Autobiography of James Tilbury (1881-1972)

1931. Because of the serious effects of the Depression I suggested to my Company a merger with the firm of Geyelin & Co. who were doing about the same volume of travel business, but it was not enough for either of us. This suggestion had just followed an offer Mr. Geyelin had made to me to become President and General Manager of his Company. Although I admired the way they operated their business, I was very happy and well satisfied with my relations with the Frank Tourist Co. and so, while appreciating their offer, I declined. Negotiations soon started and eventually a satisfactory agreement was reached. I was appointed President and General Manager of the merged Companies, now called Geyelin and Frank Inc. We were still living at Price Avenue, Narberth.

1933. This year I became a Charter Member of the Executives Association of Philadelphia, representing the Travel business with my Company. Later I became its Secretary and eventually Vice President.

In September, with two or three musically inclined residents of Narberth, we formed a committee with the object of reviving the old Narberth Choral Society. The idea was well supported and we had the first rehearsal concert, which I conducted, on the 11th. with gratifying success.

1934. In April I conducted the second concert of the Narberth Choral Society and we were all pleased with the response and the Newspaper reports.

1935. My wife and I left in July on the West Indes cruise of the ‘Columbia’ which visited Haiti, Puerto Columbia, Darranquilla and Colon, where we left by train to Old Panama City on the Pacific Coast, returning by steamer through the Panama Canal, thence to Jamaica and New York. I now felt that if I were unable to do any more tavelling and had to stay home for the rest of my life, I would be content and well satisfied with what I had already accomplished since my teenage determination to see all I possibly could of the World. However, I am glad to say there was much more to follow. I was only 54, I am now 82.

1936. In April of this year I played the part of Sergeant of Police in the Gilbert & Sullivan opera Pirates of Penzance given by the Bala-Cynwyd, Pa., Community Choral Society. In May, the Pennsylvania P. E. Diocesan Commission arranged a volunteer choirs competition which my St. Mark’s Choir won.

1937. This year the Bala-Cynwyd Choral Society put on another Gilbert & Sullivan opera – The Gondoliers – in which I played the part of the Duke of Plaza Toro and my wife Fiametta.

1939. We were still living at our Price Ave., Narberth address. My wife and I were vacationing in Bermuda when the Second World War broke out. We returned a week or so later on the Queen of Bermuda, entirely blacked-out.

1940. During this war I at first took over, at the request of the Cunard Line, a night watchman’s duties at their Phila. piers from midnight until 8am. I still managed to put in about four hours a day in my Travel Office where I had been obliged to carry on with a much reduced staff. Since I went to Vancouver, Canada, in 1911, I had now had to suffer the consequences of three depressions and two World Wars. More than enough to put many Travel Companies out of business. In February 1942 we left Price Ave., which had to be sold, and took an apartment at 736 Pine Street, Phila. By this time, not only had our three daughters been happily married, but each had three children – Dorothy two boys and a girl, Joan three boys and Betty two boys and a girl. Three seems to have been the desired limit for all of us, none apparently having any wish to emulate my parents with 17 children, or my wife’s parents with twelve. In July I resigned from Geyelyn & Frank and went to work in the War Plant of Struthers Dunn & Co. After some months in various departments I was asked to create a personnel office, which I then did and operated it with an able assistant.

1943. In October my wife was offered the vacancy of Resident Manager of the residence section of the Friends’ Arch Street Centre in the Old Quaker Meeting House at 3rd and Arch St. Phila. She accepted and we left 736 Pine St. and moved into the very pleasant and commodious apartment provided for both of us on November the fifth. This constituted our 14th “home” since 1909. Since November I had been training a chorus of 100 nurses of the Germantown Hospital or, at least, such as were gifted with a voice. This continued until the end of March 1944.

