A Brislington Autograph Book, 1916

Through the magic of the internet assisted by the mention of Brislington on this blog, I was recently contacted by Carol Gordon of Bolton, Lancashire. A while ago Carol bought a tiny autograph book, 2.5 x 3.5 inches. Inside the cover, which was detached, was a name and address. After an internal debate Carol deciphered this as

‘J.W. Hepworth of 10 Sandringham Road, Brislington.’

The inside pages of the album contains a number of pencil sketches, which Carol described as ‘mostly of the Mabel Lucie Atwell variety’ and several ‘verses’, the writers were identified only by initials, but, (oh Joy!) there was a date, 1916. I suggested that the name Hepworth was a predominately Northern name, and when I searched for candidates this was indeed the truth. However,  ‘J.W.H.’ proved elusive, and in our combined imagination he became a young man, possibly a soldier, displaced by the Great War, and a temporary lodger at no. 10 Sandringham.  With the odd Bristol Hepworth dismissed – one was fined 10 bob for ‘leaving his motor-car without lights’, the family historian’s dreaded ‘brick wall’ loomed. Lacking other inspiration I asked Carol to email a few of the entries to me to see if I could gain anything further from it. She was reluctant to do so because of the album’s fragility and instead sent the whole thing by post.  As soon as I saw it, the words ‘tree’, ‘barking up’ and ‘wrong’ jumbled into my mind. I even suspected the number ‘10’.  

Unable to commit without approval, (having become somewhat attached to the lonely young soldier and the Hepworth family), I involved my friend Jane Bambury in the puzzle. Jane is the editor of the BAFHS Journal and is my ‘go to’ expert on handwriting as well as most other matters local & historical. Meanwhile I glanced through the album at the entries. There are pencil drawings, someone was good at copying; Napoleon, a cartoon dog, cute, old fashioned holiday post card children and even a real ‘time-traveller’ stared out at me. Was that old salt really holding a mobile phone? In 1916? Surely not?  Look at it again – me and my eyesight – but of course he wasn’t. It has to be a packet of baccy, the original is probably a newspaper advert.

There was no Wordsworth or Shelley among the generally twee, though otherwise harmless doggerel, with one exception, a distasteful verse which shocked me with its racist language. It does not of course imply that the owner of the album was himself racist, though it provides a snapshot of what was considered acceptable by the general public at the time. I last heard that rhyme – it was supposedly a joke – over seventy years ago and reading it now I felt tainted by its presence.

One writer found a more acceptable target, given that the Great War was at its height and it was the year of the carnage of the Somme.  In December 1916, a certain C.H. penned:

‘Along the corridors of Hell

There came a most obnoxious smell

Satan himself was feeling ill

It was the Kaiser on the grill.’



By now, you must have guessed Jane’s reply. She wrote:

‘It looks like Pepworth to me, not Hepworth.

‘If you follow the loop of the P, you’ll see that it forms what would appear to be the left hand upright of an H. The first initial looks more like F than J, and the number 70.

F. W. Pepworth brings a choice of Frank William, or a Frederick William. Anyway, I had a quick look on Find My Past

‘The latter was born 1898 in Bridgwater, in 1901 lived there with his father, Fred senior, a coach builder, born Henbury, Bristol, and his mother Susan, born Bedminster. He moved to Bristol after 1911, married Gwendoline Thompson in 1923 and is in 70 Sandringham Road when he married. He was living at the same address with his wife in the 1939 registration, and was then ‘a cost clerk, body builder, engineering’. Another person lived in the house in 1939, but their identity is shielded owing to the 100 year rule. Frederick Pepworth died in 1956 aged 58.’ 

F.W.P who was aged eighteen when he was collecting autographs, would have shortly been called up. He may have served as a gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery. Supposing he is the one, his medal card may be obtained from the National Archives for a fee. There may be more information about F.W.P., also for a fee, to be found on the newly released 1921 census on FMP.  In the meantime if anybody is related to Fred or his younger sister Mabel, born in 1904, or who knows anything about them, I will be happy to pass their details to Carol. 

The mystery now is how the album travelled from ‘Here’ to ‘There’? It reminds me of junior school ‘composition’ assignments, the ‘Adventures of a Penny’!

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