William Berry (1903-1962)

William Berry (1903-1961)

  • Born Liverpool, Lancashire, England
  • Died Kirkby, Lancashire, England
  • Married in 1935 in Liverpool to:

Annie Giles (1913-1976)

  • Born Liverpool, Lancashire, England
  • Died Liverpool, Lancashire, England
  • Ten children

"It was lung cancer. Dad had smoked for years, rolling his own cigarettes. He had been ill for a while. He had spent some time in hospital and now was home, with his bed brought down from the bedroom to the parlor. My brother, Terry, came to the school to tell my sisters and me that Dad had died. He was 57.

- Cathy Berry Otterson childhood recollection.

WILLIAM BERRY, known as "Billy," was in the middle of the large flock of 15 children born to Edward Joseph Berry and Alice Riley.  He grew up in the densely populated dockland area of Liverpool where the Berry family had lived and worked for at least four generations.

He was 32 when he married Annie Giles, almost literally the girl next door but ten years his junior. Annie lived in Ascot Street, just around the corner from the Berry home in Slade Street. However, while the pair may have been aware of each other growing up, the age difference makes it unlikely they had much to do with each other until adulthood. Annie told at least one of her children that she was about to marry someone else, and even had her wedding dress, but changed her mind at the last minute, and later married Billy.

Billy's father and grandfather had been in the horse-and-cart business, and for a time he put his hand to that occupation as well. When he and Annie Giles were married in 1935, political tensions were already rising in Europe. Two years earlier, Adolf Hitler had become Chancellor of Germany, and in 1939 war erupted that would last for five long years. Billy by this time had taken up work as a stoker at the nearby gas works in Athol Street. It was hard, hot work, as he shoveled coke from a wheelbarrow into furnaces, stripped down to a minimum of clothing and wearing sweat rags.  His work was considered essential by the British wartime government, so he never served in the armed forces.

He also had to abandon his hobby of keeping pigeons. Because the birds could be used for sending and receiving messages to and from the enemy, the government banned the practice.

William Berry
Photo: Otterson-Berry family album
Annie Berry
Photo: Otterson-Berry family album

After the war, William continued to work at the Athol Street gas works, and kept his job there for the rest of his working life. He was a frequent visitor to his parents' home, with his aging father sitting in a rocking chair by the side of a coal fire. Later, after his father died in 1948, William's mother became bed-ridden, but William would visit her, sometimes taking one or two of his own children with him.

His children remember the home in Eldon Street where some of them spent their early years, and which was a short walk from where William worked. William's son, Freddy, recalls when he was nine or ten years old:

"I remember 43 Eldon Street. Our flat (apartment) was at the bottom of the stairs. They were three-storey flats. At the bottom of the stairs there was a meter where the lecky feller (electric meter reader) came in. Our front yard had a fence round it. You had your own little yard with a gate on."

Freddy remembers going with his Dad to the seven o'clock mass at St. Anthony's Roman Catholic church, after which he would visit his mother.  On the way, as they passed the pubs on street corners, William would tell his children to keep their eyes on the ground and look for dropped coins.

His daughter, Margaret, had the same memories. Not long before she died in 2019, Margaret and Freddy laughed about that recollection.

Above: William "Billy" Berry and Annie Giles.
Below: Billy (left) with son Terry on his knee, and Annie (right) with son Freddy, about 1938. In the middle is Annie's Aunt Kitty with her two daughters.
Bottom: With his mother, Alice Riley Berry, about 1950.

Billy and Annie Berry
Photo: Otterson-Berry family album
William Berry with mother
Photo: Otterson-Berry family album
Eldon Stret in 1910
Courtesy: Liverpool Records Office

"People come out the pub drunk," Margaret said, in her strong Liverpool accent, "and they dropped all their money. And me Dad used to say, 'Keep yer eyes on the floor.' And he'd come back loaded!"

Freddy elaborated: "There were pubs practically on every corner. He would walk with one hand in his pocket and when he got near a pub he’d look on the floor, collect what there was and then go straight to St. Anthony's church. Seven o'clock mass only lasted half an hour. Seven o'clock 'til half past seven. And as soon as we came out of there we went to where his mother and sisters lived in Wilbraham House. I only known Nan when she was always ill in bed and that’s where me Dad used to go....She was always coughing. She had little cream coloured jars she used to spit in."

