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Ken & Teresa Ripper's Ancestors and Family

Whitelegg and Oldridge

Two Fairground Families of South West England

 

 

The Fairground Families

 

 

Devon and Cornwall, the two most westerly counties in Great Britain, have an abundance of fairs which take place between mid March and late November of each year. Some of these fairs are ancient Charter fairs steeped in history while others are classed as private business or are associated with local carnivals.

 

 

William and Tryphena Oldridge (nee Woodman) had nine children. The first born was John (baptised 17 June 1810 at Newton St Cyres. Their last child was Mark baptised 3 March 1833 at Newton St Cyres.

 

Mark Oldridge married Emma Venton on Christmas Day 1855 in Brampford Speke and had eleven children - their tenth child was Francis William (Teresa’s grandfather), born 16 November 1874 and baptised 28 February 1875 in Brampford Speke.

 

Mark’s eldest brother, John Oldridge mentioned above, met Harriet Luxton and they married on 10 August 1834 in Newton St Cyres. John worked as a quarryman in and around Exeter but by 1848 they had moved to Plymouth. They had eight children altogether. Their fourth child was Eliza born in 1845 and their last child, William Frederick, was born on 11 December 1859 at 6 Amity Place, Plymouth when his mother was forty eight years old. William Frederick was always known as Frederick or Fred and didn’t appear to use the name William at all.

 

As Fred grew up, he worked with his brother-in-law Thomas Wallser in a travelling fair. Thomas had married Fred’s sister Eliza Oldridge. Fred met and married Rosina Lismore in 1881, a young lady whose family were also associated with travelling fairs. Rose, as she was known, tells us more about her life in this article:

 

World's Fair, April 9th, 1932

Mrs.Rose Oldridge [nee Lismore]

 

It was through the good offices of her daughter, Mrs. Thomas Whitelegg that I was introduced to another grand old showlady, Mrs Rose Oldridge. Though not so old as the two ladies I have mentioned this lady has nevertheless lived a considerable number of years and can furnish a host of reminiscences of West Country show-life. She was, she tells me, a daughter of the famous Emma Lismore and grand-daughter of the elder Lawrences, both families being well remembered as belonging to the old time pioneers.

 

Mrs Oldridge was born at Exeter in the year 1865 and later in her history married Mr. Fred Oldridge who was then in the employ of Mr.Thomas Wallser, his brother-in-law. Some time after their marriage the Oldridges started on their own account, fetching their family up in the Summer time on the proceeds of their smart looking shooting range and in the winter while Mr. Oldridge worked hard in the Plymouth Gasworks, his equally industrious wife carried on the good old game of pilchard cleaner on the Barbican.

 

Good luck followed their combined efforts at making a livelihood and this increased so much that while the Great War was in progress, Mrs. Oldridge secured a good position as licensee of the Lord Warden Inn in Battery Street, Stonehouse, just opposite to the Grand Theatre. After five years of public house proprietorship she then acquired the fine premises in the West Hoe Road known as the Milky Rankers. Into this resort which had been previously been given solely over to skating, the enterprising new owner has introduced a roundabout, set of chair-o-planes and several other games and pastimes which make it very popular.

 

On researching Rose Lismore’s family a little more, we have unearthed an amazing tale. Rose’s father was Walter Lismore whose first wife was Ellen Commie. They had five children:

·        Ellen (born 1845),

·        Eliza (born 1849, died before 1855),

·        Eliza (born 1855),

·        Rosina (born 1858)

·        Walter (born 1862).

 

As the family travelled around the fairgrounds, the children were born in a variety of places throughout Cornwall and Devon. In 1858, at the birth of his daughter Rosina, the family were living in Phoenix Street, Plymouth and Walter and Ellen were described as hawkers. Later they are described as ‘comedians’.

