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A Tangled Web - Smith, Spear, Hale and Pitt

Researching my grandmother's cousin who died in the Great War, plus a relation by marriage.

Background

This research relates to the Spear and Hale forebears on the maternal side of the Smith family, having roots in the Black Country, with two main areas of enquiry:

  1. My grandmother Edith Smith's album of old photographs going back to about 1900 contains two Great War pictures of a young man in army uniform, but with no name attached.
  2. My father Frank Smith, son of Oliver and Edith Smith, recollects that a woman named Dora Pitt always claimed to be related to his mother Edith; also, that Dora's mother had been the housekeeper to a local dignitary / businessman in Brierley Hill.

The Young Soldier

A family funeral card suggests that the soldier is "Sergeant William Basil Hale, who died in St George's Hospital, London, June 25th 1918, aged 28 years; interred at Holy Trinity, Amblecote, June 29th".

Research shows that William initially joined the West Somerset Yeomanry, who were mounted troops, then served with them dis-mounted at Gallipoli with 29th Division later in 1915. He was hospitalised in Malta in December 1915 with slight diarrhoea. His regimental number was 998. The unit served in Egypt in early 1916 and thereafter in France. He served as a sergeant in a Machine Gun Company on the Western Front, his regimental number being 49585. However, he suffered a kidney abscess and subsequently died from influenza in hospital in London in June 1918. His service record is available on-line, but under the name William Baril Hale, a small error.

William is commemorated on the Amblecote Memorial, with his name on the lych-gate memorial of Holy Trinity Church.

WB Hale in lightweight uniform, with triangular
insignia of 29th Division on his topi.
Later photograph, noting his brass shoulder title is
MGC, for Machine Gun Company.

The Hale Connection

My grandmother Edith Smith (nee Spear) was the daughter of Hezekiah Spear, a glassblower, and Mary Ann Hale. They lived in Amblecote, then later Birmingham and Blackfriars, London.

Mary Ann's father was William Hale, a licensed victualler, and her mother was Mary Shaw. William had initially married Sarah Shaw in 1852, who died shortly after, and then married her sister, Mary in 1856. They raised an extended family and ran public houses in Kingswinford, Amblecote, Wordsley and Kidderminster at different times. One of Mary Ann's brothers was William Hale, junior, who grew up to be a corn miller, but died quite young in 1889.

We can now introduce William Basil Hale, as the baby son who was born not long after his father William Hale junior died. A record transcript for 1890 gives William Basil Hale as baptised on 6 April 1890 at Holy Trinity Church, Amblecote with the mother given as Emma and the father as William Hale. Emma is believed to be the housekeeper in Frank's family recollection.

A 1891 Census record gives widow Emma Hale, aged 28, a licensed victualler, living at Brewery Street, Wordsley, Stourbridge with her son William B Hale (aged 1) and an aged lodger and a servant girl.

Hitchmough's Black Country Pubs - Stourbridge, provides a valuable summary of the family circumstances, recording that for the Old White Hart, Brierley Hill Road (48, Brewery Street), Wordsley, the licensees included:

Emma was therefore the licensee of the White Hart at the time of the 1891 Census, noting that William and Mary Hale had been living at and running this pub previously, prior to William Hale junior becoming the licensee and running it (possibly with Emma) until he died. William and Mary had moved to Kidderminster by 1891, where they ran the Angel Inn, situated on Market Square, at 10 Worcester Street.

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The Pitt Connection

Details in Hitchmough's are also given for the Cherry Tree at Barnett Lane / Lawnswood Road, (Brewery Street), Wordsley for which the licensees included:

The pub was owned by Joshua Webb from 1884 and Thomas Taylor (maltster) from 1893, with North Worcestershire Breweries Ltd acquiring the property in 1896.

The 1901 Census shows that the licensees of the Cherry Tree, Emma and Samuel, had in fact got married. Emma (aged 37) is recorded as the wife of Samuel Thomas Pitt (aged 40), a glassmaker, and that they were then living at the Acorn Inn, 109 Brettell Lane, Amblecote with children William Basil Hale-Pitt (aged 11), Stanley Pitt (aged 3) and Doris Pitt (aged 1), plus two domestic servants.

So here in one Census record we have a link between the young William and his half-sister Doris, who is taken to be Dora Pitt who would have been 25 at the time Frank Smith was born in 1925. She would have been a relation by marriage to Edith Spear, rather than a blood relative, as far as one can tell.

Smith-Spear-Hale-Pitt Connections, especially William Basil Hale and Doris Pitt.

Postscript

The 1911 Census records Basil, William. Hale. aged 21, single, as a stableman, born in Wordsley, Staffordshire. The age and place of birth fit precisely with what we know. The name order might be a mistake on the part of whoever made the return or reflect which Christian name William was known by. In any case, Ancestry.co.uk contains no other individual with the name Basil William Hale or Basil Hale meeting the birth year and birth place matches required. So this is our man.

William was working at Compton Place Stables, Compton Place, Eastbourne, a property owned by Victor Cavendish, the 9th Duke of Devonshire. The Census records Victor and Evelyn, the Duke and Duchess respectively. Victor was promoted a major in the Yeomanry in 1911. He was a politician who served as Governor General of Canada from 1916.

So here we have an explanation as to why William gained work experience with horses and went on to join up as a mounted Territorial in a Yeomanry regiment.

William's grave is in Holy Trinity Church, Amblecote with a headstone in the style of a formal war grave and the inscription below is included on the memorial cross marking the family grave of the elder William Hale and his immediate family.

In loving memory of
Sergt. WILLIAM BASIL HALE, M.G.C. who died in King Georges Hospital London, June 25th
1918 aged 28 years
Son of the late WILLIAM HALE and MRS. PITT of Wordsley
Greater love hath no man than this
That he should lay down his life for his friends
Also EMMA PITT who died Jany. 29th 1931 aged 67 years
"Thy will be done."
Entry D111 in Memorial Index - Holy Trinity Church, Amblecote, Stourbridge, Midlands

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