In 2017, the restaurant called “Walter’s at The Wheatsheaf” opened at The Wheatsheaf Inn, High Street, Badsey, run by Head Chef, Peter Zemla. The alliterative-sounding name has a pleasing ring to it, but who was Walter?
It turns out that Walter is in honour of various members of the family of Peter’s partner, Gemma, all called Walter. Gemma’s father is Allan Walter, known as Walt. Her great-uncle, who died three years ago, was Ronald Walter, and her great-grandfather was Walter Hall. Gemma’s grandmother, Doreen Underhill (daughter of Walter Hall), still hale and hearty at the age of 96, was happy to recount stories of her father when Badsey Society members, Shirley Tutton and Wendy Gwynn, went along to speak to her. The following is Walter’s history, which has been gleaned both from the documentary sources available such as parish records and census returns, and from Doreen’s oral testament.
The Hall Family Background
The Halls have been a prominent family in Badsey history since the 1840s when Thomas Hall (1817-1909), a shoemaker, moved from Dumbleton to Badsey. The sixth of his seven children was Owen Joseph Hall (1849-1899), known as Joseph, who was born at Badsey; he was Walter’s father. Sadly, Thomas’ wife, Martha, died in July 1852 giving birth to a baby boy who died three months later. Joseph was just two years old at the time.
Initially Joseph followed his father into the shoemaking trade but, by 1871 he was an agricultural labourer. But it was the height of the agricultural depression and times were hard in English farming. Like several other Badsey folks, Joseph decided to seek his fortune overseas and sailed for America in April 1872 where he settled in Auburn Township, Ohio. He was soon joined by his older brother, Theodore James (known as James). James kept a diary and it seems that the brothers were into small-scale farming. For whatever reason, unlike most of the Badsey people who had emigrated, Joseph and James decided to return to England, Joseph arriving in November 1877 and James in May 1878. Perhaps it was because of the burgeoning market gardening industry. In 1871 there had been just nine market gardeners in the village; by the end of the century, 85% of households were involved in market gardening. Joseph may also have been encouraged by his future brothers-in-law, Henry Keen (1849-1917) and John Keen (1852-1938), who were two of the nine early adopters of market gardening. On 23rd April 1879, Joseph married their younger sister, Eliza Keen (1854-1934) at Badsey and settled back into a life in his home village. Between the years 1880 and 1898, ten children were born.
Joseph was obviously a successful market gardener as, in July 1888 at a large sale of farmland, he was able to buy an acre plot of land on Willersey Road, together with his older brother, Charles. Undoubtedly the five years he spent in America had served him well, as his granddaughter, Doreen, related that Joseph was able to return with a case full of gold coins. As children, she and her siblings used to play in the upstairs barn of Homeleigh where her cousins lived. This was where the asparagus was tied, but it was also where the case was kept which had held the gold coins.
Joseph’s brother, James (who also doubtless returned with a case of gold coins), also bought an acre, as did his brother-in-law, Henry Keen. Very soon, houses began appearing on the land. By 1890, Joseph was able to install his growing family in a detached house which he named Auburn Villa after the place in America where he had lived for five years and which had helped to fund the purchase – this was a significant step up from the small cottages where he had grown up.
Unfortunately Joseph was not able to enjoy his prosperity into old age. He died of appendicitis in October 1899, aged 50. As his granddaughter, Doreen, pointed out, less than three years later, the future King Edward VII had a life-saving operation for appendicitis, but that was not available to Joseph. Joseph’s widow, Eliza, was left to carry on the market gardening business, together with the help of some of her sons.
Walter Hall (1893-1945)
Walter was born at Auburn Villa, Badsey on 6th September 1893, the eighth of ten children of Joseph and Eliza Hall. He was baptised at St James’ Church, Badsey, on 15th October 1893. Walter entered the infant department of Badsey School on 28th September 1896, aged just three. He transferred to the mixed department on 2nd April 1900. He left school on 25th March 1907, aged 13.
