Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

The Rendles of Bedminster

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.

But 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.

While 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.

Thomas's 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.

Wiliam Rendle

William Rendle would, had he survived childhood, have been Thomas's uncle.  Instead he was, literally, cut down at the age of ten.

His 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.

That 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.

It 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. 

The boy 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.

At 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.

A 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.


between-the-lines said...

Thanks for another interesting post Pete. History is very telling, although often hard to piece together and requires that vital spark of imagination.

I'd never heard of Booth's "Darkest England and the Way Out" before so went and had a read. Will we appear to future generations as bad as past generations appear to us?! Probably.

Looking at the news article you link to it says that while, after fighting in the War, Thomas went off to colonise South Africa, someone else, called Joseph Rendle, took Thomas' identity and lived on assumed VC glory for a couple of decades til being unmasked! Who was Joseph, was he related?

Surprised that the Kingswood School documents are not available in the Bristol Records Office. They are listed on the National Archives website as being there, so they ought to be there, oughtn't they?

Stockwood Pete said...

Thanks, b-t-l.
We inherited a copy of Booth's book from a Salvationist grandfather. I confess I've never read it, but I love the melodramatic style of the picture folded into the front cover – that's where the detail comes from, and the Rendle story reminded me of it. I think IDS may have been influenced by it!
So far as I can tell, Joseph Rendle certainly wasn't a close relative- he was a Lancastrian, and he saw the opportunity to impersonate the hero. Maybe the heat was on in Burnley, because later he pulled the same trick in Glasgow – where he was found out, but not before being installed as president of the Govan British Legion branch. He was fined 5/- or 30 days.
The Kingswood papers are in the Record Office, but South Glos insist that their permission be sought before they can be inspected. South Glos didn't reply to my online request, so I've written to them in the old fashioned way. I shall greatly resent it, though, if they want me to justify my request to their satisfaction before getting permission!