Category Archives: Hacker family

Linchpin of the family

[This narrative was written for Week 9 of my creative writing course]

Linchpin of the family

Elizabeth Hacker (nee Hunt) was my great-grandmother. I only know her through black and white photographs and other people’s memories. Most of the photographs show her surrounded by her family, many with my grandparents, mother and aunt. There are two earlier photographs, one of her with her twin brother taken in the back garden of their family home when they were in their late teens, the other a more formal portrait with her mother and first born son.



She grew up in a small village called Broad Hinton in Wiltshire during the end of the nineteenth century. She had seven brothers and sisters including her twin brother Charles. Her father was employed as a farm labourer and it seems that many of her brothers followed into this profession.

According to my mother Elizabeth sometimes helped at the vicarage, and also occasionally taught the younger children in the school, as this was allowed in those days.

At some point she became engaged to the local baker. One of her younger brothers was a Bakers Boy (according to the 1891 census) so perhaps they met through him or everyone knew each other in their small village.

Unfortunately on the 7th November 1899 tragedy struck. Her twin brother Charles was shot by her fiancé, Alfred Hacker, whilst they were shooting pigeons and died. Her fiancé was apparently accused of murder but acquitted at the inquest and the cause of death was recorded as “accidentally shot by a pistol”.  [Family stories had the incident occurring when the twins were 18 or 21. I eventually ordered a copy of his death certificate so I could be sure of the date. I’ve recently been communicating with the local record office and am waiting to hear what was reported in the local newspaper.]

Two years later Elizabeth married her fiancé on the 7th October 1902 at Broad Hinton Church. The vicars’ wife made her bouquet with orange blossom grown from the vicarage garden. They went to church in a carriage drawn by two white horses. Not bad for a local girl.

Married life

It seems the shooting accident turned my great grandfather to drink. According to family legend when he went round the village to collect payment for his bread deliveries each Friday he began to accept home brew rather than money. Eventually his business went bankrupt and his family had to leave their home and business in Broad Hinton. They are found in the 1911 census in Hilmarton and his occupation is given as journeyman baker rather than the family baker of the 1901 census.

Move to the city

At some point Alfred stopped working as a baker and got a job at the Great Western Railway Works [not sure doing what yet]. He walked the 6 miles from Hilmarton to Swindon and back again every day before the family moved to Swindon. He earned £5 a week but spent half on alcohol and gave half to Elizabeth for rent, bills and food.

Linchpin of the family

Elizabeth had 10 living children and 10 miscarriages. Their move to Swindon was permanent and they were never to return to their roots in the country. They rented a small terraced house where they brought up their family. Out of the surviving children the 4 boys were in one double bed in one room, the 4 girls in one double bed in the other room. This arrangement stayed until the children grew up and left home.

The Great Western Railway Works was the biggest employer in Swindon, peaking at over 14000 in the 1920s. In those days her sons were guaranteed jobs as her husband worked there. Three of her daughters were employed at Wills Tobacco Factory and one at Compton’s clothing manufacturers, all well known Swindon businesses, before they were married.

An undercurrent of sadness continued. Her husband and one of her sons died of TB in 1935.

Her children grew up, got married and left home except the youngest daughter and her family. Elizabeth kept the large front bedroom she had always occupied; her daughter, husband and son sharing one of the smaller back bedrooms. During the Second World War another of her daughters moved back in with her (my grandmother with my mother and aunt) as her husband was away from home in the Army. Fortunately her sons were employed by the Great Western Railway, which meant their occupations were protected.

Her family escaped any major tragedy during this time. Her son in law was on the aircraft carrier Ark Royal when it was torpedoed in 1941 but survived. The Great Western Railway Works became a war factory and a target for German bombers. Swindon was heavily hit and, although bombs fell around the streets that Elizabeth and her family lived, no one was directly hurt.

The End

Elizabeth kept a dairy of which I have the year 1955. Unfortunately the rest were all thrown away after she died. In it she records the daily visits from her children and their families, visits from extended family, the weather and surprisingly notes about the local football team.

Her youngest daughter and family continued to live with her until she died of a stroke aged 70 in 1959.

Little black book

Kathleen Hacker and Robert Winchcombe were my maternal grandparents. My grandmother was one of ten children and there was nothing I liked more than sitting with her and looking through her black and white photographs and listening to her stories. One of my favourites was how she met my grandfather and how Hitler tried to upstage their wedding.

