The WHITE family – Private WHITE, Frank Ernest (1897-1915)

John White (1870-1954) and Ellen Maria Lewis (c1878-1955) married in 1895.  They had five surviving children:  Daughter Winifred Susan (1895-1962) and four sons; Frank Ernest (1897-1915); George William (1900-1983); John Lewis (1903-1974) and Herbert Francis (1906-1981).  John had been a footman to the Bishop of Oxford in 1891 and lived at the Bishop’s Palace.  Winifred was born in Oxfordshire in 1895 but by the time Frank was born the family lived at Great Cransley, near Kettering and his father was butler at Cransley Hall, which since 1890 had been occupied by the Watson family.  Frank was almost certainly born in servants’ quarters in the house or grounds.  He was baptised at St Andrew’s, Cransley, on 9th May 1897.  In March of that year John intervened in a fracas that took place whilst wages were being paid, between an estate employee and the elderly coachman who was handing out the payments.

Sometime between April of 1900 and April of 1901 the Whites moved to Rockingham Castle, also occupied by the Watson family, and John White continued working as a butler – unusually not living in the home of his employer, at least in 1911.  In September 1900 John met with an accident, which was reported in the Leicester Chronicle:

FALL FROM A BICYCLE – An accident occurred to Mr White, butler of Rockingham Castle, while cycling one day last week.  When descending a hill near Great Easton brickyard his foot slipped from the pedal, and he was thrown from the machine, severely cutting his head and face and injuring his knee.  He was taken on to Great Easton to have his wounds dressed by Dr Duke.

Rockingham Castle
Rockingham Castle

When war came the Reverend Wentworth Watson (1848-1925), owner of Rockingham Castle, offered Rockingham Castle as a hospital for injured soldiers in August 1914 and was accepted by the War Office.  So, as with many country houses, life at Rockingham Castle changed substantially.  Rooms and even whole wings were closed off and grand parties and entertaining came to an end.  Male servants signed up for active service in droves and many female servants looked for war work in factories or as nurses, so there was no longer a need for a butler at Rockingham.

Mr Wentworth Watson seems to have known Canon Nugee.  They were both curates at St German’s, Cardiff – Watson predating Nugee by just a few months.  They both attended the requiem for Nugee’s brother in law Bishop Smythies in 1894 (Wentworth Watson sang in the choir), so it may have been John’s employer at Rockingham who found or encouraged John to apply for his new role at St Martin’s Church, Leicester.  However it came about, early in 1915 John became parish clerk – and shortly after clerk and verger (following the retirement of John Woodcock) – of St Martin’s.  The rest of the family were very active in the church as you might expect.  Herbert Francis and John Lewis were sidesmen during the 1920s and 30s and both later married at St Martin’s.  As well as being Verger, John served on the PCC.

The only member of the family of eligible age, Frank joined the Northants Regiment 5th battalion (Pioneers) on reaching 18 in 1915.  During training he was based in Aldershot, then on 31st May he mobilised with his battalion to France.  Frank survived for less than six weeks before being killed in action in Flanders on 4th July 1915, aged 18.  The Grantham Journal printed the following on 31st July 1915:


Pte Frank White, the son of a former butler at Rockingham Castle, has been killed at the front. He was employed by Mr H Jones, butcher and baker, Rockingham, at the time he volunteered and he was only visiting here a few weeks before the report came of his early end. He was about twenty years old.

White 173 Western Road
173 Western Road

He left effects of £2 15s 6d, which were paid to his mother.  A war gratuity of £3 was also paid to her in 1919.  Frank was buried at Talena Farm Cemetery, Flanders.  St Martin’s parish magazine does not record the death but does mention that at that time Mr John White had a temporary address of 33 Green Lane Road, Humberstone.  Later on that year the address was 173 Western Road.

John and Ellen Maria lived at 37 Noble Street from October 1915.  In 1920 the vicar, Macnutt, gave £1 6s 6d to John White “re Herbert’s illness” and a further £1 5s as a Christmas present.  John served as verger at St Martin’s for 35 years, retiring in 1951.  He lived on at Noble Street until his death in 1954.  Ellen Maria died there the following year.

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