 

In the 1861 census they are living in 99 King Street, Plymouth with another ‘fairground’ family, the Lawrences:

1861 census

Walter Loosemore, head, married, 34, comedian, born in Bristol

Ellen Loosemore, wife, married, 32, comedian, born in Devonport

Ellen Loosemore, daughter, 15, born in Cornwall, Redruth

Eliza Loosemore, daughter, 4, born in Cornwall Falmouth

Rosa Loosemore, daughter, 2, born in Devon Plymouth

 

In the early hours of Monday 9th March 1863 a fire killed most of the Lismore family and most of the Lawrence family. It was reported in the local paper, The Western Morning News Tuesday March 10th 1863.

 

"In the early hours of Monday morning in a house in 99 Kings Street West Stonehouse, Plymouth, there was an explosion and fire and the loss of nine lives. The inhabitants of the house were:

Morris Lawrence 50 Pyrotechnist Died
Morris Lawrence Son Pyrotechnist and Musician 28 Died
Henry Lawrence 18 Survived
Emma Lawrence daughter 20 Survived
Charles Lawrence Son 16 died later from smoke inhalation
Edwin Lawrence Son 10 Survived
Walter Lismore 36 Comedian Survived
Ellen Lismore 33 Comedian Died
Ellen Lismore 17 Comedian daughter Survived
Eliza Lismore 5 daughter Died
Rosa Lismore 3 daughter Died
Walter Lismore Son 10 months Died
John Rodgers Survived
Oliver Waterman 61 Died
George Collins Harris (known as Button George) Died
John Smith Hawker 58 Survived


It seems that in the early hours of Monday morning the area was woken by a thunderous roar as the front room of the house exploded sending fireworks all around the area. Walter Lismore his wife and 3 children who had the front bedroom were woken by the roar and tried to flee via the door but due to the flames were driven back. They tried to break the window and ripped the whole window out, Walter pleaded with his wife Ellen to jump but she declined and told him to jump which he did. He suffered scorched eyes as a result but it was too late for his wife and children and the room immediately erupted into flames.

 

Morris Lawrence and his son who were sleeping in the front room on the ground floor died instantaneously. Ellen Lismore and Emma Lawrence who were in the back room of the house managed to flee without injury. All the others managed to flee via the garret over the roofs of other houses. George Collins and John Smith sustained injuries due to the fire and the manner of their escape and were taken to East Cornwall and South Devon Hospital.

The house was used to produce fireworks and on the night of the fire was full with them as they were being sent out for the celebration of the Prince of Wales Marriage."

 

The inquest was held and reported:

Yesterday afternoon, at 4 o’clock, John Edmonds, Esq., coroner for the borough of Plymouth, held an inquest at the Guildhall, on the bodies burnt to death by the fire in Stonehouse Lane, on Monday morning last, and also on three others lying at the South Devon and East Cornwall Hospital, who have subsequently died from injuries then received. The names are Morris Lawrence the younger, Ellen Lismore the elder, Eliza Lismore, Walter Lismore, and those at the hospital – Oliver Waterman, George Collins Harris, alias Button George, and Charles Lawrence. The following gentlemen composed the jury:- Messrs. Robert Robinson Langford (foreman), Thomas Vivian, Charles John Pertherick,, John Vivian, James Brock Torr, Josiah Solomon, Thos Holman, George Browse, Edwin Frith, Thomas Knuckey, Thomas Smale, Charles Fred. Crewes, Henry Bate, William Heath, Jeffry Hardy and John McKeer.


The coroner having stated the circumstances which caused death of these persons as reported to him, referred to the Act of Parliament passed in August, 1860, prohibiting persons making fireworks in towns, and said that Mr Lawrence had applied to the Town Council for licence to enable him to make fireworks; but that body, after investigating his premises, refused to grant it. He did not apply again but had carried on that illicit business which had caused the death of these persons. Had he now be living he would have been charged at a criminal bar for the offence committed and he had no doubt that the jury would have returned a verdict of manslaughter. The jury then proceeded to view the bodies, which presented a very unpleasant spectacle. On returning to the Guildhall, the following evidence was adduced:-William Henry Lawrence said he was a maker of fireworks, and lately resided at 99, King Street West. Morris Lawrence, his father, 50 years of age, and Morris Lawrence, his brother, were also makers of fireworks and resided in the same house. He assisted his father and during the past month they had been engaged in making fireworks for celebrating the marriage of the Prince of Wales.

