DescriptionHenry Thomas Martin was first apprenticed to baker James Laird of Peach Street, Henry opened up his own bakery and corn dealer’s shop in Down Street (later Denmark Street). He married Hannah Parker Green in 1865 and they raised a family of six.
William (known as Billy) Thomas Martin was the second son and left school at the age of 12, and following employment in Reading was apprenticed to Briginshaw & Son, a butcher in the Market Place. Three years later Billy was promoted to foreman butcher and on his sixteenth birthday, he took over the premises and went into business for himself.
Business soon flourished and in 1885 he owned a chain of shops in the Reading and Wokingham area. In 1892 he caused a sensation by selling cheap meet known as “foreign” which was of benefit to poorer residents. He opened more shops and a wholesale business in Reading.
During the First World War he was a volunteer of the National Meat Control Committee, South East Area and provided a similar service during the Second World War.
Billy married school friend Mary Anne Carne in 1891, and in 1902 the couple took up residence at “Fernleigh”, No. 39 The Terrance, first as tenants then purchasing the property ten years later. Fernleigh was built by John Warren Briginshaw, son of Billy’s former employer, who had acquired three adjacent plots on the Terrace. John’s initials can be seen above one of the three front windows on the upper floor. In the 1890s the property was occupied by Billy’s elder brother Charles Henry Martin, who ran a school of music.
Billy and Mary had two children, Cathrow William (1894-1980) who became a Freeman of the City of London, and Edna Muriel (b. 1900).
Billy joined the Wokingham council in 1902 with the main aim of improving the sanitation in Wokingham which at the time had sewers in a deplorable state. In 1906 he was elected as Mayor of Wokingham and was very active in improving the efficiency of the sewage works. He also had an interest in housing and was instrumental in the construction of working class houses in Barkham Road. Billy provided financial to the Wokingham Gas Works and was their chairman from 1906. Despite best efforts to prevent its sale, it was sold to the Yorktown and Camberley Gas Company in 1929 from whom Billy negotiated a very good price.
Billy served on the council for 42 years, was elected mayor in 1911, 1912 and 1919, appointed Justice of the Peace in 1916 and 1919, and was the chairman of the Wokingham Gaurdians Committee. On the 7th Jun 1944 he was conferred with the Honorary Freedom of the Borough of Wokingham “in recognition of the eminent services rendered by him to the Borough”.
In 1911 Billy acquired The Anchor Inn located next door to Fernleigh from Brakspeare’s Brewery. The inn was closed down by the council at the end of the First World War by the Town Council because access to the stables in the back garden was considered inadequate.
Billy was also manager of the Wokingham Savings Bank, a member of the School Attendance Committee, a member of the Old Age Pensions Committee, a member of the Wokingham Urban Sub-Committee and President of the Wokingham Junior Football Club.
At the outbreak of the Second World War he constructed a public air raid shelter designed to accommodate 300 to 400 people.
Mary Ann, Billy’s wife and book keeper worked untiringly for charities and when times were hard she turned Fernleigh into a soup kitchen for poor children.
During the First World War the Martins opened their home and extensive garden to the army accommodating up to 65 officers and men. At the end of hostilities Billy and Dr. Ernest Ward opened a clinic for crippled children in the Town Hall which was promoted by Mar Ann who organised clinic balls for fourteen years. The clinic was later moved to Denmark Street, where it became known as the Wokingham Memorial Clinic.
Billy was keen to provide an open air swimming pool for the people of Wokingham but was unable to acquire funding from the council so in 1932 he decided to build it himself. He purchased some land and used his landscaping skills to good effect and enlisted his son Cathrow. This was not just a swimming pool, it was a park which had a picturesque arrangement of cascading rock pools. There were in fact two pools, one fifty-five feet long and the other twenty foot long. Between the pools was an ornamental bridge with another bridge which gave access to the lawn. Martin’s Pool won the national award for the best outdoor pool in England for eleven consecutive years.
Cathrow, being theatrically well connected in the West End of London would invite the rich and famous to make an appearance at the pool.
During the Second World War, the pool was commissioned by the army, to serve as entertainment to soldiers based at Arborfield Garrison. Billy offered to lease the pool to the Town Council in 1947 at the end of which the pool would be theirs, however due to a legal issue this was not possible so the council purchased the Pool for £ 8,052, with a loan from the government.
In 1973 Wokingham Town Council handed over ownership and responsibility for Martin’s Poll to the newly formed District Council free of charge. The District Council later decided to sell the pool for economic reasons to a builder for around £ 2 million. The public were outraged, not just for the loss of the pool but the loss of the gardens, including a giant redwood and several large cedars. The sale went ahead and the plot is now called Poppy Place.
Mary Ann died in a Reading nursing home in May of 1938, at the age of sixty-four and was buried in St. Paul’s churchyard. Billy died at Fernleigh in September 1957 in his ninetieth year and was buried beside his wife. Martin Drive was named in his memory.
SourceA Short History of Five Wokingham Families by Jim Bell.
“Martin Family,” Wokingham's Virtual Museum, accessed January 23, 2021, https://www.wokingham-tc.gov.uk/museum/document/WTH0323.