Captain Herbert Wootton M.B.E. - advocate for Fletton
Updated: Feb 2
As new industries were attracted to Fletton, at the turn of the twentieth century, new housing was required for the workers. One man was instrumental in this development and his colleagues ‘perpetuated his name by giving it to one of the principal new streets’. The name of that street was Wootton Avenue and the name of the man who was ‘a great believer in the future of Fletton’ was Herbert Wootton.
But who was Herbert Wootton? And what did he do for Fletton?
The Early Years
Herbert Wootton was born in 1876, in Eye Green, Peterborough. He was one of five children born to William Wootton and Mary Jane. William was a coal agent, and he moved his family to Eye Green, from Holme-next-Sea, Norfolk, following the baptism of their eldest daughter Edith, on 9th December 1866.
Whatever attractions Eye Green held when the family first moved there, were overshadowed by the opportunities that Peterborough had to offer. Peterborough was a railway town and as a coal agent William would have found abundant business in the sidings. The family established their home at Laurel Terrace, Hankey Street amongst railway workers and other tradesmen. Herbert and his brothers, William, James and George were separated by only six years and no doubt kept their mother busy with scraped knees and torn elbows.
Unfortunately, the carefree days of Herbert’s youth were brought to an abrupt end when he was just 8. His father, William, died in America in 1884.
At just 37 Mary was left a widow. But she was determined, and the family pulled together. Daughter Edith was a nursery governess, and Mary found all her sons apprenticeships: William was an apprentice house decorator and polisher, James an apprentice newspaper printer, George an apprentice draper and Herbert an apprentice painter and house decorator.
Unfortunately, this happy family unit was not destined to last.
Brothers James Ernest and George died within a few months of one another in 1893. James Ernest was 20 years of age and George was 17. James died in Peterborough. But George had moved to London for work and was buried in an unmarked communal grave on the 11th July 1893. The family were grief stricken and remembered the brothers with a memorial in the Broadway cemetery.
Although difficult the family were able to celebrate a joyous occasion when, in 1894, Edith married George William Bloodworth. George was a stonemason and by necessity had to move to gain employment. Although their first born, Gordon William, was born in Peterborough, their middle child Grace Edith was born in Fletham, Middlesex and their youngest Frank Leslie was born in Macclesfield, Cheshire.
Mary was able to find consolation and even happiness again when she married carpenter Johnathan Rosling, in 1895. They moved just a short distance, to Gladstone Street, and it was here that the couple saw out their lives together. They both died in 1919 and were laid to rest, close to Johnathan’s daughter, in Broadway cemetery. (13) The family remained close and both Herbert, William and son-in-law George Bloodworth were named in Johnathan’s probate.
The London Brick Company and Public Office
Herbert was also making his way in the world. Leaving painting and decorating behind he gained employment at the London Brick Company as brickyard foreman. As the new century dawned, he married May Lilian Adams at the Wesleyan Chapel in Wentworth Street, Peterborough. May was the eldest daughter of Adam Adams, the manager of J. C. Hill’s London Brick Company, and Kate Adams. As they departed for their honeymoon, in the north of England, Herbert had little idea that with this union his great involvement with Fletton was cemented. And it is not an underestimation to say that not only had he married May, but he had also married into the Fletton brickmaking industry.
The ten years between 1901 and 1911, was a settled time for Herbert and May. Their first marital home was Elsmere Lodge on London Road, Fletton. On one side, at St. Michaels House, their neighbours were May’s parents, Adam and Kate Adams, with her younger siblings. On the other side, at Wingates, their neighbour was Edward Dickinson, brickyard manager, and his wife Annie. Just a few doors away was the residence of Robert Hill, J. C. Hill’s father and at this time John was a regular visitor to Fletton. At just 25 Herbert was living amongst influential, innovative, and politically active men. To gain business acumen and community consciousness he just had to watch and learn.