 

The Coroner: Did you work Sunday last?

Witness: Yes. They were packing up the fireworks, which were of various descriptions.

Q. What did they consist of mostly?

A: Rockets, blue and red lights, and Roman candles

Q: Were they all packed up on Sunday night

A: Nearly all.

Q: Where were they going?

 A. To Falmouth. They were packed in tea and sailors’ chests. Some were loose to be sent to Ashburton.

Q: When was the last time you saw your father and brother alive?

A: About half past eleven on Sunday night after they had their supper.

Q: What room were they in when you parted with them?

A: In the front room downstairs. There was a bed in the room and they were then going to bed. The whole of the fireworks were in that room.

Q. Had they a lighted candle in the room?

A. No. There was a Paraffin lamp burning which was hanging up near the window with a glass round it.

Q. Where did you sleep?

A. In the attic, with my brothers Charles and Edwin, and also four lodgers. Waterman and Harris were two of the lodgers.

Q. On the following morning witness heard Waterman call out what was that?

A. That awoke all of them and he jumped out of bed but saw no fire. He opened the door and seeing much smoke shut it again. He then broke out the front window, got out on the roof, slid down towards Mr. Gasking’s shop and jumped into the garden. John Rogers one of the lodgers followed him. His brother Charles got out on the roof but went back to fetch Edwin. Afterwards he saw Charles push out Button George and then got out himself on the roof with his brother Edwin. He did not know how Waterman got out.

Q. Did you see him after he was out?

A. No. My Brother Charles’ legs were cut, and he afterwards complained of something tickling in his throat so that he could not breathe. He became worse on Tuesday and died yesterday morning.

Q. Was the house licensed as a lodging house?

A. No.

Q. Was it for fireworks?

A. No.

Q. Do you suppose that your father and brother Morris, Mrs. Lismore and her three children perished in the flames?

A. Yes.

The Foreman: How long had you lived in that house?

A. Over three years.

The foreman: And at intervals during that time you have made fireworks?

A. Yes.

The Foreman: How many chests were there in the room on Sunday night?

A: Only two; the other fireworks were loose.

 The foreman: Were there fireworks in other rooms of the house?

A: Yes, there were a few in the back room upstairs.

A Juryman: Had you any materials in the house for making fireworks?

A: Yes, in another part of the house; composition, and about 14 lbs of mealy powder. There was no lighted candle taken near it during the evening.

 

In answer to other questions put by several jurymen the witness said he thought the coloured fire ignited the other combustibles. On Sunday night before he went to bed he had a little fear of it, as there was a curious smell. He communicated it to his father who afterward thought he smelled it, but taking it to be an imagination, the matter was taken no further notice of, and they retired to bed. Mr. Whipple, surgeon, residing at No 14, Devonshire Terrace deposed that yesterday he went to the dead-house, in Westwell-street burying-ground where he examined the remains of six charred human bodies. Two he made out to be males, and another a female. All three were adults. There were three children of varying ages. He should think one six, the other three, and the other an infant. One of the males appeared a stouter and stronger developed man than the other. Button George and Waterman, died at the hospital from the effects of burns. In his opinion the effects of the vapour killed Charles Lawrence.

 

The Coroner asked Mr. Whipple whether it was not better to send the last witness, W. H. Lawrence, to the hospital, as he appeared to be suffering from the effects of the vapour.

