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DEWEY, Percival Saxby (1898-1983) of Wickhamford – Analytical Chemist and Author

When the 1939 Register of the population was made, at the outbreak of World War 2, the vast majority of the adult population of Wickhamford were engaged in horticulture or agriculture.  One of the exceptions was Percival Saxby Dewey, who was living at 1 Manor Cottages, Wickhamford Lane, with his wife and small daughter.  He had married Elena Mary Relf in 1936 and their daughter, Jane, was born in November of that year.

Family Background

Percival was the son of George William and Fanny Margaret Dewey and at the 1911 census they lived in Chipping Campden, with his older brother, George Oscar, b 1889.   At that time, both of his parents were Elementary School Teachers, working for the County Council and his brother was a cycle and motor engineer, working from home on his own account.

That year, Percival Dewey was awarded a First Class Certificate in the Diocese of Gloucester Band of Hope prize-giving, for the Church of England Temperance Society.

Earlier, Percival’s parents were Headmaster and Headmistress at Brompton Regis, Somerset, but eventually moved to Ebrington in 1894, where they stayed until 1904.  During that time, he was Headmaster at Campden Elementary boys’ school and she was head of the girls’ department (according to his obituary in 1931).  

There is no record of either son serving in the First World War.  George Oscar Dewey died in January 1915, in Ebrington, aged only 25 years.  He died of heart failure having suffered from chronic asthma and acute bronchitis.  At the 1921 census, Percival Dewey resided in Wooburn, Buckinghamshire as a boarder in the household of Frank Pitcher, a farmer and publican.  He was employed as a ‘Works Chemist in Paper Mill’, at Wiggins Teape & Co., Paper Makers of Glory Mill, Wooburn. During the War, the Mill started to make photographic paper for use by the military.  (It is possible that Dewey was considered of such value to this work that he was exempted from War service.)  Later, Electoral Registers show him as living in Gloucestershire during the mid-1920s to late 1930s, apart from his being listed in Wandsworth, London in 1929.

In October 1931, Percival Dewey was mentioned in the Tewkesbury Register, as entertaining children with a magic lantern at a party in Broad Campden.  On 3rd May 1936, he married in Moreton in Marsh Registry Office.  At that time, he was a commercial traveller and his wife, Elena Mary Relf, of Wooburn, was a Science Mistress.

Dewey family grave
Gravestone in Chipping Campden – Percival Dewey’s parents and brother.

The Deweys in Wickhamford

A number of residents in Wickhamford in 1939 had come to the village to avoid possible War injury in areas of the country more susceptible to bombing, but the Dewey family seem to have only moved locally.  Percival Saxby Dewey’s occupation was entered in the Register as an analytical chemist and author.   No book by Dewey have been located, so his authorship may have referred to scientific papers in science journals.  His place of work is unknown, but the research station in Chipping Campden is one possibility.   Founded in 1919, this was where work was done on the processing of canned foods.

The only newspaper item reporting an event in his life was in 1939.  He had been summoned to appear at Evesham County Petty Sessions in March for driving without a Road Fund licence or an up-to-date driving licence.   He had been caught in Badsey on 5th January, by P.C. Haines, who had seen his car exhibiting a licence which had expired at the end of 1938.  Dewey stated that he had failed to renew the licence due to financial difficulties.  P.C. Haines visited Dewey on 28th February and found that his driving licence had expired in July 1938, ‘due to an oversight’.  In court Dewey was fined £1 on each count.


Percival and Elena Dewey seem to have moved on from Wickhamford in around 1940 as they had a son, Peter J. S. whose birth was registered in the North Cotswold District in mid- 1941.  There is also a birth registered in Bilston, Staffs in late 1944, for another son.  In 1954, at the time of his mother’s death, Percival and Elena were living in Tettenhall, Wolverhampton.  

Percival Saxby Dewey died on 24th December 1983, Elena having died in Witney, Oxfordshire in 1976.   At the time of his death he was living at a care home, Spencer Court, Witney.

Tom Locke – July 2023