As the decade progressed Herbert was gaining experience in all facets of the brickmaking operation. He was now a commercial salesman travelling throughout the Midlands selling the Fletton brick. This change in occupation meant Herbert would often be away from home. An absence that May probably did not feel so keenly, with her mother close by, as they welcomed their three sons into the world. In 1903 the first of their sons, Herbert was born. He was closely followed in 1906 by John Adam and in 1910 Phillip arrived.
One constant in the household was a young 17 year old boarder, Christopher John Young. Christopher was an engineer but as time progressed, he also took on the responsibilities of brickyard foreman. As we shall see Christopher continued to play a pivotal role in Herbert and May’s life.
During this time Herbert took an increasing interest and role in local affairs in Fletton. At just 23 years of age, he was elected to the Old Fletton Parish Council. It has been suggested that J. C. Hill encouraged his men to take such offices to further his own purpose. Whether that was the case or not Herbert proved to be a popular member. In 1902 he was elected Chairman and duly became a J. P., magistrate. His popularity appears to have been widespread as in 1909 he was elected as Poor Law Guardian in Woodston, and in 1911 was elected by Stanground South as their representative on the County Council. Once again, he ensured that the needs of the industrial part of the county remained uppermost in official’s eyes when he became a representative for the Huntingdonshire District Council.
The Hunts Cyclists
Not content with these local commitments, in 1904, Herbert joined the Hunts. Volunteer Battalion and served as a sergeant. The County Territorial Association elected him as an officer commanding the National Reserves. With the outbreak of war, he was instructed to take 20 men and non-commissioned officers to Huntingdon, where they were engaged in arranging and caring for the transit of horses.
Lord Sandwich offered Herbert a commission in the Cyclist Battalion and as Lieutenant he spent time on the Yorkshire coast. Herbert and Capt. Musk were also tasked with raising a Reserve Battalion and within only a few weeks five hundred men had been recruited. It is perhaps testament to Herbert’s popularity that 60 of these men came from Fletton. Perhaps due to the success of this recruitment Herbert was promoted to Captain and Adjutant of the Battalion.
Herbert received an acknowledgement for the contribution he made during the Great War, when he was named in the King’s Birthday Honours for 1919 for ‘valuable services in connection with the war’.
But perhaps his greatest acknowledgement was when, on Saturday 29th July 1922, the Fletton, Stanground and Woodston Memorial Hall and ex-Servicemen’s club was inaugurated. A tribute to all those who had fought in the Great War.
Perhaps it was due to Herbert being away on the Yorkshire coast, with the Hunts Cyclists, that the family decided to take a house in Ruswarp Lane, Whitby during the Great War. As the eldest, Herbert Jnr attended the County school. For the younger boys, John and Phillip, Whitby was a paradise to be explored. There were beaches, alleyways, abbey ruins and tales of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, published only twenty years earlier, to excite a boy’s imagination.
On the morning of Tuesday 12th March 1918, a tragedy unfolded at Ruswarp Lane. Twelve year old John was discovered hanging by a peg in the door of the locked lavatory at Ruswarp. The coroner’s report retold the horrendous details.
‘A small towel was round his neck and was quite loose —it was tied with a reef knot. A leather strap had been passed through a noose formed by the towel, and another strap was wound thrice round the body, but was not connected with the other strap. The upper strap had been passed over a hook on the door of the lavatory. It was thought that the boy must have fallen forward, and, unable to regain his balance, had died of strangulation. The boy’s feet were on the ground, and if he had not fallen forward, he easily could have removed the strap from the hook.’
The coroner went on to report that the boy was quite ‘happy and cheerful’ but as a boy ‘of an inventive mind, always up to larks’. The coroner extended his heartfelt sympathy to the parents and suggested that the unfortunate incident was a ‘prank, which, unfortunately, ended fatally’.
As we know this was not the first tragic loss of life that Herbert had experienced. But the loss of their second eldest son must have been a torturous blow for Herbert and May.