1944. At this stage of the war orders were easing up, so I took the opportunity of resigning from Struthers Dunn & Co. as my assistant was now well able to take over the extra responsibility. This enabled me to give my wife more much needed assistance with the office work; bookkeeping, payrolls etc. I still had to devote one evening a week for choir practice and to prepare for the two Sunday services at St. Mark’s.

1945. In January of this year I finally resigned from St. Mark’s church after seventeen years there as choirmaster etc. I was told that was the longest time any choirmaster had held the position in the church’s 100 years. In March I left for California to visit my brother Charles and his wife who lived in Beverley Hills, Los Angeles. Charles had returned from London years before, got happily married and, as before mentioned, settled down in L.A. where he had his own travel business, and a prosperous one at that. Nearby, on St. Monica Boulevard was the P. E. Church of All Saints. The organist welcomed me into his choir as he needed help with the Easter music. When the Easter season was over I had to return to Phila. and the Friends’ Arch St. Centre. In October of this same year I substituted for the organist and choirmaster of the 3rd Presbyterian Church at Chester, Pa. He was not expected back for a year or so from War service in Europe.

1946. For some months of this year I sang as bass in the choir of the nearby 200 year old Christ’s Church at 2nd and Market Streets, Phila. Before the year ended my wife and I visited her brother Clifford and his wife – the same two who had come to Shanghai when I was there in 1907. They were now living in Victoria B.C., Canada. When we returned we also visited our married daughter Dorothy and her husband and family in their lovely country home at Boonton, N. J. At the end of this year I took charge of the musical programme for the nurses at the Pennsylvania Hospital, Phila.

1947. This year I spent at the Friends’ Arch St. Centre helping my wife and, during vacation time, assisting the Editor of the Quaker paper “The Friend”.

1948 & 1949. In February I went to St. Petersburg, Florida. I had stayed there briefly some years earlier when my wife and I had driven down from Phila. and then continued down the West Coast, crossing by the Tamiami Trail to Miami and then home by way of Palm Beach etc. Soon after arrival I joined the choir of the First Congregational Church and the St. Petersburg Chess Club where I spent many happy hours. Before returning to Phila. at the end of April I entertained its members in the capacity of impersonator and monologuist. My numbers were all well received and the principal newspaper gave it considerable favourable publicity.

In 1948, two of my sisters were living in Pasadena, California, and they wanted me to visit them so I left Phila. in September and stayed with one of them. Within two weeks, this sister said that the Baptist Church minister was looking for a choirmater and she had suggested he see me. He did and I accepted his offer and was soon busy training the choir and making very satisfactory progress according to one of the officials. Unfortunately I did not feel at home with the kind of service, with its unusually long sermons, that prevailed there so, after five or six weeks, I resigned. Soon afterwards I discovered a charming, picturesquely located P. E. Church with the familiar name of St. Mark’s. It was in Altadena. I called upon the Rector, gave him details of my background, and was gladly accepted as a bass in his choir. When I met the choirmaster I learned that, 33 years before, he had been a boy chorister at the P. E. Church of St. James at 22nd and Walnut Streets, Phila. at the same time I was singing there as a bass. Just after the Christmas music was ended, and because of business commitments, he resigned and the Rector asked me to take over. It was a fine choir of just over 40 voices and they cooperated splendidly. So, at all times, did the Rector who was a very good preacher and a fine gentleman. Soon I became quite busy as, in addition to being choirmaster and bass soloist, I was appointed Business Manager for the Parish, Rector’s Secretary and Assistant Editor of the Church News. On the side I was training a number of boys as choristers to be used at the evening service. I was delighted when the Rector and his charming wife invited me to live at the Rectory and I soon made good friends with their two attractive and beautifully behaved children. Presently there was a Convocation of P. E. Bishops and Laymen at the Los Angeles Cathedral and I was selected as one of the four St. Mark’s delegates for the three day meeting. In April, the Pasadena Playhouse were about to produce the “World Premiere”? “Hamlet, King of Denmark” and I was asked to train ten of my choirboys for a procession and singing part in “The Serpent in the Orchard”. The Management were subsequently were very appreciative and complimentary in their thanks. In coming out to California I was hoping I might find it possible to live there permanently but my wife did not wish to live so far away from our children and their families and she liked very much her work at the Friends’ Arch St. Centre, Phila. in May, the Rector, with his wife and children, left in his Austin sedan on a vacation to visit relatives in the East. He left me in charge of the Rectory and many Church matters. It was now clear to me that my wife could not be persuaded to come out to California to live so I had no alternative but to break the news to the Rector when he got back in June. He felt as badly about it as I did, but there was nothing I could do about it.

