Saturday, 3 June 2017

Harold Morris of Eltham and Welling, a life lived out in service to the community.... part 1

This is the young Harold Morris sometime in the early 1920s.

It is a wonderful picture not least because it takes us into a lost world when milk was still marketed by small independent businesses and delivered by horse and cart.

In an age when much milk was not so clean, fresh or free from disease it was important always to reassure the public that the product on sale was safe, and so to the promise on the side of the cart, “WARRANTED PURE NEW MILK” with the added enticer that it came “WITH ALL ITS CREAM.”

Now the firm in question was P.W.Briggs of Belle Grove in Welling who were later to be taken over by
United Diaries.

But not long before this picture was taken young Harold had run his own milk business and this is his story, which was researched and written by his niece Jean Gammons.

"Harold was born in Eltham in 1902 - the firstborn of Maud and William George Morris and a grandson of John and Annie Morris of Eltham.

By 1906 the family had moved to Belle Grove, then a hamlet situated on Watling Street at the foot of Shooters Hill,  close to the village of Welling on the ancient road between London and Dover.


There was no milk delivery service  for the villagers then -  if they wanted milk then they had to take a  jug or container of some kind up the hill to the dairy farm on Shooters Hill.

Young Harold's father was a machinist in the Royal Arsenal - where many young men of the surrounding area, including Eltham, would easily have found work making "Implements of War".   

War did come in 1914, and in the following year Harold turned 13 and was free to leave school and perhaps join his peers and his father at the Arsenal.  

But Harold remained a country boy at heart, who loved horses, birds and gardening. So what could he do if he turned his back on the Arsenal?

He had an idea, and so he walked across the fields to Eltham to visit his grandparents, who lived in Courtyard.  Thomas Tillings, the omnibus company, had a yard full of horses, carriage and carts of all kinds just behind his grandparents' cottage.

Perhaps they would let him have the use of a horse and cart so that he could set up a milk delivery service to serve the villagers of Welling.

They did, and thus he began his long and happy career as a milkman. Soon, his little enterprise was taken over by a bigger local company:  P W Briggs; and later by the United Dairies.


Young Harold's first love broke his heart, but when he was 26 he married a Bexleyheath girl, Alma Minnie Shove. The bridesmaid was his youngest sister, Dorothy (Jean's mother), a self-willed child of whom there might be more later. 

Her dress had too many frills in her view and so, on the bus journey to Bexleyheath she took scissors with her and cut off as many as she could before her parents noticed.


Harold was a good husband and father, holidays being days at the seaside in the time before  Holidays Abroad became common.

Through two world wars he served his country in a quiet way, ensuring that none of his customers ever woke up without milk on their doostep for their first cup of tea of the day.  

He won Gold Stars from the UD for his high selling figures: his secret, he said, was to whistle, so that people knew he was around and would then come out to buy something extra.

By the time he retired in 1967 to concentrate on his birds and garden, he had been a milkman for nearly 50 years.”

And it says much for his hard work that when he retired “his customers loaded him with presents, a total of £100 in premium bonds, good luck cards and a poem.”*

*Dartford Times, 1967

Pictures; from the collection of Jean Gammons


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