The Beer Pages

(Comparatively) Recent History

Photo of Joseph Preston Beer

According to my grandfather's contemporaries, and many of the following generation of Beers, the "great man" of the family was Joseph Preston Beer (pictured above). Their views are reflected in this extract from a booklet published in 1982, fifty years after his death.

intro from booklet
				JP Beer's Estates Ltd

Of these "well established Southampton families", not one was present in Southampton at the time of the 1841 census. JP's grandfather left Exeter following his discharge from bankruptcy in 1844. His wife was Florence Lydia (not Emma) Sewell, whom he married in 1877. Although born in Southampton, she was no more from a Southampton family than was her husband. Her father was a tailor from Salisbury and her mother came from Hagbourne in Berkshire.

JP was born in 1858, not 1857 (as claimed). So neither party to this marriage was "of full age".

JP Beer's father, Joseph, had risen through the ranks of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company to become Treasurer and Bullion Clerk. For most of his working life it appears that he lived in London, away from his wife and children. He managed to avoid being recorded on any census after 1861 but was eventually traced through the death records! He married Emma Preston, born in Southampton, daughter of a mathematics tutor from Kent.

For the first decade of my life, home was in Edinburgh but a lot of time was spent at my grandparents' house in Southampton. Grandpa, Matthew Beer, was a joiner and, supposedly, a successful businessman and pillar of the community. I learned that he was involved with the construction of Mulberry harbours, which made a significant contribution to the Allied success at D-Day in 1944. As a child, I was intrigued with the idea that one could build concrete structures that would float. Grandpa's attitude, it appeared, was that it was outrageous that men with the skills of his workforce should be required to lower themselves to building shuttering for concrete. However, childhood memories are notoriously unreliable when considering who knew what, and when. My subsequent research indicates that most people working on the project were totally unaware of what they were creating. The need for security in wartime was obvious - I imagine that, later on, many were immensely proud.

mulberry dock
				in use   Mulberry dock units under
The makeshift harbour, nicknamed Port Winston because it was the             Mulberry dock units under construction in a dry dock, probably in
brainchild of Churchill, was the size of Dover and is considered                               Southampton. Completed units were towed out by tug
to be one of the greatest military achievements of all time.                                                and assembled elsewhere.            

The development of the Mulberry harbour was described by Albert Speer - Hitler's architect and armaments minister - as 'genius'.. It allowed 220,000 men, 50,000 vehicles and 600,000 tones of supplies to be landed in France and undoubtedly helped to shorten the war..

In common with many of Southampton's businesses, the family firm, Southampton Steam Joinery Company Limited, suffered badly in the heavy raids of the war, with its premises in Kingsbury Road being completely destroyed in 1940. These two maps show the area..One was published in 1933 and the other in 1943.

OS map, Bevois Valley
				1933   Bevois Valley 1943

This was the second time the company's premises had been obliterated by a massive fire. At the beginning of the 20th century they had taken over the premises previously owned by Bull and Sons, one of the leading building contractors in Southern England.

Fire at
				Belvidere works
Report from the Western Gazette, 17 October 1902.

After losing their premises in the blitz, the company moved to a nearby yard to construct Fairmile rescue motor launches (RML) designed to rescue aircrew from the sea. As well as five of these Fairmile B vessels, they built one Fairmile H, a landing craft. A surviving Steam Joinery-built Fairmile B, RML497, has been on the National Register of Historic Vessels for several years and has recently been acquired by the National Museum of the Royal Navy.
When this page was first written, this vessel was being operated as a passenger ferry by Geenway Ferries, (3rd photo below)..


The Steam Joinery Company was virtually dormant after the war, and was eventually wound up in 1960. (London Gazette 26 August 1960, p 5896)

Grandpa - Matthew William Beer

1920s photo of 400
				Hill Lane
Eperquerie, probably about 1915.

Our grandparents' home, since their marriage in 1910, was originally described as "Eperquerie, Bassett, Southampton". This attractive arts and crafts style house was apparently a wedding gift from the family. It was accompanied by a substantial parcel of land which was sold off in bits through the years to support the Matthew Beer lifestyle. Part of the neighbouring Sports Centre (opened 1938) was built on "the Rough" and today more than two dozen houses occupy the land adjacent to the house.

P, M and grandpa
Matthew Beer weeding the front lawn, watched intently by granddaughter
Margaret and grandson Peter. (Taken within a few days of Margaret's third birthday.)
JIJ and Peter
About ten years later, son-in-law James and grandson Peter constructing
a retaining wall at the edge of the lawn.

Matthew was one of the founding members of the Bassett Lawn Tennis Club, whose first courts and clubhouse were constructed in his grounds at Eperquerie in 1924. Some time in the 1930s the club moved out and today they are based at Wilton Road, a little over a mile away. The clubhouse was still standing throughout the 1940s and 50s, at the end of the lower lawn, and provided us with a wonderful playground! The tennis courts had become the lower lawn, with rose beds.

A lot of time, effort and money was invested in creating magnificent gardens and an extensive orchard. For many years, as far back as I can remember, Grandpa was the Honorary Secretary of the Royal Southampton Horticultural Society, organising quite large and impressive shows. In 1950, he became the second President of the National Begonia Society, of which he was a founder member, serving until 1957.

It was only after his death in 1964 that we discovered that throughout his life he had under-stated his age by one year. This was apparently to hide the shameful fact that he was born "too soon" after his parents' wedding.

At the National Begonia Show in Handsworth Park, Birmingham, probably 1953 or 1954.

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Bassett LTC
Tea and Tennis

the steps
From the clubhouse - the steps to the upper lawn

lower lawn .

In June 1910 Matthew Beer married Mary Kate Cheverton (known to all throughout her life as "May"). She was the daughter of Councillor Alfred Cheverton, well known in Southampton as an auctioneer and estate agent. The wedding was quite a showy affair, with the reception held at Netley Abbey.

Grandpa, I believe, saw himself as a Victorian or Edwardian landowner with a "position" to maintain. Unlike his father, it seems that he never earned enough to support the lifestyle, which is why his capital was frittered away throughout his lifetime. He was a true blue conservative who had an unshakeable belief in the rightness of Empire and what he considered the English way of doing things. His reaction to any sort of international unpleasantness was "we should send a gunboat!" I incurred his displeasure when I sought out other relations who were not "our sort of people". that is to say, those who lived in less fashionable areas, or who might even be socialists. So our Beer family was not close (hardly surprising) and the knowledge of family history which we ought to have possessed through our lives is having to be discovered now from the scraps of information that remain.

We may not have been close to the Beer family but the Chevertons, Grandma's family, did not seem to merit the Matthew Beer seal of approval at all and were hardly ever seen.. Some recent delving into the archives of the local newspapers throws some light on the reasons. Her father, Councillor Alfred Cheverton, was a leading member of the Liberal Party in Southampton and was responsible for an early "Lib-Lab pact". There were two constituencies in Southampton and the agreement was that the "Liberals would choose a candidate, and the Labour party another, both of whom would alike represent Progressive ideas, and be opposed to the policy of the present Government." He was also a Congregationalist and a temperance advocate.

AJC     May Beer
Councillor A. J. Cheverton, J.P.                                 May Beer with Jill, about 1940.

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Matthew and May's only child, Maisie Agnes Beer, was born on 13 April 1911.


Educated at the Convent High School, Southampton, she studied biology at University College, Southampton, where she met her future husband, James Ilston Jones. They married at Shirley Parish Church, Southampton on 1 December 1936.

With her first child, Peter, born 16 November 1937


© 2005 - 2020 Thelma and Peter Jones
Last updated 12 September 2020