The period after the Great War was a time of change for the brick industry around Fletton. The Addison’s Housing Act of 1919 encouraged housebuilding by paying builders a subsidy for each house built. This stimulated the need for bricks and set the brickyards in full production again. But amalgamations were also in progress. In the post war years four groups of brickyards remained: B. J. Forder and Son Ltd, L. B. C., Northam Brick Companies and nine independent companies. J. C. Hill had passed away in 1915 and his son John Edgar Hill was now director.
It was in this climate that Herbert and May decided to make significant changes in their family’s lives.
Herbert moved brickyard and began manufacturing bricks at Beebys, south of Fletton near Yaxley. At this time Beebys was still an independent yard and perhaps this is what attracted Herbert. As part of his new role, he was travelling again. But rather than the Midlands this time he was visiting Bombay in India.
Both their sons, Herbert and Phillip, were away in Whitby at university and school. (18) Herbert was a farm pupil receiving training in agriculture and Phillip was at the County school. They were at the family’s new house, Fairfield, on Ladysmith Avenue under the care of a trusted servant Lizzie Pepper.
Herbert and May decided to move the family from Ellesmere Lodge to Norman Cross, which was far more convenient for Herbert’s work. While they waited for the move they stayed with Herbert’s sister Edith, and her family, at 1 St. Margaret’s Road, Old Fletton.
When Edith’s family had first moved to Old Fletton, from Macclesfield, they had lived at 136 High Street. Life as a stonemason had not provided for William as he wanted, and perhaps Herbert had shared with his brother-in-law the opportunities that abounded in Fletton. In any event he had taken employment as a brickworks clerk and son Gordon was employed as a junior clerk. By the time Herbert and May stayed with Edith, William had become a haulage contractor, Frank was a brickworks clerk at United Brick Company Limited and engineer fitter son-in-law, Gurney, was employed at Peter Brotherhood.
Welfare and Community
One of Herbert’s prime concerns was to improve the lives and health of his fellow citizen. But this concern did not just extend to Fletton, he was eager to join and support any institution that shared his aim.
Herbert was active in the Wesleyan church. He was secretary of the London Road Wesleyan Guild in Fletton and also Education Secretary of the Peterborough Wesleyan Circuit. At a meeting he attended at the Huntingdon Wesleyan Church in 1914, some 250 men signed the pledge. Perhaps as a response to this he established the Hunts. Cyclist Battalion Temperance Society.
During the Great War it was realised that the health and physical condition of the nation was rather lacking. A solution for this would need to start even before a child was born by caring for both the expectant mother and the baby. In 1914 the infantile death rate for Fletton was one of the highest in the country at 140 per 1,000. A group of Fletton women, led by Agnes Loomes, intended to change this. They established the Infant Welfare and Mothercraft Centre in Fletton. The group operated from the front rooms of volunteers houses but this was not a satisfactory arrangement. What they needed was a purpose built establishment.
As Chairman of the Fletton Nursing Association Herbert was well aware of the need. Agnes, a fellow J. P., and Herbert led a deputation to the Huntingdon District Council which failed to gain any sympathy for their cause. They then petitioned the Ministry and were promised £400 if it could be repaid. Herbert started the ball rolling by donating land, next to Ellesmere, and £100 for the construction of a purpose designed building, which was opened in 1926. The Welfare clinic was a resounding success, and the figures speak for themselves. In 1919 the infantile death rate for Fletton was 75 per 1,000. Less than the average for England and Wales which was 89.
Herbert also took an active interest in the youths of the area and was involved in the Norman Cross Association of Boy Scouts. He was Vice-President of the Midlands Football League, President of the Peterborough and Fletton United football Club and was also their representative in the Northant’s League.
But Herbert’s endeavours were supported by a firm belief in justice and education. It was his perseverance that resulted in Fletton having its own courthouse. Despite the Great War substantially delaying this scheme it eventually came to fruition on January 31st, 1930, when the court sat for the first time. He likewise fought for the establishment of an elementary school in Woodston for which, along with Fletton elementary school, he was manager. He was also a governor for the Fletton secondary school.
Tragedy Bravely Borne
On the 15th May 1925, just five years after their son, John, tragically died in Whitby, May Lilian Wootton also died at Woodcroft, Mayfield Road, Whitby.
