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William Barnes and my Great Grandfather
A Sketch

Sam Jeffery

The year was 1873 and my Great Grandfather Charles Jeffery was gunmaker in his family’s business in Dorchester.  He had been born in Farnham in 1848 and his father, William, had purchased the gun shop from Messrs Henry Pullman in 1862, sending his son William from Plymouth to run the business.  In those days, the shop was in High East Street, on the northern side up from the Kings Arms inn; it was previously Creech solicitors, and it was in this very coaching inn that William Barnes first set eyes on his wife to be, Julia.

As Charles Jeffery, stood outside the front door of the premises, the tall striking figure of the renowned William strode purposefully up the High Street.  William Barnes was in his seventy-fourth year but held himself tall and erect, walking the stride of one who is accustomed to much walking.  Against the vivid blue sky of a warm April day, the morning sun was flooding the far side of the High Street, and the familiar view of the Corn Exchange with its Galpin’s Folly  and St Peter’s Church stood out ahead of him.  He knew their familiar outlines in the Dorchester he knew so well.  He would walk in from Winterborne Came where was rector of St Peters Church, and he would have known Charles’s brother before him.  Williams Barnes espied the young man ahead, with his tough leather apron doubled tied around his waist.

"Good morning to you, Mr Jeffery”, he called out, and Charles stirred himself to acknowledge the greeting. 

"Mr Barnes, good day to you, Sir, and how are you this fine spring morning?”

As they drew abreast, the two men engaged in pleasantries and local news; they had little in common in life experience except that Charles’s mother had died when he was 13 leaving her husband with 8 children, and William Barnes had lost his much loved Julia when she was 47 and leaving her 6 children.  Her eldest daughter, Laura, lived at home with her father, caring for him after Julia’s death and sharing his love of the countryside and their garden in Came.  

"I spent yesterday digging over the garden for the spring vegetables, and all the early bulbs are blooming tall around the garden.  I know you have a very large garden, Mr Barnes, and at this time of the year we are reminded of the presence of nature after the long cold months.”

William Barnes smiled, it was a broad incredibly kind smile crinkling his face, "Yes, indeed, the garden is a joy to me and my daughter, we are most fortunate in the Rectory gardens and as I left this morning, the warmth in the air was already bringing out the scent of the blossoms.  My walk from Came is always fine but today it was particularly enjoyable; I met many people equally pleased to be out in such warm weather and we are going to market’.

They discussed their favourite vegetables and flowers, both enjoying the early warmth of the sun, which basked the northern side of the high east street for most of the day.  William Barnes showed much interest in the welfare of Charles’s brother, William, whom he had come to know during his time in Dorchester.  William Jeffery had married a girl from Wareham and they had had two sons before returning to their father’s gun business in Plymouth.

William Barnes was not to know how much his huge lifetime’s work would come to mean to many, many people, and neither man was aware how much people would talk of them, long after their deaths, one the great pastor and poet, the other a local business man.  Neither did they know how important their lives were to prove as generations who followed would remember them with much love and admiration.

In 1915 the gun business was transferred from what became a portion of Messrs Jackmans’ outfitting shop to the opposite side of the road ‘in more extensive and improved premises’, 25 High East Street, as C Jeffery & Sons.   My great grandfather and his wife were to raise thirteen children in Dorchester and one of them was my grandfather.

See also
Dorset Dialect
A wide yawn or to spread apart
Society events