TitleEmily and Walter Bond - Birch Centenary Chronicles 18
AbstractEmily and Walter Bond

Birch, Layer Breton & Layer Marney Local History

Centenary Chronicles - No. 18.

Published in Parish News - February 2000

For our first issue of the new century we look back on the experiences of a young couple, both born in Birch in the 1860s. We are very grateful to Mrs Leggatt, (great niece), of Birch for permission to use their story, based on details supplied by Mrs Vass, a grand daughter of the couple.

Emily Miriam Bond was born on August 24th 1861, almost opposite the present Birch Minimarket, and attended Birch School where her parents paid one penny a week, (under half a penny in today's coinage!) for her education. Poverty was commonplace in rural communities, amenities few and simple pleasures greatly appreciated. Lack of money frequently led to absence from school in needy families and this in turn had an effect on the amount paid to teachers. Birch School did not seem to suffer too much under Headmaster William Locke and although Emily left school at 13 she had already produced samplers, two of which still exist. One in particular was beautifully executed with a border decoration and the alphabet in capital letters with the following:

Little deeds of kindness
Little words of love
Make our world an Eden
Like the heaven above.
Aged 12 years

Birch School log book records that in 1868 Her Majesty's Inspector's Report stated that "This excellent School continues to merit commendation for the efficiency, order and organization of the Scholars". Two years later there were 216 attending and good reports were received from the Inspectors throughout the period.

Emily left school to work as a nursemaid to the children of the local butcher. Such service was one of the few opportunities for young girls. Later she moved to work in Colchester where one of her jobs was as housemaid, in 1881, to the Bunting family who had an ironmonger's shop in the High Street. The year she left school saw a strike of agricultural workers and there was a deep depression in the farming industry. Farm wages were much lower than the average factory worker earned and Emily remembered attending a meeting of agricultural workers addressed by Joe Archer who was trying to organise the workers in the area. She would also have known that local farmers had obtained permission from the school authorities to employ boys over ten for a few weeks as a consequence of the strike.

It is believed that she eventually moved to London when her employers, the Head family, moved from Colchester. She had kept in touch with a girl she had met at school and through her got in touch with her friend's brother when she moved to London. Walter Coppin had been at school with Emily but in their schooldays she had little time for him as he was said to have tormented the girls by chasing them with stinging nettles and such like! Sounds all too familiar, even though innocent, behaviour. Walter was a warehouseman in a spice warehouse. In 1881 he lived in Kentish Town. Eventually they married on April 25th 1886 at St Andrew's Church, Haverstock Hill, Middlesex.

Walter must also have had keen recollections of his days at Birch School as he wrote, in 1895, to his former Head, Mr Locke - 21 years after they had all left Birch School, and from the reply he received it is clear that both Walter and Emily were held in high regard. "I remember you well and your wife Emily also (excuse my calling you by your Christian names, but it feels more like old times) she was a nice quiet girl, an excellent needlewoman, and no doubt she is now what she promised to be, a thorough, good woman."

Emily and Walter raised a large family, experiencing the joys, sorrows and hardships together. In Victorian times many children died young from what we would today think to be commonplace ailments - diarrhoea, measles, whooping cough and so on. This was a fact of life accepted by parents at the time and they were ignorant as to the causes, or preventative measures which could be taken. True, city dwellers fared worse but poor drainage and sanitation coupled with polluted water supplies were also widespread in rural areas. One disease which was frequently fatal was diphtheria and when two of their boys fell ill Walter carried them in his arms to the hospital. Jackie, aged three, and Willy, aged four, both died from the disease but as often happened Emily gave birth to another son, Walter, shortly afterwards. Happily not all their children died young and the last two children lived until recent years - one died in 1996 at ninety five and the other the next year aged ninety eight!

We know that, like so many children, the Coppin children would come to Birch to stay with their grandparents in the holidays and the youngest daughter, Minnie, then aged eleven, sent a card showing a view of Birch home to her mother, in Stoke Newington, in 1912 "Just a line to let you know that I am enjoying myself. I only wish I were here for always ... went fishing with Austin this morning but nothing doing".

In later life the children spoke of happy memories spent at their parent's childhood home, gleaning after harvest; taking grain for grinding; catching rabbits when the crops were being cut. All childhood pursuits which are now part of a bygone age. They would have heard tales from their uncle Timothy Bond about how the plough turned in his hand when he was ploughing on the day that the earthquake struck the area. No doubt also they were treated kindly when they visited the local sweetshop kept by their father's sister!

Finally we can gain some idea of how the various families were linked by looking at entries in the family Bible which Emily was given by her aunt in 1879. Local names which appear include Cole and French. Despite all the hardships incurred in bringing up such a large family Emily lived to celebrate her 100th birthday and was reported to write letters every day! She had only recently had to wear glasses and her hearing was almost perfect. Living then at Haywards Heath, Sussex, with a daughter, she took a great interest in local and world affairs reading the newspapers every day and listening to the radio avidly! Her brown eyes were said to twinkle as she told the local newspaper reporter that although 100 she felt just as she had always done. Among her recollections was that, when young, she attended Chapel, on Layer Breton Heath, twice each Sunday and that people would travel from miles around bringing sandwiches with them for their dinner because of the distances involved. At that time five of her seven children were still alive as were five grand children and six great grand children. She lived on to be 102.

One final thought from this grand old lady - she thought television was silly!

PublishedFebruary 2000
SourceMersea Museum