February 19, 2010

Sepia Saturday - My Great Great Grandfather

This is my Great Great Grandfather, Joseph Plewis. He's the father of Ada from my previous post. He was born in Hoo (yes, Hoo) just north of the Gillingham, Chatham, Rochester area in Kent, England in 1853.

He started his adult life as an agricultural labourer and by the 1880s he and his wife Harriet went on to run their own Cook Shop/Eating House in Gillingham's High Street. Unfortunately no one in the family could remember what the name of it was.

Although he was known for being teetotal, his wife's father was later recorded living in both the Staff of Life, and The Beehive - both pubs on the Hoo Peninsula. His daughter ran a pub called The Two Sawyers and her husband's family ran a nearby pub called the Plough and Chequers. This must have made the temperance gods very angry.

Somehow along the way, Joseph became the High Constable of Gillingham ( which I believe is like a mayor or reeve). He held that esteemed position for 1898-99.

Family history says that Joseph Plewis initiated the development of the Gillingham Volunteer Fire Brigade. In 1920, he received the Order of the British Empire for "conspicuous courage and devotion to duty at fires caused by hostile aircraft" while Chief Officer of the Gillingham Fire Brigade.

He and Harriet lived on Priestfield Road, a street that dead-ended at Priestfield Stadium home of the Gillingham Football Club . Sundays were very hectic on that street. The house stayed in the family for a while - my brother was born there in 1953. My own father had to deal with the final moments of  Joe's odious son-in-law Fred as he lived in the flat below.

Chief Officer Plewis held the medal of the "Life Saving Society of France." Tere was also some exchange program between the fire brigades of France and the County of Kent, hence the picture above.


It says, roughly:

"Captain Plewis

Brigade Commander of Gillingham (Kent County), is also very experienced in the world of fire-fighters. His brigade is also the well-organized winner of the main competition. They are highly trained in fire and ambulance service. Captain Plewis is an Honorary Member of the National Federation of Fire Brigades and the French Federation Belgium. Honorary Member of the Union of the Corps of the Fire Brigade of the Lyonnaise Region. Holder of a Medal of Honour of the French Government and honourary member of the Lifeguard of the Aisne. Gillingham is a town located in Kent County and most important country(?) in this county of a population of about 40,000 inhabitants."

When he died, his coffin was transported on the Plewis Engine, a fire truck that was dedicated to him. Just today I found online a picture of my Great Grandfather, yes that's him front and centre with a chest full of medals.  The picture was taken circa 1929 which means he was around for the "Fireman's Wedding Disaster" at the Gillingham Park Fete.But more about that later.  I hope that didn't blot his copy book.

For other Sepia Saturday participants please click here.

26 comments:

Poetikat said...

More Public Houses in your family!

Could "High Constable" be a top-man in the Police Force?
Are you joining in with the Sepia Saturday people, Hazel. I know my co-creator will love this and your previous post as he is an afficionado of the British Pub. (He lives in Yorkshire.)

You can find the site here:
http://www.sepiasaturday.blogspot.com

Kat

Susan said...

I love these stories. Will be back. Just wanted to say hi.

xo

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading your web site and the history of your great grandfather. The photo's are really neat!

The Clever Pup said...

Hi Kat,

No - the High Constable is definitely mayoral however I do have a constable on my Smith side who lived across the road from the Ripper suspect, Sickert.

I'll check out the Sepia Saturday thingy.

araon said...

I really enjoyed this read your blog... web application

Martin H. said...

I love the first photograph 'Capitaine PLEWIS'. He certainly had an eventful life too, judging by those medals.

What a pity no one can remember the name of the 'Cook Shop/Eating House in Gillingham's High Street'. Have you tried the county archives?

Alan Burnett said...

Kat's co-creator indeed loved a post which managed to combine old photos, such rich stories and memories, some fine pubs and - for good measure - what looks like a postcard. I am delighted you have joined in our Sepia Saturday circle.

Ima Wizer said...

HOw wonderful to know about your heritage...I know so little about mine. This is a treasure trove of information!

Betsy said...

Very, very cool! And how wonderful that you found that last photo online today..I can't imagine! What a wonderful life and career he had....loved this post!

L. D. Burgus said...

What a great story you have here. You must have had family members keep good records. I liked the uniform and it says that the movies telling of old were really recreating the real costume of old. Great photos.

Rouchswalwe said...

So happy for your photo find, Hazel! A year or so ago, I found a photo of my grandfather's cousin on the web. You've inspired me to gather info and tell that story. I've enjoyed these posts of your family history.

willow said...

Very impressive medals, indeed! I love the bit about making the temperance gods very angry. Hee.

tony said...

Youve Done Well Gathering All This Information.I Cant Say I Know The Role Of "The High Constable".I dont think It's a Title that's used today.

The Clever Pup said...

Hi Tony. No the term is not used today. It seems to be something peculiar to individual towns and the title was changed to Mayor around 1900. I think it had something to do with amalgamation.

Meri said...

Fascinating! And that chest full of medals is impressive.

Barry said...

Your great grandfather had an amazing life. What a pleasure to read about him.

Pat said...

What a fascinating photo collection along with the information...You iknow so much about him... I love that hat. And finding him in the brigade photo! That's something!

PattyF said...

Wow! What a great story and how splendid your great great grandfather looks with his medals. His was indeed a remarkable life. Thanks for sharing.

Terresa said...

Sepia Saturday is inspiring every time I come across a post.

That his coffin was transported on a fire truck is an honor to a lifetime of service.

dogimo said...

Pup, these posts are so great. It's so sad that families often don't know (or rather, don't save, don't preserve) their own histories. They almost always provide such rich insights into not just family history, but world history and the rhythms of how life was. Kudos to you for digging around and shining it up!

The Hoo Peninsula! I love it.

subby said...

Truly amazing! And you answered my question as to the French wording; but that last photo you found is incredible :)

lettuce said...

wow what a great photo! he looks rather like a character from a Laurel & Hardy

LadyCat said...

This is a wonderful family legacy. Your Great Great Grandfather looks so distinguished in his uniform. It is so elaborate and detailed.

Stephanie said...

Great story. Love the first photo in particular!

Bachelor said...

Clever,
Wow... this is great stuff... all of the intrique detail of his life; and then you find that picture on line .... great find, I must say!... I love your Ada post too... what a handsome couple!!
:) The Bach

Einbildungskraft said...

Its great fun, to learn things about the past....and photos are so Precious in the exploration!