Village Life in Silchester
In about 1870 Henry Whistler and his wife Emily moved to the Hampshire village of Silchester, near Basingstoke. Emily was the daughter of Thomas White, a grocer of Newbury, Berkshire. Henry, baptised at Sherborne St John on 2 September 1832, was the son of John Whistler, a ‘plumber, painter, glazier & paperhanger’. Henry’s paternal grandmother Elizabeth, the daughter of William and Sarah Elliott, was born in Silchester in 1773. Her marital home was in Aldermaston, Berkshire. Henry’s brother John Whistler, who took over his father’s building and decorating business based at Sherborne St John, was the grandfather of the artist-brothers Rex and Sir Laurence Whistler.
Henry Whistler and Emily Susan White were married at St Matthias Church, Stoke Newington, London, on 16 August 1868 (1). In the shopfront of their Silchester house Henry Whistler operated a village grocery and Emily worked as a ‘dressmaker, costumier and milliner’. Henry also had the role as village postmaster and rate collector (2).
In the 1890s an interesting activity in Silchester was the archaeological project, under the direction of the Society of Antiquaries of London, that revealed the layout of a Roman town (3).
By the turn of the century James Yates was established at Silchester Common as the village baker, grocer and postmaster. Possibly the Yates family took over the Whistlers’ business. A marriage alliance united the two families: Martha, the daughter of James Yates, became the bride of Henry John Whistler, the son of Henry and Emily.
Henry John Whistler, who trained as a carpenter’s apprentice in the town of Reading, worked as a builder in the Buckinghamshire village of Chalfont St Giles before returning to settle in the family home in Silchester (4).
The senior Henry Whistler passed away in 1907. A fine tribute was printed in the Hants and Berks Gazette on Saturday 6 July 1907: (5)
Silchester – Death and Funeral of Mr Henry Whistler
On 13 April 1912 Henry John Whistler, aged 40, and Martha Yates, aged 25, were married at a wedding in Silchester. Directory listings for Silchester record Henry John Whistler as a builder, and, in succession to his father, Assistant Overseer (a parish officer responsible for various community duties) and Clerk to the Parish Council. By 1935 George Ham had taken over as Clerk to the Parish Council (6).
Henry John Whistler died at his home ‘6 The Lane’, Silchester, on 6 April 1970, less than three weeks before his 99th birthday. John Eyton, the son-in-law of the Revd Henry Theophilus Adams, who was the Silchester parish rector from 1925 to 1943, gave his memories of Whistler: ‘. . . will always recall his alert, upright soldierly figure going briskly about his daily concerns, including his beloved bees – the figure of a man who deserved well of his generation’ (7).
The Whistlers’ house was on a street marked on a 1653 map that, at some stage, was known as Nanny Goat Lane. The 1891 census gave ‘Whistlers Road’ as the address of Henry and Emily Whistler. In the 1960s the street name was just The Lane. In the 1970s, to honour Henry John Whistler’s contribution to the community, the Parish Council approved the name change to Whistler’s Lane (8).
After Henry’s death in 1970 the Whistlers’ Silchester home was sold. When the house was again offered for sale in 2001 the house was referred to as ‘Whistler’s House in Whistler’s Lane’. A sale notice in the Basingstoke Gazette Property Guide dated 5 October 2001 gave some house history: (9)
The house, in Whistler’s Lane, was built in 1760 . . . . A Miss Whistler [Joan Kathleen], who died in 1988, was born there in 1912. Her father was also born in the house in 1870 and lived there for all his 99 years. . . . A brick store room in the garden of the house still has the bread oven from its days as the village bakery in the late 1700s and, at some stage in its history, the property was also a post office.
Thomas Whistler, a seventeenth century rector
In the seventeenth century the Whistler family was also prominent in Silchester village life when Thomas Whistler was the parish rector. The connection of Rector Thomas Whistler to the Whistler families living in the Basingstoke area in the nineteenth century has not been found. Also, a link to the famous artist James McNeill Whistler is not known. It is thought that they all share a common ancestral home in the Thames Valley of the sixteenth century.
