Private Arthur Barnwell died on 9th August 1916 whilst serving with the 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment. He was born at Meriden Union Workhouse in 1895 and baptised at Meriden parish church. His parents, William Barnwell and Kathleen Capewell, had married at Berkswell on 5th November 1889. William was a labourer and Kathleen a servant.
The couple seem to have struggled to make ends meet, and Kathleen appears to have spent several periods in Meriden Workhouse, where the couple’s four children were born – Ethel in 1892, Arthur in 1895, Sidney in 1898 and Bessie in 1900. In the absence of a National Health Service, paid maternity leave, or welfare benefits, the later stages of pregnancy would often see women entering the workhouse for medical care and for food and shelter. Being unable to work often meant family finances were then unable to cover the basic essentials, especially if there were other children to support.
The 1901 census shows Kathleen as an inmate in the workhouse with her two youngest children – three-year-old Sidney, and one-year-old Bessie. Bessie died in June 1901, aged 15 months, at which point her mother was still in the workhouse. We haven’t been able to find Ethel in 1901, but six-year-old Arthur was boarding with the Hutt family in Fillongley. He was still with the family ten years later, working above ground as a colliery labourer. His 13-year-old brother was boarding with a 73-year-old carpenter in Coventry. The boys’ father seems to have died in Leicester in 1927. His widow, Kathleen, was a patient in Leicester City Mental Hospital by 1939, and appears to have died there in 1941.
Arthur’s service record doesn’t appear to have survived so we don’t know when he enlisted, although his medal index card doesn’t suggest overseas service before 1916. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. He is also commemorated on the Fillongley War Memorial, which is where he was still living at the time of enlistment. He is not included on the war memorial at Meriden, presumably as a result of moving out of the parish as a small child.
If you have any further information about the family, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977