Family History


Rosa and Billy                                       Rosa and Bill at Oakcroft, Barnham

This is the story of my Great-Aunt Rosa.  She was born in the head gamekeeper’s cottage on the Uppark estate,  Harting and baptised in Harting parish church 29 August 1886. She had the same first name as one of his father’s sisters, perhaps his favourite? In later life she was also called Rose, but I am using Rosa throughout this article. Rosa’s father was Henry Hill head gamekeeper at Uppark and her mother Elizabeth Bessie Wild. Elizabeth came from a longstanding Harting family, and her father John Wild was innkeeper of The Ship. She had an older sister Bessie, and two older brothers Joseph Henry and William John. A younger brother Robert Edward was born in 1889.

Henry’s untimely death on 13 October 1889 led to a big change in Rosa’s life.  The cottage went with his job of course so Rosa’s mother took her family to her old home The Ship Harting, now run by her half-brother Fred Wild.  Fred was unmarried so this arrangement must have suited all, but in the summer of 1891 he married and Bessie moved out shortly after.  Little Rosa found herself in a new part of Sussex as Bessie took over the tenancy of the Royal Oak Walberton.  In the same year Rosa found herself with a step-father as well, John Hughes a labourer, fifteen years younger than her mother. The next few years continued to be unsettled for little Rosa. The tenancy of the Royal Oak was given up, perhaps because Bessie had three more children,  John, Leonard and Charlotte Hughes. At some point the family moved to nearby Eastergate and then on the 20 January 1896 Rosa was admitted to Yapton school.  The family was to remain in Yapton, living first in the hamlet of Bisham and then in Black Dog Cottages (formerly Yapton workhouse). However Harting school register shows Rosa a pupil there from January 1897 to Easter 1898. She had been living with her Uncle Fred and Aunt Martha and apparently spent much time with them. Fred and Martha’s only child had died in infancy. Life in Harting was probably a lot preferable to that in Yapton. Later in life she was to remember often going to school hungry, and school log books mention the bad attendance record of the Hill children.

Fourteen year old Rosa was a housemaid at the time of the 1901 census. Was it any coincidence that her employer Robert Henry  Webber was a publican, landlord of the Berkeley Hotel in West Street Bognor. Was she employed because of the experience she had gained at The Ship? The census records her as being two years older than she really was, which again might have helped her gain the employment.  West Street is a stone’s throw from the seafront which would have given her somewhere pleasant to spend whatever free time she was given, and it might also have been where she and her future husband would meet.  Of course Rosa might have changed job before she met Bill Wakeham but as he was also living in Bognor in 1901 I’m sure that was where they met.

William, Bill, Wakeham was born in 1875 in Amberley.  Bill was the third of the twelve children of Hale Wakeham and Rebecca Gearing and their eldest son.  He became quite the maverick of the family.  Hale and his other  sons worked much of the time in Amberley’s chalk pit or its related lime burning.  Bill himself might have been doing so in 1891, the census of that year just describes him as a labourer but by 1901 he was a bricklayer in Bognor.  His brothers were to continue living in Amberley and with their parents. The 1911 census records Hale and Rebecca living in Church Street with five adult sons, an adult daughter and teenage grandson and granddaughter  - all in a dwelling with a kitchen and three other rooms. By this time the sons apart from Walter were agricultural labourers and their father a roadman for the local council. Bill must have trained as a bricklayer;  in 1901 he was a boarder at Henry Street Bognor with another young bricklayer Charles Deadman and his wife, and there was a young bricklayer’s labourer also boarding with them.

Rosa and Bill were married in Yapton parish church in 1908. Rosa a very slim figure looked beautiful in her white lace wedding dress.  Unfortunately the photo seems to have been lost.  The witnesses were Rosa’s sister Bessie and brother Jo. Not long after the marriage Rosa found herself in the hospitality trade again. At the time of the 1911 census she and Bill were at the Hope Inn, St Pancras Chichester.  The 1909 Chichester Observer directory gives the landlord as P Turner and the 1912 directory 1912 so their tenancy was short-lived. On the census form Bill described himself as a bricklayer and publican, working on own account.  Wasn’t the pub profitable?  Perhaps Rosa found she couldn’t help in it, she is ‘at home’ on the census form.  By then she and Bill had a little boy of a year and eight months, Billie.

William, Billie,Wakeham was Rosa and Bill’s only child. He was a dark curly haired child much loved and cosseted. Rosa never wanted more children, possibly as a result of the poverty she had suffered as a child in large family. Bill might well have felt the same.  By the end of 1914 the Wakehams were in Aldingbourne, and two days after Christmas day Hale, Bill’s father died at their home from heart disease and gangerene. He was 66. Rebecca Wakeham had died three years earlier from tuberculosis.

Did Bill serve in World War I?  Because of his age and married status he wouldn’t have been considered for conscription until July 1916. However I have a photo of Billy Wakeham aged five years which was sent from England November 22 1915 and received 9th July 1916 in  Mesoppotamia [sic]?  Could this havde been sent to Bill?  To date I haven’t been able to trace a war record for him.  Could it havde been sent to another family member and returned to Rosa at some point? Bill’s youngest brother Alfred born 1894 was killed on 25 September 1915 at the battle of Loos, and is commemorated on the Loos Memorial. He was in the same battalion as Rosa’s brother Robert, so the two might have known each other and fought together.

The 1919 to 1921 electoral registers show the Wakehams to be living at Walnut Tree Cottage Eastergate.  Bill continued to work as a bricklayer. At some point between the wars he built his own house Oakcroft 6 Downview Road, Barnham, They were to live out their lives there.  Rosa had the house she may have dreamed off as a girl, but there was sadness too.  When he was a young man Billy’s behaviour cause increasing problems, culminating him threatening his father with a knife. Following this incident he was committed to Graylingwell Mental Hospital in Chichester, for the rest of his life. I have been told the behaviour problem might have been due to a head injury.

In later life Bill worked as a storeman for the Air Ministry. I would guess this might have been during World War 2 when there was a shortage of men to do such work. There were several aerodromes in the area including Tangmere, Ford and Westhampnett . Bill died in 1953 and left £2,111, Rose left an estate of  £7,226 when she died aged 95 in 1981.

Footnote: As a child I rarely saw Rosa. We didn’t live near and she and my grandmother, her sister-in-law didn’t get on. Whilst he was alive my grandfather usually visited Rose on his own. My  mother did a lot for Rosa in Rosa’s last years but by then I had grown up and moved even further away. On the rare occasions I did visit her I wish I had asked her more!