My mum Rene (Alice Irene Flitney née Harding) died in 1999. When my brother, sister and I went through her things we found an envelope full of old newspaper clippings and other bits and pieces. We looked through the papers and put the envelope away, but those yellowing pieces of paper keep whispering of half-forgotten times and places. Places like Butlers Cross, Stoke Mandeville, Aylesbury, West Wycombe, Little Kimble, Wendover, Ellesborough, Southcourt and Princes Risborough.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Leonard Flitney (1880-1953) a third son for Eli and Ellen.

Leonard Flitney was five weeks old when Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield stepped down from his second term as Britain’s Prime Minister. Born on the 14th March, 1880 Leonard was the third son of my paternal great grandparents Eli and Ellen Flitney. The weather showed great promise that spring, but July bought violent thunderstorms and heavy floods. The rain being so persistent that hay was spoilt and wheat damaged. The weather may not have been the only thing on Eli’s mind as he toiled in the fields close to his home at Chalkshire in the parish of Ellesborough. He like many other farm works must have been aware of the general decline in farming. [The opening up of the American prairies to cultivation and the advent of cheap transportation had a devastating impact in Britain. Wikipedia]

It was fortunate then that Ellen could supplement the family income by turning her hand to the plaiting of straw. Straw plaiting to make hats and bonnets was a major cottage industry in Buckinghamshire, although that too would begin to decline as imports of cheaper lighter plait started to arrive from China and Japan. It's easy to imagine Ellen busy plaiting while her sons played at her feet. Albert the eldest of her boys now five may even have helped his mother by clipping the finished plaits. It was quite normal for very young children to learn the art of plaiting so Abel may also have lent a hand. But, by the time her new-born son Leonard was old enough to be of use the industry was in steep decline, and the Education Acts of 1870 and 1880 were beginning to have an impact meaning more children were required to attend school.

Wednesday 24th August 1887 must have been an unforgettable day in the life of the then seven-year-old Leonard. With a fire burning out of control at Chalkshire Farm, it’s easy to imagine the commotion.  The alarm was raised at Aylesbury Fire Station at 9.41am, and the brigade arrived a little after 10am. On approaching the farm they found eleven hayricks and several farm buildings alight. Messages for assistance were sent to Wendover and Princes Risbrough Fire Stations. An account in the Bucks Herald of 27th August reports; The Princes Risborough Fire Brigade, which had not been called to a fire for several years, was hastily summoned. The bugler gave the alarm at 10.15 am, and in fifteen minutes the members of the Brigade had assembled from various parts of the town and set out with their engine for the scene of the conflagration.  Despite a plentiful supply of water, the fires continued to burn for more than twenty-six hours. The Princes Risborough Brigade left in the evening, but the Aylesbury men continued working all night and until mid-day on Thursday, by which time they had succeeded in putting out the fire, and the remnants of the burning ricks - which were worthless - were pulled to pieces, and a watchman left in charge.

I have a picture in my mind of Leonard, his brothers and the rest of the village children in a state of high excitement while all this was going on.  It can’t have been much fun for the adults, although another report in the same newspaper is careful to point out that the farmer, a Mr. Richardson was insured. 

With his school days behind him, it would be reasonable to assume Leonard would follow his father and brothers into farming. Perhaps he did for a while but the continued decline in the industry, coupled with low wages meant many young men were looking for work elsewhere. Leonard chose to stay at home and by 1901, found employment as a rural postman. By this time, his mother Ellen (recorded as Eliza E - in the 1901 census) was widowed, Eli having died in 1899 at the age of 45.

A month after his twenty seventh birthday, Leonard married Maria Hall the daughter of James and Martha Hall of Great Barrington, Stow on the Wold, Gloucestershire. The wedding took place on the 16th April, 1907 and early the following year Maria gave birth to a baby girl named Hilda Maria. Sadly, the baby lived for just ten months dying shortly before her 1st birthday in 1909. Maria's father passed away in October of the same year and was laid to rest on a stormy afternoon in the New Cemetery at Great Barrington. His obituary in The Cheltenham Chronicle of the 23rd October 1909 reported;  the rain descending in driving showers as the choir and mourners sang hymn number 499 (What a friend we have in Jesus) at his graveside. The report continued;  James Hall earned the respect and esteem of the whole neighbourhood during his more than 30 years as a blacksmith. It was said his hearty genial manner was known to all his many employers. He was a constant worshipper at the church, a member of the choir for 30 years and a churchwarden.

Following the death of her child and her father, Maria might have been pleased to see the back of the old year. By then heavily pregnant with her second child, she was probably looking forward to happier times. In the spring of 1910, she gave birth to a baby boy. The joy at his birth must have quickly changed to heartache when less than four weeks later Arthur passed away.

They say history repeats itself, and for Leonard and Maria it certainly did.  

Less than a year later, Maria gave birth to her third child another son named Leonard after his father. The 1911 census records the couple living at Chalkshire with their new-born son and a visitor. The visitor's name was Sarah Ann Wheeler, and her occupation that of a ‘monthly nurse'. I was intrigued by that term not having come across it before. It appears Sarah was engaged by the family around the time of Maria's 'lying-in' to look after her and her new-born son. Sadly, she would also be called in to lay out the dead, and as in this case the two types of visits often coincided.  The baby lived for only a few short weeks. I probably don't need to tell you childbirth was far from straightforward in the early part of the twentieth century, and infant mortality was high.

The 1911 Census, showing Sarah Ann Wheeler  'monthly nurse'. It also shows that Leonard is now employed as a Gardener Domestic.

It would be easy to presuppose the couple gave up the hope of having a family, but on the 13th April 1915 Maria gave birth to another son (George). This time their joy at his birth was not to be cut short.

