Percy Frank Wadham's grave at Carisbrooke Cemetery.

Deputy Captain Percy Frank Wadham of Newport Volunteer Fire Brigade passed away on 14 November 1945 aged 71.

 

Percy's life was full of interest and he became internationally renowned in the field of angling. He was born in Carisbrooke on 19 August 1874, the son of Charles an upholsterer who established the well known and long running Wadham's store in St James' Square and his mother Maria.

He was known as a lively child who loved to experiment, such as the time at his private school, the Portland Academy (somewhere between Newport and Carisbrooke) that he attempted to blow open a door using fireworks. When punished his quick wittedness might not have won him many admirers among the Victorian elders but can raise a grin now at his quote 'like a porcupine I suppose I have my good points'. 

By the time of the 1891 Census at 16 years old he had apprenticed into his father's trade but this turned out not to be for Percy as his interests lay out of doors. Two years later when Newport's paid firemen managed to fall for a double-bluff and effectively sack themselves over a poorly executed pay dispute, Percy, now 19, was one of those who volunteered in the early weeks of 1893 to serve unpaid in the hurriedly formed Newport Volunteer Fire Brigade.

This was to prove to his liking and despite being one of the youngest in the new service a meeting of September 1895 identified Percy as Fireman No. 2 in an efficiency based numbering system of fourteen firemen. He was soon to rise further. On 26 May 1900 when all eyes were on the news from the Second Boer War, Newport's fire brigade participated in a parade to celebrate the relief of the siege of Mafeking. Their fire engine, a horse-drawn manual pump, was adorned with a banner stating Good Luck to Our Firemen at the Front. The report in the County Press lists Percy as the brigade's Deputy Captain.

A year later, aged 26, the Census details him still living with his parents and two younger siblings at The Lindens on Carisbrooke Road but his occupation is listed as naturalist on own account, what we would today refer to as self-employed. In deference to research published by the Friends of Newport and Carisbrooke Cemeteries plus details from the County Press I can share details that Percy first took up taxidermy. He learned his trade in Winchester and later his stuffed mammals and birds, sold from a shop in Holyrood Street, were such sought after that his reputation elevated him to the status of Island Naturalist to Queen Victoria and later Edward VII. 

His interest in animals focussed on his favoured fish and reptiles and he would advertise grass snakes for sale in the County Press in addition to keeping a cobra in his conservatory. 

Percy then expanded his business portfolio with the creation of Percy Wadham Specialities Ltd., where he sold productions of his angling inventions such as the much famed Wander-Tackle for use in flounder fishing, celluloid baits. He also produced models of fish including that of his 34 year old goldfish Jack in addition to producing booklets and articles that were circulated worldwide. 

Percy invented an aquatic weed-cutter that was purchased by both Edward VII and the Egyptian government. Other extraneous inventions included a grenade-thrower and a collapsible armchair. 

Given his love of nature and the outdoors it may be assumed he was a quiet reclusive type. Whilst those with memory of him noted his courtesy, charm and kindliness he was by no means an isolated individual and was a popular Master of Ceremonies and was cited as a well known genius... in arranging amusing entertainments. He also founded the IW Angling Society and was for many years vice-president of the Ryde Vectis Boating and Fishing Club. He delivered lectures both locally and nationally on the matters of which he was so passionate and in which he established his profession.

He married Lila Fanny (nee Watts) on the morning of Christmas Day 1901. In expectation of the matrimonial celebration his colleagues in the fire brigade gathered with him at the Council chamber of the Guildhall on 20 December and presented a handsome silver lamp and tea kettle. The Mayor of Newport, Alderman F.T. Mew made the presentation on behalf of the brigade as its Honorary Superintendent. Percy responded to the kindly speech expressing that his service in the brigade was a labour of love. All then adjourned to the Warburton's Hotel where one can make their own decision of the merriment from between the lines of the County Press report that closed with; the bride and bridegroom were drunk with great heartiness.

Percy also had a pragmatic and pointed side when it came to the efficiency of the fire brigade. Following Press criticism of the state of the brigade's hose following a fire in early 1902, Percy wrote to the County Press. In it he stated that all of the hose had been tested under his supervision the previous September where several items of the leather layflat hose were found defective but were repaired rather than replaced due to finance.  It is economy gone mad he stated, to repair hose which was 24 years old when the Metropolitan Fire Brigade keep no hose longer than three years. He continued;

Ever since the formation of the Brigade, now eight years ago, we have been continually pointing out to the local authorities the terrible condition of our hose, and have applied for new, but with no avail. 

He then ventured further; We are only a Volunteer Brigade, but I am sure I could not wish to do with a more willing body of men, always ready for the call.

His own service in the brigade is chronicled throughout the pages of the local Press, extensive and committed it was too with many articles and references to his endeavours.

By the time of the 1911 Census Percy and Lila have two sons, Walton (8) and Roy (6) and his occupation is stated as fishing tackle manufacturer and merchant. Although no reference has been found regarding Percy's resignation from the brigade it is known that another man was the deputy captain by 1909. Percy would have only been 35 and was well known to have remained physically active and outdoors for the rest of his life so it may be assumed that he left to concentrate on his business and hobby interests. As Newport's volunteer status was also changing to that of paid firemen, it may be that he found this fundamentally objectionable, we may never know for sure. 

The 1939 Register found he and Lila still living happily with their eldest son Walton who was also involved in his father's business in addition to serving as an ARP warden. 

Finally time caught up with Percy after a days fishing with friends in the Medina near the Folly Inn. He suddenly and unexpectedly passed away while stood waiting for a bus at a stop in Whippingham on 14 November 1945.

 

Rest in peace Deputy Captain Wadham.