 

Mr. Whipple, after examining him, said he ought to be taken care of and thought it would be advisable to send him to the hospital. The young man, however, refused to go, and the Coroner paid for a cab to drive him to his residence. Ellen Lismore, a young woman of about 18 years of age, was then called. She said she was the daughter of Walter Lismore who lately resided at 103, King-Street West. About half past eleven on Sunday night Emma Lawrence got the supper, of which they all partook. They afterwards adjourned to the front room and she and Emma Lawrence were left alone. They went to bed. On Monday morning Emma Lawrence was awoke with coughing, which also aroused her from her slumbers. They both got out of bed, and Emma Lawrence opened the door. Seeing the passage in a blaze of fire they jumped out of the window into the yard. Emma Lawrence there called out “Father”, and she thought she heard him say, “Morris, where are you?” Emma Lawrence was at present very ill. She knew the number of persons in the house on Sunday night. They were herself, Emma Lawrence; Morris Lawrence, the elder; Morris Lawrence, the younger; her father and mother; Ellen Lismore, aged 33; her sister Eliza, about 6 years of age; her sister Rose, 3 years old; and her brother Walter, 10 months old. She did not know how old Waterman was. George Harris was about 40 years of age. John Rogers, John Smith, Henry Roberts, and Charles Lawrence were there. The latter was about 17 years of age, and used to assist his father. Edwin Lawrence was also in the house. She had no doubt but that her mother had perished in the fire. Mrs Lawrence was very ill.

 

Michael Burke, a mat maker, said he had recognised the dead bodies at the hospital as those of Waterman and Button George.

 

Sergeant March, of the Plymouth police, said that he was on duty in King Street West at 2:25 on Monday morning when he heard an explosion of rockets flying across the street. There was no one else in the street at the time. The windows were blown out and the front room was ablaze. He sprung his rattle and alarmed the inhabitants of the neighbourhood. He did not see any one in the house. He left the other two policemen who were with him on the spot and went for a free engine. Oliver Waterman and George Collins Harris were taken away in a cab to the hospital about half-past three. He took the bodies to the dead house. He believed that Lawrence had been watched at different times. Two policemen were examined who were on duty near the house on Monday morning and proved that there was no fire in the street within half an hour previous to Sergeant March seeing it. James Swigg, a mason and foreman of the West of England Fire Brigade, said on Monday morning, about ten minutes before three o’clock, he arrived with the engine in Stonehouse Lane. They subsequently set to work in search of the missing bodies all of which they found in the front room down stairs. The bodies were removed to the dead house.

 

Mr. George Searle remembered about twelve months since Mr. Lawrence applied to the town council for a license for manufacturing fireworks, but was refused. He did not know that he (Mr Lawrence) had carried on the business subsequently. The Coroner having explained the law in such cases the jury returned a verdict of manslaughter against Morris Lawrence the elder and recommended the coroner to write to the Town Council as to the necessity of enforcing the statute for the protection of the public against the manufacturers of fireworks. The Coroner said he would do so.

 

[There is a dispute whether the property concerned was number 99 or 103. The 1861 census records the families living at 99 King Street. The newspaper states it as 99 King Street when the fire was first reported but the inquest report records it as 103 King Street].

 

Walter Lismore and his 18 year old daughter Ellen survived the fire and Emma Lawrence and two of her brothers in the house at the time survived. It appears that Walter and Emma consoled each other because in 1865 they had a child, Walter. Rosina was born to them in 1868 and another daughter, Fanny, a year or so later. No marriage has been found for them – possibly because Emma was still married to Incennzio Lupo whom she married in 1858 at the age of sixteen. The marriage had obviously failed long before the fire in 1863.

 

We find them listed in the 1871 and 1881 censuses:

1871 census - a group of caravans between 15 Central Street and 97 Union Street, Plymouth;

Walter Lismore, head, married, 44, licensed hawker, born in Bristol

Emma Lismore, wife, married, 29, born in Bristol

Walter Lismore, son, 6, born in Bristol

Rosy Lismore, daughter, 4, born in Plymouth

Fanny Lismore, daughter, 2, born in Plymouth

 

1881 census - 12 Granby Square, Plymouth;

Walter Lismore, head, married, 40, hawker, born in Bristol

Emma Lismore, wife, married, 38, born in Plymouth

Fanny Lismore, daughter, 14, scholar, born in Plymouth

Walter Lismore, son, 12, scholar, born in Plymouth

 

Walter died in the Truro district in 1889 and in 1901 Emma Lismore is recorded as a widow and a fish hawker, aged 55. She was living at 1 Stafford Row, Plymouth on her own.