About the time that William's mother died, the family moved from the dockland area of Liverpool where generations of Berrys had brought up their large families.  The houses, owned by the City of Liverpool Corporation, were old and deteriorating. Large tracts of Liverpool's inner city were now considered unsanitary and were in need of redevelopment. 

St. Anthyony's RC Church, Liverpool
Photo: Michael Otterson
Inside St. Anthony's RC Church, Liverpool
Photo: Michael Otterson

Above left: Pub at the end of Eldon Street, 1910.

Above: The iconic St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church in Scotland Road, Liverpool. The church is now a listed building and still serves the Catholic community.

Below:  The Eldon Street tenements where the Berry family lived in No. 43 on the ground floor before forcible relocation to Kirkby.

Eldon Street tenements, Liverpool

An ambitious program of "slum clearance," which would peak in the 1960s, involved mass relocation of families as 33,000 homes across Liverpool were bulldozed. The families would be offered much better homes in large, new housing estates on the edge of the city, but the social structure of families that had known each other for generations was often destroyed in the process.

One of the first "new towns" to be built to accommodate Liverpool's overspill was Kirkby, about eight miles to the northeast along the East Lancashire Road. The Berry's new home was at 19 Cawthorne Avenue, and it was a world away from the crowded flats in and around Eldon Street. There were four bedrooms, and a garden where William grew vegetables and kept chickens. Two washing lines were strung across the back garden, held up with a wooden "prop."  William kept his job at the Athol Street gas works, and so had to travel into work daily on the local bus.

Sadly, in his 50s, William developed lung cancer. That may have been a result of his smoking - almost universal at that time among working men and women - but perhaps also due to his working environment as a stoker, loading coal into furnaces day after day.

His fourth daughter, Cathy, has written of her memories of that time.

"Dad would come home at the end of the week when he had received his pay packet, and bring a Mars bar for each of the younger girls. Tina (youngest child) wasn’t born yet. At some point - I can’t exactly remember when - we asked if we could have the money he spent on a Mars bar so we could choose how to spend it. He agreed.

"I was barely past my thirteenth birthday when my eldest brother, Terry, came to the school to tell my sisters and me that Dad had died. It was lung cancer. Dad had smoked for years, rolling his own cigarettes. I remember the tin of Golden Virginia tobacco he used and the little packet of Rizla papers to roll them in. He had spent some time in hospital and now was home, with his bed brought down from the bedroom to the parlor. He had been ill for a while. He was 57. I don’t remember kissing him before I left for school that morning. It was Tina’s 5th birthday."

William's wife, Annie, lived for 15 years longer than William, until she died of bowel cancer in 1976. Her daughter Cathy wrote this in 2018 in a family journal of reminiscences:

"I don’t remember much about my mum’s days at home. She must have been busy with her large family, cooking and cleaning and all those things a mother does.

"Apparently, Mum never went out other than to work in the evenings. Margaret, my eldest sister, told me she worked for a warehouse and then moved to a job cleaning offices. On one rare occasion near Christmas, she went to play bingo at a traveling fair. She saw that one of the prizes was a doll’s pram. Years later, she told me what went through her mind - 'I want that pram for Cathy!' And, she won the prize that night and claimed the pram, probably as happy as I was when I found it on Christmas morning partly pushed under our dining table in the small living room where the boys slept. I remember playing with that pram, pulling it up the three flights of stairs to play with a friend on the top floor. I must have been four or five years old. Linda, my younger sister also got a pram that Christmas morning."

Horses and pigeons

William and Annie's son, Terry, became the fourth generation to work with horses and carts. On leaving school, Terry worked for a company that used a pony wagon for deliveries, and that led him into the carting business for a while. That pleased his younger brother, Freddy, who had always loved being around the horses, perhaps stirred by association with his grandfather, Edward Joseph Berry, who stabled two horses in Blenheim Street in the Scotland Road area of Liverpool's inner city. Terry and Freddy later worked together in the carting business for a few years.

