Wrexham Blacksmith’s

THREE GENERATIONS FROM A WREXHAM BLACKSMITH TO A MOTOR RACING DRIVER.

WILLIAM GEORGE STERRETT was born in Monmouthshire in 1872, his father was a tin plate worker from Scotland.  Changing his name to Willis , he moved to Gloucestershire where he found work as a whitesmith  with an engine fitter. By 1900 he was in Wrexham and had started working for himself as a blacksmith.

He soon joined in with the local activities and is mentioned in the local newspapers as a vocalist with the Wrexham Quartette Company, Oak Alyn Brass Quartette and as a member of the “Celebrated Wrexham Christy Minstrels”.

30 June 1900 Wrexham Advertiser

COURT CONCERT.—The second of the series of free court concerts to be held during the summer took place at the corner of Beast Market and Market-street. There was an attendance of at least two thousand, thus testifying to the popularity of the movement. The evening was very fine, so that the programme was gone through under the most favourable circumstances. The Oak Alyn Brass Quartette Party, who disappointed the audience the previous week by not appearing, were present, and they commenced the concert with “ Remembrance.” Mr Garner proved a very acceptable tenor, and favoured with “Queen of the earth and Anchored.” The bass element was ably represented in Mr W. Sterrett, who sang” The  Minstrel Boy,” and The Admiral’s Broom,” with much effect.

 In 1902 he married May Forbes at the Brynyffynnon Chapel in Wrexham.

Willis had a workshop on Rhosddu Road, and in 1903 had a visit from the factories inspector, he was charged with two offences, the first for not having had posted in his workshop a copy of the Factories and Workshops Act, and the second for not having dangerous machinery fenced. These included the fly-wheel and driving pulley of a gas engine, the cog-wheel and pinion of a punching and shearing machine, and the cog-wheels of a drilling machine.

By 1911 they had 3 children – Frances May, George Willis and Norman,  Willis is described in the census as an iron gate and railing maker.

During the war local men were expected to go to serve their country, and the only man left working for Willis was one of them. Willis pleaded against this but his man was still ordered to go.

17 July 1916 Llangollen Advertiser.

The Village Blacksmith

 WREXHAM SMITH AND LONGFELLOW.

 At the Wrexham Borough Tribunal, on Friday night, Mr. Willis Sterrett, smith, applied for the exemption of Thomas Lloyd, smith and fitter, who also claimed exemption on personal grounds as a married man with a widowed mother dependent upon him. Appellant said he had been in business for nearly 16 years. He had worked up a fairly good connection. He had as customers all the builders of Wrexham and most of the builders in the district. Prior to the war, he had six smiths and six smiths’ mates. He was now reduced to the absolute minimum on which a smithy could be conducted—one smith and his mate. He was the smith, and Lloyd was his mate He did not know how much the members of the tribunal knew about smithing; but if they took their conception of a smith from Longfellow they would come to a wrong conclusion. Longfellow’s smith probably went to church regularly and was sufficiently honest always to pay his debts. He was quite satisfied that Longfellow’s smith, as all other smiths when he finished his days work, earned a nights repose. But when Longfellow described the smith at work he was radically wrong. Longfellow said “You can see him swing his heavy sledge,” but no one could see anything of the kind. The smith did not swing the heavy sledge, because it was physically impossible for him to do so and hold the material he was working on. But there was the suggestion that the sledge must be swung, and as the smith could not do it it followed that there must be someone else to do it, and that was the smith’s mate, for whom he claimed. No amount of extra skill on the part of the smith could compensate for the absence of the mate. In reply to questions, Mr. Sterrett said some of his men had joined the army and others had sought pastures new, where there was a little more to be had. Councillor Jarman: Less work? Mr. Sterrett: Yes and more pay! Exemption granted to August 31, the man to  ioin the V.T.O.

On 30th August 1918 an article was printed in the Llangollen Advertiser about one of his former workers.

WREXHAM BOY IN THE AMERICAN ARMY.—Pte. L. Roberts, 1699, 7th Coy. 2nd Batt., Syracuse Recruit Camp, New York, is a Wrexham boy in the American Army. He is a son of Mr. Wm, Roberts, 106, Vernon St., Rhosddu, and was formerly in the employ of Mr. Willis Sterrett. In an interesting letter, he states he is in a camp near Niagara, from which place thousands of soldiers have already been sent to fight for democracy. He has named his tent, “ Wrexham.” He has two brothers already serving in France.

Willis and his family left Wrexham and in 1929 his son George Willis married Winifred Pugh in Monmouth. Winifred`s father was the licencee of the Railway Hotel in Blaenavon.

By 1939 Willis  and Edith May were running The Olde Ferrie Inn ,  Symonds Yat , Ross on Wye and at the same time his son George Willis  was a confectioner and caterer  at the  Carlton Cafe, in Agincourt Square, Monmouth.

Willis Sterret died in 1950 and Edith May in 1961. There could be examples of his work still around in Wrexham.

GEORGE WILLIS STERRETT and Winifred also ran The Crown in Symonds Yat as well the the Carlton Cafe. They eventually moved down to Devon where they died in 1985 and 1989 respectively.

George Willis is still mentioned even today in connection with his passion for fast cars. An advert for a 1960 Aston Martin DB4GT has this information.

The car’s first owner was G.W. Sterrett Esq, from Monmouth in Wales, who purchased it via Aston Martin’s Brooklands agent in December 1960, originally registered with number ‘5 SPK’. 0137/GT was subsequently bought in 1967 by a W.B Fowler Esq of Nottingham, with whom it remained for twenty years before passing to renowned Aston Martin aficionado, Geoff Harris.

George Willis and Winfred had three daughters, and the youngest GEORGINA MAY STERRETT who was born in 1945 became quite a celebrity in motor sport.

An obituary shows where her love of the sport came from.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

A WOMAN motor racing pioneer who burst onto the world scene while running her family’s Wye Valley restaurant has died at the age of 72.

Georgie Shaw from Monmouth once matched the fastest lap time of the only woman to win points in a Formula 1 race, and went on to become a leading light in the sport’s PR and journalism sphere after a successful racing career.

As Georgina Sterrett, she discovered a passion for speed from the age of eight, learning the art of high-speed race track driving from her parents while a pupil at Monmouth School for Girls.

The Wye Valley race ace took several pole positions and fastest laps, including one equalling the reigning European touring car champion Lella Lombardi from Italy, who went on to race in 17 F1 races, once finishing sixth in the Spanish Grand prix.

In 1979, a serious illness, and the sale of the Carlton Grill family business in Monmouth’s Agincourt Square ended her racing career, but she had already become the Chair of the British Women’s Racing Drivers’ Club (BWRDC) and went on to work as an F1 journalist, pundit, TV and video producer, mixing with the stars of the sport like Nigel Mansell.

Mum-of-two Georgie served the BWRDC for 40 years as chairman, PR officer and latterly president, passionately promoting the cause of women in motor sport.

Georgie was instrumental in the club getting a stand at the Autosport Show in 2009 and persuading racing celebrities to visit it, including Ron Dennis, Murray Walker, Lee McKenzie and Andy Green.

I`m sure Willis would have been very proud of her.

Researched by Annette Edwards. June 2021  Sterretts Welding Shop by David Kelly. Old Photos of Wrexham

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