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This story was researched, compiled and written by Claire Weiss and is reproduced here with her kind permission
All images are copyright of Claire Weiss

Annie Potter

Annie Potter - a portait photo from 1933
Annie Eliza Potter nee Tilbury

A tribute to Grandma Potter “The Grandma I never knew”
Compiled by Claire Weiss (nee Potter) with the help and encouragement of my
Potter/Tilbury cousins Sheila, Janet, Isabelle, Kathleen, Christine, Susan and my sister Celia.

Dedicated to my father, Ronald Haydn Potter

Birth, Hampshire origins, move to Kettering

In the year of 1878, when the Edison Electric Light Company first supplied electricity to households in the USA, and in London, the East London Mission changed its name to the Salvation Army and Gilbert & Sullivan premiered HMS Pinafore, my paternal grandmother Annie Eliza Tilbury was born in Landport, Hampshire, to Mary Ann Smith, of a naval family, and Thomas Tilbury, a brush-maker. She was the second born of ten, the last four of whom were born in Northamptonshire. The family moved from Hampshire to Kettering sometime between 1888 and 1890.

The five Tilbury sisters in about 1919 - the future Annie Potter is on the extreme left
The five Tilbury sisters
(left to right): Annie, Doris, Liza, Carrie, Louie - about 1919
The family story, as related in a letter written by Ada Gibson (nee Tilbury, last daughter of William George Tilbury, Annie Eliza's brother) was that Thomas Tilbury went north in search of work and when he failed to return, Mary Ann followed after him with the children. Thomas and Mary Ann settled in Kettering . In the 1891 Census they are recorded as living at 10 Links Terrace, Kettering , and in 1901 they were at 107 Regent Street . Thomas seems to have retained his brush-making occupation, being employed by Messrs Lewis Bradshaw, but his children took jobs in the boot and shoe industry. By the time of his death in 1937, the family was living at 113 Havelock Street . Some of the children settled in that area of Kettering - Louie took up residence at 50 Regent Street after her second marriage to Arthur Patrick at the end of the Second World War, and Eliza, who married Henry Johnson, had a tiny house in Havelock Street .

In 1891, Thomas (born 1876) the eldest son, was recorded as a shoe finisher, while Annie Eliza and her younger brothers and sisters were still scholars. By the time of the 1901 Census, Thomas and Annie were each married and had left the parental home; their younger brother William (born c.1882) was a shoe finisher, sister Caroline (Carrie, born c.1884) was a fitter in the boot trade, Eliza (Liza, born c.1886) was a boot closer, and the younger ones Bertie (born c.1883), Louisa (Louie, born 1893) and Frank (born c.1900) were all listed as workers in the boot trade. Between the 1891 and 1901 Censuses, when Annie was in her teens, a baby boy named John, who had been born to Mary Ann in 1890, had sadly died. At the 1901 Census, Thomas had settled at 50 Barnwell Street Kettering with his wife, also named Annie, (nee King) with daughter Ruby, born 1901. Doris was yet to be born (c.1902)

Marriage, first children, Stanwick

At the age of 20, Annie Eliza had married William George Potter (born 1876 in Kettering, my paternal grandfather) in 1898 and in the 1901 Census they were recorded as living at 64 Havelock Street . Annie was listed as a shoe machinist working at home, and William was a shoe finisher. In marrying William George, Annie was connecting with the Potter family, who had Hampshire military origins, some generations of which had suffered great poverty and affliction; and with the Loasbys of Rothwell and Kettering, whose work in the shoe and textile trade has been traced back three hundred years.

Annie Tilbury in her younger years - an undated photo which seems to have been kept in a fob or wallet
Annie Eliza Tilbury. in her younger years.

This small photo had been folded, as if kept in a fob or wallet.

The Loasbys were possibly the better-off family - William George Potter was the fifth child born into the Loasby household at 11 Goadby's Yard, Kettering (1875), where his parents Joseph George Potter and Fanny Martha Potter (nee Loasby) were listed as boarder and boarder's wife of William Loasby, a shoemaker widower. William George was only seven when his father Joseph died, and within a year (in 1884) his mother Fanny Martha remarried to William Crick and went on to have further children.

