… one of Nature’s Gentlemen.
I remember Herbert Porkess from his regular visits to my Grandmother’s house during the 1950’s. He would have been in his late sixties by then and seemed as old as the
hills to me – a nine year old. He always wore a cap, a tweed jacket and a muffler if it was cold. The cap only came off whenever Herbert was eating. Braces held his
trousers up but they were covered by his waistcoat and his shirt was usually collarless although I seem to remember that he sometimes wore a thin cravat like scarf
around his neck – it may well have been silk but if it was it would have been given to him.
He would sit in the kitchen, keeping well out of the way of the bustle, talking to my Grandmother who was usually preparing dinner, assisted by her daughters and
daughters-in-law. He talked, or should I say drawled with a slight wheeze in his voice, in a very broad Lincolnshire accent. In my mind’s eye, even now, he was, in looks as
well as to hear him, Winteringham’s Walter Gabriel – bearing in mind that in those days nobody had the slightest idea of what Walter Gabriel, or indeed any of The Archers’ cast, looked like!
Herbert had become but a vague memory from my childhood when I came across a reference to him on the Whitton Web Site. When I discovered Winteringham.Info and began avidly burrowing through the wealth of
information here I began to gather references to Herbert with some surprising results. All that follows is from that information together with my Mother’s memories and
anecdotes about Herbert. This is supplemented by more detailed information from Roger Porkess – a distant relative of Herbert.
I have to presume that Herbert was born late in 1886 as he was baptised on Sunday, the 12th of December of that year
by Rector C. Knowles. His parents were Charles Henry and Harriet Porkess. One is tempted to speculate about how
long Charles and Harriet had been married (there is no record of them marrying in Winteringham) as Harriet’s five year
old daughter, Ethel Mary Cross, was also baptised that day. The Parish Register recorded her as the daughter of
Charles and Harriet Porkess but, later that week, on Friday the 17th December 1886, the entry was corrected to show
that she was not born in wedlock and amends her surname from Porkess to Cross which was Harriet’s maiden name. Ethel Mary eventually married someone called Wilkinson.
On Wednesday, the 4th of July 1888, Charles and Harriet’s next son, Charlie, was baptised although the register
misspells his surname as Porkiss. On Friday, the 7th of June 1889, Herbert and Charlie’s sister, Annie, was baptised. Annie tragically died soon after having lived for a mere five weeks.
Herbert’s father, Charles Henry, a red head, was a bricklayer by trade and he is mentioned as such in Kelly’s 1905,
1909 & 1919 Directories. Charles Henry was born in Toronto and was one of the many children of David Porkess –
who was also a bricklayer. Youngest son Charlie followed in his father’s footsteps and became a bricklayer, plying his
trade well into the twentieth century, indeed he was known as Brickie Porkess. Charlie never married and he died in 1941 when he was run over by a bus in Kingston-upon-Hull.
Harriet Porkess died in 1893, aged 37. Subsequently, on Wednesday the 22nd of December 1897, bricklayer Charles Henry Porkess, a widower aged 44, married publican Ann Thornton, a widow aged 50. Both were resident in
Winteringham at the time and the Banns had been issued previously. Charles’ father is listed as David Porkess and
Ann’s father is listed as William Myers – both fathers being deceased. The rector was C. Knowles and the witnesses
were Solamon Porkess (Solomon, or Sol, was one of Charles Henry’s brothers) and Jane Ellen Mumby.
It can be assumed that Ann Thornton ran The Ferry Boat Inn and that she must have been the widow of Robert Cook
Thornton who is first mentioned as the publican of The Ferry Boat Inn in Kelly’s 1885 Directory. Whether she continued
with The Ferry Boat Inn is in doubt as, by 1901 Walter Thomas Thornton, aged 62, was listed at The Ferry Boat Inn. I
was intrigued by this connection with The Ferry Boat Inn as my Great Grandmother, Mary Ellen Field and subsequently
my Grandmother, Gertrude Harrison (Mary Ellen Field’s daughter), had been the publicans from sometime during the
First World War up until about 1950. I wondered if this connection was the start of the friendship between Herbert and my Grandmother.