May had only celebrated her 44th birthday the day before her death and had been preparing to celebrate their twenty fifth wedding anniversary. A celebration of the ‘romantic circumstances’ of their meeting.
May did not live to see either of her sons, Herbert or Phillip marry. But, unlike her husband Herbert, she was also spared the agony of losing another son, as Herbert Jnr succumbed to pneumonia following an operation.
‘Taken in the very prime of life’
Although Herbert Jnr trained in agriculture his destiny lay with his father at the Beeby’s Brickworks. After Beebys amalgamated with the London Brick Company and Forders Ltd in 1928 Herbert was appointed works manager of three of the yards. Even though he held this position for only a short while he showed all the flair for the brick industry that both his father, Capt. Herbert Wootton, and grandfather, Adam Adams, had before him.
Herbert Jnr was a keen sportsman and was Vice-President of the new Peterborough and London Brick Company Sports Clubs. Like his father before him he also took an interest in the community and was the Group Scoutmaster of the Beeby’s Troup.
On the 21st June 1930 Herbert married a talented musician and Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music, Eileen Olive Woolfe, at St. Martins-in-the-Fields, London, where her cousin Reverend Pat MacCormick was incumbent. Eileen was the younger daughter of Bruce Woolfe, a family of notable cinematograph pioneers. Their wedding was an impressive affair, celebrated in style at the Savoy Hotel in the Strand. After honeymooning in Switzerland, they set up home at 218 Eastfield Road, Peterborough.
I am sure they were unconcerned when Herbert had to undergo an operation for appendicitis in November 1930. But his recovery was not all that it should be. Although he experienced periods of good health, he contracted pneumonia. Two days before their second wedding anniversary, on the 19th June 1932, Herbert died aged 29 years.
The funeral, arranged by his wife, was a dignified and poignant affair. The cortege left his home in Eastfield Road and passed through the streets of Peterborough towards its destination in Golders Green. When it reached Phorpres House, the place where Herbert had worked, it paused so that friends, colleagues and workers, who had lined the route, might pay their respects. When the cortege reached Herbert’s old home at Norman Cross there was another pause so that Eileen could gather flowers from the garden for two posies, one from herself and one from Herbert’s father.
Christopher Young - Partner and Friend
From the very beginning of Herbert Snr’s involvement in the Fletton brickyards he had a constant friend, and colleague. As we have seen Christopher Young boarded with the Wootton family as a young engineer and then as a brickyard foreman. Christopher had an eye for business. Not only learning what he could about the brick industry but also part owning property in Hornsey, London. An area that J. C. Hill did so much to expand in the late nineteenth century. When Herbert decided to move to Beeby’s it was only natural for Christopher to join him as partner.
It was evidence of this great friendship that Christopher asked Herbert to be his best man when he married Miss. Margaret Harrison, in March 1924. The happy couple were married at the Wesleyan Chapel in Woodhall Spa. Officiating at the ceremony was the Rev. G. Page from Peterborough and the Circuit Minister, Rev. G. Payne. After the ceremony they honeymooned in Italy.
After his great friend and business partner, Herbert, died Christopher seems to have taken a very different occupation. In the 1939 National Register he is recorded as a tomato grower! But he stayed close to familiar surroundings living next door to Kate Adams, May Wotton’s mother. No doubt it was a delight for Kate to see a family friend’s children grow up in the house where her daughter also brought up her children.
Christopher lived a long life passing away on 11th June 1968 in Kings Lynn.
Miss. Margaret Lois Linley
After the loss of May, Herbert found happiness again. On Thursday 24th March 1927, in Thornthwaite, Cumberland, he married Miss Margaret Lois Linley. Margaret was the second daughter of accountant, Clement, and Mary Linley. The church was suitably decorated in daffodils and the bride, attired in blue georgette, carried a sheaf of daffodils. As a return gesture of friendship Christopher Young was Herbert’s best man. The happy couple spent their honeymoon in the Italian Lakes and Riviera.
