Alfred Philpott 1869-1929 – a hidden history

Alfred Philpott: His is just one of the many unmarked, shared graves, opposite the Morrisons store. He shares it with two baby boys who died in the 1870s and 80s, but as ever there is a family story to discover.

He was a rag sorter, living in Sidney Street, Folkestone, when he died, aged about 60. Rag sorting in Edwardian times was part of their re-cycling of everything useful. ‘Rag bone’ carts touted the streets collecting glass, metals and more. The rags usually reappeared in lower grade textiles such as ‘shoddy’, often for industrial use.

He was born and brought up in Hougham, between Folkestone and Dover. When he married Frances Ellis in 1891 in Dover, he moved in with her parents and was an excavator, as was his father-in-law and also John his older brother, living next door. Probably that was how he met Frances. He could have been working at the harbour, or anywhere that construction work was going on. It would have been a hard, physical job, digging all day.

By 1901 they had 7 children and had moved to Marshall Street, Folkestone. Maybe the house in Dover had become too small for the family, maybe they wanted a house of their own, or possibly a job opportunity arose. Alfred was now a bricklayer’s labourer, still hard work but not as physically demanding as digging all day.

They were more fortunate than many families and didn’t lose any children when they were young. By 1911 the family was in Sidney Street and the two eldest girls were out in service in Folkestone. The other five were all at home. Things were to change a lot in the next few years.

Thomas, their eldest son enlisted in the Rifle Brigade in April 1915, not long after the war was declared. Sadly, he was killed at Ypres in September of the same year and is remembered on the Menin Gate. The other boys were too young to be called up, and Alfred was too old.

The youngest boy, named after his father, Alfred Robert, joined the Royal Marines in 1925 when he was nearly 18 and was trained to man the big guns. He served on two of the battleships, HMS Repulse and HMS Royal Sovereign, but in June 1928 he damaged his right hand while on the Royal Sovereign, and a month later he broke and damaged two fingers on his left hand, possibly while in a turret on gun drill. He was invalided out and in 1931 was a carpenter, living at 32 Sidney Street, Folkestone, with his mother. In June 1929, after Alfred Snr’s death, Fanny and Alfred Jnr are recorded on a ship sailing to Quebec and Montreal, visiting their family. Later, he lived in the British Legion Village near Maidstone.

Four of the remaining children emigrated to Canada. Frances was the first; she married Reginald Matthews, a Company Sergeant Major in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1917 and moved to Canada with him. She was followed by Louisa and her husband Arthur Johnson in 1919, Emily in 1923 and finally John in 1924. John married in Canada and had a son whom Alfred and Fanny presumably never saw.

Caroline remained in England and was living in Downs Road in 1939, with her husband, William Brisley and their son, Frank. William owned a fruit and veg. shop. At least Alfred and Fanny would have been able to see Frank growing up.

In 1911 Alfred was a rag sorter in a Marine Store, possibly the one in Sidney Street, where he was living, that some Folkestone people remember, at a later date, as being run by Ginger Baker. Rag sorting is a more skilled job than it first appears, as there were over 1,000 different categories of textiles. Maybe it helped that Alfred’s father had been a dyer, and he had probably been brought up from a young age knowing quite a bit about materials.

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