In 1899 William and Annie's first child William Thomas Potter (Willie as he has always been known) was born, but died at 22 Hill Street Kettering on 19th January 1903 of measles. The children who followed (and who were born in the new century) were all given unusual names mostly not previously used in either the Tilbury or the Potter families. In 1901, their first daughter, Pearl Marguerite was born. In 1904, Ivy Alice was born at 53 Chelveston Road Stanwick, followed by Wilfred Joseph in 1907. The circumstances in which Annie and William went to Stanwick between 1903 and 1904, after the tragic death of Willie, are not known, but could relate to employment. William George was to become a shoe factory foreman in his thirties, and it is possible that he moved to Stanwick for work at one of the factories there or at nearby Raunds.

Burton Latimer — the First World War

Between the years of 1907 when Wilf was born, and the birth of Ronald Haydn (so named after the composer of the 'Surprise' symphony) in 1913, the family moved from Stanwick to Burton Latimer, Ron being born at Alexandra Street .

Ron Tilbury (left) with a friend in 1916 or 1917, playing the part of wounded soldiers
1916—17: Ron, aged about three, with taller friend, dressed up as wounded soldiers of the First World War.

As a result of Annie's voluntary work for Empire soldiers, Ron was used to their regular presence in the household.

Corporal William George Tilbury in about 1916
Corporal William George Tilbury, brother of Annie Eliza, in cyclist's uniform shorts and long socks.

His joke catch-phrase was "Knees ducky".

In 1917, tragedy struck the Tilbury family again. William George, Annie's younger brother, who was already in his thirties and had two children, was killed in action towards the end of the First World War. He had joined the Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalion, which had been formed as part of east coast defences, subsumed into the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and then despatched to the front. He was killed by a sniper's bullet, on 26th October 1917. He is remembered at Ypres, in Belgium , and on the Kettering War Memorial. This tragedy had a deep effect on Annie.

Annie's voluntary work

Annie became involved in voluntary work to provide accommodation for off-duty and wounded servicemen from the Empire countries. According to an account by Ron, her youngest son, which was reproduced in "Old Kettering - A View from the 1930s", William and Annie were visiting London when they noticed Australian and New Zealand soldiers hanging around St Pancras with nowhere to go, being preyed upon by people who were after their pay:

"Mrs Potter felt that they could be found leave billets in Burton Latimer, and with the generosity of Burton people and the help of benefactors in London, arrangements were made for them to stay in people's homes without charge and to receive pocket money. Ron, who was knee-high, remembers soldiers sitting at the table at home, and people going round the town with five shillings each for them. When an appeal was made in 1917 for free hospitality for wounded soldiers from overseas Mrs Potter responded, and for the rest of the war men from all parts of the Empire visited Burton as guests."

The background is further embellished in a report of an interview with Annie Eliza in a local newspaper headed " Burton is so bracing" (see p. 12). She is reported as saying that in 1917 she responded to an appeal made by the Winter Distress League for free hospitality for wounded soldiers from overseas. She became the district organiser for the Winter Distress League, and after the war, Lady Gowers (at one time in the records Mrs Gowers) wrote to her asking her to take on similar work for the children of ex-servicemen.

The cover of the autograph book signed by so many Empire soldiers in the First World War
Annie kept an autograph book which many of the Empire soldiers signed, and some of them wrote poems, drew pictures and composed jokes, all expressing their appreciation for Annie's kindness and hospitality.

There are many touching remarks and contributions in the autograph book, from the soldiers of Empire and Allied countries including New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, Australia and USA . One example was written on 12th January 1919 by Samuel Shockman, of the 3rd Reserve Battalion, Otago Regiment, from New Zealand :

"Continual kindness on your part, Has made a friend that's true. And now I only have to wish, The best of all good things for you".

