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The Courtney family

around Pontypool in the 20thC - Part One

By 1891, George (16) had moved out of his parents’ four-roomed home at Lower Woods Cottage,Molland (which was getting crowded) and was living and working as a farm hand at nearby Middle Champson Farm, Molland which was soon to be taken over by Fred and Anna Blackmore (the latter, Anna nee Carter, was a relation).

 

His obituary (see below) states that he ‘migrated to South Wales in 1887 - which is inaccurate in view of the detail from the 1891 census noted above - indeed George would have only been aged about twelve in 1887. He probably moved across the Bristol Channel in the early 1890s. George then worked in ‘several other local businesses’, including Wall’s Stores at Pontnewynydd, near Pontypool. By 1896, he had established a grocery shop at 36 Commercial Road, Talywain (although he appears to have been in a business relationship with Thomas Edwards which was publicly ended in 1902). Indeed,1896 was a momentous year for George. Not only did he take the plunge into business, but he also married Beatrice (‘Bessie’) Redwood the daughter of a shoe manufacturer who had a factory off Commercial Road, Talywain. By 1901, three children had been born and George was being helped in the shop by his brother William who had also broken his Devonshire ties. On census day, their son, William J (2) was with his grandparents, William and Ann Redwood at 120 High Street, Abersychan.

 

Sadly, during twelve months in 1902/03, two of George and Bessie’s children died from diphtheria. After smallpox, measles and scarlet fever, this virulent disease claimed more deaths than any other at this time. In nearby Chepstow, schools closed early for the summer holidays in 1902 due to an outbreak of diphtheria.

In 1911, George was still trading from 36 Commercial Street, Talywain (ringed above) and his brother John (Jack, 16) was assisting in the shop. During the next few years, George had a row of three shops built opposite his shop - a modern-day view of the row is shown below. One was a barber’s shop which was managed by his brother Samuel. George and his family lived above the shop. George kept a horse and cart at Commercial Road for delivering groceries and feed for the pit ponies.

As well as these properties at Talywain, George also had two more shops at Freeholdland, Pontnewynnydd - a road that runs between Abersychan and Pontypool beside the River Afon Llwyd. One was at 11 Machine Meadows,  Pontnewynnydd. These shops were managed by his son, Reginald (in the photo below), and George’s brother, Will. The Freeholdland  shop is shown below. Reginald took over the management of George’s business in 1931 and became his father’s partner.

 

Times were hard during the General Strike of 1926. Simply to survive, many of George’s customers ran up debts that were never cleared and George had little alternative but to take the hit.

Both George and Bessie were staunch members of High Street, Abersychan, Baptist Church (shown right) - indeed Bessie was a deacon and treasurer of the Abersychan branch of the British Women’s Temperance Association. At George’s funeral, attention was drawn to the fact that “at no time did he allow his business to interfere with religious matters”.

 

After George’s death  a close friend wrote an appreciation of his life which gives details of his character. He was a ‘real good companion’. Together they visited trade exhibitions, including the Wembley exhibition. George was ‘a faithful, warm-hearted friend always full of enthusiasm and possessed of a ready wit’. For many years he was a member of the Grocers and Bakers Association “where his advice...was looked upon as most valuable. All good causes found in him a ready friend”. For example, George subscribed to Pontypool’s Hospital.

The funeral services for both were held at the High Street Baptist Church Abersychan and they were buried at Penygarn (Baptist) Cemetery, Pontypool.

Of George and Beatrice’s sons:  William James and Reginald Courtney

 

Above, Beatrice and George Courtney’s obituary notices

William James was born at Talywain on 24 August 1898. He probably never married. William was a commercial traveller with C& T Harris in 1936 and was living in the Newport area Three years later. In 1944, he was again described as a commercial traveller and five years later, he was living at 44 Commercial Road, Newport. William died on 21 January 1985 at 16 Warren Evans Court, Whitchurch, Cardiff.

 

Reginald was born at Talywain on 3 March 1903. He married Bessie Brace in the autumn of 1923 in the Pontypool area. Reginald died on 20 February 1940 at 19 Commercial Road, Talywain. His effects were valued at £1551.The couple had one child, Enid B Courtney who married Peter L White at Bath in the summer of 1947. After Reginald’s death, Bessie married Wilfred Edwards in the summer of 1943 at Pontypool. She died at Bath Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases on 24 March 1971 after a ‘long illness, patiently borne”.

Reginald was educated at Abersychan Council School. In 1936, he was appointed  President of Eastern Valley Grocers Association. He extolled the virtues of “personal service and... giving quality goods”

 

Perhaps recalling his father’s experience, Reginald said, “Welsh grocers should be cautious in the giving of credit...too many grocers had found themselves in the bankruptcy court through the indiscriminate giving of credit in times of strikes and lockouts. Business...should be conducted on a purely cash basis.”