1950. Since our cruise on the “Columbia” in 1935 I had wanted very much to see more of the West Indies and at last I had the opportunity. On August 3rd. I sailed from New York for a month or two in Barbados and, en route, had a good look at the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas, St. Kitts, St. Croix, also St. Lucia, Antigua, Martinique (Mt. Pelec), Grenada and Trinidad. I returned from Barbados October 19th. after a most enjoyable stay there. Before leaving, I had been offered by the large Marine Hotel, an inducement to open a Travel Office in their lobby. I was much interested but, once again, my wife couldn’t see the matter my way and, in view of later developments in the West Indies, I’m glad she didn’t.

1951. In May we both sailed from New York on the “Queen Mary” to Southampton. As this was my wife’s vacation she had to return in June to the F.A.S.C., but I was a “free agent” and decided to remain behind to complete a full year in England in order to bring myself up to date with living conditions, weather, taxes, prices etc. I had the idea that it would be nice if eventually we could both settle down for the rest of our lives in beautiful Bournemouth, where we would be close to our old hometown of Southampton. When my wife sailed for New York I went over to France to visit my brother Ted’s family in St. Lunaire, near Dinard. Unfortunately, Ted, who was my favourite brother had met an untimely death, partly due to the First World War in which he was an English liaison officer on the General Staff. I missed him tremendously. My sister in law was there with their five children, now all adults, and I was made most welcome. Returning to Bournemouth I rented an apartment in Richmond Wood Road from the end of July until October 1st., and then moved over to Stanpit Road, Christchurch, six miles nearer my married sister and family and several good friends. At once I joined the choir of St. Andrews P. E. Church there as bass, even though I would be sailing back to New York in seven months time. I also joined the Christchurch Chess Club.

1952. On May 14th. I sailed on the “Queen Elizabeth” to New York, arriving on the 19th. In July I was invited to go to the Old St. George’s Methodist Church at 4th. and New St., Phila., as assistant to Rev. W. Cliff and as choirmaster. I began my duties on July 17th. The F.A.S.C. where my wife was still carrying on, was nearby.

1953. On March 31st. I resigned from St. George’s Church and went over to the Friends’ Arch St. Centre. I worked there until October when I sailed on the 8th. by the "Queen Mary" from New York, arriving at Southampton on my birthday the 13th. After visiting relatives in London and elsewhere I took an apartment again at 33 Richmond Wood Rd. and rejoined the Bournemouth Chess Club.

1956. [1954?] On May 13th I returned to New York on the “Queen Elizabeth”, arriving May 18th. I stayed with my wife at the F.A.S.C. until October 12th. when I left by train for St. Petersburg, Florida, once again, this time to stay with friends at 115 - 14th Ave. N.E., until November 14th. In order to be able to stay in Florida for the Winter I accepted employment driving a delivery car for Mr. McGaughey, the well known druggist. I occupied a very pleasant apartment over his garage at 1662 - 20th Ave. S.E., a delightful location. Mr. McGaughey was President of the St. Petersburg Male Chorus and he invited me to become a member. He didn't have to ask me twice. I sang with it up to and including the last concert in April and enjoyed the music and the friendship advantages of being a member. On November 5th my wife resigned from the Friends' Arch St. Centre after 11 strenuous, but otherwise very pleasant, years and went to Stowe, Vermont, to visit our eldest daughter Dorothy, her husband Laurence (Larry) and their three children. Our three girls had been very fortunate in having such very fine and successful husbands and we too were very thankful. They were all three a real success in their business lives as well as creating, with their wives, happy homes too. Larry Heath was now owner and, with Dorothy, operator of the well and favourably known ski resort hotel, the Edison Hill Manor, 3 miles out of Stowe, Vermont. They have 500 acres of excellent land and every facility for their guests' enjoyment of skiing, fishing, swimming etc. etc.