 

Walter and Emma’s daughter Rosina Lismore married Fred Oldridge in 1881 at Stoke Dameral, Plymouth. They had eleven children who were born in various places across Devon and Cornwall, so the family was obviously still travelling the south west fairs. Out of season they would base themselves in Plymouth. In 1886, at the baptism of daughter Agnes, he is described as a Shooting Saloon traveller. Unfortunately Agnes and two of her sisters did not survive to adulthood. The family is recorded in the 1891 and 1901 censuses:

 

1891 census: 2 Parr Street Charlestown Plymouth:
Frederick W Oldridge, head, married, 27, general labourer (employee), born in Stonehouse, Devon

Rose Oldridge, wife, married, 26, born in Exeter, Devon

Fanny Oldridge, daughter, 10, born in Plymouth, Devon

Rose Oldridge, daughter, 3, born in Plymouth, Devon

Frederick W Oldridge, son, 1, born in Plymouth, Devon

 

1901 census - in a van in the courtyard of the Ferry House Hotel, Ferry Road, Devonport, Devon:

Frederick W. Oldridge, head, married, 37, travelling showman working on own account, born in Plymouth

Rose Oldridge, wife, married, 35, born in Exeter

Fanny Oldridge, daughter, single, 19, attendant travelling show worker, born in Truro

Sarah Oldridge, daughter, single, 17, attendant travelling show worker, born in Plymouth

Rosey Oldridge, daughter, single, 14, attendant travelling show worker, born in Plymouth

Frederick W. Oldridge, son, 11, born in Plymouth

Walter Oldridge, son, 9, born in Plymouth

Teresa Oldridge, daughter, 6, born in Plymouth

John Oldridge, son, 4, born in Teignmouth

Florrie Oldridge, daughter, 1, born in Brixham

Fred Oldridge died in 1928 in East Stonehouse, Plymouth and his wife Rose died in 1947, also in Plymouth.

It is Fred and Rose’s daughter, also called Rosina or Rose, whom we now follow. Rose married Thomas Whitelegg who established the Whiteleggs as the premier west country travelling company

From 'T Whitelegg and Sons, Cavalcade of shows' by Guy Belshaw, 2005:

“The Oldridges were a large family of Plymouth-based travellers and attended fairs in Devon and Cornwall with hooplas and other games. Rosie's mother insisted she went to school. Her mother and other members of the family operated a set of steam Gallopers for a time and later ran the notorious Lyric Dance Hall in Union Street [Plymouth]. Other members of the family were fairground showmen operating hooplas and side joints. Rosina had had some formal education in Plymouth. Unlike Tom [Whitelegg], she could read and write and had a quick head for figures. It was Rose, members of the family testify, who was the business brain in the partnership, her financial accumen and drive coupled with Tom's tireless appetite for work, an attribute inherited by their children, was the formula for later success.

 

The couple enjoyed no honeymoon, instead they bought a few bananas and oranges and went to Lee Moor on the fringe of Dartmoor to sell them. Tom's first horse cost him £3 which they used to pull their caravan. They spent [their] first few years moving about the countryside around Plymouth collecting old rags and rabbit skins.”

Rose and Thomas Whitelegg bought their first ride in 1916 which was a hand turned juvenile roundabout, the rounding boards of which stated 'T Whitelegg Pony Roundabout Pride of the West'.

Tom was 29 when the war broke out and joined the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry, serving in this country, and was posted to Tidworth in Wiltshire while Rose ran a cafe and shooter at Anderton and Rowlands Winter Gardens in Mill Street, Plymouth.