His address was 'Kirwee', Canterbury, New Zealand . Researching this name and address on the Internet in 2005, I found that 'Kirwee' was a hotel and pub thirty minutes from Christchurch, and that Samuel Shockman had been the manager of it before being called up as a reservist in the forces. He had been born before 1878, was married, and had no children. He was a corporal with regimental number 74449, and he sailed from New Zealand with the Expeditionary Forces on the HMNZ Troopship 'Ulimaroa' on 27 July 1918, and after the war returned to his native land.

Another soldier wrote:

"There's a home up in the Midlands , Such a home it proved to be

To a lone Australian soldier, From far across the sea.

I know I shall always be welcome, And get a hearty grip of the hand

If ever again, I am lucky to come, Back to Burton in the Midlands .

With All Best Wishes to Mrs Potter from No. 1536, Private G. B. Anderson, 14th Battalion, Australian Infantry Forces, 12th August 1918. 101 Creswick Street , Footscray, Melbourne , Victoria , Australia ."

Many of the young men called Annie Eliza 'mother' - she was approaching forty when she embarked on this work.

Click here to view an animated e-book version of the Autograph Book

You may have to click on "Run" on two security queries - however, the file is safe and virus-free

Note: The link may not work if you are not using Internet Explorer.
If you are using a dial-up connection, the file will take a while to download.

Click here to see a list of the signatories of the Autograph Book, along with other
associated data like Country of Origin, Rank, Number, Company and Home Address

The recognition for her voluntary work

The impact of Annie's work is celebrated in certificates and news reports, and in the comments written by the soldiers in the autograph book. She received a certificate from the YMCA International Hospitality League, personally dedicated to her, for "the kind manner in which you have entertained so many men of the Allied Forces. Your welcome to a real Home will linger long in their memories as true British hospitality, and help forge links of Empire."

She also received from the New Zealand Government an illuminated copy of four resolutions of the New Zealand Parliament, dated 5th November 1919, thanking, amongst others, "all those who offered the hand of fellowship to New Zealand soldiers and nurses" and placing on record "Its deep sense of appreciation of the many kindnesses, courtesies, and privileges extended to the members of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force on active service." Accompanying this illuminated certificate is this personal letter to her, Mrs Potter, Alexandra Street, Burton Latimer, England, from the New Zealand Prime Minister, dated 24th May 1920, saying "From my own personal knowledge I can say that the kindness and hospitality shown to our men while abroad was very warmly appreciated not only by the men themselves but by their relatives at home."

Annie's work for children

This kind of activity became a lifetime's commitment to Annie Eliza. After the war, she continued to undertake voluntary work, this time with children from destitute families of London and give them recuperative holidays - in her own home or boarded out. Once every three weeks she would make the train journey, taking twenty or thirty children back to London and bringing another group out. Some children needed up to three months to regain their health. It also became a way of life for the family, and William and Annie's first grand­daughter Sheila - daughter of Pearl, William and Annie's elder daughter - made friends with some of the children and later married Jack Kirby, one of the boys from London.

Annie Potter with her family and two of the London children - 1927
Left to right: Pearl , William George Potter, Wilf, Ivy, Ron with cat,
Annie Eliza and two of Annie’s London children, mid-1920s

" Burton is so bracing"

Seen to the right is the article in the local paper about Annie's work, year unknown. Annie Eliza is standing at top left, next to the wall. From the published reports of the Winter Distress League, we know that Annie was active in this work at least during 1922-1926, and then from 1932-1936. The scale of her contribution was immense and from the text and annotations it seems that she became a Children's Supervisor, and was given sole charge, by the Children's Inspector of the Board of Guardians, to care for children under seven. In her own words, quoted in the newspaper article above: "Out of hundreds of children who have come down here to regain their health, I have never had a failure." Looking back at her achievement, she had the aptitude not only to welcome children to her own home, but also the organising ability to board many of them out to other families in Burton and Kettering . This can't have been an easy job.

The respect with which she was held at the Winter Distress League was matched by the family's reputation in Burton . When Ron sought employment in at the Mill Chrome Tannery in 1930, he obtained references which gave testimony to the standing of the Potter family. A. C. Harris, Headmaster of Burton Latimer Council School wrote on 16th January 1930: "He comes from a family which is highly esteemed in this town and I can recommend him with confidence." Rev T. Lethbridge, Rector of Burton Latimer wrote on 17th January 1930: "I have much pleasure in testifying to his character. He comes from one of our most respected families."

