferried many thousands of these troops home again!)

Mauretania in dock Southampton 1928

Mauretania in dock at Southampton in 1928

Meanwhile George Albert’s career had prospered along with his favourite ship and he quickly became Chief Draughtsman with Swan Hunter.  He was rewarded for his services to the war effort in 1918 by being amongst those who were the first to be made Officers of the Order of the British Empire (the OBE).  He continued to work as Chief Draughtsman until he was forced into retirement through ill health aged 62 in 1934.  Coincidentally this was also the year that the Mauretania was retired from the Atlantic Run making her last run at an average speed of over 24 knots.  In July 1935 the Mauretania made a last nostalgic courtesy call on the Tyne on her way to the breakers yard at Rosyth on the Forth.  George Albert was there to meet her on the Tyne and to take his final photographs. He died on 5 March 1836 of Carcinoma of the rectum.

Mauretania 1

Mauretania’s Courtesy visit to Tyne on her way to be broken up

Mauretania 2

Rust streaking the sides of of the venerable Mauretania in 1935

George Albert Hunter and Late 19th Century shipbuilding

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Britain was the biggest ship building country in the world. Britain had gained the lead from the Americas around 1850 as the industry moved from wooden shipbuilding (in which the Americans excelled) to iron and steel.  The civil war in the US preoccupied them to the extent of allowing Britain build up a level of expertise, such that it is estimated that output per man was double in the UK compared to the US[i].  In 1900 the UK annual output was in the region of 1.5 million tons rising to nearly 2 million tons by 1913.

George Albert Hunter was in the thick of this supremacy. Leaving School aged 17 in 1889 he went to work as a Ship Draughtsman’s Apprentice at Sir James Laing & Sons Ltd, Deptford Shipyard on the River Wear in Sunderland.  In 1894 and following this apprenticeship he moved to Harland and Wolff in Belfast Ireland.  This company was a successful ship designer and builder that had introduced a number of innovations including the iron upper deck (and which would later, in 1912, become famous for building the Titanic).  This gave him some valuable experience but was not apparently a very happy time for him, he missed his close knit family back on the Wear.  Though I remember the shillelagh he brought back with him still hanging in the hall when I was young.ShillelaghClub

On his return to England in 1898, he lived near his family in Sunderland but went to work for C. S. Swan & Hunter on the Tyne as a draughtsman. He was sufficiently settled there that on 6 August 1900 he married Dorothy Ann the eldest daughter of John Small a butcher inj Sunderland.  They lived for a while in Greta Terrace in Bishopwearmouth , Sunderland, long enough in fact for their son William Wilson (Billy) to be born there in June 1901.  Shortly after that they moved to be closer to his work and lived in Heaton on Tyne.

[i] ‘British and World Shipbuilding’, Journal of Economic History, No 3, 1957, p.438

Postcard from home

ScanImage6027aWilliam Wilson (Billy) Hunter was born on 5 June 1901 in Bishopwearmoth, Co Durham to George Albert Hunter and Dorothy Ann Small.  George and Dot were both natives of Sunderland and had married the previous August shortly after George had taken a job with Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson in Newcastle upon Tyne as a Navel Architect and Draughtsman.  Shortly after Billy was born they moved to Heaton on Tyne to be closer to George’s work.  Both the Hunter and Small Families were large and close, George had six siblings still alive and Dorothy eight siblings and step siblings.  Two of the closest were William Hunter and Ethel DixonSmall who themselves married in July 1903.

Billy frequently told the story of how he was shared between the two couples until William and Ethel started their own family in 1906.  This is supported by a postcard that has survived the hundred and ten years since then:




George Thomas travels to South Africa in January 1820

In December 1819 the Vicar of Hemyock in Devon wrote to the Prime Minister:

Parsonage, Hemyock, Devon, Nr Wellington

 16th December 1819

 My Lord,

Should the subject I am about to mention not come under your Lordship’s cir*****ference I have to apologise for intruding on your time, but this Parish is at present so burdened with poor that any addition is of course a matter of moment. James THOMAS, a Greenwich Pensioner, has I am informed ingaged to sail with George SOUTHEY of the Parish of Wellington, Somerset to the Cape of Good Hope and has left a wife and five young children chargeable to this Parish. I should therefore feel obliged by your Lordship’s informing me if steps cannot be taken to prevent him leaving England. Again allow me to apologise for intruding on your Lordship’s time and I have the honour to remain my Lord

 Your Lordship’s obt hbl svt

 Walter King COKER, Minister of Hemyock

CO48/42 at The National Archives, Kew, London

The matter must have been satisfactorily resolved, because James, his wife Mary (Lasky) and children Eliza, Jane, Humphrey, Ann, Isaiah and Arabella sailed with George Southey on the Kennersley Castle from Bristol on 10 Jan 1820 for South Africa.

 There was an outbreak of Measles on the ship during the journey and at least seventeen of the children on the ship died, including Ann Thomas aged 4.

James Thomas, who was Great Great-uncle to Eva Hunter, and his wife went on to have four more children in South Africa, before James was killed in a native African uprising in 1829.

