Until a couple of weeks ago, Stockwood Pete had never heard of Thomas Rendle VC, whose bravery a hundred years ago was being honoured at a ceremony in St John's churchyard, Bedminster.
I had heard of his younger cousin Ellen who lived just two doors
further down Victoria Place. I actually met her once – and later
married her grandaughter. So reading the family name in the 'Post'
reports gave us both special reason to find out more.
Thomas and Ellen were Bristol-born, his father, her mother, and their
five siblings had all been born in mid-Devon, and brought to Bedminster by their
mother when she was prematurely widowed. Other Rendles had already made
the move, part of the mass escape from the market failures and
grinding rural poverty of Victorian England that forced so many to
migrate into the growing industrial cities.
career, through reform school at Kingswood (where he learned his
musicianship) to the army, through South Africa where he met his wife,
and on into the horror of the First World War will be well documented
elsewhere (though I'll add some links at the foot of this piece). Here
I'll stick to a couple of side-stories that have been turned up in the
course of the research, and offer an insight into Bristol around the end
of the Victorian era.
William Rendle would, had he survived childhood, have been Thomas's uncle. Instead
he was, literally, cut down at the age of ten.
widowed mother had remarried in Bedminster when William was just seven.
Her new husband was Richard Davis, blind from birth, who eked out a
living on the streets playing a harmonium – a sort of reed organ.
William was in the habit of being Richard's eyes, helping him – and the
harmonium – around the city.
In the darkness of an
early evening in January 1882, the two of them were making their way
down Captain Carey's Lane, off Old Market Street. You won't find it
now, as it's become part of the Temple Way underpass, but it shows up
very clearly on the excellent “Know Your Place” website.
Captain Carey's Lane was narrow, but it was much used by the carters
who shifted goods to and from the railway goods yard on Midland Road.
evening, as the harmonium was being trundled down the lane, William
leading and Richard behind, two horse-drawn carts were making their way
in the opposite direction. There should have been room enough to pass –
but the impatient driver of the second cart attempted to overtake.
was never clear whether he had control of his horses, or heard
William's warning shouts, or even saw the child. The cart hit the
harmonium, crushing William against the wall.
was carried into a neighbouring warehouse and from there to the
Infirmary, but he died within minutes of arriving. The distraught
driver of the cart briefly disappeared from the scene.
the inquest, the evidence emerged that many of the rules of cartage
were rarely observed, and that the driver had been all too aware of what
he'd done, though he claimed to know nothing about it till later.
verdict of accidental death was returned. Several of the jury remarked
that at present the street was very dangerous as a thoroughfare.
Just another death in Victorian Bristol.
Education, Education, Migration
Life was indeed hard for the children of the poor. Thomas Edward Rendle VC, living in Bedminster with three younger sisters and two brothers, had lost his mother in 1898 when he was just 14.
Not long afterwards he was ordered to be detained at the Kingswood Reformatory. Over a century later, S.Glos council is, for some reason, reluctant to release the school records for inspection at the Bristol Record Office, so it's not clear why he was sent there. One thing's for sure; the motherless family was pretty chaotic and its members would have to live on their wits.
His younger sister Lottie was likewise sent to a reformatory school, in distant Exeter. Later she returned to Bristol and married an Exeter man at St Mary Redcliffe in 1908, going on to live back in Exeter and later to emigrate to Canada.
A younger sister, Elizabeth, was brought before the courts in 1899. The record shows that her offence was to be 'found wandering', and the court, in its wisdom, ordered that she be detained for four years at the Carlton House Industrial School for Girls, on St Michaels Hill.
Another sister, Maud, was sent to live with her married aunt's family in Coventry, but in 1904 was sent (along with the two younger brothers) to Canada by the Bristol Emigration Society to a very uncertain future.
All six children, then, were 'rescued' by the social reforms that were all too slowly supplanting the workhouse. The powers of those rescuers, who seemed to have little or no accountability, over the children now seem unbelievable; but they continued for a long time afterwards; even now charities like Fairbridge and Barnados are having to live with the shame of exporting children to the colonies as indentured labour, while knowingly hiding from them the fact they still had parents in Britain.
I wonder if that's what happened to the younger Rendles.
Bristol Record Office for the news reports of William Rendle's death, and the Carlton House school registers – and help in using the archive.
Bristol Libraries for free access to Ancestry records. FindmyPast (subscription) for censuses, news searches, and online reprints
General Booth of the Salvation Army for the pictures above – they're details from the frontispiece of his 'Darkest England and the Way Out', published in 1890.
No thanks to South Glos council, who've still not even acknowledged a request for access to the Kingswood Reformatory archive. Why?
More on Thomas Rendle VC: try
Great War VCs – a comprehensive description and CV, plus the pictures to go with it
Excerpt from Victoria Crosses on the Western Front – including more about Thomas's siblings.