The Best Family
This file is fairly out of date and needs bringing up to date


Harriet Louisa Best


The obvious place to start is with my Gran – Harriet Louisa Best, who married Henry John Thorne. She was the grandparent I knew best because she lived very close to us and I saw her several times a week. As a young child she was the one grandparent I knew on a day-to-day basis. Maybe it was because she was my mum’s mother, but she actually lived little nearer than my granddad Earnshaw, who I only met occasionally.


Gran lived at 51 Mereway Road, Twickenham. This was an end of terrace house and was probably built in the late Victorian era. Next to the house was the goods entrance to Coombes bakery where all of the flour was delivered.


Mum and I used to call in to visit Gran several times a week on the way home from school, so she really felt part of the family. On days when we didn’t visit, Gran would often walk up to see us. The journey was quite easy – from Mereway Road, across “The Rec” (Knellar Gardens) and then through Lincoln Avenue and Dorset Way to Wiltshire Gardens. But Gran never walked along the roads, she walked up the back alley and came in by the back gate. I think she thought it was a shorter walk but it just infuriated my mum!


A bomb damaged Gran’s house in WW2 and the lounge (front room) was unusable for several years. Even after it was repaired by government grant, the rest of the house seemed a bit rickety. I was a bit afraid of going upstairs because everything seemed uneven. So why was the house so rickety? It was owned by her daughter in law’s brother and so you would think he would look after it, but the only time I saw him at the house was to collect rent – he never got any decorating done, inside or out.


However, there was some interesting furniture upstairs that would probably be quite valuable today. Gran had a piano and was quite a good pianist. This was unusual to me as there was no music in our house. Only after my stepmother died did we acquire a piano and I felt that we had “made it”.


Christmases were great fun as that was the time that the whole family gathered together for a party. Even though Gran only lived in a small house, we managed to squeeze 12 around the table – Tom and Eva (with Nick and Geraldine), Babs and Alf (with David and Marion), Mum and Dad with me and of course Gran. I think she had a bench of some sort that us kids sat on – memory blurs with the years!


One reason for enjoying going to see Gran during the week was that my Uncle Tom (mum’s brother) used to visit after he finished work. Again, he lived quite close but I saw him more at Gran’s than at other times. He worked at a company called Automotive Engineering (“the auto”) on The Green in Twickenham. This is where my Mum used to work as a telephonist before the war.


Gran was a dinner lady at Archdeacon Cambridge School in Briar Road. She had to take the children from the school to where they had lunch in First Cross Road (I think it was the Congregational Church). How a 75 year old woman managed to stop the traffic to get the children across a main road beggars belief. But eventually it was decreed that she was too old and she retired from the job.


There were a few things in the house that I remember. In the front room was, as well as the piano, a copy of the painting The Laughing Cavalier. This was weird, as the guy really seemed to be looking at you, wherever you went. In the parlour where most of life went on there was a small vase in the shape of a tree trunk. Inset into it was a small hole with a blue bird and a nest. I really loved that vase. In the corner was a treadle sewing machine and above that, an old wireless. Why did Gran keep changing the channel and then rely on others to get it back to “The Home Service” (lets face it, there were only three channels!)? She had quite a small garden. Outside the back door was a covered area with the mangle. Also outside was the coal shed and the toilet. OK in summer but going to the loo in winter was FREEEZING. What on earth was it like to have to use the loo at night – probably unknown as there was a “po” under each bed.


When I was 5 or 6, I went to Gran’s on my birthday. On top of the piano was a child’s fort with some toy soldiers. I remember asking whose it was. When she said that it was for the first of her grandchildren to give her a kiss, she received the biggest kiss ever within a fraction of a second.


I will never forget the look on Gran’s face when I had to tell her that Mum (her daughter) had died. Mum had been ill for several years, but it still came as a shock. She was coming to the house with Tom and Eva to see Mum, presumably for the last time, but mum had died a couple of hours before and we passed as I was going to the undertaker’s.


Gran was a lovely lady. OK, very working class as we all were. But she wouldn’t see wrong in anyone. She lent me the money to buy my first car. But soon after there were the first signs of senile decay as she told me she had been to Exmouth for her summer holiday – yet I had seen her the day before. Eventually her mental state got so bad that she was admitted to Springfields Hospital in Tooting where she remained until her death.


A few years before this she acquired a boyfriend from Exmouth – William Yelland (I’m not totally certain of the name). Everything seemed to be going well until he asked her to marry him. She refused as she didn’t want to start another family – she was in her late 70s !!! The only memories of him I have now are that he was very deaf and he gave gran his military compass from WW1, except that Gran had cut out the part of the leather case with his name and regimental number – why? I still have the compass. Who was he, and where did he come from?


Harriet’s Siblings


Anyway, the Best family wasn’t only Gran. Far from it!! She was one of eleven brothers and sisters who had been brought up in Exmouth Devon. I was always told that they had been raised at 8 Albion Street Exmouth, above the family tailor’s shop. But I have recently found out that, as late as 1901, they lived in George Street – a few yards away. Certainly they lived in Albion Street when my Gran was married – but how so many children lived there is a mystery. I suppose the children must have been sleeping “top to toe”, as the property was a small flat above the shop.