"When I was 15," Freddy said, "I always wanted to get with the horses. In fact, before I left school I used to go along the road with the carters. I’d say, 'Eh, mister, can I go with you?' 'Yeah, OK, get on the back.' And they'd go along the road to a warehouse or stores, depending on what size wagon. He'd take it to a factory. I used to get loads from the docks and warehouses on the dock road. I’d get wooden boxes, tins of food. I used to take them to St. John Street in town, opposite Lime Street station. One horse would take 4-ton-10 (four tons and ten hundredweight, or four and a half tons). A team of two horses would take 11 ton. We had a runner who knew which places to go to and what was there. He would run up and down the dock road to catch a carter with a job. He may have just dropped a load off, so he’d catch him and say, 'Here you are, go to such a place.' When Terry and me had the cart it was 1952 to 53. When I first left school I went to work with a printing firm, Wilson’s, but it was always on my mind to work with a horse and cart, with the horses."

Freddy Berry with pigeons
Photo: Michael Otterson

Above: Freddy Berrry also picked up another of his Dad's interest - keeping pigeons - which he did for many years, into his 80s.

As a boy, Freddy would secretly climb out of a window at night, scale a chimney to reach a roof where wild pigeons nested, and then take the birds back his own secret hiding place. The secret was do it it without his strict dad finding out what he was up to.

Below:  These Ordinance Survey maps from 1900 show the streets where the Berry families lived and worked for over 100 years. By the turn of the century, the character of the area had been defined by its crowded residential streets intermixed with dockland-driven industry. It would remain that way for at least another generation.

Along the banks of the River Mersey were Liverpool's docks, with the bustle, sights, sounds and unmistakable smells characteristic of a great port handling a huge variety of general cargo. Just east of the docks, Great Howard Street ran north-south, lined with port-related businesses and warehouses. Still further east, across a rail line and the Leeds-Liverpool canal as far as Vauxhall Road, were the industries that provided work for the thousands of people who lived in the adjacent crowded tenements and streets. Scotland Road, another major north-south arterial route, sliced through the residential areas and carried traffic out of the city to the north.

To help tie the maps together, No. 8 is the same location on both maps.

1.  Clement Street, Edward Berry's home for some 50 years, from at least 1844 to 1891.

2. Ford Street, where Sidney Reid lived before she married Edward Berry in 1870.

3. Limekiln Lane. St. Alban's church in this street was where Edward and Sidney were married.

4. Collingwood Street, home of Edward's son, Edward Joseph Berry, and Alice Riley, 1893.

5. Penrhyn Street, home of the expanding family of Edward and Alice Berry and their five children by 1901.

6. Slade Street, home of the Edward and Alice Berry family by 1911.

7. Athol Street, location of the gas works where William Berry worked as a stoker.

8. Blenheim Street, where the Berry carthorses were stabled.

9. Eldon Street, the last home of William Berry and Annie Giles before moving from the area to the "new town" of Kirkby as part of Liverpool's huge housing clearance and redevelopment in the 1960s.

10. Vauxhall Road, one of three major arterial north-south routes which included Great Howard Street and Scotland Road.
Liverpool dockland map
Image adapted from The Genealogist: Map Explorer
Liverpool dockland map
Image adapted from The Genealogist: Map Explorer

Below: Modern map of the same area shown above. Heavy industry west of Vauxhall Road has disappeared and been replaced with much lower-density housing. To the east, a few old street names remain - Eldon Street, Ford Street, Penrhyn Street, Blenheim Street - but the area has been transformed to an attractive inner city residential area, while Scotland Road has become the main feeder route taking traffic to and from the Kingsway Mersey Tunnel.

Liverpool dockland map
Courtesy: The Genealogist: Map Explorer

    Relationship of William Berry to Webmaster 
                 (William is the father of Catherine Berry Otterson)

         John Berry (born 1815) md. Martha
Edward Berry, (born 1844) md. Sidney Reed
Edward Joseph Berry (born 1872) md. Alice Riley 
        William Berry (born 1903) md. Annie Giles 
      Catherine Berry Otterson (living) - Webmaster