The Wells Family – Basket Makers and Furnishing Manufacturers
by Linda Ayres
Thomas Wells was born in 1775 in St. Neots, Huntingdonshire, and was the son of Thomas Wells, a basket maker and Eleanor née Lugsden. When Thomas was 7 years old his father died. As soon as Thomas was old enough, he became a basket maker. There was an ample supply of willow for basket making from the willow trees that grew along the banks of the river Ouse at St. Neots and the osier beds also provided a ready supply of willow. Huntingdonshire then was agricultural and his baskets would have been in demand from the farmers who used them to store and transport their grain, fruit, and vegetables.
On the 17th October 1794 Thomas aged 19 married Mary Marks aged 21 by licence at St. Mary’s Church, Bedford. After their marriage they lived in St. Neots. They had four children, three sons and one daughter.
Mary and Thomas move to Bedford
In 1815 Thomas and Mary moved into Castle Lane, Bedford, where Thomas set up his basket making business. He carried on making baskets until he was well into his eighties.
In September 1850 Mary died aged 77, at Fenlake Barns, (now known as the Barns Hotel, Cardington Road, Bedford.) Her burial took place on the 12th September 1850 at the Bunyan Meeting Burial Ground, Mill Street, Bedford.
Thomas died on the 1st April 1857, aged 82, in the High Street, Bedford. His burial took place at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. Grave Ref: C8.214
The Children of Mary and Thomas
James joined his father in the basket making business and later set up his own basket making business in the High Street, Bedford. On the 3rd January 1840 James aged 35 married Rhoda Berrill aged 35 at St. Paul’s Church Bedford. Rhoda was born in Goldington, Bedford, and was the daughter of Mary and Thomas Berrill, a bricklayer. After their marriage James and Rhoda moved into Silver Street, Bedford. In 1842 James gave up his basket making business in Bedford, and moved to Potton, Bedfordshire. There are no records to show what became of James and Rhoda.
Thomas was a tailor by trade and lived with his father in Castle Lane. When his father died, he moved into the High Street. On the 1st January 1858 Thomas aged 47 married Elizabeth Mason Phillips aged 37 at Cardington Church. After their marriage they moved into Gadsby Street, Bedford. Thomas died aged 53, on the 23rd February 1863. His burial took place in the grave with his father at Foster Hill Cemetery, Bedford. Grave Ref: C8.214
On the 18th December 1832, Ann aged 23 married David Malden aged 30 at St. Paul’s Church, Bedford. David was born in Bedford, and was one of the four children of Benjamin Malden, and Hannah née Ingle. Benjamin ran his own business, “Malden’s Bakery” at 88 High Street, Bedford, on the corner with Lime Street.
David and Ann were well-known bakers, and confectioners at 39 High Street, Bedford. On the 30th April 1863 David died aged 63. His burial took place in the family grave with his father-in-law Thomas Wells, and his brother-in-law Thomas Wells Jnr. Grave Ref: C8.214.
In December 1863 Ann sold the business to Richard Thomas Town, a confectioner. On the 13th March 1888 Ann died aged 79, at Gery Street, St Cuthbert’s, Bedford, (now known as Waterloo Road). Her burial took place in the grave with her sister-in-law, Mary Burr, née Malden. Mary died aged 65, on the 24th July 1871. Grave Ref: C8.195
George was born in 1801 and was the eldest child of Thomas and Ann Wells. On the 21st March 1837 George married Sarah Hayward Waldron at St. James Church Clerkenwell, London. Sarah was born in 1812 in Marlborough, Wiltshire. Her christening took place on the 18th October 1812 at St. Mary’s Church, Marlborough. Sarah was the only daughter of Richard Waldron and Sarah née Hayward.
After their marriage George and Sarah lived in the upstairs rooms at 25 High Street, Bedford. On the ground floors George carried on his business as a cabinet maker. One of the rooms was known as “The Bazaar”, where he sold all sorts of items such as, jewellery, writing desks, perfumery, china, and silver. By 1860 George had fifty people working for him.
George and Sarah had six children, sadly, two of their children died young. They were William Brain Wells (1845-1846) whose burial took place in St. Paul’s Churchyard and Henry Wells (1851-1857). His burial took place at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. Section E8. 135.
George and Sarah’s surviving children were Sarah born in 1839, George (1841-1912), Ellen Brain Wells (1848-1939), and Charles Wells (1842-1914). Charles became the owner of the Horne Lane, Brewery, Bedford.
George’s eldest son, also named George, left the Bedford Modern School, and joined his father in the furnishing business. In 1864 George Jnr. became a partner in the firm, and the firm became known as “Geo. Wells & Son”. By 1870 George Snr. had retired and he and Sarah moved into The Barns at Fenlake, Cardington.
The funerals of Sarah and George Wells
On the 31st January 1871 Sarah died aged 58 years. George survived Sarah by five years; he died, aged 76, at Fenlake Barns on the 9th July 1876. George and Sarah’s burials took place in the grave with their son, Henry at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. Their graves are unmarked. Grave Ref: E 8.135
Wells & Co.
George Wells Jnr. carried on the business, under the name of “Wells & Co.” Within a few years the business had gone from strength to strength. The firm had storerooms along both sides of Castle Lane, as well as a large storeroom in Gadsby Street. About forty men were employed in cabinet making, upholstering, and polishing.
The firm employed painters, decorators, and paper hangers who carried out work in the town and the country houses. They had many large furniture removal vans and smaller vehicles. By 1922 Wells & Co., occupied 23, 25 and 27 High Street. In 1947 Messrs. Harrison Gibson’s took over the firm but still trading under the name of Wells & Co. In 1957 the name Wells & Co., changed to Harrison Gibson’s furnishing store.