In 1936 Robert Winchcombe was unemployed after his apprenticeship had come to an end at the Great Western Railway Works in Swindon. He earned some money playing clarinet and 1st or 2nd Alto Saxophone in local dance bands, including the Harry Smith Band, the Moderniques, St. John’s Dance Band, and the New Georgians, who played all over Wiltshire and Berkshire.

Around this time he met my grandmother at the St Barnabas Church Badminton Club. He was an altar server at St Barnabas, sang in the choir and was also a member of the Youth Group.

After his death I inherited a small black engagement book for 1937-38 where he had meticulously recorded all his musical engagements as well as dates with his future wife.

Their first official date occurred on the 17th of December 1937 where Robert has written ‘1st engagement with K.H.‘ It must have gone well as there’s a small ‘K‘ pencilled in on Christmas Day, as well as ‘Went to tea at K’s brothers‘ the day after. They see each other several times each week, play badminton together, attend concerts, go on church outings and visit relatives.

In March Robert was given a couple of weeks work back in the Great Western Railway before they gave him 2 weeks notice during the middle of May. His engagement book then records a succession of interviews – ‘24th May Gloucester for work unsuccessfully‘, ‘28th June South Cerney unsuccessful application for work‘ and ‘21st July Colbournes unsuccessfully, Baines’ ditto‘.

The engagement book ends on the 4th of September 1938. Fortunately I’m able to fill in the gaps which give the story a happy ending. Robert Winchcombe eventually got a job at the Gloster Aircraft Factory in Gloucester, presumably soon after September 1938, and he and Kathleen Hacker were able to get engaged. They were married four days after war was declared, their wedding plans hurriedly changed as the church hall was requisitioned, and started married life in Churchdown, Gloucester.

[This was an exercise for my Creative Writing course which I hope will be of interest]


Family treasures

I had a quick look in some of my boxes of treasures today. I’m sure we all have them. Boxes of items kept for sentimental reasons. As well as my boxes of photographs and certificates I have two boxes of treasures which include letters, framed photographs, books with written inscriptions, medals, coins and jewellery.

I feel quite lucky to have these ‘extras’ as they all help build up a picture of my relatives. They are great clues to expanding knowledge further than just dates provided by certificates and census returns.

Two of my favourite items are a diary belonging to my maternal grandfather. Although the diary records the dates of the gigs he played in, it also mentions his first dates with the woman who became my maternal grandmother!

I also have a diary written by my maternal great grandmother, dated with lots of family news even though she mainly records which of her many children visited that day.

I will transcribe both and add them here (time permitting).

Wedding Wednesday – Hacker/Hunt 1902

I love this photograph taken on the 7th October 1902 showing Alfred Benjamin Hacker and his new wife Elizabeth Hunt.


They got married at St Peter ad Vincula, the parish church of Broad Hinton, Wiltshire. For much of his life he was a master baker in the area, later joining the GWR as a plasterer in Swindon. They had 10 children, one of which was my maternal grandmother.

Wedding Wednesday

I’m going to start a new weekly feature called Wedding Wednesday. Like many family historians I have lots of wedding photographs so this will be a great opportunity to feature some of my photographs and a bit about the people in them.

Alfred Hacker wedding

It’s a poor scan but it shows the wedding of one of my grandmother’s brothers where she was a bridesmaid (centre, above the bride) along with two of her sisters. I only have a couple of photographs when she was young so this is a very special photograph.

How to scan old photographs

Recently my mum has been helping her cousin identify some old photographs. I inherited lots of photographs from my maternal grandparents and luckily they went through a lot of them with me when they were still alive.

I have three new photographs to add to my collection. Unfortunately they’ve been scanned to a very small size but it’s nice to have them.

KeithHacker1956Keith Hacker’s wedding, 1960s

LesHackerLes Hacker’s wedding

front row, third left, Nanny Hacker, Auntie Bid, Kath Winchcombe, bride and groom, Auntie Dor, Auntie Else. Middle row – 3rd left, Grampy Hacker, Uncle Chip just behind him, miss 3, then Uncle Cecil, Auntie Connie, Uncle Reg. This must have been taken before 1935, as Grampy and Uncle Cecil died that year from TB. The whole surviving family (4 boys, 4 girls) of the 10 children Nanny had, are on this photo.

Auntie Dor’s wedding