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John Barber

(???? - 1939)

The place and date of John's birth is, as yet, still uncertain. Whilst substantial dating evidence has been uncovered, there is a lack of consistency in the detail. Currently, available information suggests a birth range of 1862 - 1872. The years 1865 - 1867 have been searched by the GRO to find a birth with a father Henry and mother Jane; no entry was found.

The following table references source documentation to identify suggested birth dates.

Source Doc Date Age Calculated Birth Date Stated Birth location
1881 Census
18 1862 / 1863 Bridgwater
Marriage Cert
24 1863 / 1864
1891 Census
28 1862 / 1863 Bridgwater
SA War Attest
34 & 9 months April 1865 Bridgwater
WW1 Attest
42 1871 / 1872 Exeter
Death Cert
69 1869 / 1870  
Burial Reg
69 1869 / 1870  
Meg's Memory
older than Alice
7 1863 Frome

All John Barber entries have been obtained from the GRO in respect of the dates (1860 - Mar 1871) and are reproduced here.

Prior to and during WW1, the age of enlistment into the army (and action) was set at 19. It is possible that John's age in the 1881 census was exagerated to allow him into the army.

Family stories suggest that John was orphaned at a young age and raised by a gentleman known as the 'Old Colonel'. John's daughter, Meg, recalling in 2001, believed that the 'Old Colonel' was in fact Colonel Trevors. She later stated that John had been adopted by a familiy who owned a foundry and that he had run away to join the army.

Being orphaned is believed to have been brought about by the murder, by stoning of John's parents. Meg believes that the murder occurred when John's parents, who were tinkers (persons selling their wares door to door), were attending a town meeting during the Bridgwater (Montgomery) riots,

Several sources describe John as a well educated man who spoke exceptionally well, perhaps supporting an upbringing by a household different to that provided by his natural parents.

Little is known of John in his early years. The 1881 census appears to place him in 'Infantry Camp, St Botolphs' in Colchester where he is described as an 18 year old soldier from Bridgwater. From other dating evidence, John could have actually been as young as ten.

It is believed that Elizabeth Barber is the sister of John. At the time of the 1881 census she was thirteen years old and living in Bridgwater. She was the only Barber in Bridgwater at this time and shown as 'adopted' daughter of the Cox family.

Meg Barber believed that John's sister was called Jane and believed she was a lady's maid. She recalled that Jane had visited once, a refined and well mannered lady, and that she (Meg) had walked her to the Albion ground area on Broadway.

John is next seen when he married Alice Dyer at St Judes Parish Church, Bristol on 22 October 1888. The marriage certificate contains a number of very significant pieces of information:

John is described as a 24 year old brick worker from 22 Lamb Street (presumably Bristol). His father is recorded as Henry Barber, an engine fitter. Significantly, under the entry for fathers name is the word 'died'. Both John and Alice signed the certificate. The Lamb Street address is identified as a lodging house at the time of the 1891 census. None of the residents there in 1891 held any interest to the research.

Family stories suggest that John and Alice were living in Bridgwater prior to, and after the wedding. The story of 'running off to St Judes' to become married was often told, but until finding the certificate, was not widely accepted.

The reason for running off to Bristol could relate to their ages. Alice was born late in the last quarter of 1870 and therefore only seventeen or eighteen years old; her age on the marriage certificate was 21. They would also have been under some pressure, having had a child earlier in the year.

John's daughter Glad, recalls that there were the following children.


Name GRO Data / Parish Records
John Henry 1888 - Bridgwater (Q1 - 5c 366) Registered as John Henry Dyer
Jane 1890 - Bridgwater (Q2 - 5c 314)
Clifford 1892 - Bridgwater (14 October)
Francis 1895 - Bridgwater (Q2 - 5c 345) (15 March)
Leonard 1898 - Bridgwater (Q2 - 5c 343)
Stanley Watson W 1900 - Bridgwater (Q4 - 5c 321)
Alfred 1903 - Bridgwater (Q1 - 5c 308)
Maggie (Meg) 1905 - Bridgwater (Q4 - 5c 239) (9 October)
Herbert Henry J 1909 - Bridgwater (Q1 - 5c 234)
Leslie 1911 - Bridgwater (Q1 - 5c 278)
Joel 1912 - Bridgwater (Q3 - 5c 550)
Glad 1914 - Bridgwater

Meg remembered that at christmas time, John would gather all of the children around the fire, throw something up the fire and pretend to be talking with father christmas.

