FAMILY HISTORY:MY GRANDAD ARTHUR MERRIMAN’S EDWARDIAN EARLY DAYS IN CHIPPING CAMPDEN

I recall from days of yore me old Mom Dot Bracey, nee Merriman talking about the Eight Bells Inn where my Grandad Arthur Lewis Augustus Merriman and his Merriman family used to drink when they lived in Chipping Campden before the Great War……

My Grandfather Arthur Merriman was born out of wedlock on the 2nd of March 1899 and registered at Blockley, Shipston on Stour aged two.

He lived with his mother Ethel Merriman and Grandfather William Meriman and 4 uncles at 190 Watery Lane Chipping Campden (since renamed) and the Merriman family thus constituted is recorded in the 1901 Census.

The Merrimans are first recorded in the Gloucester area in the 1780’s and were mostly employed as agricultural labourers and smallholders, with the possibility that being Roman Catholics, they may have migrated from the South-East of Ireland around Cork and Limerick to the Gloucester area, possibly landing at Gloucester Docks and settling in the area as farm labourers where work would be readily available.

Arthur Merriman was a bright lad and was educated at Chipping Campden Grammar School in the 3 ‘R’s and had wonderful copperplate handwriting throughout his life.

The Merriman family generally were employed in some numbers by the Guild of Handicraft set up by some of the great Arts and Crafts jewellery designers of the early twentieth century .Charles Robert Ashbee had moved his entire Arts and Crafts studio from London to rural Gloucestershire in Chipping Campden.

At that time Chipping Campden was very run down, practically deserted with many houses unoccupied and derelict at that time with consequent low rents for a near destitute artist/designer like Ashbee, and hence Chipping Campden was very attractive to him.

The Ashbee Museum and manufacturing jewellers still exists in Chipping Campden and in it there is an Edwardian photograph of the Ashbee employees showing some 60 workers taken in 1906-07 including some members of my Merriman family who were employed by Ashbee’s studio as jewellery makers and silversmiths.

Arthur Merriman was taken in by the Guild of Handicraft but at the age of 14/15 was sent to Birmingham to learn the Jewellery trade in Hockley in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.

Jewellery Quarter Clock

He was apprenticed in the jewellery trade with the firm of Eccleston & Hart which still trades in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter today in 2017.

Eccleston & Hart were one of Ashbee’s best customers whom he supplied as a manufacturing jeweller with Eccleston & Hart being a trade jewellery retailer to the rich and the middle classes throughout the country.

Eccleston and Hart JQ Advert

Mark Merriman was my Grandfather’s uncle and and enameller at Ashbee’s jewellers. Mark Merriman served like Arthur in the Great War in the 1st/6th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment.

Mark Merriman’s name appears on the Chipping Campden War Memorial for he was killed in action on the 16th June 1918 in the summer German offensive which nearly turned the tide in the Germans’ favour.

Mark Merriman, my great uncle is buried at Boscon British War Cemetery in Italy near the city of Vicenza on the road from Venice to Milan.

The ‘Glorious Gloucesters’ were sent to strengthen the retreating Italians (what’s new?) on the southern Austrian Front in December 1917.

Grandfather worked for Eccleston and Hart for 25 years as a jewellery maker and silversmith in the highly-skilled Jewellery workshops of Eccleston and Hart.

Eccleston and Hart Sign

He also, with his war service and being quite aggressive-looking and squat and strong in appearance, was employed as a bodyguard and driver venturing all over the country for Mr Hart the owner of the business, acting as a chauffeur ferrying, guarding and keeping safe high value items as far as Scotland in the north and as far south as Cornwall.

Arthur was an excellent driver but had never, like many men who drove in the Great War, passed a driving test, learning to drive in the British Army as a ‘Tommy’!

That is the story of my Grandad Arthur Lewis Augustus Merriman and his family in Chipping Campden.

I am pretty sure that there are STILL Merrimans living in Chipping Campden having been visited by a Merriman many many years ago in the 1970’s when I was a teenager at our family home in Bearwood near Birmingham at 116 Willow Avenue in Bearwood (Edgbaston) not far from my Grandfather and Grandmother’s home at 71 Poplar Road in Smethwick.

Who knows there may even be a Chipping Campden Merriman who still drinks in the Eight Bells Inn in Chipping Campden, who may even be supping a pint in the inn as we speak?

Eight Bells Pub Sign

Arthur Merriman married Gwendolene Alice Langley, also born out of wedlock from Ashton-Under-Hill near Pershore in Worcestershire and they settled in Birmingham raising 5 Merriman children including my mother Dorothy Angela Merriman.

Dot Merriman married my Dad Leslie Charles Bracey from the Gun Quarter in Birmingham living in the back-to-backs of Little Shadwell Street in the shadow of the great Roman Catholic Saint Chad’s Cathedral in 1953 and they were married for nearly 40 years before Dad’s untimely death in 1989.

St Chad's Cathedral Front

Arthur and Gwen, my grandparents lived with their 5 children in the back-to-backs of Birmingham suburb Winson Green, famous for its prison in Dugdale Street where my Grandad Arthur worked in the Mills Munitions Factory, which had invented the hand grenade in the Great War, where he made hand grenades for the war effort in the second ‘shout’.

Winson Green Prison in the sixties

Arthur Merriman tried to join up in 1939 at the outbreak of the Second World War but was rejected as being too old at the age of 40.

He then decided to join the Auxiliary Fire Service and was based a the Mitchell’s and Butler’s Cape Hill Fire Station where he was often on fire watch, putting out incendiaries with his stirrup pump and bucket of water. This he did until the end of the war and even I remember the Anderson Air Raid shelter at 71 Poplar Road in Smethwick during the 1960’s nestling in the back garden among my Grandad’s prize crysanthemums!!!!

img003

I hope to visit Chipping Campden at some time in the future to research and possibly meet up with some Chipping Campden Merrimans.

Rest assured I will stay at The Eight Bells Inn and sample some of your Cotswold hospitality and excellent home made and home grown food!!!!

Eight Bells Inn Chipping Campden with cars outside

Yours in Chipping Campden

Keith Bracey
Birmingham writer, historian and poet AKA ‘The Brummie Bard’

Son of Dot Bracey nee Merriman of Bearwood near Birmingham & Grandson of Arthur Merriman of Chipping Campden

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