Violet's Story

As the final years of the 19th century approached and the country was enjoying Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations, my grandmother Violet Dorothy Bartlett was born on the 20 September 1897 in Southwick Common in the village of Southwick (pronounced Suthick) in East Hampshire. The date was 20 September and Violet was the fifth child of Samuel Bartlett and his wife Eliza nee Edney.

Violet is in the middle, aged about 12

Violet attended the local school as seen above and was already displaying above average height.

Southwick is an ancient village which over the decades has given up evidence of Bronze Age habitation. It’s strategic position, just north of Portsmouth, put it in close proximity to military events over the centuries. The hill top forts overlooking and defending Portsmouth were built on land which once belonged to the Southwick estate.

The village still retains its feudal characteristics. There are only a couple of streets in the village, the rest being farms and common land all enclosed with the Southwick estate. All doors on the high street have to be painted red! Most workers on the estate lived in tied cottages. 


Southwick House in the middle of the village has cemented its place in history as it was the Headquarters of operation Overlord ie the D-Day landings which began in June 1944.    

Violet and her family lead a very rural lifestyle and all the children in the household were expected to help out both in the home and on the land. Her father Samuel always worked on the land and described himself as an agricultural labourer on successive census documents although in 1901 he is described as a market gardener.

I believe that at the time he was working with his father John who was a self- employed market gardener.

Only known photo of Samuel, aged about 75

It was a very busy household which included Violet’s 3 older siblings, Sam, John and Mary and 3 younger siblings, Eve, Fred and Elsie. A brother, William, had been born in 1890 but he did not survive his first year. 

By 1908, Violet was living with her uncle and aunt, Jesse and Ann Bartlett, in the village of Purbrook which borders Southwick. The couple did not have children of their own and it was common practice at the time for children to be boarded out with relations to ease overcrowding in the home.

From studying census documents I can see that all the Bartletts in Southwick are related to each other, either by birth or through marriage. In some cases they were next door neighbours. The Bartlett’s also were not strangers to the local court; there are several newspaper reports over the decades in the mid to late 19c where they have been accused of countryside related offences for example poaching. But on one occasion the news was good! 

Grown by my great grandfather

By the time of the 1911 census, Violet was still living with her uncle and aunt. When looking at the 1911 census, most of the labourer’s cottages, including that of the Bartlett family, were recorded as having just 2 rooms, one of which would have been the kitchen. And this was to house 6 people in the case of the Bartlett family.

At this time, Violet’s elder sister Mary was in service in the household of a butcher in Portsmouth. Her elder brother John was already in the army, the Royal Garrison Artillery, and stationed in Malta.

It was at this time that tragedy struck the family when Violet’s mother Eliza died from peritonitis caused by a burst appendix. Violet may have returned home to help out but this would have been short lived as in 1912 she moved to Horndean to work in service at Merchistoun Hall. 

Violet was now quickly approaching adulthood.

The picture below shows Violet as a young woman before her marriage.

As the country moved through the second decade of the 20c and tensions started to mount in Europe, nobody could envisage what was to come.

As with almost every other family in the land, the Bartlett family were to experience the devastation brought about by the First World War. Although Initially stirring up feelings of patriotism in the country the horrors of war soon became apparent. The impact on the country, communities and families cannot be overstated.

Families tended to be much larger then and Violet had siblings and lot of cousins who either volunteered or were conscripted. Her brothers John, already in the army, and Sam, both served and thankfully returned.

Violet’s brother John, taken in Khartoum. 

Violet married Arthur William Coles on 30 March 1918 in the Church of St John the Baptist, Purbrook, Hampshire.

Arthur and Violet’s wedding photo.

Arthur had been born in 1889 in Horndean, Hampshire and that was where he and Violet made their home after marriage.

Arthur’s parents were Richard Coles and Amelia Coles nee Oakshott. He had an older brother, George, and a younger sister who died shortly after birth. Richard Coles had been a widower when he married Amelia. His first marriage had produced a son, Albert, who was brought up by his deceased mother’s family. However, there is evidence to show that the brothers had contact during adulthood, for example Albert was a witness at Arthur and Violet’s marriage. 

Both Arthur and his brother George were carpenters.

George served in WW1 in the Hampshire Regiment.

During the war years Arthur and Violet lost many cousins and some received horrendous injuries. On top of that, Violet’s sister Eva died on 24 September 1918 from pneumonia.

Amelia and George in the War years.

Arthur and Violet settled down to married life. Their son Arthur Leonard, always called Len, was born in 1919     and Violet Grace, always known as Grace, was born in 1921.  My father Ronald George was born in 1925 and a final son, Dudley, born in 1935 and who we sadly lost in November 2022.

Arthur with Len and Grace in the 1920s

Violet with Len and Grace

However, the settled life was not to continue when Arthur died suddenly in 1936, just a couple of months before his father Richard died. Violet was now left with 4 children to support, including a year old infant.

We know from Arthur’s obituary that his funeral was very well attended including a contingent from the Ancient Order of Foresters of which Arthur was a member.

Violet had to move into a smaller cottage when she was widowed and steadfastly raised her family. My recently deceased uncle lived in that cottage for over 80 years.

I remember the cottage when it still had gas mantles for light, the toilet was outside at the end of the garden and the tin bath hung up outside the kitchen door.

Violet ended up working as a cook at Merchistoun Hall where she had been in service as a young girl.

As the world moved again into war, the family played their part. Violet’s 3 oldest children were in the forces; Len was in the REME and served in North Africa and Italy, Grace was a land girl and worked locally and Ronald was in the Royal Engineers serving in India, Malaya and was in Singapore following its relief.


Grace and Len

Ronald in India

Violet died in 1984, after decades of service to others. She did a lot of fundraising for different causes especially the Red Cross as well as locally for scout groups etc. She was very well known for the jams and pickles she made to sell for charity as well as knitting items also to be sold. One of the highlights of her life was attending a garden party at Buckingham Palace representing the Red Cross.

A tough life but a life well lived.