Margaret could not have known that her marriage would only last five years.
Capt. Herbert Wootton MBE – advocate for Fletton
Unfortunately, by 1933 Herbert’s health was failing. He was too ill to attend his son Herbert’s funeral in 1932. On Friday 2nd November 1934 it was reported in the Peterborough Standard, ‘As we go to press, we learn of the death of Captain Herbert Wootton, M.B.E. J.P., of Norman Cross’. Herbert died on 1st November 1934 aged just 58.
In Herbert’s probate those who were most important to him were mentioned. His son Phillip Wootton an engineer and his business partner Christopher John Young a brick manufacturer.
Herbert was cremated at the crematorium in Leicester and his ashes were scattered in his beautiful garden at Norman Cross.
It would surely take too many pages to list all that Herbert was involved in, in Fletton and surrounding parishes. This blog has covered just a few of his interests. What is certain is that with the passing of Herbert Wootton another part of the Fletton brick industry passed into history.
Herbert was especially remembered by the organisations that could call him a member. Groups such as the Freemasons, where he had been a member since he joined St. Peter’s Lodge on 13th April 1911. Also, the British Legion Band (Fletton and District Branch) where he had been President until 1922 and the London Road Wesleyan Chapel where he been a committed member of the congregation and choirmaster until 1920.
He was also remembered for his generosity. The Old Fletton Urban District Council recalled fondly trips to Yarmouth where ‘the various beach amusements were enjoyed at their host’s expense’. But Herbert’s kindness did not stop there. There was an afternoon visit to the Hippodrome and dinner and tea served at the Queen’s Hotel.
His family were also recipients of his generosity. In his will all were named individually and were provided for. From his widow who was amply provided for throughout her widowhood, to his mother-in-law, Kate Adams who received £1 a week, and the children of his brother and sister who received £10 each.
But regardless of his position, or perhaps because of it, Herbert was not afraid to test the law himself. When returning to Peterborough, by train, he was told that it does not stop at Peterborough. Regardless of this he pulled the communication cord and was fined three guineas for his pains.
Phillip Wootton - Sole Survivor
Phillip was the only son, indeed the only member of the family of five, to survive beyond 1935. Philip was born on the 11th August 1909 and as we have already seen in 1921 he was at school in Whitby.
When the 1939 National Register was taken civil engineer Phillip was boarding in Northallerton. Phillip’s heart remained firmly in Yorkshire. In 1939 he married Zelia M Botham in Whitby.
Phillip died on the 31st July 1992 in Northallerton.
Fletton Links Maintained
Despite the passing of Herbert, May, Herbert Jnr and John the Wootton family did maintain connections with Fletton.
By the terms of Herbert’s will, his brother William, a house decorator, was bequeathed four houses in St. Margaret’s Road, Fletton. It was at 29 St. Margaret’s Road that William spent his retirement.
Living with William is Deryck, William’s son, and Herbert’s nephew. Deryck is an overhead crane operator. Also in the household is Nora Marjourie Wildman, a hotel clerk and bookkeeper. Only a year later Deryck and Nora marry.
The family remain together, in St. Margaret’s Road, until William died on 14th July 1948. This seems to have been the impetus for the young family to seek opportunities abroad. On the 26th April 1949 they board, with their 5 year old daughter Tamara, the Empress of Canada, bound for Montreal, Canada, and a new life.
Quite rightly J. C. Hill has been attributed the title ‘maker of modern Fletton’. It was Hill who developed the brickyards, built the first brickworker’s housing and laid the foundations for Fletton as an industrial village.
But it was Herbert Wootton who was ‘a great believer in the future of Fletton’. It was he who dogmatically fought for, and developed, the community of Fletton, the courthouse and the welfare clinic, the memorial hall, and the new housing. When Peterborough cast its ‘covetous’ eyes at Fletton Herbert supported Huntingdon District Council in their opposition against the idea of boundary changes. He campaigned for its position, independent of Peterborough. It was Herbert who ensured Fletton’s legacy.