The First World War
Herbert served in the First World War and, according to my mother, was gassed in the trenches. He found it difficult to
hold down a regular job upon his return to Winteringham because of his consequent state of health however he was in
receipt of a small war pension. Roger Porkess remembers that he might have worked as a labourer on the roads at
some time. By the 1930’s he was living in a wooden shed on the outskirts of Winteringham, on one of the roads to
Winterton. My mother remembers going out, as a child, with her elder sister gathering wild flowers. They found
themselves in the field where Herbert’s shack was and decided to pay him a visit. Upon their return home my mother’s sister exclaimed in horror to their mother, Gertrude, that “Herbert does everything
in a bucket”! I’m sure you don’t need me to provide any more detail.
The Ferry Boat Inn was Herbert’s local in those days, especially on the day that his war pension was paid out by the
Wardles at the Post Office. The bar, by mid-evening, would give any London pea-souper a run for its money with the
pipe and cigarette smoke. The floor throughout the bar and to the downstairs living quarters behind was stone paved.
The kitchen and living room were accessible, down the passageway, from the bar but the clientele were trusted not to
encroach – nor did they. However the living room door had been left open one day and Herbert, returning from the
outside toilet, was found just inside the doorway gazing at a splendid Cricket Cup trophy which, for decades, had taken
pride of place on the sideboard there. What cup it was and what has happened to it we may never know.
The 40s Onwards
By the 1940’s Herbert’s health and living conditions were causing some concern, not least with my Grandfather Ralph
Harrison. Efforts were made to find him some decent housing in Winteringham but none were available or suitable.
Eventually Ralph found out that a cottage was available in nearby Whitton and by 1951 Herbert had moved there and he is included on the Whitton Register of Electors dated the 20th November 1951.
The only drawback with this arrangement was that Whitton had no public houses so, several times a week, Herbert
would walk to Winteringham, down the old railway track, call in at my Grandmother’s house and thence to The Bay
Horse or The Ferry Boat Inn where Winteringham folk would keep his glass full for the evening. Eventually Herbert would
return to Whitton, along the same rail track in the quiet darkness that you only used to find in the countryside in those days - lit only by the stars, and the moon if you were lucky.
What Herbert could do, in the dark, after a few beers, my own Father failed to do, sober and in broad daylight. On one
of our family holidays to Winteringham he decided to walk to Whitton to visit Herbert. Off he set down Low Burgage,
turned left at Boy Routh’s Station Emporium and began to follow the rail track. He was gone some considerable time.
Eventually he got back and explained, with just a hint of embarrassment, that he had missed the old line to Whitton and
had found himself halfway to Scunthorpe before he had realised his error. He never did make it to Herbert’s abode.
By 1962 Herbert’s age and health demanded that he should live in an old people’s home – The Hollies in Normanby
Road, Scunthorpe. The staff there were very kind to him, even to the extent of setting up a brazier in the garden on cold
days so Herbert could warm his hands. I can’t help remembering that, long ago, the road gangs’ first task before
starting to repair a road was to set up a portable shelter and fire up a brazier on a winter’s day. Herbert would have felt at home.
Herbert Porkess died in 1965. He never married.
Those then are my memories of Herbert Porkess, a countryside character certainly but also a reminder how some
Winteringham folk lived before the welfare state and of how one, who was lucky enough to return from the First World
War, was more or less forgotten. When Herbert passed away with him went a link to the previous century. Village life
changed very little and very slowly over the years and some, like Herbert, hardly changed at all. My Grandfather used to
describe Herbert as “one of nature’s gentlemen” and I hope that you will agree with him. I certainly do.
Kelly’s 1885 Directory
lists Robert Cook Thornton, of The Ferry Boat Inn, and as a carrier: “CARRIER.-Robert Cook Thornton, to Barton, Monday; to Hull, Tuesday & Friday”
Kelly’s 1889 Directory lists Robert Cook Thornton as still at The Ferry Boat Inn and still as a carrier but only going to
Hull: “CARRIERS. Robert Cook Thornton, to Hull, Tuesday & Friday.”
On the 12th December 1886
, Herbert, son of Charles Henry Porkess (Brick Maker) & Harriett Porkess, was baptised – the Rector being C. Knowles.