Glad described John in some detail. He was a big, powerful man with a loud voice who enjoyed a fight (boxing booth) when the fair came to town. He also served six months in prison (Shepton Mallet) for poaching.

He enjoyed drumming, dancing, playing cards (not gambling) and was often seen reading, usually a paper but he especially enjoyed a comic called Chips. He mixed with people 'better that himself' and 'they liked him'. With Joel helping, John would make squibbs (fireworks), for the carnival.

Glad remembers that John lived next to the Green Dragon pub in Bridgwater. At one time he had taken a job as a farm labourer and was paid in cider; he regularly kept a barrel 'out the back'.

Home made nets were used to catch sparrows to be used in a pie. The children were sent to collect fish heads (costing 2d for 5) from the fishmonger or to collect snails from the sides of graves. The snails (hoppers) were placed in the fire until they popped, whereas the fish heads were often served up with eel curry and rice.

Meg recalled that two Frome police inspectors visited John each carnival, and commented how friendly they were towards the family. She also mentioned that John was known as dory to his friends.

Glad also believes that John was originally from Frome, recalling further that he spoke with an 'ed' as in Lived

The newspaper memorium of John mentioned 'many years ago he played Rugby Football for the old Bridgwater Albion Club.

At the time of the 1891 census John was living at Cook Yard?, Bridgwater with his wife Alice, and children John and Jane. He is described as a general labourer and has a recorded birthplace of Bridgwater. Whilst the Cook Yard address has yet to be traced, it was preceded in the census enumerators book by a St Matthew's Field Place.

The baptism record for Clifford, on 14 October 1892 and Francis, on 15 March 1895 both record a family address of Halswell Lane and John's occupation as labourer.

John was believed to be a dedicated soldier, his memorium referring to several campaigns.

He joined the army as a young man, first in the Life Guards, and then went to India where he served for seven years with the Devons. He got his discharge on returning from India but on the outbreak of the South African war, he volunteered for service. When the great war broke out he joined up again in the Somersets and altogether had 25 ½ years service in the army.

The early service record of John Barber has yet to be traced. The newspaper memorium is so detailed to suggest his discharge papers were available to the person writing the memorium.

From the original Attestation and enlistment forms (WO97/4304) detailing John's involvement in the South African War, it can be seen that John joined the Somerset Light Infantry on 16 January 1900 at Taunton.

John is described as 34 years and 9 months old and having been born in Bridgwater. Weighing 167 pounds, 6 foot 1 & 3/4 inches tall, of fresh complexion and having brown hair and eyes, no distinctive marks. His religious denomination is recorded as C of E.

The following service is detailed:

South Africa


Next of kin are shown as Wife, Alice Barber and children, John, Clifford and Francis all of whom reside at Gloster Place, Bridgwater.

'Particulars of marriage' are clearly 'as remembered' by John rather than taken from the certificate. The Attestation papers refer to bride Alice Dyer a spinster, being married on 8 October 1888 at St Judes, Bristol by Rev Hicks with witnesses Jane Barber and Eliza Barber.

Other than Alice's name and status and the church name, all other details are incorrect.

The names of the witnesses are perhaps significant in that whilst they are incorrect, they are believed to be the names of his mother and sister. Other information has suggested that John had a sister named Elizabeth and that his mother was Jane - coincidence ?

'Particulars of children' are shown as:

Date of Birth
Place of Birth
Date Baptised
Place Baptised
St Marys Bridgwater
Rev Fitzgarate
Rev Nash
Rev Fitzgarate

The above dates are probably drawn from John's memory as again, they are largely inaccurate.

