Percy was a bright boy, with a gift for music. He could play the piano.Indeed he walked from Faversham to Seasalter (about seven miles) for piano lessons. Practising was harder: his Uncle Harry and Aunt Lucy owned a piano, but she often kept it locked. Percy sang well and with gusto. He was a choirboy at the parish church of Saint Mary of Charity, like his younger brother Bert, and he knew by heart the words to many of the hymns in Hymns Ancient and Modern. He was afflicted with migraine headaches, and remembered coming slowly home from school, half blind, stopping to cling to railings and lamp posts until he could take the next steps. When someone at home saw him coming, they’d call for “the rhubarb;” apparently stewed rhubarb was the only source of relief.
On another occasion, the wedding of his sister Gert, the family had a few drinks before departing for the church. Somehow Percy and his brother Bert were left behind, and amused themselves by finishing the dregs in every glass. When the family returned, they found the two little boys, helpless on the floor, drunk and sick. The incident did not have a long-lasting deterrent effect.
His schooling ended shortly after his thirteenth birthday, and he began work in a gunpowder factory like his older brother Will. Faversham was a centre of munitions manufacture, with creeks and waterways to turn the watermills, and access to the necessary ingredients: charcoal made from local woods and sulphur and saltpetre transported there by sea. Faversham’s explosives blasted the canals and railway cuttings of the Industrial Revolution, and supplied the British army artillery.
When Percy was a boy, his family lived on Tanners Street in Faversham, the same street on which his father had been born, close to the Home Works, Faversham’s first gunpowder factory. Many factory workers lived on Tanners Street, which was close to the stream that drove the incorporating mills, and had earlier served the original local industry of leather-tanning.
Percy’s father George had considerable knowledge of the use of gunpowder as a member of the First Kent Artillery Volunteers; he was recognized in 1901 for 33 years of service. (1). The local newspaper reported faithfully on the troop — their new guns (May 5, 1900), being entertained by the mayor of Faversham (February 24, 1900), drills, camps, marches, inspections, and church parades. A carbine contest took place annually beginning in 1864; in 1900 Corporal George Theobald won 8 shillings for his prowess. (2)
When Percy enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force he claimed similar experience, five years with the Territorial Forces, Royal Field Artillery. The post card to the left shows the Drill Hall circa 1905 (originally built as an elegant assembly room in 1849) where training took place.
(1) Faversham and North East Kent News, August 17, 1901
(2) Faversham and North East Kent News, August 25, 1900
I am indebted to Clark Theobald’s The Faversham Connection: A Theobald Family History (2004) for many details.
Copyright 2016. See “About this project.”