After the war Tom and Rose went into partnership with their brother-in-law Alf Jones who was married to Rose's sister Fanny. Together they bought a set of Tidman Gallopers which was an elaborate machine with a variety of animal and bird mounts. Later Tom bought out Alf Jones' share of the ride and began the firm of T Whitelegg and Sons, basing themselves in Plymouth. They travelled far and wide, operating in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire.

In 1934 recorded in 'The World's Fair”that at Barnstable were Tom's brother Joe Whitelegg's 'Shooter', Alf Whitelegg's 'Dip and Swag' stall and Tom's sister, Mrs Louise Graham, with her 'Shooter' and brother in law, Johnny Gratton, with his 'Shooter' and 'Coconuts”.

Tommy Whitelegg made an excellent decision and opened up The Olympia in Plymouth's Union Street a notorious road, but the main highway between Devonport Docks and the centre of the city. The Olympia became the home to a set of amusements including an Ark and Dodgems.

'The World's Fair' of December 1934 reported "Whitelegg's had been opened at New Passage [Plymouth] since October. The Dodgems and Thriller open at weekends, supported by Jack Pannell, Mrs Birchall and Johnny Oldridge."

 

'The World's Fair' of January 1935 gave details of a party held by Rose Whitelegg.

"I must mention Mrs Whitelegg's party. It was held at their new quarters at the Plymouth Olympia ... and was, I'm told, a 'Bon-Ton' affair. All the elite of the Western showland were present including several newly married couples; so the proceedings (as one guest described it) were no end gay."

 

Pegasus writing in 'The World's Fair' of August 1935 reported from Kingsbridge "Here on Thursday last I found the Whitelegg Brothers snuggly ensconced. This firm under their new title seems to be prospering more than ever. Tommy senior says it is owing to having younger blood in the business;for Tommy junior and his brothers are in every sense a live trio bent on reaching the topmost position in their trade. It would be a good thing for the fair business if there were more like them! The firm had their celebrated Super Dodgem well looked after by sister Rosie. I looked everwhere for Queen Rose and found her busy with domestic duties. 'They can do without me on the machines,' she rather petulantly remarked. But I doubted this as every minute a courier was arriving with a message or for advice on this or that. And the good lady had to drop her pots and pans and do business in the old familiar way." The rides the family were operating were listed as the Speedway, the Waltsar, Noah's Ark and Jelly-Wobble. Also mentioned in this article were Johnny Oldridge and his sister Charlotte who were operating their original Mickey Mouse Hoopla.

 

'The World's Fair' of April 1936 reported "a most significant event in the rise of the Whitelegg's fortunes"  when the new ride 'The Monster' [based on the Loch Ness monster] was delivered. By this time the family ran two successful sites - the Olympia in Union Street and at New Passage, both in Plymouth.

 

By 1937 the Whiteleggs had become so successful that although Tom senior couldn't drive, they had purchased a Rolls Royce. They had also bought a house in Penlee Road, Stoke, Devonport for £3000. The house was named ‘Boat Hyde’.

 

The War caused many of the amusement companies to close or base themselves in near permanent sites under blackout conditions. Some companies managed to keep going as Holidays at Home became popular, but many simply closed. The War made the company of T.Whitelegg and Sons a significant nest egg.

 

In May 1950 Rosina Whitelegg suffered a severe stroke at Fowey in Cornwall. She was only 62. The stroke affected her speech and her right side which inevitably restricted her involvement in the family business.

 

In December 1959 Rosina died. The funeral on 14th December at Stoke Dameral Church was attended by all the leading figures from the fairground community. She was a much loved wife and matriarch. Her age when she died was recorded as 71.

 

Thomas Whitelegg died in 1962 and left three sons - Thomas (Tommy), Frederick (Bibsy) and Arthur. They also had two daughters Rosina (Rosie) and Phyllis.

 

With thanks and acknowledgements to Guy Belshaw and his wonderful book

“T Whitelegg and Sons’ Cavalcade of Shows”

New Era Publications, 2005,

ISBN 0 9535097 6 1