The records of the Winter Distress League

These are the covers for the 1922-24 and 1935-36 reports of the Winter Distress League. The organisation set up work schemes for unemployed people and provided them with work clothing. It gave financial hardship grants and boarded out of under-nourished children. On the next page is the detail of Annie's contribution in those first years.

The above is the earliest report available recording Annie's work — 1922. Ten years later, the Winter Distress League Annual Report for 1932-33 states that she boarded 137 children for an average stay of twelve weeks.

The report of 1934-35 states: "Mrs Potter and those who make room for little guests, command our respect as well as our gratitude. After all, it is no small thing for a cottage woman to accept the care and responsibility of a weakly child in addition to her own home duties, and how much more they give than could ever be paid for in terms of money is evidenced by the parents' gratitude and approval. 161 children have been away for periods long enough really to build them up physically, often three or four months being necessary, and - Oh! The joy most of them get out of their holiday, and the strange parcels that return home with them, varying from eggs and spinach to live poultry and fuchsia plants. A brown paper parcel has been known to quack loudly on top of a bus!"

Sadder times

Annie Eliza suffered ill-health, although the dates of this are unknown. One speculative idea is that the period between 1926 and 1932, during which there are no reports available of the Winter Distress League work, may have been accounted for by illness. This would tie in with two letters, written in an unsophisticated script by Ron to his mother during her absences from home. No year is stated on the letters, but the key information, apart from the fact that he missed her very much, was that she was somewhere in a hospital in London for an operation, followed by a period of convalescence in Brighton. Ron was being looked after by his elder sister Pearl (who had married in 1923), and there is an interesting reference in the May letter to a telegram arriving with news of a visit to Burton by Mrs Gowers, the lady from the Winter Distress League.

Thomas Tilbury dies

Annie's father, Thomas Tilbury lived to the age of 82. The report in the Evening Telegraph (see next page) of his funeral, at Kettering Cemetery , officiated by Rev Frost of the Rockingham Road Methodist Church , contains tributes from his children and the wider family. Confirmed by the messages of condolence in the report, by this time (1937), Annie's brother Bert had emigrated to Australia and sister Louie was working in South Africa . All other living brothers and sisters of Annie had by this time married and had children. Thomas had died a widower, as Mary Ann died in 1931.

Annie and the family

75 Station Road Burton Latimer was the centre of much of the family life in the 1930s, and this photograph was taken there, possibly to celebrate Isabelle's christening.

Annie Potter and her family - 1930s
Left to right standing: Bill and Pearl Fennell, Wilf and Lois Potter,
William George Potter, Phyllis and Ron Potter, Ivy and Billy Humby.
Seated: Sheila Kirby, Annie Eliza Potter with Isabelle Potter and Janet Humby.

Annie Potter with her granddaughter Celia at the christening, 1940
This photograph, taken at 19 Harcourt Street Raunds, shows Annie Eliza holding Celia Potter at her christening in 1940, while Celia's other grandmother, Nancy Haynes, looks on. The picture conveys how small Annie was.

The other grandchildren of Annie Eliza, are Christine Fennell, Kathleen Potter, Susan Potter, and myself, Claire Potter.

A full life

Annie Eliza Potter was a woman of great energy. She made a lasting impact on many people's lives and was highly respected in the community. With another world war taking place, in which members of her own family were once more on active service, Annie died tragically early at home in Burton of cancer in 1943. Sixty-five is an early age to depart, and William George survived another eighteen years without her.

As the decades go by, I can appreciate what a contribution she made, and how indefatigable she must have been. She was, for me, the Grandma I never knew, but always wanted to.

She deserves to be celebrated and remembered, and this little feature is my first attempt to do that. If any family members or others who knew her have any other information that adds to the detail here, or if there is anything to correct, please send it to me for editing into a revised version.

Annie and Will Potter at Burton Latimer

Claire Elizabeth Weiss (nee Potter)

London UK

Tel: + 44 (0)20 8539 2833


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