Miss Bertha Rose Winchcomb (the name is often spelled with a final “e”, including on her tombstone, but the 1911 census return completed and signed by her mother has the spelling used here) was born in Englefield in 1893 in one of the lodges on the drive to Englefield House. Her mother was Mary Elizabeth Horne, born in the village, and her father was James Winchcomb from Sparsholt. James Winchcomb was supposed to have been descended from John Winchcomb, the celebrated clothier Jack ‘o Newbury. At the time of the Battle of Flodden he had a hundred looms in his house and ordered his workers to weave their own red and white uniform cloth before marching them northwards to do battle and then back to work. Curiously, in 1513 this John Winchcomb married an earlier Mary Elizabeth Horne so it is possible that Miss Winchcomb was doubly descended from Hornes. James Winchcomb worked as a gardener for Mr Bligh who then lived at the Rectory. He was the only adult in the village to die in the measles epidemic of 1893/4 and in 1899 his widow and children moved to number 8 in the Street to act as caretaker for two teachers who lived next door at number 9. These two houses were converted from what was formerly the Parsonage.
In an interview for the Newbury Weekly News in 1976 Miss Winchcomb recalled that her maternal grandfather, Thomas Horne, was born on the family farm in North Street but that his father had sold the farm and went off and had a good time. “It’s really rather annoying”, she said.
At school in the village Bertha Wincomb excelled at needlework, winning first prize in 1905 and 1906. In 1906 she was also best at knitting but as she had won the prize for needlework the knitting prize was given to Mabel Reid (who would become Mabel Claydon and teach at the school herself for very many years). Perhaps this success is not surprising as the census of April 1901 shows both her mother and eldest sister Emily Matilda as needlewomen working on their own account at number 8 Englefield Street, although the latter was to die only two months later.
At the age of 14 she left Englefield to work as a housemaid for £14 a year. The family at one house she worked at were friends of royalty and she said she couldn’t have wished for a better place; she felt that the popular portrayal of private service was most unfair.
At the age of 25, after suffering illness and being told she would never be strong enough to work again, she returned to the village with her sister Mary, who had married Edward Van Veen, a groom on the Estate. Despite continuous ill-health and several operations she remained lively and alert, living alone (save for a budgerigar named Bobby) at the old school (No 11/12, The Street) where her uncle had lived before her. She died in 1986 at the age of 93 and is buried in the churchyard.
© 2021 Richard J Smith