Saturday, 4 March 2017

The Darby and Joan of Bath – Happiness and Heartbreak

It was a cool, crisp September Autumn morning in 1935. The photographer moved around the backyard looking for the perfect spot. He moved two seats in front of the rose garden and set up his camera.

Oliver and Harriet Butt were celebrating their Golden Wedding Anniversary the next day (30th September) and the Bath Chronicle had asked for a photograph to go with a story about the Butts. Oliver was a well respected Police Constable, having lived and worked throughout the Somerset county, and they were both very active in the local Methodist Church.

Oliver had bought a new suit for the occasion, had a rose from the garden in his lapel and his hands were crossed softly in his lap. Harriet was in her Sunday best and she gently held a large bunch of roses in her lap.

Although they looked to be comfortable in front of the camera, it would actually have been a very unusual and out of character position for them to be in. Oliver and Harriet had an air of happiness and contentment about them with shy smiles on their faces. And so they should after 50 years together.

However, Oliver had not always been happy as heartbreak had plagued him throughout his life.

Oliver’s parents were John Butt (born 18th May 1818 in Burnham, Somerset) and Susan Dampier (born c1826 in Yarcombe, Devon) who married on 20th May 1851 at Burnham On Sea, Somerset. By 1861, John was listed as a Chelsea Pensioner in the England Census and in January 1865, John passed away and was buried on 11th January 1865. Oliver was only 6.5 years old when his father passed away. Susan then remarried (George Emery) in the December of that same year. By the 1871 England Census, Oliver was working in the local silk factory and living with his mother and step father at 1 Albert Place “Rose Cottage” Taunton.

At the age of 20, Oliver married Emma Tuck at the Parish Church in Aisholt, Somerset. Emma was 5/6 years older than Oliver and there appears to be no issue from this marriage. The next tragedy struck with Emma passing away in the February of 1882. She was buried on 20th February in the Parish of Aisholt. Three years later, Oliver married Harriet Normal Bourne on 30th September 1885 at Rook Lane Meeting, United Methodist in the District of Frome, Somerset. By this time, Oliver was a police constable. Oliver and Harriet had three children: Gilbert George who migrated to Canada and died there in 1915 aged 28 years; Beatrice who married George Kirby McArthur, migrated to Australia, and died there in 1931 aged 41 years; and Rowland who migrated for a while but returned to Bath and died there in 1922 aged 29 years. Oliver and Harriet had survived their three children. Heartbreak indeed.

Through all of this, Oliver and Harriet enjoyed a loving and stable marriage and tomorrow, 30th September, they would be celebrating with the rest of their extended family, brothers and sisters and, of course, they would go to Church to give thanks.

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