John and Ann Minchin.
These are wonderful images of John Minchin and his wife Ann, the grandparents of Eileen, Peggy, Nancy and Thelma. They come thanks to Simon Bartram – a great-grandson of John and Ann, through his grandmother Florence (1894-1987).
Florence was the youngest of John and Ann’s children, and a sister of Bill Minchin. The photos were passed down through Simon’s parents. They appear to have been a Christmas gift to Ann Minchin from her eldest daughter Beatrice (born 1881).
In the last eight months of his life, John Minchin would have had the chance to hold one of the Minchin sisters – the eldest, Eileen. She was born in July 1921, and he died in the following March. One imagines that May and Bill, as proud new parents, would have taken their first baby to see her 73-year-old grandpa and placed her in his arms. They probably did it frequently. They lived in a house at the back of Victoria Hall. He lived in a cottage in Sherborne Terrace nearby, at the entrance to the Cunnaghars footpath. He may have held her on his sickbed shortly before he died, making her a final blessing and one of his last consolations. Speculation, of course, because Eileen said she was too young to remember anything about it.
John Minchin was born on 18 September 1847, the son of James Minchin, born 1816 and his wife Eliza, born 1823. The birth was at Guiting near Bourton-on-the-Water, and the family moved to Northleach, according to the Censuses of 1861 and 1871.On 21 October, 1876, he married Ann Pitts, who had been born at Stow on the Wold. The wedding took place at St Lawrence’s church, Bourton, where they began to live. He was 29 and she was 19. The image of her is even older – perhaps the earliest the site has of the direct Minchin bloodline.
By the time Eileen was born, he was already a widower. His wife Ann had died five years earlier, on 22 May 1916 at Stow, aged 59.
They lived all their lives in Bourton and went on to have: Beatrice 1881- ; Arthur John 1883-1911; William Victor 1885-1974; Mabel Annie 1887- ; Helen 1890; Nellie 1890; and Florence Emma 1894-1987.
In the second photo of John Minchin, he seems to be smiling to himself, amused at the novelty as he poses against a backcloth showing country scenes. To match it, he sits on a chair made of rough-hewn wood. He wears a stiff collar with stud and a suit with vertical stripes. He holds a walking stick. Perhaps he needs it. These images are open to wide interpretation. In one view, he looks lean and fit. In another, he is a man whose body insufficiently fills the suit, who has had a hard life, one of heavy work conducted on a platform of poverty.
It was as a farm labourer that John Minchin supported his large family. The 1906 Earnings and Hours of Labour Enquiry discovered that the average earnings of agricultural labourers was 17s 6d a week. The ‘poverty line’ was set at 18s 4d (taking into account rent-free cottages) meaning that families which lived on less survived in ‘extreme poverty’. A 1913 survey, How the Labourer Lives, showed that the average earnings in almost every county, including Gloucestershire, were below the poverty line and wages paid by farmers were too low to enable workers to maintain a state of ‘physical efficiency’.
A similar picture is painted in a John Carey review of a book about Flora Thompson, author of Lark Rise to Candleford (S Times 22.02.14). Referring to the conditions of labourers in Gloucestershire at this time, he writes: ‘Milk was an unknown luxury. Lard flavoured with rosemary substituted for butter. Farmhands gnawed raw turnips on their way to work to keep hunger at bay. In autumn, women and children toiled from dawn to dusk gleaning stray ears of wheat from the harvested fields. Without sanitation or running water the cottages were death traps, especially for the young…when old age pensions began (in 1908), elderly couples would weep tears of gratitude when they came to the post office to collect them.’
These old photographs are precious links to the past. But they are idealised studio images which one suspects obscure the reality of the sitters’ lives as much as they reveal it.
Despite that, John Minchin lived a long life for the period. He was aged 74 when he died on 6 March 1922, in Cheltenham. This was almost double the life expectancy – 38 years – of a man born in the 1840s and 1850s.
News Flash: The pictures of John and Annie caught the attention of another of their great-great-grandchildren, Cecile Luker, daughter of Chris Minchin. In an email she says: “Seeing your website I phoned my dad Chris Minchin, son of Cecil Minchin and Joy Waters. They lived in 35 Rissington Road and their garden backed onto Bill & May’s. My dad said that he used to talk to Uncle Bill over the fence! I have told him about your web site and he said that he remembers Eileen, Peggy & Nancy but not so well Thelma. My dad is the eldest of seven children to Cecil & Joy Minchin and they all lived in Bourton during their childhood.
“Alfred James Minchin (Bill’s brother, known as ‘Jim’) lived in Moore Road with his wife Edith (Auntie Edie) Mabel Eastbury. They had five Children – my grandfather Cecil Charles, John, Joan, Kathleen and Ken.