1955. On April 21st. I gave up my Drug Store delivery work and left St.P. for Malvern, Pa. to visit our daughter Betty and her very popular husband Albert (Al) E. Byecroft, another husband who has been a business success. At the present time they live in a beautiful home in an excellent location on 4 acres of land right in the country, a mile from Paoli, Pa. Here is another happy and contented family. It is always a pleasure to me to stay there. On May 1st. I left to join my wife at Stowe, Vermont. I hadn’t been at the Edson Hill Manor long before we got news of the death of a dear friend at the Friends' Arch St. Centre, Phila. from which my wife had recently resigned. She flew at once to Phila. and was at the F.A.S.C. giving what assistance she could on behalf of the relatives in England until June. She then went to pick up our granddaughter, Sandra Heath, for a promised trip to Europe. They sailed on the Holland-America liner Maasdam, returning to New York in September. I was having a most pleasant time at Edson Hill Manor until September 22nd when I returned to my daughter Betty’s home and on October 13th sailed from New York on the "Queen :Elizabeth", arriving Southampton on the 19th. Once more I took an apartment at 33 Richmond Wood Rd., Bournemouth, and was soon in the choir of St. Augustine’s P.E. Church as bass.

1956. I was now 75 years of age and in first class health and spirit. In January I joined the Bournemouth Gilbert & Sullivan Amateur Operatic Society and took part in 'Trial by Jury", as a juryman and in the “Pirates of Penzance" as a policeman. Both Operas were given at the New Royal Theatre, Bournemouth, for a week with matinees. On January 30th. I had the good luck to hear of the vacancy of an apartment in a CENTRALLY HEATED house which was nearby. Within a week I had moved in. It was at 67 Portchester Road. It was owned and lived in by a very kind and considerate widow and I was very comfortable and contented. I remained there for very nearly three years. A -few months later my wife joined me (May 9th. 1956) and stayed until November 10th. before returning to Philadelphia. After slie left I rejoined the Bournemouth Chess Club.

1957. My wife again spent the Summer with me at 67 Portchester Road.

1958. One more summer together and this time I returned to Philadelphia with my wife, sailing from Southampton on November 22nd. by the Holland America Liner "Statendam" arriving New York on November 30th. I thought this was a good time to return because in 11 months - Oct.2nd.1959 we would be celebrating our 50tli wedding anniversary and naturally wished to be with our children and their families at that time.

In December, while we were staying at the Paoli home of our daughter Betty, a Committee of ladies from the Board of Directors of the Pennsbury Home for elderly ladies at 6431 Greene St., Germantown, Philadelphia, called to see my wife and to ask her to take over the management of the Home. She loves that kind of work so promptly accepted and agreed to begin her duties on January 1st. 1959.

[1] Source David Tilbury, Oregon


  • April Boothe 2 years ago

    Thank you so much for posting this autobiography of my great grandfather, James Tilbury (1881-1972)! My dad told me many of these amazing stories about his grandfather over the years. It was such a blessing to find them here, print them out & share them with my dad who is now 76. I have one picture of myself as an infant with my great grandfather. My dad (James Tilbury Nutter of Connecticut/Texas)has even more info on the family, but alas, he is not a big fan of modern technology.

    • linden 2 years ago

      My pleasure April, glad it's been useful. Perhaps you could digitise all your father's gems of information? Cheers, Linden

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