Robert Ernest VINER (1878–1914)
Robert Ernest Viner (known as Ernest) was born in Sunningwell in 1878, the only child of a single woman, Ellen Viner; his father is unknown. His mother was born in Sunningwell in 1849, the daughter of George Viner & Mary Ann Hardman, who brought their grandson up.
Ernest’s grandfather George was born in Sunningwell on 6 April 1808, the son of George & Margaret Viner, and baptised at the church on 14 August 1808. His wife Mary was born in Oxford in 1819/20, and they were married there in 1844. The 1851 census shows Robert’s grandparents living at Sunningwell with their first four young children: William Henry (b.1845/6), Mary Ann (b.1847), Robert’s mother Ellen (b.1849), and Maria (b.1850). Also living with them was George’s widowed mother Margaret (78): she was a former agricultural labourer now described as a pauper. By 1871 they had four more children: George (b.1852), Walter (b.1855), James Arthur (b.1857), and Emma Elizabeth (b.1863), and their home is specified as being in Bayworth.
By the time of the 1871 census Ernest’s mother Ellen (21) was working as a nursemaid at Pewett House Wootton, helping to look after the six young children of William Graham JP and his wife Hellen. Seven years later she gave birth herself:
- (Robert) Ernest Viner (born in 1878, registered first quarter, and baptised at Sunningwell Church on 16 June 1878.
Ellen is described as a “spinster” of Bayworth in the parish register. She never married and does not appear to have had any more children.
The 1881 census shows three-year-old Ernest living at Sunningwell with his grandparents, who still had three of their own sons living at home. His grandfather continued to work as an agricultural labourer at the age of 74, and his uncles George (28), Walter (26), and Arthur (23) were working respectively as a shepherd, agricultural labourer, and wood turner. Meanwhile his mother Ellen (31) was living in Oxford as cook to Frank & Sarah Cooper at 83 High Street, where they were already making their famous Oxford marmalade.
In 1885 Ernest Viner entered Standard I of Sunningwell School, reaching Standard IV by 1888: because he was a bright boy, he was allowed to leave school at the age of ten to start work.
Ernest’s grandfather George Viner died at Bayworth at the age of 79 and was buried at Sunningwell Church on 22 November 1887. The 1891 census shows Robert living with his widowed grandmother and his uncle Walter, who was now a gamekeeper. Ernest (13) was already working as an agricultural labourer. Meanwhile his mother Ellen (40) was working as a cook for the family of a retired tea planter, Joseph Deacon, at Heyford Hill Lane, Littlemore.
Ellen appears to have come back to live with her mother by 1894, and the 1901 census shows them together at 30 Bayworth, both living on their own means. Within two years of the census the pair of them were dead: Robert’s mother Miss Ellen Viner (52) was buried at Sunningwell churchyard on 11 April 1902, and his grandmother Mary Ann (83) on 10 May 1903.
Viner seems to be missing from the 1901 census. He may have been serving in the army: the fact that he died less than a month after the start of the First World War suggests that he may already have been trained.
By 1911 Viner was back in Sunningwell, a single man of 33. With his grandparents and mother dead, he was living in Long Furlong, Sunningwell with his uncle George and family and working as an estate labourer.
La Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial
In the First World War Robert Ernest Viner fought as a Rifleman in the Rifle Brigade (Service No. 7212): the Commonwealth War Graves Commission state he was in the 1st Battalion, and the local press the 3rd Battalion. He died in France at the age of 36 on 26 August 1914, and has no known grave.
He is remembered on the La Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial (above and left): photographs kindly supplied by British War Graves.
He is also on the war memorial in St Leonard’s Church at Sunningwell.
Robert Ernest Viner’s Uncle George and his family
George Viner (b.1852), described as a shepherd, and (Margaret) Elizabeth Benwell, a domestic servant, were married at Sunningwell Church on 7 October 1883. They had four children, all baptised at the church:
- William Henry Viner (born 1884)
- Elizabeth Ellen Viner (born 1886). She married Eli David Strange at Sunningwell Church on 31 May 1909. Their son George Michael Viner became a farmer, and had his own children baptised at Sunningwell Church in the 1940s and 1950s.
- Albert Richard Viner (born 1889)
- (Mary) Kate Viner (born 1896).
- CWGC: Viner, Robert Ernest
- Oxford Journal Illustrated, 18 November 1914: photograph of E. Viner published three months after his death, when he was still “missing” (shown above with kind permission of Oxfordshire County Council, Oxfordshire History Centre)
- Frank Cooper’s house at 83 High Street, where Robert’s mother was the cook in the 1880s
- National Archives: Viner’s medal card
- Wikipedia: Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort’s Own)