 

He was also captain of the Pontypool Motor Cycle Club; was a keen swimmer and won the Gossage Bowls Cup.

1910

1936

 

James “Jim” and Ethel Priscilla (nee Thomas) Courtney

George and Beatrice (nee Redwood) Courtney

 

In 1891, James (Jim) was living with his parents at 25a North Street, South Molton having embarked on an apprenticeship as a saddler. But ten years later, he too had moved to South Wales and was a lodger at 69 Raglan Street, Newport, Gwent, working as an insurance agent and ministering as a preacher.

 

Jim began attending evening classes twice a week studying book-keeping, short hand and other subjects - clearly with a view to improving his business background.

 

By 1911, he was in business as an undertaker and was living in the seven-roomed 58 Lewis Street, Newport with his new wife, Ethel (who was twelve years his junior), his mother-in-law and two sisters-in-law.

c1903

Jim and Ethel’s wedding in 1910. Only Polly Courtney together with Samuel and Lavinia Courtney of Jim’s immediate family are in the photograph together with George’s wife, Beatrice, and their son Reginald.

Tragedy was in store for both Jim and Ethel’s children. Raymond was staying at a relative’s home, Nellie (nee Carter) Newton, at Abbot’s Park Farm near Molland, Devon. He complained of a severe headache while working in a hayfield at harvest-time, slipped into delirium and was taken to Barnstaple Infirmary where he died of meningitis before his parents arrived from Newport. (Jim and Ethel were living then, in 1929, at 50 Bridge Street, Newport.)

Raymond and Nellie Newton

Jim with Raymond

Then, Marjorie injured her ankle while playing tennis during a holiday with her parents at Molland. Her foot was amputated and she contracted TB. Then, her leg was amputated and her hip and spine were affected. She was unable to cope any more and died in 1929. After hurting her ankle she wrote a poignant letter to an aunt. She mentions her headaches and concern for her parents (who were ‘just fair’) and a desire to be up and about so as to ‘take come of the strain and worry from them’. She added: (the)

Jim’s effects were valued at £1317.

John “Jack” and Hannah (nee Courtney) Crossman

After the early death of her mother in 1896, it fell to Hannah (then seventeen years of age) to care for her ageing father, James. She moved back to Molland from Tiverton where she had been living.

 

The family continued to live in James’ Molland home at Lower Woods (shown right) even after she married the farm labourer, ‘Jack’ Crossman - a ‘skilled farm labourer’ as noted in the 1939 Register.They had one short-lived child. To ease constipation, the heavily-pregnant Hannah was crouched over a bucket of hot water, and then the baby came out.

Jack and Hannah regularly won prizes at Mollands annual show in the 1920s and 30s. The news reports reveal how their garden was filled. Jack’s prizes: potatoes, broad beans, kidney beans, carrots, parsnips, beetroot, turnips, lettuce and geraniums. Hannah’s prizes: sweet peas. They also kept hens, as they won awards for eggs.

 

Both attended Molland Baptist Church - Jack was noted as giving readings in the 1940s and his burial service was conducted in the church, while Hannah’s service was at their home. There was a slip dated 1946 acknowledging her membership found in a Bible.The couple were buried in the churchyard of Molland Parish Church together with their baby son.

 

Jack was also part of the committee of the Bishops Nympton branch of the Ancient Order of Foresters which reflects his concern for social and philanthropic issues.

 

Hannah’s relatives were in contact with the couple - John Courtney and his family certainly visited from South Wales, as on the occasion of Hannah and John’s Golden Wedding anniversary on 20 June 1959.

 

Left, Jack and Hannah’s Golden Wedding Anniversary. Present are John and Hannah with Mary, Rhodda and Jack Courtney. Jack’s wife, Flo and daughter, Joyce, also attended and feature in other photos.

Bottom left ,are Hannah, John  and Polly Courtney

Hannah died in February 1963. She collapsed in their garden on a freezingly-cold day and never regained consciousness. Jack died two years later. Both were buried in Molland churchyard

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John Courtney (1881 - 3 July 1891)

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A colourised copy of the portrait of Marjorie shown below had pride of place in the living room of Jack and Flo Courtney’s home at 26 Woodlands, Talywain and is now on the wall of Ralph Courtney’s living room.

Jim and Ethel moved to Glenview, Llanmartin Road, Langstone near Newport, Gwent. In 1942, Jim was living there and during the following year he was noted as once again working as a commercial traveller. He and Ethel both died at what is today Magor Road in 1949.