The Making of An Armourer: Arthur Henry POOLE (1891 & 1901)

Arthur Henry POOLE, my husband’s grandfather, apparently found an agreeable occupation early in life and continued to enjoy it long after his retirement. Agent Q, my husband’s brother in South Africa, fondly recalls Oupa in his workshop.

“When WW2 was in progress I thought he was involved on the home front because of his age; [during this time], he used to work at the Tempe military base on the outskirts of Bloemfontein as an armourer. He had a push bike. That is what they used to call them. And to this bike he had fixed a bracket which enabled him to transport a [Lee-Enfield] 303 rifle that he might have been repairing, to and from work. He was such an interesting character. I loved him especially because he gave me free rein of his workshop. I was only two bricks and a tickey high at the time. There were times when I would see how hot I could get a chunk of metal in his forge. The kind of forge with the huge bellows below and a lever that you pulled up and down to operate.”

The 1891 census for Swansea, Wales, shows that by the time he was 15 years old, Arthur was employed as a “fitter” (his status as employee is indicated by the “X” in the next-to-last column in the extract shown below). The designation “FT” has been added after his occupation, presumably to specify him as a fitter and turner. The same designation was also added to the occupation field for all other fitters in the same census.

Arthur Henry POOLE as shown in extract from 1891 Census for Swansea, WalesSource: www.ancestry.com

Arthur Henry POOLE as shown in an extract
from the 1891 Census for Swansea, Wales
Source: www.ancestry.com

It is interesting to speculate what might have caused his decision to take up metal work. Arthur’s oldest brother, Herbert William, had followed their father’s profession of textile dyeing and dry cleaning. Presumably, Arthur could also have entered the family business. Might he have been reluctant to work for his brother? Or did he find working with dyestuffs and fabrics not to his liking? His other two older brothers, Percival and Charles Edwin, had become school teachers. Might he have found academics too difficult — or simply too sedentary?

Ten years later, Arthur was employed as a “gun finisher.” The 1901 census, taken on the evening of 31 March, shows him in Yardley, an area of east Birmingham, England, as a “visitor” in the household of James H. LATHAM. His host was eight years older and a “gun finisher viewer,” someone presumably more experienced who would “inspect the assembly and components through manufacture and pass it on to the next stage.”

It is not known how long Arthur had lived and worked in Birmingham. The larger city would certainly have offered a wider scope for his skills than Swansea.

“It was the fourth largest city in the country at the time (behind London, Manchester and Liverpool) and a magnet for people looking for economic opportunity. The ‘City of a Thousand Trades’ was a workshop full of small, highly skilled firms producing a huge range of products. As a result, levels of enterprise were high and unemployment was low.”

It is also not clear if he had already made the transition from fitter and turner to gun finisher before he left Swansea. In 1901, the second Anglo-Boer War was in its third year, and the demand for arms was high. Since Birmingham’s Gun Quarter was the center of arms manufacturing for the British Empire, Arthur might easily have found a job in that industry when he arrived in the city, regardless of his former training.

On 1 Apr 1901, the day following the census, Arthur enlisted in the Armourer Section of the British Army Ordnance Corps. He gave his age as twenty-five years six months and his occupation as gunsmith.

Attestation by Arthur Henry POOLE on his enlistment in the Armourer Section of the British Army Ordnance Corps on 1 Apr 1901Source: www.findmypast.co.uk

Extract from 1 Apr 1901 attestation by Arthur Henry POOLE on his enlistment
in the Armourer Section of the British Army Ordnance Corps
Source: www.findmypast.co.uk

Whether he had decided to join the Army as an armourer and had taken a job in the arms industry to prepare him to do so or whether he had obtained a job in a gun workshop and then decided to join the Army will probably never be known.

In the extract shown above, Arthur Henry attests that he served a four-year apprenticeship with J. M. BROWN  in Swansea. However, the first initial is not clearly a “J” and both initials are followed by superscript abbreviations that are nearly impossible to read on the digitized copy. The only person shown in the 1891 census who stands out as a likely employer is a John S. BROWN, 33, ironmonger.

Taken together, it appears that his apprenticeship in Swansea and his employment as a gun finisher in Birmingham qualified him to join the Ordnance Corps and to train as an armourer. According to his service record, he passed two classes of instruction in the Army with a proficiency of “Good,” training in small arms at the Royal Small Arms Factory in Birmingham, starting 2 Apr 1901, and in machine guns at “A. I. Wept (?)” in Enfield, starting 15 Jun 1901.

Extract from British Army Service Record for Arthur Henry POOLESource: www.findmypast.co.uk

Extract from British Army Service Record for Arthur Henry POOLE
Source: www.findmypast.co.uk

When deciding to pursue a military career in the Ordnance Corps, Arthur must have had some idea of the trajectory his professional life would follow. What he could not have imagined was the direction his personal life would take as a result of that decision.

Research Notes

The dictionary at Bing.com defines a “tickey” as an “old S. African coin: a small silver threepenny coin in use in South Africa between 1806 and 1961.”

The definition of “viewer” in gun making is found on www.birminghamgunmuseum.com.

The quote about Birmingham is taken from a blog for the Centre for Cities, “a research and policy institute, dedicated to improving the economic success of UK cities.” The full post can be found at http://centreforcities.typepad.com/centre_for_cities/2012/07/what-happened-to-the-city-of-a-thousand-trades-birmingham-from-1901-to-today-.html

Arthur Henry POOLE’s enlistment in the British Army was for “Long Service” or “12 years with the Colours” according to the attestation form. This latter designation indicated that he would serve with the same regiment throughout his career.

The Gun Quarter was an area to the north of the Birmingham city center, bounded by Steelhouse Lane, Shadwell Street and Loveday Street. In the 1960s, part of the Gun Quarter was demolished, and the area was split in two by the construction of the Birmingham Inner Ring Road.

http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Royal_Small_Arms_Factory_(Enfield) gives a timeline for the factory and its various locations and the creation of the Lee-Enfield rifle mentioned by Agent Q.

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2 Responses to The Making of An Armourer: Arthur Henry POOLE (1891 & 1901)

  1. BetsC says:

    Quite entertaining . . . love the terminology about height! I can see why someone might want to work with guns instead of fabric! There would be a different level of excitement, especially if the person loved metal (i love gunmetal, the engraving, all that . . . . ). Have you ever read John Dunning’s novel “Two O’Clock, Eastern Wartime”? The plot involves the Boer War, tho you will find that most unlikely until . . . well . . . read it . . . and persevere! (http://extras.denverpost.com/books/radio1210.htm)

  2. Pingback: Researching a Funeral Notice: Herbert William POOLE (d. 1901) | QUESNELL & POOLE Families in South Africa

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