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  • Writer's pictureSarah von Allmen

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 7.

Updated: Feb 28, 2022

Week 7 – Landed.

Just before the First World War my great-grandfather landed an unexpected job thanks to his wife - and passed it on to the next generation.

William Gosling was born in Lymm, Cheshire on 22 May 1866, and was the tenth and youngest child of William Gosling and Alice Johnson: at the time of his birth his father was the licensee of the Wheatsheaf Inn, which still exists today. William was working as a clerk in the Lymm tannery when he married Annie Hinton in 1891 and the young couple lived with Annie’s parents during the early years of their marriage.

William and Annie then spent a couple of years in Bolton before William got a job as a clerk at the recently completed Manchester Ship Canal and they moved to Gorse Hill, Stretford. However, just prior to the First World War, trade was slack on the canal, and Annie came home from a Mothers' Union meeting at St Peter's Church, Gorse Hill, to tell William that interviews were taking place for the post of apparitor/verger, and that he should go to the church because she had arranged for him to get the job. (Annie, it should be mentioned in passing, was a woman of considerable character and decided opinions.)

According to family legend, the conversation went roughly like this:

William: But I’m a Methodist – I don’t even know the Anglican liturgy!

Annie: I’ll teach you everything you need to know – get down there.

(In retrospect this does rather beg the question of where/whether they each previously worshiped on Sundays!)

William duly obtained the post, which he would occupy until he died of tuberculosis in 1927. Historically in the Church of England an apparitor was a minor parish official, responsible for the preservation of order in church service, the chastisement of petty offenders, the serving of notices and so forth, but as far as I can see (at least in this case) it had become a mainly honorific title, and William’s responsibilities corresponded more to those of a verger or sexton.

Following William’s death, his youngest son William (known as Bill) took over the post – apparently without anyone else being considered for it. Bill was born on 19 November 1903 and initially trained as a clerk, but he found work hard to come by after World War One and had worked as an asbestos spinner and a navvy (among other things) prior to 1927. A few months after becoming apparitor at St Peter’s he married Lilian Griffin, and I wouldn’t be surprised if his new-found job security had something to do with the timing.

St Peter's was a very large church, with two church halls and many social and sporting activities. Bill played on their football team in winter and their cricket team in summer, and during the cricket season he and the vicar would frequently attend afternoon weddings or christenings wearing cricket whites under their clerical robes, ready for a quick change.

Bill also had an allotment of about an acre where he grew flowers and vegetables both for home consumption and to supplement his income. Lilian pickled and preserved the surplus, and Bill covered the cost of seeds, fertilisers and the allotment rent with the prizes he won in local horticultural shows. The produce was also used in part for a catering business he developed based on baptisms, weddings, and funerals at the church, which later expanded to cover dances and other functions. According to my uncle, this led to some unusual meals at home on Sundays, where anything uneaten at Saturday's function became the family's Sunday breakfast!

Part of Bill’s responsibilities as apparitor included some funeral arrangements, and he had the bright idea of creating a group of “freelance” pall bearers so that individual undertakers did not have to supply their own: his group could switch from one undertaker to another at the cemetery or be swapped between cemeteries as necessary. At times, his house was even used as a mortuary and Mum (a small child at the time) vividly remembered the bearers dressed in full traditional garb, complete with black gloves, top hats, and crêpe streamers.

In 1937 Bill moved to Emmanuel Church in Didsbury. This was a much quieter church than St Peter's, and Didsbury at this time was still pretty much a village. The rectory had extensive grounds which Bill used in place of his allotment, and he remained there until he enlisted in the Pioneer Corps at the outbreak of World War Two. Lilian took on his duties for a short time before turning to work as a nursing auxiliary, and the Gosling spell as apparitor came to an end.

In all, the two William Goslings served as apparitor at St Peter’s for a quarter of a century – all thanks to my great-grandmother!

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