Little Eaton Local History Society

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The Wheatley Booker Story

written by Alex Galloway.

It started with an enquiry from Adam Marriott, asking if anyone knew the history behind some broken bottles he, and some friends, had found in Bottle Brook some twenty years ago.

Adam had also recently purchased a complete bottle on Ebay. All of the bottles had the inscription “W. Booker, Excelsior Works, Little Eaton.


We at LELHS decided to research Wheatley Booker and have unearthed a fascinating story of a Little Eaton family from the 19th century. The story takes us thousands of miles from England and back again.

Wheatley Booker was born in Ebrington, Gloustershire about 1853/4, the son of Francis and Mary Booker.


In 1871 Wheatley was living in Little Eaton and was an apprentice at engine fitting.

In 1874 he married Martha Goodwin at St.Paul’s church in Little Eaton. Banns were published on 14th, 21st and 28th of June so the wedding would have been in July of that year. Both were living in Little Eaton at the time.

St. Paul’s baptism register describes him as a mechanic up to 4th February 1881, as an engine fitter on 18th February 1883 and as a mineral water manufacturer at 16 March 1885 and at 6th March 1887.

There are no further parish records for the family after 1887.


Wheatley and Martha had at least 7 children born in Little Eaton.

Robert (b.1875), Anne Martha (b.1876), Alice Ada (b.1878 died 1881 age 3), Francis (b.1880 died 1882 age 1), Alice (b.1883), Joseph Wheatley (b.1885), Sarah Dorothy (b.1887).

As a mechanic there is no indication of who he worked for other than the term “engine fitter”. If this was railway engines then it would have been the Midland Railway at Derby. At that date it could also refer to traction engines or industrial engines. Later in the story it will emerge that he was in fact a railway engine fitter.

As a manufacturer of mineral waters, probably lemonade or ginger beer, little is known.

From Adam’s information and photograph we know that the mineral water bottles were inscribed “W. Booker, Little Eaton” and have a figure waving a banner letterhead “Excelsior Works”.

Interestingly, at the time, there were quite a few manufacturers of this “Excelsior” name in Derby (4 miles away).

Wheatley may have been bottling their product under licence. We do not know, nor do we know how long this business lasted. What we do know is that the bottles with Little Eaton on are very rare.

In 1881 the family resided in two properties just before the Anchor Inn.

It would appear they were either in a row just south of the Anchor Inn or in the cottages behind the Anchor Inn. At that time Alfreton Road ran between the Anchor Inn and these cottages.

1881 is the last time we can be sure the family were in Little Eaton. After this date we assumed they had left Little Eaton, but we had no idea where they had gone.

We published the story, so far, on our website and were contacted by Liz Booker.

Liz is the wife of Peter Booker who is Wheatley Booker’s Great Grandson.

Liz and her daughter had found a request on “Genes Reunited” from someone looking for relatives of Wheatley Booker. They answered the request and made contact with Wheatley’s grandson living in Costa Rica.


With information and family papers from Costa Rica and elsewhere Liz has pieced together the story of the Booker family after they left Little Eaton.

Liz even has a photograph of his passport which states that he had an artificial right eye.

In 1891 Wheatley, Martha, Robert, Alice, Ann Martha, Sarah Dorothy and Joseph Wheatley sailed to Costa Rica.

Martha died in San Jose, Costa Rica in 1892.


Wheatley married again in 1893 to Ellen Alice Hamick Spicio. Ellen was in fact born in Clerkenwell in England.


Liz has a letter dated 1898 signed by Minor Cooper Keith who built the Costa Rican Railway so we know that Wheatley was still in Costa Rica then.

The next time we find him is on the 1911 census living in Plumstead, London with his wife Ellen who is running a sweet shop and Wheatley is an out of work engineer.


Ellen died in Surrey in 1916 and it states in the probate records that Wheatley is a licensed victualler.

Note- To help prevent air raids during the first world war, initially from Zepplins and later from airplanes, plans were drawn up in 1913 to blackout British coastal towns. These plans were implemented 12th August  1914. On 1 October 1914, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police ordered that bright exterior lights were to be extinguished or dimmed in the London area and street lamps be partially painted out with black paint.

Article from The Reading Mercury dated 20th October 1917 states -


Wednesday October 17th 1917.

Before P. Crutchley Esq., in the chair; Lord George Pratt, C.A.Ferard and F.J.Patton Esqs.



Wheatley Booker of The Carpenter’s Arms Inn, Sunninghill, was fined 5s.for failing to obscure certain lights on his pemises. A fine was inflicted of 5s.”

In 1924 he was living in Rotherhithe but set sail on the RMS Bayano of the Elder and Fyffes Line for Port Limon, Costa Rica. The SS Bayano was a banana boat, Fyffes and Costa Rica being major producers of bananas.


On the ship’s manifest Wheatley is listed as an engineer traveling first class and that Costa Rica would be his next permanent residence.

He probably returned to Costa Rica to be close to his family.


Wheatley Booker died three years later on 28th March 1927 in San Jose aged 74.

Apart from Robert, all his children stayed in Costa Rica.


Robert, after serving his apprenticeship with Costa Rica Railway, qualified as an engineer with the Merchant Marine and sailed on numerous ships until after WW1.


Interestingly he married a lady called Annie Greatorex whose mother was Martha Goodwin’s sister called Sarah. Annie’s family ran a dairy in Moss Side, Manchester.  


Sadly Robert died at home in Manchester aged 52 in the same year as his father – 1927.

This ends the Wheatley Booker story.  Or does it?

Lelhs research by Alex Galloway and Rosemary Gregory

Additional research in the UK and Cost Rica by Liz Booker and the Booker family.

St. Paul's baptism Records by Philip Thomas.

Source material - St. Paul’s church records. British Newspaper Archives. Reading Mercury.

Costa Rican bananas

Wheatley worked for the Costa Rican Railway Company as a Master Mechanic and his son Robert worked under him serving a five year apprenticeship.


They may have worked on this Costa Rican Railway Locomotive being loaded with bananas