Ask a Gosport resident where Jackie Spencer’s bridge is and they usually know the answer. Ask who Jackie Spencer was and eyes glaze over. Sometimes a person will claim to have a special knowledge as though it is theirs exclusively, “He used to look after the bridge – didn’t he?” or “I think he was killed by a train?”
I had nothing to crow about being just as vague about this Jackie Spencer person – as far as I was concerned he could be a fictitious character, but, having studied Alverstoke’s history for some twenty years there are those who consider I should know more about the man, so, I started digging and the story unfolded.
His Early Life
Jackie Spencer was a man, despite the feminine forename, his real name was John Spencer and he was born in Andover in 1838 at the very beginning of Queen Victoria’s long reign. John’s father was a carter.
By the time John reached the age of sixteen in 1854, a railway and station had been established at Andover albeit connecting only with Basingstoke initially. Expansion continued with line extensions to Salisbury and Southampton. So it comes as no surprise that John Spencer should join this new exciting service, notwithstanding he was employed in a responsible but unskilled capacity then and throughout his entire lifetime with railway companies.
While working for the Railway Company in Andover John began courting Jane Blake, a spinster some six years older than he, she was employed as a servant at an address in Andover. Jane was the daughter of a labourer and was born in Andover. While courting Jane Blake the railway company transferred John Spencer’s place of employment to Godalming, some forty miles east of Andover, however, leap-year wedding bells rang for the couple on Monday, Fireworks Day, 1860, their marriage being held in the Parish Church, Andover; Jane was 28 years of age and John 22. The couple set up home near John’s workplace in Godalming.
The Move to Alverstoke
In 1864 a daughter, Ann, was born, however, within three years they moved again, this time to Alverstoke. Installed in the railway gate keeper’s cottage referred to variously in Census records as, ‘Railway Cottage’, ‘No. 1 Railway Cottage’ and ‘7 Little Anglesey Road’ Alverstoke, John’s new duty was to mind the gates that straddled Little Anglesey Road, on the Stokes Bay Branch line, his official title,’gateman’.
At some point in John Spencer’s term operating the gates at Little Anglesey Road, Alverstoke, some women were regularly seen removing chalk lumps that formed the railway embankment, it was believed they found a use for them whitening front door steps, in addition children would throw the chalk lumps around. Worried about the stability of the embankment John Spencer was instructed by the railway company to stop the nuisance and apparently he did so with gusto.
A second daughter, Esther, was born in 1867 and she was baptised at St Mary’s Church in Alverstoke village.
A brief history of the Stokes Bay Branch line might be relevant at this point .
The line was opened 6th of April 1863. The established Stoke Bay Railway Co. was sold to the South Western Railway Co. on the 17th of June 1875. A viaduct over Stoke Lake was replaced by the, still surviving, single span bridge in 1898 and the branch was closed to public traffic in 1915, however, during its useful service time the branch connected with Stokes Bay pier where ferries collected passengers heading for the Isle of Wight, that is until the ferry service became uneconomic because a ferry service to the Island was established in Portsmouth. The Admiralty began using the pier for the observation of torpedo dropping in the Solent by aircraft in 1918.
John continued with his gatekeeping, the 1871 Census revealed the following:
Address: 7 Little Anglesey Road
John Spencer – Head – Married – aged 32 – occupation Railway Porter –
Jane Spencer – wife – aged 39
Ann Spencer – daughter – aged 7 – Scholar
Esther Spencer – daughter – aged 4 – ditto
The 1881 Census adds little additional information; John’s occupation is noted as ‘Railway Porter’ and daughter, Esther, aged fourteen years, has an occupation, namely ‘dressmaker’; their home being simply referred to as ‘Railway Cottage’.
The 1901 Census has John’s occupation down as ‘Gateman Railway’ and gives the family’s address as ‘1 Railway Cottage’.
Esther Spencer was 22 years of age when she married 24 year old Walter James Munday a carpenter, later to be a shipwright in HM Portsmouth Dockyard but living in Alverstoke. The wedding took place at St Mary’s church, Alverstoke on Monday, 5th of August 1889; the bridegroom’s father, 61 year old widower James Munday, a Dockyard man, was present although,other than him and the groom, no other Mundays were present at the ceremony. Also present were Albert Walter King, Harriett Cox and Ivy Farrer.
In 1891 daughter, Ann Spencer, aged 27 years, married to become, Navy Petty Officer, George E Munday’s wife, he was Walter Munday’s brother, so the two Spencer sisters married two Munday brothers. Ann and George moved into nearby 32 Park Road, which remained their home until their respective deaths. George died and was buried at Anns Hill cemetery on the 21st of August 1935 while Annsurvived until aged 75 years leading to her being buried with her late husband an the 10th November 1938. The address given for Ann Munday at the time of her death was 66 Park Road, this seeming change from 32 Park Road was found to be as a result of development on the opposite side of the road whereby renumbering was undertaken, in short, new number, 66, and old number, 32 Park Road, were addresses applicable to the same house.
Jackie Spencer Death
John Spencer’s death occurred on Tuesday, the 7th of May 1907, his occupation is noted on the death certificate as ‘Railway Gateman’. He died at 32 Park Road, (currently numbered 66 Park Road) the home of his daughter, Ann, and son-in-law George Munday, John was 69 years of age and daughter, Ann was with him at the time of his death registered by Paul M Terry L.R.C.P. Cause of death was noted as HEMIPLEGIA ASTHENIA. A General Practitioner confirms this evidence suggests a blood clot or stroke.
Because prevailing verbal rumours have it that John Spencer committed suicide or met some other form of violent death, local and County newspapers were searched for the whole month of May, 1907; these showed that during that period there were reports of suicides followed later by write-ups on inquests relevant to them – but no mention of John Spencer was found which, at this stage, leads to the conclusion John’s death was a natural happening.
Records show John was still on duty at the Little Anglesey Road gates at the age of 63 years and in 1901 and indeed was still occupying the Railway property known as ‘1 Railway Cottage’ at that time. Assuming he retired from his employment at the age of 65 years, two years before his death, and the cottage was required for his successor, where was he and his wife, Jane to live? The answer must be 32 Park Road, his daughter, Ann, and son-in-law George’s home, but, following the death of John in 1907 at that address it would appear his wife, Jane Spencer, for whatever reason, moved into the Alverstoke House of Industry – plainer terms, the Workhouse.
It was at the House of Industry, just across the road from 32 Park Road, that Jane died at the beginning of April 1913 having reached the ripe old age of 80 years. One can only speculate on the relationship that existed between John’s daughter, Ann, and her mother; we will never know how she could allow the old lady to reside just across the road in the demeaning atmosphere of the House of Industry?
Jane Spencer was laid to rest in Anns Hill cemetery on the 10th of April 1913 in the same unmarked grave that accommodated her late husband and where space had been allowed for her own interment.
So we have an outline of John (Jackie) Spencer’s life, clearly he was an ordinary working man struggling to maintain his family on very limited means. He would not normally have attracted a biography nor, I am sure, would he have expected his life to have been researched and reviewed a century following his death, however, someone buried in an unmarked grave yet has a bridge named after them deserves to have their story told in my opinion. May unproven rumours be dispelled so he can rest in peace. David Maber © 2005
Jackie Spencer’s decendent’s to 1930’s Jackie Spencer Family Tree