A further newspaper cutting of unknown date, found with the personal effects of Joel Barber, describes John and other soldiers journey to South Africa. The article was written by Rowland Blacker and refers to nine other soldiers including John.

Thursday March 10th [believed to be 10 March 1960] was the 60th anniversary of the day when the Volunteer company of the 2nd Volunteer Battn P.A. Som. Lt. Infantry left the barracks at Taunton by train to Southampton and then on board the RMS Tintagel Castle for the trip to table Bay. There we joined the 2nd Battn. Of the Somersets to take part in the South African War.

The journey to South Africa onboard the RMS Tintagel Castle is well documented in a book titled "O.H.M.S." or how 1200 soldiers went to Table Bay. The book of 50+ pages and photographs was written by Tintagel Castle officers, W. Mclean and E.H. Shackleton. Shackleton is of course now better known as the great Polar Explorer and rival of Scott. A copy of the book is held at Southampton City Archive Office (published by: Simpkin Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., Ltd).

The book offers a very detailed account of life on board the mail ship, often in a diary format. The last few pages name the regiment, rank and regimental number of all men on board; a photograph is also included of all officers on board. A full listing of all Somerset Light Infantry members is reproduced here. Details of the other regiments are also available

Records held at the Somerset light Infantry Museum in Taunton, identify John Barber in the South African war 1899 - 1902, that his regimental number was '6787' and that he received the following clasps in respect of his South Africa service.

Queens South Africa Medal

Cape Colony

Orange Free State


Details of the full Battalion honours are reproduced here.

During the period January to December 1908, John's wife Alice worked at the Bridgwater Union Workhouse as a laundress. She was paid 18s every two weeks or so. Further entries identify shealso worked there as an attendant / night attendant during January to August 1910, earning varying monthly amounts between 7s6d and £1.2s.6d. Whilst the records are slightly unclear, it appears that on occasions the work may have been completed by Mr Barber, presumably John.

John joined the 1/ 5th Somerset Light infantry (Territorial) on 10 August 1914 and thereby entered WW1. He gave his age as 42 (The upper age limit for volunteers joining was 38 - extended to 45 for those with previous service). It is believed John lied about his age as he was actually aged between 49 and 52.

There is perhaps little surprise that after only 64 days, John was discharged for being 'medically unfit for further service'. He was discharged to his wife Alice Barber of Horseponds, Bridgwater on 19 October 1914. Interestingly John's Battalion sailed from Southampton for Bombay on 9 October 1914.

The Attestation papers for joining the army in 1914 gave further information about John. He was 6 feet, two inches tall and had a chest size of 38 ½ inches. He gave his occupation as labourer and birth place as Exeter, Devon.

Meg added the folloing information about John.

He had lived at Horsepond Lane, Honeysuckle Alley (Clare St), Chilton Trinity (a court by the river), Northgate, three addresses in Silver Street, Haswell Lane (West Street) and finally Friarn St.

John often lost his temper and smashed up the home, although he never swore or blasphemed.

He attended the local Baptist Chapel, where the other worshipers were very good to him. One person had apparently given John a piece of land on Taunton Rd, Bridgwater, land he apparently later swapped for cider. A further person owned an eating place adjacent to Hoopers in the High St and each Wednesday, Meg was despatched with a tin which they would fill with left over food.

He read the News of the World and would look at the wills section where solicitors were trying to contact someone.

John may have been in the Black Watch although she would be supprised if he had any long term army service, he was unemployed most of the time. He did serve in Afghanistan, India and S Africa.

John died on 11 January 1939 at Bridgwater hospital of a cerebral haemorrhage. The death certificate states that he was 69 years old. He had spent the previous night in hospital having been found unconscious at his Friarn Street (86) home on the previous Tuesday. The death certificate describes him as an army pensioner.

John was buried in Grave 20 , Section A of Quantock Rd Cemetery, Bridgwater on 14 January 1939. The plot was purchased as a double depth grave by Alice Barber of 155 St John Street, Bridgwater.

Perhaps surprisingly, John was eventually joined in the grave by his son, Stanley Watson Whitting Barber on 02 February 1959.