Herbert Spencer

HERBERT SPENCER   written by Linda Trim.

Young gardener who joined the  Cheshire Regiment  was killed in fighting on the Somme, along with other members of the Church Lads Brigade from West Kirby.


Wrenbury War Memorial.jpg

Wrenbury War memorial

Herbert was born on the 29th of September 1894. His father, Enoch Spencer (1860 -1945) married Esther Sayce (1859-1921)  late in 1883. Esther had been born in the Bishop’s Castle area of Shropshire, but moved to Wrenbury in Cheshire to work as a servant and so met Enoch. They had five children: Alfred born in June 1886, Clara born December 1891, Herbert born September 1894, Agnes born June 1897 and lastly, Sarah Ann born July 1899. The family appears to have been of average working class and typical of the times. Enoch was shown as a labourer on the 1891 census, and again as a labourer on the 1901 census, at which time he was working on the roads for the Council. What is unusual is that all 5 children were born in the Nantwich Work House. The workhouse records do not appear to exist now, except for the births that occurred there, so there is a mystery surrounding the fact that all the children, who showed their births as being in Wrenbury – or Wrenbury cum Frith as it was then known, on the censuses- were born in Nantwich in the Workhouse.

In the late 19th century, 80% of the population were considered to be poor, and 25% of the total population were living below the poverty line, and so would have had great difficulty in  paying for the services of a doctor if one were needed. In all likelihood they would not have had the means to do so under any circumstances. It is probable, then, that Esther Spencer had difficulty with childbirth and went there for help to deliver her children as there are no indications other than this that they had gone to the workhouse to live. Nantwich Workhouse served 86 parishes at that time, and in 1890-91 an infirmary was built with 70 beds for poor patients. Four of her confinements would have been in the new infirmary.

Wrenbury had less than 500 people living there at the turn of the 20th century, and all would have been familiar with Mr Egerton Macdona who lived in Wrenbury House. The Spencers lived quite close to Wrenbury House according to the 1901 Census.


1901 Census for the Spencer Family and also the Macdona Family

In 1910, Herbert moved to West Kirby and started working for Mr. Egerton Milne Cumming Macdona (1867-1948) as a gardener at Hilbre House. He was able to live with his uncle, John Jones, who was also a gardener and who lived at 3, Sandy Lane, quite close to Herbert’s  employer. It is possible that his uncle also worked at Hilbre House along with Herbert’s sister Clara, who  was employed there as a domestic servant. A few years later his younger sister Sarah also was living and working in West Kirby. Alfred Spencer did not go to war but moved to Liverpool and worked as a grocer’s assistant. It is probable that he was not robust enough to join the army when the war started. The Macdonas were a wealthy family whose money came from business ventures,  and who had houses in several places, including Heswall, Cheshire. In 1911 Egerton Macdona was  living in London and working as a barrister, but when in West Kirby he and his family  would stay at Hilbre House, which sat on a good sized piece of land that abutted both Sandy Lane and Macdona Drive. The Macdona family bred St. Bernard dogs and the following photograph shows a pair of them on the lawn, along with family members.

Hilbre House + Dogs.jpg

 Hilbre House: date unknown

Herbert joined the Church Lads Brigade and the West Kirby Swimming Club after his move to town, and was known to be a good shot with a rifle. He would certainly have known Leonard George Emerson (1892-1917), also Horrocks William Leech (1896-1916). Horrocks also joined the Cheshire Regiment at about the same time as Herbert. Leonard was in the Church Lads Brigade, and Horrocks was, like Herbert, involved in the swimming. In 1913 the Church Lads Brigade swimming section merged with the West Kirby Swimming Club.

Cheshire Regiment Cap Badge - Copy.JPG

Cheshire Regiment Cap Badge

Herbert enlisted on the 31st August 1914 in Birkenhead, Cheshire and was probably put on standby for a couple of weeks as he was assigned to the 9th Service Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment which was part of Kitchener’s Second New Army; the Battalion was not formed until 13th September in Chester, and as part of K2 came under orders of 58th Brigade, 19th (Western) Division. When he attested he was 5′ 4 1/2″ tall, with black hair and a fresh complexion and had hazel eyes. He had a 33 1/2″ chest after it expanded 2 1/2″, and weighed 119 lbs. By this time he was 19 years and 327 days, and he became Private no. 12803. The regiment moved to Salisbury Plain for training,  but by December 1914 the men were in billets in Basingstoke for the winter. They returned to Salisbury Plain in March 1915 and left for France on July 19th 1915, landing in Boulogne with the division concentrated near St. Omer.

45 1915 Aug 7 WK swimmers in France.jpg

Letter from the collection of Heather Chapman

The first battle his regiment was involved in was the Battle of Loos, where they provided a diversionary action; this battle was fought between September 25th and October 13th at Piètre, in France, not far from Lille. In 1916 the regiment was involved in fighting at the Battle of the Somme which raged between the 1st of July and the 18th of November. The Battle of Pozières was fought between 23rd July and 3rd of September 1916 and was one of many battles which fall under the heading of the Battle of the Somme. While on sentry duty on 31st August 1916 he was shot and killed by a sniper.

BN 16 9 16.jpg

 Birkenhead news article, 16th September 1916 

He was awarded the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, and is buried in La Laiterie Military Cemetery, which is between Kemmel and Ypres, Belgium. Enoch Spencer lived until 1945. Clara, his sister, who never married, as was the case with many young women of the time, lived until 1987 and died aged 95.

La Laiterie Military Cemetary.JPG

La Laiterie Military Cemetery, Ypres, Belgium


Birth: 29th September 1894 in Nantwich Workhouse, Cheshire
Death: 31st August 1916, Ypres, Belgium
Addresses: Village Green, Wrenbury-cum-Frith, Cheshire (1901); 3, Sandy Lane, West Kirby, Cheshire (1911)
Occupation: Gardener
Unit: 9th Service Battalion, Cheshire Regiment
Number and Rank: Private 12803
Medals: 14/15 Star, Victory & British War
Commemorated: St. Bridget’s  Church West Kirby; Wrenbury War Memorial; La Laiterie Military Cemetery, Ypres, Belgium
Sources: BN, WKN, CWGC, FT, MC, SR, WK, Census: 01, 11, carlscam.com



2 thoughts on “Herbert Spencer

  1. Herbert was my Gt Grandads cousin. I’ve been researching him through Cheshire Regiment. Would love to know where his medals ended up. Hope they were well looked after.

    Be great if you had any pictures.

    Kind regards
    Andy Spencer

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