Thomas, the son of Laurence Whistler of Brightwell-cum-Sotwell in the Thames Valley near the town of Wallingford, was admitted to Trinity College Oxford in 1619, aged eighteen, and graduated BA in 1622 and MA in 1625. On 11 December 1628 he was ordained priest by Bishop Richard Corbett at St Giles’ Church, Oxford.
In 1630 Thomas Whistler was appointed the rector of Silchester by Edmund Dunch, the lord of the manor. Edmund’s principal home was the manor house in Little Wittenham in the Thames Valley. His mother Mary was the sister of Robert Cromwell, the father of Oliver Cromwell. Therefore Edmund Dunch and Oliver Cromwell were cousins. Thomas Whistler most certainly shared their Puritan views.
Both Edmund Dunch and Thomas Whistler lived through the Civil War. Edmund, an ardent republican, gave generous financial support to the parliamentarian cause. Local tradition claims that in 1645 Oliver Cromwell, accompanied by a troop of Roundhead soldiers, stayed at the Silchester manor house as guests of Edmund Dunch while enroute to end the siege of Basing House that had been fortified as a royalist garrison.
As Civil War preparations in Silchester the stained glass from the church windows and the chancel screen were taken out and concealed in hiding places. It is not known if this work was supervised by Rector Thomas Whistler. In any case, the stained glass was hid so securely that no one has been able to find it again. At the end of the Civil War the chancel screen was recovered and stored in the tithe barn; but it was not until the nineteenth century that the screen was re-discovered and re-installed in the church.
Thomas Whistler’s wife Bridget was the sister of William Garrard of Inkpen in Berkshire. Thomas Whistler was buried at Silchester on 13 August 1667. Bridget Whistler continued to live in Silchester until her death in 1693.
Selected References: Sources for Thomas Whistler, rector of Silchester, are:
Pete Annells, The Berkshire Dunches, 2006 (collection of Local Studies, Central Library, Reading).
L. F. Rushbrook Williams, The Church of St Mary the Virgin, Silchester: An Historical Note.
The Clergy of the Church of England Database (website).
(1) The marriage certificate ordered from the General Register Office gave the details: Henry Whistler, bachelor, painter, father John Whistler, painter, and Emily Susan White, spinster, father Thomas White, grocer; address of both bride and groom: 5 St Matthias Place; witnesses: Alfred White and Julia Ellen White.
(2) Occupations were reported in census returns. The 1912 Silchester marriage record for Henry John Whistler stated that the profession of his father Henry Whistler was rate collector. Discussion of salaried versus unsalaried Post Office staff is in A Guide to Family History Research in The Royal Mail Archive, website: The British Postal Museum & Archive. It was typical for small village post offices to be run by shopkeepers who were not salaried staff of the Royal Mail
(3) website: Silchester Roman Town.
(5) The newspaper (page 5) was viewed
at British Library Newspapers, Colindale, London.
A reference to the obituary was found at the
Tadley and District History Society website.
(6) Various editions of Kelly’s Directory of Hampshire & Isle of Wight were consulted at the Hampshire Record Office, Winchester. In 1921 Henry John Whistler of Silchester, builder, was named on a lease for Impstone Cottage, Pamber to Arthur Thomas Martin of London (HRO reference: 63M83/B13/3). The 1911 Kelly’s Directory, at the website: Historical Directories, named the shopkeeper James Yates as the Silchester postmaster.
(7) Death certificate ordered from the
General Register Office. On Friday 10 April 1970 the
Basingstoke Gazette, page 16, printed the death notice:
‘On April 6, 1970 Henry John Whistler, aged 98, passed peacefully away
at Silchester’ (British Library Newspapers, Colindale, London).
(8) History of the street name was very kindly provided by Cally Morris, Clerk to Silchester Parish Council, in email correspondence, February 2009. Whistler’s Lane is mentioned in the Conservation Area Appraisal for Silchester released by the Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council in April 2004 (accessed at the website: Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council).