My maternal great-grandfather Horace Davies was born in Wolverhampton on the 18th March 1895, to Robert; a journeyman tailor originally from Llandudno, North Wales and Elizabeth (nee Jones), originally from Churton, Cheshire. He was the youngest of 10 children.
|The Davies family in the 1911 census|
By the 1870’s the growing Davies family had moved to Wolverhampton, via Oswestry, and in the 1911 census were living at 3 Rainbow Street. Horace’s occupation is listed as a ‘carriage trimmer’ for a coach builder.
This essentially meant that he would be upholstering motor vehicle seats, lining their roofs, floors and door panels. As will be seen in later documentation, Horace’s job would eventually be termed ‘motor trimmer’. Although automotive frames were originally manufactured separately before being sent to the trimmers, eventually trim shops were brought in-house by motor manufacturing factories as part of the production line.
One of the biggest factories in Wolverhampton was Sunbeam Motors, and it is here that I believe Horace worked. I have no documentary evidence for this; however my aunt (Horace’s eldest great-granddaughter) maintains that this is the case. Additionally, Rainbow Street is very near to the site of ‘Sunbeamland’ – the site of the Sunbeam Motors factory.
|Map showing approx. locations of Rainbow St., Lime St. and the Sunbeam works|
Shortly after war broke out (click here for more information on Wolverhampton during WW1), Horace married Harriet Foxall on the 6th October 1914 at Wolverhampton registry office. They moved to 4 Lime Street, again not far from ‘Sunbeamland’ and their marriage certificate lists Horace’s occupation as motor trimmer.
Being a young man, it is feasible that Horace could have joined the armed forces, but neither I, nor the team at the Wolverhampton Archives (who have added a small page about Horace on their Great War website) can find any evidence of military service. Nor is there any family lore about him doing so. Possibly he was unable to enlist due to health issues.
However I believe that throughout the Great War Horace must have been employed in vital work at Sunbeam. During WW1 the company produced ambulances and staff cars, in addition to making engines for aircraft (the Sunbeam Arab engine was used in Bristol Fighters, Sopwith Cuckoos etc. for example).
This is borne out by the fact that, on the birth certificate of his first son (my grandfather, also named Horace) in 1916, Horace’s occupation is still listed as motor trimmer.
|A wartime advert for Sunbeam|
But would being a motor trimmer (e.g. working with upholstery) be classed as a job vital to the war effort for a young (and presumably fit) man? Possibly not, but there is evidence in later documentation that Horace could also have performed other roles.
In 1939, as war loomed once again, the 1939 register shows Horace; now living at 69 Knox Road, Wolverhampton with Harriet, his son Horace and two younger sons Geoffrey and Clifford. His occupation is listed as ‘milling machine setter and operator’. A year later his son got married (to my grandmother) – their marriage certificate shows Horace’s occupation as ‘engineer (inspector)’. More tellingly, in 1943, Horace’s death certificate gives his occupation as ‘motor trimmer (aircraft components)’.
|Horace & family in the 1939 register|
So we know that during WW2 (click here for information on the Wolverhampton home front), Horace was making components for aircraft. Was he using skills he learned during WW1? Either way, whether he worked in motor upholstery or aircraft engine manufacture; at Sunbeam or one of the many other factories in Wolverhampton, he did his bit during both world wars.
As mentioned above, Horace died on the 21st September 1943. The cause of death was pulmonary tuberculosis; developed, so family lore has it, by breathing in the horsehair fibre used by the factory to stuff car seats. He was 48 years old.
|Horace (top left) and Harriet (to his right) at my grandparents' wedding|