George Southey, who led this party to South Africa, was a cousin to Robert Southey the Romantic Poet. Around about the same time as the journey to South Africa was taking place Robert wrote the poem “His Books” which I quote in part below, it expresses my view of genealogy.Blog 4d2

War time in Bristol

Eva & Billy outside Clarence Street Baptist Chapel on 6 July 1940

Eva & Billy outside Clarence Street Baptist Chapel on 6 July 1940

In fact Billy had to move to Bristol before they married and it may have been this separation, and the threat that it might be permanent following invasion which precipitated the event. In any event his place of abode on the marriage certificate is Woodstock Road, Bristol. After marriage they settled into a rented house in Russell Road, Westbury Park, Bristol. This part of Bristol was on the flight path of bombers leaving the Bristol area, having dropped their load over the Docks area of the city. They did suffer the occasional stray bomb load, they told stories after the war of extinguishing incendiaries in a bucket of water they kept for the purpose at the front door. Eva also spoke of the occasion she was helping a neighbour who was in bed injured in the dark, because the windows had been blown out and lights were not allowed in the blackout. She rested her tray of bandaged and equipment on what she thought was the bedside table and did what she could for the lady, in the morning she discovered that what she had thought to be the bedside table was in fact the chimney stack which had fallen through the roof narrowly missing the bed. Eventually after at least one narrow escape of a bomb landing outside the front door and failing to explode, their house suffered sufficient bomb damage that they were forced to move. I still have a wooden boxed Music Box that shows the damage received from splinters brick “shrapnel” at this time. They didn’t move far, just a two minute walk away to Howard Road. They spent the rest of the way in this house.

Twins aged 5 months on the ground with their cousin Susan Bradburn also 5 months and their Grandmother Dorothy (Small) Hunter.

Twins aged 5 months on the ground with their cousin Susan Bradburn also 5 months and their Grandmother Dorothy (Small) Hunter.

My father told the story of being on the allotment garden one early October evening and hiding his head in a bucket as a bomber flew overhead strafing anything that moved. Even he wondered afterwards what good the bucket would do! But when he arrived home it was to find Eva in labour for my twin brothers. They were several weeks premature and it was, apparently, touch and go for the two babies, with the midwife advising that the parents concentrate on ensuring that just one survived. However they and the grandparents persevered and within a short time both were thriving. Before the war ended Eva was to suffer the miscarriage of a daughter who was again due to be born at home but was presented breach.

Life might have been pretty austere during the war, but it wasn’t all bad, they liked telling the story of their first Christmas together, when their celebratory meal was a stuffed Vegetable Marrow, or their shared trip on a coastal steamer when it was taken out for a trial after repairs to its war damage and the Captain suggesting they fish with rod & line over the stern, and him making sure they caught a salmon, by way of saying thanks to Billy).

Victory fancy dress parade on the streets of Westbury Park, Bristol.  Billy dressed in a patchwork dressing gown and wearing a fez is leading his twin sons Christopher on his right, Paul on his left

Victory fancy dress parade on the streets of Westbury Park, Bristol. Billy dressed in a patchwork dressing gown and wearing a fez is leading his twin sons Christopher on his right, Paul on his left

It was also at this time that they took their first holiday in Porlock a small village down the Somerset coast. Billy had had to visit the village to inspect a vessel that had beached there after enemy action, and arranged then to come back for a holiday with the family. But more on Porlock in another blog.

The War in Europe ended on 8 May 1945 to the sound of street parades and parties, which the twins Paul and Christopher and their father joined with enthusiasm! Eva did not join the parade, by this time she was expecting her fourth child.

Billy & Eva get married

Billy Hunter in the uniform of a Merchant Navy Engineering Officer (the cap badge is of the Port Line Ltd)

Billy Hunter in the uniform of a Merchant Navy Engineering Officer (the cap badge is of the Port Line Ltd)

As the “Hitler War”, as he liked to call it, started William Wilson (Billy) Hunter was working for the Board Of Trade as a Marine Engineering Surveyor.  As the government transformed itself to a war footing he was transferred to the Department for War Transport and asked to move to Falmouth in Cornwall. Falmouth was an important port for the repair of Convoy casualties with rarely fewer than 100 ships in Carrick Roads and Falmouth Bay.

Meanwhile Eva May Morrish was working as a midwife and nurse in the same locality, based with her parents in Penzance.

Eva, working as a nurse in Falmouth

Eva, working as a nurse in Falmouth

The pair of them were fairly keen church goers and a mutual friend in the church introduced them, and the rest as they say is history.

There was a real fear of imminent invasion in the early part of 1940 (the British Army had been evacuated from France at Dunkirk at the end of May) and many thought that the best strategy for their individual safety was to get married as soon as possible, so that the German invaders would keep them together. The result was a spate of weddings.

Eva and Billy married on 6 July 1940 at the Clarence Street Baptist Chapel in Penzance. Billy’s sister, Dorothy, married Rex Bradburn on 26 July in Liverpool and Eva’s sister Flossie married her cousin Dennis Sellars soon after that.

Shortly after their marriage Billy was promoted and transferred to the regional office in Bristol.


Hi, I’m Bob Hunter, currently livingme5 in Yorkshire, England, with an interest in English history and the impact it has had on my family.  My family originates from North East England (County Durham and Northumberland) and the South West (Somerset, Devon and Cornwall).

I will, I hope, be blogging on at least a weekly time frame, discussing individuals from my family’s past and local and national history as it impacted on them.

I welcome feedback and comments, particularly where you think I have made errors of fact and emphasis.