Also on the 12th December 1886
, Ethel Mary Cross – the illegitimate child of Harriett Porkess was baptised – the Rector being C. Knowles. Ethel Mary was over five years old at the time of her baptism. Ethel Mary’s baptism was
originally recorded as her being the daughter of Charles Henry (Brick Maker) & Harriett Porkess but this was subsequently corrected on 17th December 1886 as the following note shows:
“N.B. The Above Entry Is Erroneous As The Child Ethel Mary Was Not Born In Wedlock. The Correct Entry Is
In The Next Space (No. 781) And The Mistake Was Corrected And A Fresh Entry Made In December 17th In
The Presence Of W. Reynolds Churchwarden. C. Knowles Rector William Reynolds (Churchwarden) This Child At Time Of Her Baptism Was Over 5 Years Old.”
On July 4th 1888 Charlie, son of Charles Henry Porkess (Brick Maker) & Harriett Porkess, was baptised – the Rector
being C. Knowles. The entry misspells the surname as Porkiss.
On the 7th June, 1889
, Annie, the daughter of Charles Henry (Brick Maker) & Harriett Porkess, was baptised – the Rector being C. Knowles.
On December 22nd, 1897, Bricklayer Charles Henry Porkess, a widower aged 44, married publican Ann Thornton, a
widow aged 50. Both were resident in Winteringham at the time and the Banns had been issued previously. Charles’
father is listed as David Porkess and Ann’s father is listed as William Myers – both fathers being deceased. The rector was C. Knowles and the witnesses were Solamon Porkess and Jane Ellen Mumby.
Kelly’s 1905, 1909 & 1919 Directories list Porkess, Charles Henry, as a bricklayer. There is no mention of him in
Kelly’s 1889 Directory or in any other previous directory.
The 1901 Census lists Walter Thornton, aged 62, as living in High Burgage. (Although not stated in the census it is thought that Walter Thornton was the publican at the ‘Ferry Boat Inn.’
1885 Robert Cook Thornton (“Ferry Boat Inn”)
1889 Robert Cook Thornton (“Ferry Boat Inn”)
1901 Walter T Thornton
1905 Walt. Thos. Thornton (“Ferry Boat Inn”)
Four people with the surname of Porkess are listed in the 1901 Census as well as four people with the surname of Thornton.
Alfred Thornton, a mariner, and Alice Thornton, both of Reed’s Island, had their son Jonathan (Dulice?) baptised at Winteringham on 9th December 1906, Henry Sale being the Rector.
Kelly’s 1909 Directory lists James Sharpe for the Ferry Boat Inn.
Kelly’s 1919 Directory lists Field Mary E. (Mrs), for the Ferry Boat inn.
The 1901 Census lists Nelly Thornton, aged 14, as being a general domestic servant in the West End household of William W. Sutton – a farmer aged 42. Nelly’s birthplace or home town is listed as Barnetby.
Whitton Register of Electors 20 November 1951 Porkess, Herbert, Whitton
From Roger Porkess:
It was with great interest that I read your article on Herbert Porkess.
Herbert and my grandfather (John Wilkin Porkess) were second cousins but neither knew of the existence of the other.
Herbert's grandfather, David, was the youngest of 3 surviving brothers. The oldest, William Porkess (my great great
grandfather) was a bricklayer in Winterton. The next, John Porkess, lived in Broughton where he ran the mill and was a
local preacher; he also ran the Ancholme Steam Packet Company which I believe consisted of a steam launch plying
up and down the Ancholme. David Porkess was also a bricklayer and had nine children including Herbert's father, Charles Henry Porkess who was born in Toronto (and had red hair).
In 1962 my father (also John Wilkin Porkess) was driving through Broughton and was surprised to see a shop with the
name Porkess above it - we had never known anyone else with our name. We lived in Bolton at the time and he
suggested that I should go to Lincolnshire and see what I could find out. So I put my bicycle on the train and set off.
The shop in Broughton was run by Eva Porkess, widow of Rowland Oswald Porkess whose father was Tom and
grandfather John, who I have already mentioned. She told me that Herbert was still alive living in an old peoples home,
and so I went to see him at The Hollies, Normanby Road, Scunthorpe. It was a cold day but he was out in the garden
warming his hands in front of a brazier they had set up for him. I left with the impression that they were very kind to him at The Hollies.
