War and a New Pair of Gloves

Warwick Road, Wellesbourne. Image: Our Warwickshire

Frederick Overbury was a small, polite, quiet and rather sad man, not unlike H. G. Wells’ Mr Polly. He was also, like Mr Polly, a draper who had learned his trade working in his father’s drapery business in Wellesbourne.

As far as I can make out the business started around 1864 when a financial deal was struck between a Stratford hotelier and Frederick’s father (also called Frederick) and a friend of his, one John Eden Sturch who, as far as I can make out, owned Anslow’s, a grocers and Wellesbourne’s post office back then (which can be seen in the photo above).

The chances are Frederick Overbury senior was inspired to open his store by the success of a new department store in Stratford-upon-Avon opened in 1858 by a young man called Fred Winter, a Suffolk grain dealer and auctioneer who’d moved to Stratford to try his hand at retailing. The chances are Fred Winter may have been inspired by another Suffolk man, William Debenham (from the village of Debenham)who opened their first store in London in the 18th century.

Maybe there’s something in the name Frederick?

As a child I knew Mr Overbury in the mid-1950s, and often visited his store with my mother who, one afternoon bought two yards of linoleum. Mr Overbury wrapped it carefully in brown paper, which he then tied up with white string. Mum and I carried it home between us. Then, after clearing out the kitchen as best we could, my ever determined mother fitted the stuff using her precious sewing scissors to cut the lino into shape. It lasted for years.

On another occasion close to Christmas, and having ruined a pair of woollen gloves snowballing, my mother gave me five shillings and sent me off to Overbury’s to buy a new pair. It was the first time I’d been into the store on my own.

The store was very long but relatively narrow. In the centre were two cutting tables end on end; in front of these a forward sloping floor stand supporting a stack of carpets, and behind the cutting tables hundreds of rolls of curtain and dress fabric. At the end of the store stood, in guardsman-like precision, roll upon roll of every grade of linoleum, with stacks of door mats in the top right-hand corner. Along the left wall there were long oak counters in front of cabinets full of ladies underwear, stockings and blouses, jumpers and cardigans. Along the length of he right hand wall counters were stacked high with workmens’ clothing, and towards the far end mens’ suiting, shirts, scarves, coats and gloves. I headed in that direction which meant I had to pass Mr and Mrs Overbury standing behind the till.

“ Good afternoon Master Newman, and how are you on this snowy day?” asked Mr Overbury.

I wasn’t quite sure what to say, then blurted out: “ My mum has sent me to buy a new pair of gloves ‘cos I’ve ruined me others snowballing.”

“ Snowballing, oh yes,” he said rather wistfully looking at his wife Emily. “ This way Master Newman.”

I then spent a good ten minutes looking at and trying on gloves, with My Overbury advising as I did so. I finally chose a blue pair of woollen gloves which Mr Overbury then wrapped neatly in brown paper and as with the lino tying the parcel with white string. As he did so I noticed how thin his hands were, in fact how thin he was.

“ That will be seven shilling and sixpence Master Newman.”

“ My mum’s only given me five shillings.”

He then turned to his wife.

“ Ring up five shillings would you my dear.”

Which she did on a a huge and fancy National Cash Register till.

It was snowing quite hard when I left Overburys so I tore the paper and string off the gloves and put them on. When I was close to home I came across a couple of pals snowballing and joined in. When I eventually reached home my new gloves were wet through. Mum gave me a good telling off and hung the gloves in front of the fire; and as they steamed I said to my mum:

“ They were seven and an six, but Mr Overbury let me have them for five shillings.”

“ Such a kind man.”

Frederick and Emily Overbury had two sons, David and James who, when World War Two began were in their late teens. They joined the army pretty much straight away.

When I was growing up the story in the village was that the brothers were killed side by side on D-Day, and that’s what this story was leading up to, but then a couple of days ago I learned that:

“ Corporal DAVID OVERBURY died age 21 on 02 April 1943 Son of Frederic and Emily Marion Overbury, of Wellesbourne, Warwickshire. His brother James also fell.”

Part of Wellesbourne War Memorial. Photo: Malcolm Thomas

David was in the 46th Regiment, Reconnaissance Corps, Royal Armoured Corps. James was in the Warwickshire Yeomanry. They were on different battlefields in different parts of the world.

Their effects were returned to their parents in Wellesbourne. I have no idea how Frederick and Emily must have felt when they received the neatly wrapped brown paper parcel tied with white government string.

Written by

Playwright, Historian, Biographer & Freelance Writer Living and Working in Shakespeare’s Stratford

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