Hole, Mr Thomas


Collection date: Sept 1904

Area: Somerset - North West inc Clevedon

Thomas Hole at Clevedon (1856-1936): age 48, 5 songs (sea shanties FT415ff) on 9 Sept 1904: Thomas Hole had a very uncertain start in life. He was born in Clevedon in 1856, son of Thomas Hole, labourer and wife Ann (née Canter). He had two older brothers and an older sister Eliza. His father died in 1856 and his mother in 1859, so he was effectively orphaned at age 3. He was looked after by his mother’s sister Hannah and her husband John Baker, a quarryman in Clevedon.

Thomas was baptised at All Saints Clevedon on 10/3/1861 aged 4. John & Hannah Baker had no children of their own and looked after Thomas (1861 and 1871 censuses) until he followed his sister to London in the 1870s. She had gone as a domestic servant to a house in Tottenham (1871 census) and then married Arthur Chandler, a local carpenter.

Thomas Hole went to sea in his early 20s and was shipwrecked off the coast of Chile in 1877 (his account Clevedon Mercury 23 Jan 1932). During an earthquake his ship, the full-rigged Avonmore, went down with three other ships near Huanillo. On return Thomas stayed with his sister in Grove Rd and and became a scaffolder (1881 census). He married Julia Ann Lellins at St Mary’s Walthamstow Essex on 10/5/1883 and they returned to Clevedon. Thomas set up initially as a market gardener but by 1901 he was a fruiterer in a shop at the busy Triangle junction near Clevedon Railway station (RG13/2355 f110 p27). He had two children.

He may not have seemed a very exciting prospect for Sharp to encounter at the end of his enormous summer song hunt. Indeed Sharp wrote to Chloe Marson on 13 Sept 1904 from Meshaw Rectory: ‘Nor did I do much at Clevedon, although I got a few songs from a whilom (erstwhile) sailor, now a respectable greengrocer in the Triangle!’. But in fact the three sea shanties that Thomas Hole sang ('Whisky Johnny', 'In Amsterdam' and 'Rio Grand') were clearly sung with gusto and made an impression on Sharp. He knew of sea shanties, of course but had not really heard any in Somerset. Captains Lewis and Vickery in Minehead had sung of sea battles and press gangs but had only provided 1 shanty ‘Heave away my Johnnie’ between them. When Sharp visited Bridgwater in 1906 and met with real lifetime sailors, he took a more serious interest in their shanties before eventually meeting John Short at Watchet and George Conway in London etc. Thomas Hole died on 22/6/1936.

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