Women of the Wharf – Geraldine May Soames

Geraldine wasn’t originally a local lass, she was born in Beverley, Yorkshire in 1871 as Geraldine Walker, the only daughter of Captain Gerald Walker and Harriet Louisa Darley. She grew up at Hill House in Richmond, East Riding and played a part in local society, often accompanying her father at social and community events. Geraldine and the family were so well known that her engagement and marriage to Gerald Martin Soames was lavishly reported in the local newspapers:

Yorkshire Gazette 1893 11 November
Richmond & Ripon Chronicle 1893 4 November

The newspaper report of the marriage on 16 July 1895 at Holy Trinity Church in Chelsea took up almost an entire page, with a list of the “numerous and costly” presents given to the newlyweds. The wedding was also celebrated at the Wharf, with a meal for all the brewery employees.

Geraldine and Gerald made their home in Northamptonshire, first at Welton House, before moving to Hillside House at the Wharf around 1910. Geraldine’s father, Captain Walker, had bought Hillside House for them and later left it to Geraldine in his Will. He had also gone into business with Gerald Soames prior to the marriage – both families were well known in the brewing industry, and they founded Walker & Soames, with a brewery and the inns at the Wharf.

Geraldine started breeding elk-hounds and became Vice President of the British Elkhound Society in 1929, and President in 1930. She also bred goats, becoming a nationally recognised and prize winning breeder, and was the first breeder of a goat that yielded 2 gallons of milk in a 24 hour milking session. In 1924, her herd was the only recorded one in Northamptonshire. Her goats were pedigree Anglo-Swiss and known as the Pytchley herd, named after the Pytchley Hunt that Geraldine and Gerald both followed. By 1920 Geraldine had become one of the first female judges for the British Goat Society, and between 1938-1942 she was President of the Society. She also found time to found the Northamptonshire Goat Society, affiliated to the national society, of which she was also President. During the Second World War, in times of rationing goats were a useful supply of fresh milk. It is highly likely that Geraldine’s herd of goats helped to provide milk for the local community. By 1948 the herd were British Alpines and was made up of nine goats for milking, two kids, and a billy goat for breeding. They were free ranging goats within a two acre site at the Wharf, although it’s not stated where exactly.

In between looking after the dogs and goats, Geraldine was involved with the Mission Church, and the various community fundraising events held in the village hall. She also spent at least one winter overseas, visiting friends in Kenya during the winter of 1934-1935.

Geraldine suffered a seizure and died a few weeks later at home, on 16 December 1950. Her funeral was at Milton Crematorium, in Milton Malsor, Northamptonshire, where her husband Gerald had been laid to rest in 1946.

Geraldine and Gerald had no children, so the estate was left equally between her cook and housekeeper Florence Penney and chauffeur/gardener Maurice Collyer. Both Florence and Maurice had been with the Soames’ since at least 1939 and lived at Hillside House. Maurice also received the motor car, poultry and rabbits, and two paintings by Reuben Ward Binks. Florence was bequeathed all the consumable stores, clothes including the furs, one Reuben Ward Binks painting, and the herd of goats. Geraldine specifically required that the goats be found good homes or be painlessly destroyed. I have not found any reference to the goats being sold, however, they were an extremely well known herd and it is probable that another breeder took them on.

Northampton Mercury 1949 19 August. The only picture I’ve been able to find of Geraldine, taken just over a year before her death.

[Reuben Ward Binks was a renowned animal painter who was regularly commissioned by animal breeders. Geraldine’s three paintings by him were entitled “Goats”, “Jansen”, and “Woggitts”. Woggitts was most likely one of her elkhounds – I found this image on an auctioneers website with a guide price of around £200.]

  • Richmond and Ripon Chronicle 1893 4 November
  • Yorkshire Gazette 1893 11 November
  • Yorkshire Gazette 1895 20 July
  • Northampton Mercury 1924 18 January
  • Warwick and Warwickshire Advertiser and Leamington Gazette 1929 27 July
  • Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 1929 30 November
  • Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 1930 15 November
  • Northampton Mercury 1934 14 December
  • Northampton Mercury 1948 14 May
  • Northampton Mercury 1949 19 August
  • Northampton Mercury 1950 22 December
  • Northampton Mercury 1951 21 September
  • British Goat Society
  • British Goat Society 4 Years of Hardship.

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