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Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

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Parish Records




War Memorials


3.Naval Pensioner




HMS Vivid
This was the Royal Navy's great Naval Barracks at Devonport or HMS Vivid as it was named, built in 1886 but not opened until 1889. Men posted here lived in one of eight Barrack rooms -   these were the size of aircraft hangers; mess tables were put at right angles to the walls and hammocks slung in the centre of the room. William Jefford spent many months of his final contract on shore here, living a very spartan life and still looking after his own clothes in the laundry area provided in the basement below each barrack room.


In 1895, William negotiated another contract for his final five years with the Royal Navy which would terminate with a naval pension. He was re-rated as a Petty Officer 1st Class which was the highest naval rank to which he could aspire and he had risen up through the ranks with all the good conduct awards he could gain and his character never rated as other than "Very Good". For the next five years he went to and fro between the shore base at  HMS Vivid (see above) and, in turn, HMS Sybylle, HMS Defiance (the Navy's torpedo school moored at Saltash) and HMS Alexandra.

HMS Sybille
HMS Defiance

Left:   HMS Sybille

The only ship lost in the Boer War

Right:  HMS Defiance

Royal Navy Torpedo School


HMS Alexandra

HMS Aleaxandra

Courtesy of Steve Johnson

Finally, on 22 April 1900, William left the Royal Navy and began to draw his pension but he was not alone. In 1886, he had married Bessie Edwards in Torquay. In all those years at sea, William had never known the comfort of a home with a wife and children in it. When William retired  to Teignmouth, Bessie was 38 and clearly had longed for a family of her own, for the couple set about creating one almost at once. They began by fostering a little boy from Plymouth - Leonard Lawrence Lethbridge who had been born in  Devonport in 1899. William, who had always prided himself on his ability to swim, got a job as manager of the Teignmouth Swimming Baths in Carlton Place which had accommodation over the baths for the Manager's family . As soon as they could, they adopted Leonard as their own son and changed his name to Jefford.


Teignmouth - The Winter Gardens

The chap at the front doesn't look too happy and no wonder - yet again the sea had come inshore and he was probably standing in some 3 feet of very cold water, wating for the boat to rescue him.

Look at the back of the house above the entrance to the cinema - this sloping roof covered a large hall which had a swimming pool and which could also be converted into a theatre. Beside the cinema entrance was an open garden where tea could be taken but not on this day!

This picture probably dates from the early 1920s when the Winter Garden had been converted to use as a cinema.


A little girl from Tavistock - Winnifred Ball - came next as a foster child - to be followed by yet another little girl two years later.


By the time of the 1911 census, the Winter Gardens swimming baths had closed, and William had a new job. He and Bessie had been appointed caretakers of the Liberal Club in 1908 and lived on the Club's premises at 4 Den Road, Teignmouth.


But in the year following the census, 1912, William and Bessie left this post and had to find another place to live as well as a new job. This description of their leaving presentation appeared in the Western Times on 31 May 1912:

"Mr J. French, on behalf of the members of the Teignmouth Liberal Club presented Mr William Jefford, the caretaker, who is leaving, with a silver mounted ebony walking stick, and Mrs Jefford with a silver butter dish. Mr and Mrs Jefford have been caretakers for about four years and regret is felt at their leaving."

Until the release of another census (that of  1921) we only have one small clue as to what the family did next. It doesn't sound as though William was retiring - in 1912 he was only 52, Bessie was 49, Leonard was still at school. and Winnifred Ball was just 3.  So here's our clue. It comes from a local newspaper reporting casualties at the front, on 11 May 1918:


*Mr and Mrs Jefford, caretakers at the |Torquay YMCA Club, yesterday received the news that their only son Private Leonard Jefford who would have been 19 years old yesterday, had been killed in France a week ago. He had only been in France three or four weeks. Before joining up, he was in the employ of Mersrs Grant & Son, Wine and Spirit Merchant."

(Leonard fought in the Berkshire Regiment.)


Teignmouth - Den Road

This post card shows the main post office in Den Road (The single storey building in the centre). To its right is the building which housed the Teignmouth Liberal Club on its top floor. Look on the facade and you can just see the word "Liberal" - at the other end of the facade, it said"Club" This is where William and Bessie lived for some four years - in the attic rooms up in the roof (you can just see the dormer windows.

Just imagaine bringing three children up in this space. Coal had to be carried up as did every drop of water. Let's hope there was a space at the back where poor Bessie could hang out the washing. As well as all this for her own family, she would have been expected to maintain the rooms below her (with the larger windows) in an absolutely spotless state and she and William would both have been  "on call" every evening and weekend which was when the members used the premises.

The local electoral register reveals that William spent the last years of his life in the little village of Shaldon where he died in 1938 aged 78. Bessie died in Exeter in the September Quarter of 1942.



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