Time Detectives solve “Mystery of 1920s books found in a Hereford school cupboard”

A recent news story from the BBC caught our eyes recently at Time Detectives, it concerned the fortuitous discovery of a set of school exercise books from 1927-1930 at Aylestone Business and Enterprise College, and contained the work  of a pupil named Mona Stonyer.  In itself the piece was interesting as it let the current pupils compare the precise neat, well written work of the 1920s, with their own endeavours.  On the face of it an interesting story, but for me it begged the question of “Who was Mona Stonyer, and what happened to her?”  Of course Time Detectives can’t resist a mystery, and will never let a sleeping dog lie,  so here’s Mona’s story.

Mona; Hard Work out of Adversity

The exercise books show that Mona was a diligent student, and she did come from a reasonably stonyercrashaffluent background, but her family had suffered a great deal of adversity in her young life, and she had had to overcome this.

The story comes from various local Newspapers in the area.  On the evening of Saturday 18th September 1926, a year before the date of the exercise books, Mona was involved in a serious motorcycle crash in St Owen street Hereford.

Mona’s Father William Jukes Stonyer was riding his Motorcycle and sidecar combination with Mona on the pillion seat behind him, and his wife and elder daughter Ruby in the sidecar.  He was riding behind the car of one of his employers a Mr Thyne from the local tile factory, when Mr Thyne indicated with his arm out of the car window for William to overtake him.  Unfortunately as William overtook his boss’s car, a lady on a bicycle rode up on the other side of the road, this made William swerve to the right, across the road, where he mounted the pavement and smashed into a Street light.  This was in the days before the compulsory wearing of crash helmets, and the result was that although the mother Ellen and sister Ruby were relatively unharmed in the sidecar, both Mona and her father received serious head injuries and Mona also badly injured her legs.

Bystanders took Mona and her Father to Hospital, but William died before he got there, and Mona was in a critical state.  one split second accident had caused him to lose his life in a Hereford street at 56 years of age, and almost cost him the life of his youngest daughter at 13 years of age.

It’s not known how long Mona remained in a critical state in Hospital, or  what effect the injuries had on her later life, but by 1927, the earliest date of the exercise books, she was back in school and would leave a legacy for future generations to find.

An Intelligent Family

Mona showed determination in the face of adversity, but she had a good start in terms of intelligence and also example from the family , both nature and nurture.

Georgian Millwrights, the Engineers of their daymillwright

The Stonyer family originated in the Kidderminster and Worcester areas of Worcestershire where Mona’s Great Great Grandfather John Stonyer married Susanna Evans in 1819.  They had two sons, William (Mona’s Great Grandfather) born in 1820 and John, born in 1821. John was a Millwright, a highly skilled job usually for a specialist carpenter, who also understood mechanics, could generally read and write and do arithmetic, in other words an educated and intelligent person, not a simple labourer.  Of necessity Millwrights were to some extent itinerant, in pre-industrial days before Manufacturing Mills became commonplace, John Stoner would have travelled around the County or farther afield working on the small individual Mills to work on or help build.

John would have had a good living as long as the work was available, and that would be his challenge, well paid when in work, but where was the work?  And it would seem that the place to find the work was London.  By 1830 the family had moved to Bermondsey, Lambeth, South London, or strictly speaking the Surrey shores of the Thames in what would become South London some years later.  It must be remembered that they did this a decade before Railways started to become commonplace, so would have either travelled by Stage Coach, or just possibly by barge down the widespread inland canal routes.

