A Bagshot Family - the Papworths

Many people will remember the Papworth family, who played a prominent role in Bagshot affairs during much of the last century. These notes form a memoir on their story and an update on their far-flung activities, which might be of interest to those who knew them.

A soldier in uniform and his bride dressed in white‘Bill’ Papworth first visited Bagshot at the end of 1915, in company with a fellow-sergeant in the Greenjackets regiment based in Winchester. He had been wounded in an attack on German trenches at the Battle of Loos, and had returned to army duties only recently. His friend was Charlie Stevens, one of the four sons of Mr and Mrs James Stevens at the quaintly-named ‘Italian Cottage’ opposite Bagshot School. The boys had only one sister, Edith Ellen, and she and Bill hit it off immediately. They were married on 23 April 1916, one of thousands of wartime weddings based on the fear that a serving soldier might be killed on his return to the front. Edith’s mother came from a branch of the Rose family, strong in Bagshot and the surrounding area, giving her many relatives to celebrate her wedding.

Photo: Bill Papworth & Edith Stevens' wedding 1916

Billy Papworth had been born and bred in the East End of London, the oldest of a family of seven children in a poor area where prospects were few and work was hard to find. In a bid to escape, he joined the army in 1910 at the age of seventeen, and a few months later had the thrill of his life when he was chosen to fly as ‘ballast’ with Colonel Cody, an American pioneer aviator who was carrying out newly-invented aeroplane trials for the War Office at Farnborough. Bill rose through the ranks, and was promoted to Sergeant soon after the war started in 1914.

Service on the Western Front was vividly recorded in the diary he kept, the sheer horror of events being illustrated in this entry for 9th May 1915 –

All we could do was sit down and wait for death as there was no protection from the German shells. It was impossible to walk about without treading on some parts of men, pieces of arms, legs, and bodies were strewn everywhere. Hell could not be worse. Then came the charge, and the butchery began. The enemy opened fire with machine guns, cutting us down like corn. We came back to our trenches but worse was to come. We attacked again, but every man’s nerves were so strung that several men went mad. It will never be forgotten so long as any man in it lives. Our losses were eleven officers and 300 men out of the 550 we started with.

A lady wearing a pink blouse holding out a large silver colour sword in its sheathBill’s wounds were serious enough for him to be sent back to England for hospital attention. It was after this that he met Edie in Bagshot and married her. A few months later he was posted overseas again, leaving his wife carrying their first child. Baby Gwen was born in 1917 while her father was with his regiment fighting the Turks in Greece. He had risen to the rank of Regimental Sergeant-Major, and his parade sword is still a treasured family possession. The end of the war saw him travel home by ship and train across Europe, to be demobilised in January 1919. Work was not easy to find, and Bill was not known in Bagshot. A second baby was soon on the way, and Bill enrolled in a Government scheme to offer training to ex-servicemen. He qualified as a French Polisher and found work at Messrs Overs of Camberley, the furniture retailers. One of his tasks was to fire shotgun pellets at old wooden furniture to simulate wormholes and make the item ‘antique’.

Photo: Mavis Papworth in Australia with the Parade Sword,

Eddy was born in 1920, and Bill took on the role of Secretary to the local branch of the newly-formed British Legion. He cycled many miles around the district helping men with their claims for help or pensions. The next few years were tough for the young family, but the gradual development of motor cars and radio sets gave Bill an opportunity to enter both fields as ‘Mr Fixit’ to Bagshot, Lightwater, and Windlesham. He and Edie moved to a rented house in the shadow of the railway viaduct in Guildford Road, and using the workshops attached they started up a small business offering repairs to cars, bicycles, and radios. Two more children came along, Jean in 1926 and Derrick in 1928, and with Edie doing the books and Bill working all hours on repairs and a taxi service, they slowly made progress. Another business was added when they started re-charging the glass accumulators that powered the early radios, and a van was purchased to deliver these around the district.

In 1935 Barclays Bank opened their new building in Bagshot Square and their previous building next to the cinema became available to rent. The Papworth family moved in, and a fine new shop was opened selling all manner of electrical goods. The workshops under the Arches were kept on, until in 1938 the much bigger garage at the top end of the High Street was added to the business. The children were growing up, Bill and Edie continued to work hard, and then came the Second World War.

The business was scaled down, and the family settled down to wartime life. Bill had long been a member of the Bagshot Fire Brigade, and with the retirement of their chief he became the leader. The fire engine was frequently called out to London and other cities during the height of the Blitz – their story would make good reading if anyone will write it. Gwen was a nurse in south London, but came home to take Ed’s place when he joined the Navy as a motor-mechanic on Motor Torpedo Boats. Edie took on two evacuees from London, and was part of the team at the Rest Centre which looked after people bombed out of their homes (Bagshot had 273 bombs dropped on it during the war). Jean left school during the war and worked in a munitions factory on the A30 near Sunningdale, and Derrick served throughout the war as a Civil Defence messenger.

Eddy saw service in MTB’s in the Mediterranean, and after being commissioned as an Engineer Officer spent time in the Far East and Australia in the war against the Japanese. Gwen joined the WAAF’s, and was commissioned as a Transport Officer, marrying Fred, a sergeant in the Army Intelligence Corps just before he left to fight in Italy.

a man is a 'demob' suit and bow tie, and a lady in a spotted dressAfter the war, Eddy returned to share the running of the business with Bill and Edith. When television came along they took a full part in this new service, employing several local people in the shop and repair workrooms. Eddy courted and married Mavis, and they had two children, Melanie and Frank, moving to live in the High Street premises when Bill and Edie moved back to Guildford Road. Edie suffered increasingly poor health, and struggled to walk up from home to the shop every day. She died of a heart attack in October 1967 at the age of 69. She had been the 'home' strength of the family, working hard her whole life, and was known to many folk in Bagshot as someone to turn to when help was needed. Bill did not suffer fools gladly, and it was part of Edie's job to mollify the people he upset. They made a good team.