Walter was just six years old when his father died in October 1899, leaving his mother and eldest brothers to carry on with the market gardening business. At the time of the 1901 census, Walter was living at Auburn Villa with his mother and eight siblings (one brother had died in infancy). He was still at home at the time of the 1911 census. By now he was working as a shop assistant, probably for his brother, William, who was a cycle dealer. Whilst four of the brothers became market gardeners, Walter and William took up other professions.
During the First World War, Walter was an early recruit to the Royal Flying Corps, joining in January 1915. In November 1915, The Evesham Journal reported that “a nasty accident happened” to Private Hall. He was training “somewhere in England” and was riding his motor bike on the way to fetch the company’s letters, when he collided with a motor car. As a result he was hospitalised with his leg broken in two places. Walter was discharged in August 1916 and was awarded the Silver Badge. He still suffered from a bad leg after the war.
After being discharged, Walter opened a shop in Port Street, Evesham (now Vince’s, the hairdresser), with cycles on one side, fishing tackle on the other. He was the first person in Evesham to have a fishing shop. Charles Binyon, village worthy and a keen cyclist, mentions Walter in his diary of 1st January 1918: “Jan 1 Tuesday – Rain at first. Dull, windy and cold. The hills are all covered with snow. F. Bubb brought up the day book, as I was not able to go to the Office this morning. Sprouts 3/3 until just before Christmas. Went to Evesham (on Walter Hall’s machine).”
Walter married Elsie Maud Harrison, daughter of a Birmingham policeman, in 1919. They went to Weston-super-Mare for their honeymoon, travelling there on a motorbike with sidecar. In early married life, Walter and Elsie lived at Offenham where their three children were born: Cicely Veronica (1921-1962), Doreen Barbara (1923) and Ronald Walter (1926-2017). The three children all started school at Offenham. Doreen recalls that Walter was the first person in Offenham to have a car. On a Wednesday afternoon (which was half-day closing in Evesham), Walter would close the shop at 1 and drive with the hood down to Offenham School to pick up his children and any others who wanted a ride in the car. In those days, there was a step on the side of the car with a can for petrol. There were no garages, just a petrol pump on the side of the road.
In 1934, Walter’s mother died. Eliza Keen, a staunch Methodist, died at the age of 80 whilst at her bedside saying her prayers. Her ten-year-old granddaughter, Doreen, was there at the time.
It was during 1934 that Walter, Elsie and children left Offenham and came to live in Badsey at Inverdoon (present-day No 9 Willersey Road). This was the house which had been built in 1908 on land which had been bought by Walter’s father in 1888. It had previously been called Cothome and occupied by the Sparrow family. The significance of the name change to Inverdoon is unknown. The family was to be found there at the time of the 1939 Register. He was described as a cycle agent and repairer (own account). Elsie’s sister, Doris Harrison, also lived with them.
The Hall family had many relatives close by. At Homeleigh (No 5) was Walter’s older brother, Percy, and family. At Bredon View (No 11) lived Walter’s cousin, George Moisey, and at Rose Villa (No 1) lived Walter’s aunt, Eliza Keen (the widow of his Uncle Henry). Next-door at Auburn Villa (No 7) were Walter’s three spinster sisters – Helen Mary (1890-1952), Elizabeth Frances (1895-1937) and Rosa Annie (1898-1935) – who carried on living there after the death of their mother. It was only when the last sister died in 1952 that Auburn Villa was sold. It was sold for about £4,000, of which £100 each was given to all 18 of Joseph and Emma’s grandchildren. Doreen remembers thinking it was a small fortune at the time.
Walter died at Evesham Hospital on 27th December 1945, aged 52, and was buried in the churchyard at St James, Badsey, on 21st January 1946. His widow, Elsie, survived him by more than 20 years, dying on 26th January 1967 in Ronkswood Hospital, Worcester. After Elsie’s death, Inverdoon (by now known as 9 Willersey Road) was put up for sale.
Maureen Spinks, February 2020
Additional reporting by Shirley Tutton and Wendy Gwynn