Leonard and Maria whilst preoccupied with the loss of their first three children, and the birth of their new son would still have been aware of events in the wider world. April 1912 saw the Royal Flying Corps established reflecting Britain’s recognition of the growing importance of military aviation. This significant occurrence was overshadowed when a few days later the Titanic sank with the loss of 1503 lives. In June 1913, Suffragette Emily Davison threw herself in front of the king’s horse at the Derby, and died in hospital a few days later. On 28 June 1914 the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo. This must have felt like a remote and insignificant event in the lives of Leonard and Maria, but the conflict escalated sharply and would ultimately result in the outbreak of World War One.

From the available records, it's clear Leonard served in the army during the First World War but with 60 per cent of soldiers' service records destroyed in 1940, discovering what he did and where he went is proving difficult.  I have a copy of his Medal Index Card, which shows he was a private in the Essex Regiment (service number 325487) and in the labour corps (service number 6840430).

The bottom left hand portion of the Medal Index Card should include the Theatre of War first served in and the date of entry therein, unfortunately in Leonard's case its blank.  According to The National Archives British Army Medal Index Cards 1914-1920 this indicates he went to France in 1916 or later. He was awarded the British War Medal and Victory medal. [The Roll Number LC/101B28028460 is the old reference for the actual Medal Roll in which he appears.]

Interestingly Leonard appears on both the 1918 & 1919 absentee voters list.

The entry for 1918 shows; 
Flitney, Leonard Butlers Cross 325487 Pte. (private) 9th Essex
While the entry for 1919 shows;
Flitney, Leonard 325487 L Cpl (Lance Corporal) 1 8 Essex L.C

From that it is clear Leonard was still in the army in 1919, now promoted to Lance Corporal. Oddly enough Maria also appears on the 1919 absent voters list. Perhaps she and her young son were staying with family while Leonard was away?  Between the years 1919 and 1922 Leonard left the army and the couple with their son move to Sunnyside Cottage, East End, Hendon, Middlesex. According to the electoral registers, they were there from 1922 until 1931.  

The trail went a little cold after that until thanks to the recent publication of the 1939 register, I found them again. Leonard now widowed was living at Pinner Lodge, Moss Lane, Harrow with his son George.  According to the register, Leonard was working as a gardener and George a clothing salesman. Leonard died in 1953. I'm unsure when Maria died as I’ve yet to track down a death certificate, but I can safely say it was sometime between 1931 and 1939. Finding the actual date is firmly on my to-do list. 

Other things on the to-do list are to find any children of George and Ethel Florence Flitney (Dakin).  George married Ethel in the third quarter of 1939 in the district of Hendon, Middlesex. Happily, George outlived both his parents dying as he did in the 1970s...

As ever this is a work in progress, and I would be glad to hear from anyone who could add anything to the above.


Chalkshire is in a picturesque part of Buckinghamshire in England close to Chequers Court, the Prime Minister’s official country residence. If you are thinking of visiting the area there are some wonderful walks through the hills and valleys within the Chiltern’s area of outstanding natural beauty.

Source Documents

England and Wales Birth Registration Index, 1837-2008, database, FamilySearch(

England and Wales Death Registration Index 1837-2007," database, Family Search   (

County of Buckinghamshire, Aylesbury Division. Absent voters list Yr. 1918/1919

The 1939 Register database accessed via FindMyPast

British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920 for Leonard Flitney, accessed via Ancestory.

Absentee voters lists Wendover Polling District Parish of Ellesborough accessed via FindMyPast

Wikipedia Great Depression of British Agriculture


This is the sixth in a series of posts about my Great Grandparents Eli and Ellen Flitney and their children and grandchildren. The following is a list of the previous posts with a link to each one.

(2) Albert Flitney and his son Leonard - A Sad Tale
(3) Abel Flitney - Second Son of Eli and Ellen
(4) Arthur Denis (Jack) Flitney - Searching for my Grandfather from Belgium to Butlers Cross
(5) Just how many sons did Eli and Ellen have? (to be published soon)


  1. Well done you for finding so much info. It gave me goose bumps reading about the fire: I remember asking Mum about hay or straw burning, a very large fire that I believed to be at Twigside. She said the only fire they ever had was the chimney fire at the bungalow. Perhaps we were all around before!!!!

  2. It was a struggle to find anything much at all about Leonard. Had you heard of him? He died five years after I was born, but I don't remember his name ever being mentioned.
    I remember that scary fire at the bungalow and still have nightmares about it from time to time. Is it possible someone told you about the fire at Chalkshire? Maybe dad talked about it or perhaps (as you say) you have lived before. If you have can you please fill me in on what happened to Eli and Ellen’s missing son!!

    1. I cannot remember hearing about Leonard and what a shame as we should have known something. I suppose it is the same with most families. It could be that someone told me about the fire when I was very young, but I have this distinct memory of being near a very large blaze (probably a bonfire !!) x

    2. The fire you remember sounds too big to be a bonfire. I've always half believed in reincarnation now I'm beginning to think it's a destinct possibility. :)

  3. Great story, Barbara, but heart-breaking for them to lose so many infant children - makes you wonder how they coped.

    1. Thank you so much for your visit. I've read and enjoyed several of your recent posts and really admire the way you tell a story so your comment meant a lot.

  4. I love how you can put your family history into such a readable narrative and not just a list of names, dates and places. It really brings everyone to life for me. My cousin in Evesham can do that, too, but it is a skill I can only envy. Thanks for sharing your family with everyone. They are an interesting group.

    1. Thank you for making my day Alex! I worry these posts are long and uninteresting, so your kind words really gave me a boost.

  5. Thank you for sharing your family!

    1. Hell Amy, thank you for coming over to read about my family, I really appreciate it. Barbara.


I really appreciate your comment. Thank you!
Barbara x

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...