At Her Wits’ End

CaptureCapture2Emily Collins Davis had had enough.

She knew you were supposed to count your blessings, but just for once, she was going to count all the things that were wrong with her life. In no particular order then:

New Housekeeper’s Duties

As if it weren’t enough being at war, the government had now apparently decided it needed us to write everything down in triplicate as well. Rations. Fuel orders. Shopping queues. The only thing that she wasn’t bothered about from this list was winter milk, as she assumed the village would manage that as it normally did.

Eldest Son Gone to War

This of course was uppermost in her mind that morning, but somehow all the other little worries made it even worse.

Capture DavisHis real name was Charles George, but of course as her husband’s name was Charles he was always called George. He had been got at by that Colonel Cooper and signed up for the reservists in the Army Service Corps like lots of his friends – with the result that of course he was among the first to be called up.

CaptureShe relied on George – the census form said he helped on the farm, but the truth is that he was the man of the house now that her husband was really getting too old to manage the farm and everything else.

George had told her that being a driver was one of the safer occupations as they were not directly  involved in the fighting. That sounded logical, but she didn’t really know whether to believe him, she knew he would have said anything to stop her worrying.

She did miss him already, not only as a shoulder to lean on but as a real companion.

A MOther’s Loss

CaptureThe census was so bald, so black and white, it reduced the whole of her life to statistics. ‘Married to the same man for 35 years, by whom she had borne 14 children, only 8 of whom had survived to adulthood’. Almost as many had died as had lived, there was nothing else to say and she had no tears left to weep.

The Forge and the Cottage

the forge

The Forge, courtesy of Basingstoke and Deane’s Conservation Appraisal

Emily and Charles had lived in the cottage next to the forge ever since their marriage – Charles had taken over from her father, William Collins, in about 1860 (making her subsequent marriage to Charles a foregone conclusion as far as her father was concerned). And William Collins had inherited the forge from his mother,  Sarah, who had subsequently married William Day, the owner shown on the Tithe Award in 1840. Charles had worked as everything from blacksmith and farrier, building contractor, farmer and agricultural equipment agent. But she had always been in charge of the paperwork, and quite a responsibility it was too, keeping track of that little lot.

Counting her blessings

Emily did feel better after that little rant, and supposed that she should now count her blessings. First, she was grateful that they had no real money worries thanks to her father’s and husband’s hard work over the years.

She did love all her surviving children. She knew she must devote most of her attention to those that were still with her, rather than the absent. She would think about George every day he was at the front, but it would not be fair to the others to mourn him in advance.

Also, although arthritis was a daily challenge, she remembered her neighbour’s comment: Do not regret growing older; it is a privilege denied to many.

12 thoughts on “At Her Wits’ End

  1. A lovely story, thanks Laura. I’m thinking that Emily’s father William was possibly the son of John COLLINS and Sarah PIPER. Sarah subsequently re-married to William DAY which would explain the Forge and blacksmith’s job being passed down through William COLLINS.

    • Thank-you so much, Jacqueline! I had got as far as wondering about whether William was the son of John and Sarah, but couldn’t see the connection to William Day, which gets us back to the Tithe Award in 1840…. 🙂

      Postscript – I have now updated the post and the illustration of the ancestry tree. Many thanks indeed.

  2. Laura, even though I have nothing to do with this community, I am loving the posts. They really help bring home the overall impact & context of WW1 on local (rural) communities and individuals.

  3. Pingback: The Second Wave Of Reservists | St Mary Bourne Goes To War

  4. Really interested in this article as Charles and Emily Davis were my great grandparents. My grandmother was Elizabeth Laura Hibberd (nee Davis). I do have more dates that I could add to the family tree and indeed the names of the remaining family that sadly died before reaching adulthood if they would be of use. I can just about remember Great Uncle George, he passed away when I was about 5 years of age.

    • Thank-you so much for commenting, Janet. Absolutely, it would be of tremendous interest and use! I would also be interested to know whether you think my interpretation is broadly right?

  5. I believe your interpretation is probably spot on. The only thing I think is incorrect is that the Davis family lived at Spring House Farm, two houses down from the Forge cottage. Charles Davis certainly inherited the Forge but I know my grandmother was born and grew up at Spring House and indeed four of the brothers and sisters lived there all their lives (except for a period of about a year back in the 1930’s when they moved to Long House for a period of about 11 months, they didn’t like it there so moved back to Spring House Farm).

    Charles Davis was born 15.3.1844 and married Emily Collins on 15.9.1875. Charles died 15.7.1931 and Emily died 8.4.1932.

    Their children were:
    Sarah Jane Davis b. 20.3.1877, d. 9.3.1882
    Harriet Laura Davis b. 27.101878, d. 9.3 1882
    Frederick William Davis b. 25.10.1879, d. 9.3 1882
    (These three died all in one day, apparently after going to a party and
    then suffering from food poisoning – they are mentioned in Dr Stephen’s
    History of St. Mary Bourne).
    Charles George Davis b. 26.4.1881, died around 1958-59
    Emily Mary Davis, b. 1.3 1883, d. 16.2.1884
    Frederick William Davis b. 22.7.1884, d. 15.5.1949
    Elizabeth Laura Davis b. 18.2.1886, d. 26.12.1975
    Matilda Jane Davis b. 7.3.1887, d. around 1961-62
    Arthur James (Jim) Davis b. 3.5.1888, d. 11.1 1974
    Edith Emily Collins Davis b. 15.9.1889, d. 1.11.1984
    John Henry Davis b. 5.7.1891, d. 28.2 1893
    Agnes Annie Davis b. 2.6.1893, buried 2.8.1897
    Emma Sarah Davis b. 25.10.1895, d. 12.8.1995
    Edwin Henry Davis b. 15.6.1897, d. 18.1.1991

    I also have further information going back along Charles Davis’s mothers line for another 3 generations which I can let you have. I only wish I had a family tree program such as the one you have used which would greatly enhance all my notes and scraps of paper!

  6. Thank-you, I have now filled in the tree with all the details of the children. What an appalling story about the three dying on the same day!

    I had not looked for any earlier information on Charles Davis as he was I think born in Clanville? I have to restrict information on the tree to those born (or married or buried) in SMB or Hurstbourne Tarrant – and I am still headed for 11,000 people.

    I am not altogether surprised when you tell me that the Davises were not all shoe-horned into the forge cottage – what I am wondering is whether the Davises spread themselves over all three houses since they owned them all?

    We have a Facebook page on which we share information and discuss St Mary Bourne history which I think you might enjoy – it is at

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