The marriage of George Wells Jnr. to Alicia Hardy
On the 8th September 1874 George married Alicia Catherine Hardy at Trinity Church, Hammersmith, London. Alicia was born on the 15th September 1848 in London. She was one of the six children of John Theodore Vesey Hardy, and his wife Georgiana Ashton Hurlstone. Alicia’s father was a Professor of Classics at University College School, Hampstead, London. After their marriage George and Alice moved into Goldington Lodge at 9 Rothsay Gardens, Bedford. George and Alicia had seven children.
George served as a member of the Town Council from 1877 to 1880. He was a Justice of the Peace and served as the Mayor of Bedford, 1893,1894, 1896, 1897 and 1898. In 1896 the Governors of the Harpur Trust elected George the Chairman of the Girls’ Schools.
Alban Vesey Wells the son of George and Alicia
Alban was born in Bedford, on the 12th July 1875. He went to the Bedford School from 1884 to 1892. On the evening of the 6th July 1907 Alban, cycled to Chelmsford, to give a talk at an open-air meeting on Socialism. While Alban was cycling home from the meeting to his cottage at Elsenham Road, Stansted, Essex, he fell off his bicycle. William Crow, a labourer, found Alban unconscious and lying next to his bicycle. Alban died at 9 a.m. the following morning at Dunmow Infirmary, Essex.
Alban’s father and his uncle, Charles Wells, drove to Dunmow the following Monday morning, for the inquest. At the inquest, George said, ‘Alban was his eldest son, and worked as an accountant in London. He had rented a cottage at Elsenham Road, Stansted, for some years. He was a good cyclist and had good eyesight’.
A member of jury believed a broken pedal may have caused Alban to fall off his bicycle and fracturing his skull. The Jury returned a verdict of Accidental Death.
Alban’s funeral took place on the 12th July 1907, which was his 32nd birthday. The night before the funeral, Alban’s coffin was taken to The Holy Child and St. Joseph Catholic Church, Brereton Road, Bedford, where it remained in front of the high altar throughout the night. The Rev. Father Henry James Hardy (Alban’s maternal uncle), assisted by Father Freeland, read the celebration of the Mass for the Dead. After the funeral service a glass car carried the coffin, covered with wreaths, to Foster Hill Road Cemetery. The burial took place in the grave lined with evergreens, pinks, and lilies. Grave Ref: D3.88
The Funeral of George Wells
On the 15th February 1912 George died aged 71, at his home, ‘Goldington Lodge’, 9 Rothsay Gardens, Bedford. A large congregation had gathered at the Catholic Church, Brereton Road, Bedford. The Rev. Father Henry James Hardy, of Hemel Hempstead (brother of Alicia Wells) performed a low Requiem Mass.
After the service the cortege made its way to Foster Hill Road Cemetery, where a large crowd had gathered. Most of them were women, who stood in a circle round the grave, as the Rev. Father Hardy read the committal service. George’s burial took place in the grave beside his son, Alban. Grave Ref: D3.96
Father Henry James Hardy
Henry Hardy was born in 1840 at Pancras, Kentish Town, Middlesex. He was Alicia Wells’ older brother. After leaving school he studied at the University of London. On the 17th April 1861 he went to St. Alban Hall, which was one of the former halls of the University of Oxford. In 1864 he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree and his Master of Arts degree in 1869. After he graduated from university, he became a curate of St. Peter’s Church, Vauxhall in Kennington Lane, London.
Henry left the Church of England to become a Catholic Priest. Father Hardy became the parish priest of Our Lady and St. Thomas of Canterbury Catholic Church, Roxborough Park, Harrow on the Hill. In 1915 Father Hardy moved to Tring, Hertfordshire where he was known as the Apostle of Hertfordshire because of the good works he did during his time in Tring, as the parish priest. One of his concerns was the poor wages the local girls received from their employers. He bought the girls sewing machines and taught them how to make their own clothes.
On the 24th January 1918 Father Hardy died, aged 77, at his home in Langdon Street, Tring, Hertfordshire. His remains were brought to Foster Hill Road Cemetery and placed in the grave with his nephew, Alban. Grave Ref: D3.88
Hurlstone Vesey Wells
Placed beside the Wells memorial cross is a stone to mark the death of their son, Hurlstone Wells. Hurlstone was born on the 31st January 1877 in Bedford. His christening took place on the 5th February 1877 at the Catholic Church, Brereton, Road, Bedford. Hurlstone went to the Bedford School from 1887 to 1894, before going on to the Camborne School of Mines, College of Engineering in Cornwall.
He fought in the South African War with the Imperial Light Horse, and subsequently joined the South African Civil Service. He continued his military career with the South African Defence Force, and as a Major he served on General Louis Botha’s Staff throughout the campaign in German South West Africa. On the 11th November 1916 he became temporary Lieutenant. In 1917 he was promoted to the rank of Captain.
Captain Hurlstone Vesey Wells was serving with the 2nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers when he was killed in action at Armentieres on the 12th April 1918. He is commemorated on Panel 3. A on the Ploegsteert Memorial in Belgium. He is also commemorated on the Bedford School Chapel, WW1 memorial, and on the WW1 memorial at the Catholic Church, Brereton Road, Bedford.
Hurlstone was survived by his wife, Anne and their two children, Basil Vesey Wells and Phyllis Mary Wells. His wife and children lived at 34, Pembridge Villas, Notting Hill, London.
The funeral of Alicia Wells
Alicia died on the 11th September 1927 at 12a Linden Road Bedford. Her burial took place in the grave with her husband, George. Grave Ref: D3. 96
Photography Linda S. Ayres
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