Photo: Bill & Edith Papworth in 1947

Bill worked on after Edith’s death, enjoying his hobby of Old-Time-Dancing, and after some time he married his dancing partner, Queenie, and set up home with her in Vicarage Road until his death in 1977 at the age of 84. Eddy had by now taken over the business completely, and with his wife Mavis continued to rebuild it during the difficult days after the Second World War. The contrast between the peace and quiet of post-war Bagshot was in stark contrast to Ed’s years of service in the Navy – he had spent time in the Mediterranean in fast MTB’s, sharing in the fighting at Tobruk, Malta, and Egypt, and had been Mentioned in Despatches for bravery over and above the call of duty. He was in Singapore when the Japanese surrendered and at Hiroshima in Japan just after the atomic bomb destroyed that city, then spending time at Brisbane in Australia.

Ed and Mavis worked hard to make the business a success, but still managed to find time to serve the Bagshot local community. Ed served as President of the Bagshot Cricket Club, Chairman of the Bagshot Playing Fields Association, Chair of the Bagshot Traders Association, and was co-ordinator of the Bagshot Jubilee Celebrations. It was however their day-to-day relationship with customers that made them so well-known. On Christmas Day each year Ed would open the shop for an hour so that children could get batteries for their new toys, and each year he and Mavis erected and decorated a large Christmas Tree in Bagshot Square. Mavis helped local folk by taking them to hospital or to clinics, and when the new M3 road was first proposed Ed led the battle for better access to Bagshot and Lightwater. Their two children grew up as members of this busy family, obtaining qualifications in their chosen professions, and some time after Melanie married Roger the young couple emigrated to Australia. Mavis and Ed decided they would follow when they retired. Frank and his family also showed interest in this idea, and in due course ‘Papworth’s’ was sold and Frank and family were only a week behind Ed and Mavis moving ‘down under’ to warm and sunny Australia.

Ed and Mavis settled in Ocean Reef, a suburb of Perth in Western Australia, where the warm weather helped Eddy overcome the health problems that had begun to show up in England. After spells in Sydney and Canberra, Melanie and Roger now live nearby, while Frank and Celia live only a few miles away. Friends from Bagshot who visit are made welcome by a large extended family of ex-Bagshot folk. Sadly, Eddy died on March 6th this year, having played a full part in his local community as he and Mavis had done for so many years in Bagshot. He was 89 years old, and was much respected in the area where he lived.

two men with white hair wearing open neck shirts in bright sunshine.The story of the Papworth family in Bagshot during much of the last century would not be complete without a brief review of Bill and Edith Papworth’s four children:

Gwen left Bagshot after the war, while her husband – an electrical engineer – worked his way up in his industry. They had four children, one now in America, one in Australia, one in Scotland, and one in Solihull. They had nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren before Gwen’s death in 2005 at the age of 87.

Ed and Mavis settled happily into their chosen community in Australia, living near to Melanie & Roger and not far from Frank & Celia. Melanie has retired from her teaching career and has a son and a daughter. Her first grandchild was born this year. Frank has two sons, and is a civil engineering consultant.

Jean married her Canadian soldier sweetheart at the end of the war and sailed off to live in Canada where they had four daughters. The cold winters drove them to move to California and then to Oregon where they now live. Jean is 84 and husband Al is 87, and they have two great-grandchildren.

Derrick trained as an engineer and after some years running the Scout Group in Bagshot married Ann Webley from Windlesham. After a spell living in Malaysia they have made their life in Cambridgeshire. They have five children and eleven grandchildren.

So the Papworths of Bagshot have dispersed around the world, but in all the families there remains an affection for their roots in what they often speak of as ‘dear old Bagshot’.

Photo: Derrick & Ed in Australia

Written by Derrick Papworth with the help of family members

Update by Frank Papworth: We had a Papworth family day in August 2014 at the home of my mum, Mavis, in Ocean Reef. Still the house she shared with dad. It was to celebrate the 40th wedding anniversary of my sister Melanie and her husband Roger (married at Penny Hill Park in its early years). We all lived at the shop in the High Street for quite a while. Melanie and Roger's two children Candice and Aaron where there. Aaaron and his wife Christine bought their children Mia and James and 8 month pregnant Christine carried their third child! My sons Ben and Adam also came. Mum catered the event. Slowed a little but still going strong. So a bit of Bagshot lives on and we welcome visits from family friends in Bagshot. Earlier this year Linda Parnell ex Waverley Road and of the Parnell's Hardware clan visited Melanie and it was great to catch up with her and talk of old times.

Copyright reserved.  First published 2010, 2014.  


From Jonathan Papworth: When I read this article it brought a tear to my eye. I am the second child of Derrick and Ann Papworth. We live in Dorking, so not a million miles from Bagshot, and I have memories of the electrical shop run by my grandfather. My father is quite right when he says that there remains affection for dear old Bagshot, and whilst we must all move with the time, it is lovely to reminisce every now and again ! [Jun 14]


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