Coachman Harry Williams’ Diamond Wedding November 1940
Harry Williams was born in 1858 at Dudley House, John Street Ryde, one of eight children. His father, George Williams, kept a posting yard with horses and the stately carriages so characteristic of the mid-Victorian period. Even at a young age Harry owned his own horse and chaise and by the age of 18 was a fully-fledged licensed carriage driver.
On November 2nd 1880 Harry married a Miss Elizabeth Nippard at the Wesleyan Church in Ryde. He was 22 and she was 18 years old at the time. Elizabeth was born in 1862 at Hythe near Southampton but moved to Brading with her parents when she was only a small child and from the age of 13 years lived in Ryde. She was brought up in a family of nine children.
For seven years Mr and Mrs Williams lived at the old Brigstocke Mews situated at the lower end of Church Lane and then moved to 8 Church Lane where they spent the rest of their lives.
Five of the couple’s sons fought in the army in the First World War, two of them George and Sydney, were killed in action, and a third, Arthur, was badly injured. Private George Henry Williams of the Hampshire Regiment was killed on 8th November 1914 aged 35 and is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial near the town of Ieper in Belgium. His brother Sydney Harry Williams of the Royal Garrison Artillery Unit was killed on 14th September 1917 aged 30 years he is buried in Mendinghem Military Cemetery which is also near to Ieper in Belgium.
Harry and Elizabeth celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of their marriage on Saturday 2nd November 1940 and on that day they reminisced about their lives together in Ryde. Harry had taken visitors on tours of the Island in his coach and horses in the time when it took three or four days to complete the ‘Round the Island trip.’
“Excursions used to be run each weekend from London,” said Mr Williams, “I would set off on Friday with four passengers in the carriage, with sometimes one horse and sometimes two. After driving leisurely through the woods and chines and avenues lined with trees, we would put up for the night at Blackgang Hotel. Then the next day we continued our journey, and spent the night at Alum Bay Hotel, returning to Ryde on Monday. When, as was often the case, I had nice people the trip was enjoyable, and I was able to point out the various things of interest. Sometimes the people were a bit grumpy, and I let them get on with it and did not talk overmuch. The weather in those days was much more seasonable, and we never got summer weather in the winter as we do nowadays.”
He once had the honour of driving HRH Princess Beatrice and Prince Henry of Batenburg from Ryde to Seaview in a pair-horse landau.
In one respect, however, Mr Williams admitted that the “Good Old Days” were not so good. “The roads were all gravel,” he said, “And we had to flatten down the roads with our horses’ hooves and carriages. Just when we had got one side of the road nicely leveled off the road authority would place barriers across it forcing us to start all over again and wear down the fresh gravel on the other side. Later they had a roller drawn by six horses.”
Both Mr and Mrs Williams could remember Ryde in the days when the railway from Ventnor reached only as far as St John’s.
There was no railway to Newport, horse drawn trams plied up and down the pier, and they used to walk on a long since demolished structure known as “The Penny Pier.” “Ryde’s policemen wore top hats in those days,” said Mr Williams with some relish.