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William Hammond Beamis



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For the details that follow I am indebted to Mr Stephen Howlett of Lamberts Close, Grandson of Walter Beamis, and Mr Ken Stowell.

The photo on the right shows William Beamis with his apprentice, Walter, his son. The summerhouse shown was on the Elvedon estate. The trestles, in the middle photo, on which the coffins were stood can be seen. Apparently, carved into the column on the right is the name Stephen Beamis, William’s son.

William Hammond Beamis (7/11/1853-25/2/1933) lived with his parents in one of two cottages at the top of the yard belonging to No. 34 Hill Street. (These later became sheds). In the other cottage lived the Gathercole family and on the 27/10/1876 he married Phoebe Gathercole. Like his father he became a good skater and often skated across the fens to Ely. He became a Master Thatcher and found plenty of work in Feltwell as then most of the houses were thatched. His furthest customer was the landlord of the ‘Cock Inn’ at Barford near Norwich. William (and Walter, probably) also thatched the famous row of cottages in Weeting. In addition to thatching he was the owner of a Pony and Cart Taxi Service. Walter, his eldest son, (1884-1977) would drive "folk from Feltwell to Mildenhall to see the solicitor. The closer they got to Mildenhall the livelier the pony, Peggy, would get for a drink and a feed. Walter would have half a pint whilst waiting."

William’s uncle, Daniel Spencer, rang the bells at St Nicholas Church for over 50 years and ‘Billy’ used to help him. After Daniel’s death he took over the ringing until the tower collapsed in 1898. Billy also rang the bells of St Mary’s and by the time he gave up he had rung Feltwell’s bells for 32 years. According to the family tree there were 13 children of the marriage.

Walter inherited his father’s house – 12 Short Beck - and maintained the family tradition of living under a thatched roof. Even when well into his 80s he could be seen patching up the thatch. He worked for Edwin Porter’s father and grandfather as an agricultural labourer and Thatcher. "They lived a simple life. Uncle Walter was particularly partial to water hens to eat." Walter was also a barber. He used scissors that were probably taken from a German POW in WW1, as the scissors are marked ‘made in Germany, Solingen’. He was also a member of Feltwell Enterprise Band in which he played the euphonium and bombardon. His wife, Sybil, had been maid to Miss Christine Bignold and whilst in her service had done much travelling around the world. Stephen remembers the many unusual ornaments and trinkets that were on display in the house which Nellie had collected whilst on her travels.

Whilst telling me these details Stephen produced a Beamis family tree, compiled for ‘Pip’ Orange by a R. A. Barritt of Upminster. The names William and Walter occur many times throughout the generations but what is interesting is that the name is associated with the Littleport Riots of May 1816. William’s great-grandfather was hanged on 28th June 1816 for his role in the riots whilst William’s grandfather, was sentenced to gaol in Ely for his role in the same riots. After serving his sentence, he moved to Feltwell where he met and married Susan Spencer on 7th, July 1817. Another Walter, our William’s father, was born 1823 and lived to be 68. He was one of six children. Our William, one of five, was born in 1853, and the rest, as they say, is history. Incidentally, both grandfathers were also called William!

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