So why a Millwright in South London?  Well South London had been the birthplace of Mill Labour on an industrial scale with the Albion Flour Mill, as well as Mills for draining the local marshes, Lead Mills, Tanneries, and various mechanical works on the docks and building sites of this fast growing area.  Work for skilled Millwrights was plentiful, and we find John Stonyer described as a Millwright and Shipbuilder with a Deal Yard (Wood Yard) in Grange Road Bermondsey, which came close to burning down in 1836, but was saved by the timely intervention of the local volunteer fire service.

turnpike-00296-640Grange Road itself was described at the time as one of the Prettiest Roads in Bermondsey, despite being in the proximity of the notorious Jacob’s Island, where Dickens writing in 1837, exactly contemporary with the Stonyers living there, placed the lair of Bill Sikes where he would eventually meet his demise by falling from a rooftop into the mud below.Jacob's_Island_-_Folly_Ditch_at_Mill_Lane,_circa._1840

Victorian Millwrights and Engineers

Work was so plentiful that John Stonyer’s sons, William (Mona’s great Grandfather) and John followed him into the Millwright trade, but by the 1840s were tending to be referred to also as Engineers, implying they were involved in more than traditional Mills, and most likely dealing with Steam Engines as well as the traditional Wind and Watermills.  It was just as well that the brothers were quick learners and established in the trade by their late teens as their father John died in 1841, when they were 21 and 20 respectively.

Business went well for the brothers, and they stayed in the Deptford and Lambeth areas of South London during the 1840s where they both married and started to raise families, then in the 1850s the brothers moved to Clerkenwell North of the Thames in Central London, an area that was home to a number of Industrial Companies producing Stationary Steam Engines, which would have provided skilled engineers with steady work.

By the 1860s the elder Brother William (Mona’s Great Grandfather) decided to move with his wife and teenage children (daughter Ellen Louisa and son William Edward) back to his birth area of the Midlands, first to Worcester and then to Leominster, where he kept up work as a more modern Mechanical Engineer.

The younger brother John stayed in London and raised his own Family there.

Late Victorian Fitters and Pillars of the Community

William Edward Stonyer, Mona’s Grandfather, settled eventually in the Whittington area of Hereford, and spent forty years working in the local Encaustic Tile Works as an Engineer and Machinist on steam Engines in the works, the Engineer’s role requiring good design skills, and the machinist role needed a keen eye and steady hand, rather like the work that Mona would produce in her school work some years later.

William Edward married Elizabeth Jukes, and Elizabeth, not content to be a Victorian Housewife, ran a Grocer’s shop with her daughter Edith Elizabeth, so would have been known to everyone in the local area.  The Family were doing well, their sons Harry Edward Stonyer and William Jukes Stonyer (born in 1869 and 1870 respectively) were well educated and went into good middleclass jobs, Harry Edward was an Invoice Clerk eventually working for the Inland Rvenue, and his brother William Jukes (Mona’s Father) followed his Father and Grandfather becoming a Fitter and Mechanical Engineer, and like his father, at the local Tile Works.

Mona’s Family

So Mona was brought up in a stable middleclass environment, with a skilled professional Father in a good job, who was from a long line of logically minded skilled designers and craftsmen, her Father William was also a pillar of the community, he had been the secretary of the local Withington Football Club, and the local Flower Show, as well as organist in the Church for thirty years.  William Jukes worked at the internationally renowned H G Thynne Tile works, and this would indirectly cause his death, as it was the owner of the works, Mr Thynne, who had signalled him to overtake the car he was driving, which lead to William crashing his Motorcycle and sidecar combination.

On her Mother Ellen’s side an independent woman who ran the Family Grocery Store, and her aunt Edith would go on to run a Boarding House.

Mona inherited both her family’s intelligence and gift for producing clear precise design, along with the examples of success through many generations of the Family.

Modern Times

Mona never married.  She carried on living with her Mother Ellen at 4 Grove Lane Hereford, until her Mother died in 1959, her Mother leaving Mona her entire inheritance as Mona’s elder sister Ruby had died in 1949, again unmarried.  Mona was still living at 4 Grove Lane at least into the early 1980s.

As neither Mona nor her sister had children, and neither did their Aunt or Uncle, it seems that there are no close relatives left to admire the work she did, but at least her life is no longer a  mystery.

You can see the BBC news Story of Mona’s Books by clicking the link below:


If you’d like to have your Family History researched by Time detectives, feel free to drop me a line on paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk

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