My Gran used to spend summer and Christmas holidays in Exmouth staying with her sister Emily. This was a shop, with flat, at 12 The Parade Exmouth. Emily (Aunt Em) was a corsetiere and sold ladies underwear from the shop. I think that Gran was a bit scared of Aunt Em as she felt that she could not visit all of her brothers and sisters “without permission” and so some were only seen when she was out and about in the town.


The Best family seemed to live to a very good age, as, even when I was a teenager, many of them were still alive.


The entire family, as well as Gran, was

-         George, who died as a baby

-         Rose, who I think had died before we first went to Exmouth. We used to visit her daughter Peggy. Peggy was one of the few to visit Twickenham. She came on a motorcycle and sidecar with her husband and two children.

-         Alf, who lived in Camperdown Terrace with his second wife Deborah. They had a lovely position for a house as the River Exe was at the bottom of the garden.

-         Kate, who died young but has a large family in Canada

-         Emily, as I said, lived in The Parade over her shop. The flat always smelled of alcohol as I think they drank throughout the day. The other memory of her was of pickled onions. Emily, and her second husband Fred, always brought a jar or two when they visited Twickenham each autumn.

-         James (uncle Jim) lived in Phillips Avenue with his wife and daughter. On one occasion his son in law was there as well (he never seemed to be at home). Jim always seemed a kindly old man. In fact he was a very talented tailor who worked privately for much of his life. His wife, Elsie, was very deaf and you had to shout if you wanted her to hear anything. More of this family later. I still have the telegram from the Queen that they received after 65 years of marriage. Jim was also a lay preacher with the Methodist Church.

-         Eliza who lived in 1 North Street Exmouth with her sister Jessie. The property had been a ladies hairdressers.

-         Jessie. She lived with Eliza, but worked with her son (Harry Steer) who ran the Countess Weir Café on the Exeter By-Pass. Even though it was about 8 miles away, I think she once walked from Exmouth to Exeter. When she was very old, I met Jessie, living in the Salvation Army home, Hulham House, in Exmouth.

-         Ada lived at the old family home at 8 Albion Street

-         John lived with Ada at 8 Albion Street (recently found that his name was Samuel John). There always seemed to be a bit of sniggering about the brother and sister living together. As a child it seemed perfectly normal, but I wonder if it was as innocent?


Years later, after my Dad had died in Exmouth, I met Peggy again. She was running the local information booth for the Town Council. She seemed so like my Gran and we got on quite well. She asked me to stand for election to the Town Council, but I was already a Councillor at home in Wokingham.


Aunt Em (Emily) was the real character. She had married her husband’s brother after she was widowed. Her only son had been killed on the motorcycle that Emily had bought him for his birthday. I think the trauma of losing her husband and brother within three years was too much to bear and she grabbed hold of anything to console herself. When we went to Exmouth on holiday, I “helped” in the shop. I loved working the till, but what help I was selling underwear to elderly ladies is anybody’s guess!


Again, from memories of my childhood holidays, Uncle John was special. He owned a yacht and had been the “starter” for the local yacht club. Each time we visited we were taken out on the yacht – east across Lyme Bay, around Pole Sands and west towards Teignmouth or, using the outboard, up the river Exe.


Uncle Jim was also a kindly old man. His wife, although deaf was also very nice. But I couldn’t understand about their married daughter, Mollie, who lived in the house as we rarely saw her husband. When we did he was most impressive as he had an open top Sunbeam Talbot and took me for a ride around the Devon lanes – at speeds that terrified me. Later, all became clear! He had more or less deserted Mollie and, after a holiday in Exmouth, my Dad married her and they had 22 very happy years together.


Previous Generations


I have no direct knowledge of Gran’s parents or previous generations. However, there are a couple of photos of Great Grandmother Best – totally covered in clothes from head to foot, even though it was obviously mid summer. My Mum’s sister Babs provided some basic details about the previous generation. But my discovery of the family tree is primarily down to Peter Best, living in Exeter, who is a fifth cousin and has been researching the Best Family of Exmouth. Pete is in the Merchant Navy and so contact is sporadic, but he provided a tree that goes back several generations. So far it fits both the hearsay from the family and checks against the IGI, using formal records. I need to carry out detailed research to take the tree back through the generations and discover if it is true that we have a connection with Walter Raleigh – who lived fairly close at Collaton Raleigh, or was it Francis Drake or perhaps even Nelson depending on which tale or memory you believe!


Recently, after getting back in contact with Geraldine, I was given a copy of two photos of the family. These were obviously taken on the golden wedding anniversary of Gran Best’s parents (Samuel John and Elizabeth Jane). We can recognise quite a few faces, but many are a mystery at the moment. Certainly Gran, her siblings and her children are there and so is Peggy.


Most of the information on previous generations, before the indexed censuses, has been gleaned from the IGI. The most documented being the Row, or Rowe, family from Topsham. Thanks to Chris Rodgers for his help in this part of the search.


Latest Findings


More recently I have been in contact with several members of the Smalridge family in Canada and USA. Kate Best had married George Smalridge, but died in 1916 at the age of 35. George then married Margaret Clarke in 1919, who was the teacher of his children. A year later they emigrated to Canada and where there is a very large family from both his first and second wives


Many searches end very quickly – either because the IGI is incomplete, or possibly the Best family moved to Exmouth from elsewhere. This has to be one of the main areas of research.


I have spoken to a couple of relatives in Exmouth (in particular Crystal Perriam) who filled in a few gaps and pointed me toward someone who knew more.



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