George Eagles had a butcher’s shop at 110 High Street for many years at the beginning of the nineteenth century and the alley is named after him. He seems to have lived a quiet and respectable life. He hit the national news in 1828 when a cow of his gave birth to three healthy bull calves. Even the Canterbury Journal reported it.
The alley seems once to have had a large number of cottages, of the small, dark and insanitary style peculiar to Tewkesbury. They disappeared one by one, without the wholesale clearances of some alleys, though there was also some rebuilding, such as the three newly built cottages with wash-house and WC (between them) which were sold in 1872. In the same year the Council bought a cottage for £16 to erect a toilet block; it is to be hoped that this was not the first such transaction in the alley. In 1875 there were ten cottages. In 1891, Ernest Moore bought a piece of land where a cottage once stood for £2 10/-.
Planned clearance started in 1919 with one cottage condemned and demolished, with another suffering the same fate in 1924. By 1957 there were only a few left when ten boys from Swifts Boys Club demolished three more. They were allowed to clean and take away the bricks to sell to help pay for a new club house to be built in Newtown on land donated by Harry Workman. The bricks were worth £5 per 1,000 and they hoped to clean 40,000.
The very last alley house was occupied by Mr and Mrs Houghton. In 1965, at the height of the debate about the future of Tewkesbury, Ethel Houghton wrote an impassioned letter to the paper; “As an ‘alley dweller’ may I suggest that the person, or persons, who want to preserve the alleys of Tewkesbury come and live in one? ….. Compared with the usual alley cottage, I suppose it isn’t too bad. The former owner turned an attic into a bathroom and there is constant hot water. The roof leaks, the stairs are unsafe and the plaster in the living room is falling, only it isn’t plaster but sand and dirt. The place always smells damp and peculiar. We have not seen any bugs, but who knows what’s behind four or five layers of wallpaper? No! Please do not preserve the alleys of Tewkesbury.” Soon after this the house was demolished and hundreds of years of occupation of the alley ended. She had a point, but a little more empathy with the past and sympathy for the vernacular architecture might have created a different future to the present sterility.
Like most alleys, Eagles had water supply problems. For periods in 1865, 1875, 1882, 1884 and 1893 there was no water at all and people would have to fetch it from other alleys. Finally, in 1902, a water main was laid in the alley. Even then, the justification was only that it would help provide fire fighting water to that part of town. At about the same time the alley got a gas light, replaced by electricity in 1930
Pigs were another problem. Fredrick Key, another butcher, kept pigs behind the alley which were a constant nuisance. He was fined five shillings in 1872 for keeping pigs in too close a proximity to the Eagles Alley cottages. Four years later the Medical Officer was reporting to the Council that Mr Key was storing manure to the extent that the effluvia was “soaking through the wall of Mr Key’s premises, close to the dwelling of some poor people, and the smell from it was beyond anything he could conceive”. The Council gave notice for its immediate removal. In 1911, Stephen Healey’s pigs were causing similar problems and the Council were concerned about pig-keeping generally in the town.
The people whom lived in the alley were, as was remarked by the Medical Officer, poor. Rents were low and conditions inevitably leads to occasional social problems. The White family dynasty, in particular, seemed to attract problems. In 1891, William and Harriet were living with their seven children at 6 Eagles’ Alley, at a rent of £5 4/- per annum. Son Thomas was fined for drunkenness in 1897. Daughter Harriet died later the same year. William died in the following and then the tragedies passed to the next generation. Florence, 4 months, was smothered whilst sleeping in her parents’ bed; her cousin William drowned in the next year. In 1908 Thomas and Emily were convicted of neglecting their six children, who were described as verminous and begging in the streets. Thomas, now Gunner White, was captured by the Germans in 1918, and released two months later as the war ended. Jim White was in the news the next year as leader of the ‘Jim White Gang’ of local delinquents, but he redeemed himself in 1920 when he helped the police apprehend three men who had burgled houses in Earle’s Croome. In 1931, Dora, 19, daughter of Thomas, was run over and killed whilst working in Birmingham.Then there was Ernest Meadows, a blacksmith, whose problem was drink. He’s first recorded drunk and incapable at the Mop Fair in 1903, with many subsequent summonses. And five-shilling fines. Twice he was imprisoned for deserting his wife and children, leaving them a charge on the poor rates. In 1906 he was jailed for a month for breaking into the Halifax works and stealing gunpowder. The last Tewkesbury reference to him was in 1916 in the Police Gazette. He’d again deserted his wife and gone on the run. A warrant had been issued for his arrest. There is no record of the fate of his poor wife and children.
The ‘front house, once George Eagles’ butcher’s shop passed through various hands until it became a private house. In 1897, on the death of George Walker, it was snapped up by the Oddfellows Arms, next door at 109, who extended the pub into the premises, where they stayed until the pub closed in 1971. It’s now Parson’s Bakers.
In 1977, to cater for the demand for new supermarkets in Tewkesbury, the Government allowed an appeal to build what is now Halford’s store on Oldbury Road. It resulted in the loss of Oddfellows Passage and the eastern line of Eagles’ alley. It also created a small square which should be an asset, but which has no purpose at all. The days of Mr Key’s pigs, the unfortunate White family and the tumultuous Ernest Meadows have gone forever.
Monday 15-Nov-2021 by: Jennifer Taylor
Well that took my breath away! I am building my family tree and saw that an Aunt was born in Eagles Alley. Just Googled on the off chance it may still exist.
William and Harriet White are my great Grandparents. I had no idea that the family had such a reputation. I only knew that Florence died in her parents bed.
Thanks for this insight.