Saturday, 12 December 2009

Sepia Saturday: Just William

My great grandfather, William Benjamin Butler was born in 1881 in Nutfield, Surrey, England. I know few details about him, other than what I've gleaned from various documents in the course of family history research. My grandmother had only vague memories of her father, and there was a level of reluctance to speak of him in conversation, for whatever reason.

I do know that, like his father before him, he was a groom, and my grandmother always maintained that she inherited his love of horses.

In 1901, he was living at 71, Lyall Mews West, London; a relatively short distance from where my great grandmother worked as a domestic servant in Bruton Street.

The circumstances of their courtship is unknown, but they were married in 1906 and five years later, they were living in a three room, tied house with their three year old daughter, Dorothy, in Kirk Langley, Derbyshire. William was now employed as a coachman.

In 1915, aged 34, William signed up to fight in the Great War. My grandmother and her twin brother were just two years old.

I've seen the beautifully embroidered postcards he sent back to his beloved Edith, from France, inscribed with sentimental longing. They are among my second cousin's most treasured possessions. I have a small shaving dish, passed to me by my grandmother, that is believed to have belonged to him during his time spent in the conflict.

In the photograph, taken on the Isle of Wight, William has the look of a confident young man. Dressed in, what is presumably, his groom's attire, he poses quite well for the camera of Mr Ernest A. Kime of 116, St James Street, Newport. Quite what he was doing on the Isle of Wight, is unclear. Even more of a mystery is why he would have had a studio photograph taken while dressed for work. Answers on a postcard?

He died in 1924. I haven't got around to buying a copy of his death certificate yet, but the family speculation is that he may have caught syphilis on his travels.

More Sepia Saturday participants.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges


  1. Don't you just wish you could sit down and talk to people like this and ask them what life was like for them. Considering it's not really that long ago, pictures like this seem to belong to another age entirely.

  2. Fascinating old photo, and story, too. I've got quite a collection of old family pictures, and only wish they'd had the name of the sitter on the back, as well as the date they were snapped...

  3. Your great grandfather was a handsome man, Martin. Hmm, the speculation as to his cause of death sounds like fodder for a great book!

  4. I'm so glad you joined Sepia Saturday! This is a wonderful photo of your great grandfather! Interesting history behind it to!

  5. Oh, those wartime postcards must be so lovely!

    I have the love letters between my grandma and grandpa, all written in Yiddish. I feel as if I'm interrupting a very private conversation when I look at them...but look I must...

  6. Martin,
    I was so busy adding to the list of Sepia Saturday links when I called by yesterday that I forgot to leave a comment to say how much I enjoyed your post. Family history - and these old photographs we are sharing - is such a great window on the past.

  7. Fran

    I often get the strangest feeling that they're speaking to us. I think it's their expressions more than anything else.


    Yes, if only we had more details. I wonder what future generations will make of our digital efforts?


    Thank you. Since researching my family history, many story-lines have surfaced. You're right though, and this one actually dovetails neatly into a much darker mystery.


    I think Sepia Saturday is a great idea. Thank you for your kind comments and welcome to Square Sunshine.


    I'm going to ask my second cousin if I might scan some of the postcards, especially to show on this blog.

    I'm sure your grandparents were very much in love, and would be happy for you to know it. Those letters are so precious.


    Thank you. I agree, and I'm learning so much from our fellow bloggers, almost on a daily basis.

  8. Another fascinating photo with an intriguing story . . . endless possibilities!

  9. Quite right Vicki. Since I've been posting these stories, I've started to appreciate the potential.


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