Our members are participating in the A-Z Blogging Challenge for 2018 with the theme People of My Place. Today's entry is from Ann Preston.

U is for the surname Underwood. The Underwood family has a brief residence at my One Place Study village of Little Coxwell.

The Underwoods arrived in Little Coxwell in the autumn of 1893; that is Adam Underwood with his wife Mary Ann and their children. Adam Underwood is typical of the era when many labourers changed their place of work every few years or so, typically in the autumn at Michaelmas, coinciding with the old hiring or ‘mop’ fairs.

Adam was a gardener; it is likely that he was employed at one of the three ‘gentry’ houses that the village boasted, all of which had extensive gardens and would have employed a number of gardeners. Adam was born in 1847 in Brixton, London. However his mother, Ann, had been born at Watchfield, a village only a few miles away from Little Coxwell; widowed, Adam’s mother had returned to her native village with her children, so that Adam had had grown up in Watchfield and had attended the village school. In his early career as a gardener he had combined that occupation with that of a groom, quite a common combination of roles in our area. He did however have a spell as a farm bailiff and as an inn-keeper. Adam Underwood married Mary Ann Wyatt, a girl who was also from Watchfield, at the parish church in Fernham in 1875. Adam and Mary Ann Underwood lived at Fernham for about ten years, they moved with their family of children to Lechlade in Gloucestershire for a couple of years then to Shrivenham for a few years. Their next move was to Little Coxwell, where they stayed for about six years from 1893.

While Adam and Mary Ann Underwood were living at Little Coxwell, they had two more children. Their son Frederick Ernest was born at Little Coxwell on the 14th December 1893 just after his parents and siblings came to live here. However he was baptised at St. Andrew’s Church at Shrivenham on the 4th March 1894. The Shrivenham register recorded his birth date and that his parents Adam and Maryann Underwood were living at Little Coxwell. The information that Frederick Ernest was born at Little Coxwell comes from the census forms for 1901 and 1911. Their second son born at Little Coxwell was named Cecil Frank; he was born on the 22nd June 1896 and baptised at St Mary's Church in Little Coxwell on the 26th July later that year.

St. Mary’s Church at Little Coxwell photographed in 1964 by Ann Preston
St. Mary’s Church at Little Coxwell photographed in 1964 by Ann Preston

Naturally whilst living at Little Coxwell some of Adam and Mary Ann Underwood’s children attended the school in the village:

Little Coxwell School built in 1846 and photographed in 1963, a year before it closed, by Ann Preston.
Little Coxwell School built in 1846 and photographed in 1963, a year before it closed, by Ann Preston.

Albert Edward Bertram Underwood became a pupil at Little Coxwell school on the 23rd November 1893, his brother George Adam started the following day and two of his sisters, Violet and May Caroline became scholars there later that year in December; all four children had previously attended Shrivenham school. Frederick Ernest who had been born at Little Coxwell became a pupil at Little Coxwell school, on the 24th November 1897, just a few weeks before his 4th birthday.

The three boys Frederick, Cecil and Albert are representative of those associated with Little Coxwell who served in the Great War:

Frederick Ernest Underwood enlisted with the Coldstream Guards on the 20th September 1913; he was discharged on the 23rd October 1918 due to a gunshot wound to the left leg. He was awarded the Silver War Badge and the usual three WW1 medals which included the 1914 Star.

Cecil Frank Underwood enlisted in August 1916 and served until 1919. He served with the Worcestershire Regiment and the Machine Gun Corps.

Albert Edward Bertram Underwood served with the Hampshire Regiment attached to the 4th Bedford Regiment, Royal Naval Division i.e. part of the 190th Brigade of the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division. It would appear that Albert Underwood enlisted on the 28th December 1914, and was discharged, due to wounds, on the 17th January 1919 aged 33. He was granted a Silver War Badge and the usual three WW1 medals which included the 1915 Star.

After the family’s departure from Little Coxwell it would appear that Adam and Mary Ann returned to Shrivenham where they settled for the remainder of their lives. Adam died in 1928. A brief report regarding Adam was published in the local press in 1922:

Shrivenham: A Good Record
It is worthy of note that Mr Adam Underwood, an old and respected inhabitant of this village, has sung in the Parish Church Choir for the long period of 63 years, and is still a member of it. As caretaker of the Churchyard, a post he is now relinquishing, he has served the Vicar and Churchwardens for 29 years, and has been responsible for the well-kept condition for which the Shrivenham Churchyard has always been noted. For the last five years he has been sexton of the parish, a position he still holds. Mr Underwood was a 72 years of age in June last year. [Extract from The Faringdon Advertiser dated Saturday 19th August 1922]

There looks to be a discrepancy in Adam’s age as reported here, I would have expected 75. One wonders if the 63 years of singing in the choir was not interrupted by his residence away from the village; however he probably did start singing in the church choir as a boy about twelve years old and continued to do so when he was living in Shrivenham. It’s good to find a brief biography in the newspaper of an ordinary working man acknowledging his dedication and local involvement.

N.B. All the villages referred to here, Little Coxwell, Fernham, Shrivenham and Watchfield, cluster in the north-west corner of the traditional county of Berkshire; it was in 1974 that our part of Berkshire was re-christened Oxfordshire.

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