He gave me a lot of information about the family, some of which I wrote down in a notebook, but to my regret a lot of
what he said I have forgotten or only half remember. I wish I had written much more down and taken a photo of him. I
was really intent on establishing who was who in the family but Herbert also had a lot to tell me about how they lived.
I went back to see him again the next day too to clear up a lot of outstanding points. At the time I wondered whether he
was, very courteously, having a joke on me, an 18 year old student, for example reciting to me the names of his aunt
Polly's 11 children. I have since been able to check much of what he said and he was quite remarkably accurate. He was clearly well in touch with the rest of the family.
I never saw Herbert again and he died in 1965. His brother Charlie died in 1941 when he was run over by a bus in Hull.
Neither Herbert nor Charlie married. Their elder sister Ethel Mary married someone called Wilkinson. There was also a
younger sister Annie who lived for only 5 weeks. Incidentally, I had the impression that Herbert worked as a labourer on the roads; maybe he did some casual work when he could.
A little more of background … from Roger Porkess:
The story has been handed down that the Porkess name arrived in Lincolnshire when a foreign seaman was washed up on Killingholme Marsh unable to say anything but his name.
If that is true, it was a long time ago, but there would seem never to have been more than a single extended family,
moving about approximately every 100 years. In the 1500s we were around Searby (the earliest spelling is the rather
attractive Porcasse), in the 1600s around Normamby-le-Wold, moving to Marsh Chapel for the 1700s and then to
Broughton and nearby for the 1800s. My great grandfather, Uriah Porkess, moved to Grimsby where he was a builder. By the next generation our branch was very spread out.
Our branch seems to have lost contact with the rest of the family after Uriah went to Grimsby. Uriah married into a
strong methodist family (Wilkin) and all the family stories that came down referred to them. His 4 sons all became
professional people, William a clergyman in the United States, John (my grandfather) a company director, Frank a
cathedral organist and Walter, briefly, an officer in the Royal Flying Corps before being killed in the First World War.
Meeting Herbert was a very enlightening experience for me, showing me the chance circumstances that frame our lives and I have often told people about him.
There are now only 5 people who spell the name our way: myself, my wife, our younger daughter, (our other daughter is
now married but still uses Porkess as a professional name), our son and the widow of a cousin of my father's, Peggy. I
have everyone accounted for back to the early 1800s but that is where the first loose end occurs. Herbert's great
grandfather was Thomas (1788-1822) and he had a younger brother John (1791-1838) who married Dinah Carline in
1815 at Barnetby-le-Wold and they had a son David, who was the father of a daughter, Sarah Ann (b1841); it is not
clear whether he was married to her mother, Eliza Robinson. I have found no further trace of them. Nor do I know whether John and Dinah had any further children. Dinah, by then a widow, remarried in 1840 in Scawby.
There are a few people in and around London called Porcas. This branch has been well researched and seems to
emanate form no more than 2 families in about 1800 and perhaps 1 the previous generation. It remains my hope to find
that one of us went from Lincolnshire to London and started this line. (There are some likely candidates.) There have
also been branches in South Lincolnshire in the 1600s and in the North East in the 1800s. I am sure these are connected to us but need to prove the links.
A point on which you might help. Canada seems to have held a strong attraction for the family. Herbert told me that the
3 brothers William, John and David all set off for Canada (I guess about 1840) but they were so seasick going down the
North Sea that they got off when the boat got to the south coast and travelled back to Lincolnshire. However, David did
subsequently go to Canada for a time and Charles Henry was born there. Then David's youngest son, another David,
also went to Canada but in his case the law was after him for poaching; Herbert said the police arrived on the quayside
in Liverpool just as the boat was pulling out. Would I be right in surmising that skilled tradesmen were able to make very good money in Canada at that time?
The spelling Porkess would seem to originate with Robert Fell Porkess, one of Herbert's great grandfather Thomas's
elder brothers. He had a shop in Burgh-on-Bain and whenever his name comes up it is spelt this way, so I conclude that he learnt how to read and write and defined the spelling of the name.