Droll Teller, Umbrella Repairer 
and Cutler 
William Thomas Chubb (1891?-1973)

Different sources give ‘Bill’s year of birth as 1891, 1892, 1894 or 1895, but his birthday was always given as July 16.

The censuses, on different occasions, gave his occupation as ‘Hawker’, ‘Assisting Father in Cutler Business’ or ‘Journeyman Cutler’, but never as his most often remembered, ‘Umbrella Repairer’.

Customers in Liskeard, Dobwalls, St Cleer, Looe and Pensilva were visited on their allocated day every week by ‘Bill’.

Umbrellas that needed mending and knives and tools that needed sharpening were collected and returned the following week.

‘Bill’ used an oilstone for sharpening and pitch, kept hot in a Lyons Golden Syrup tin on a small, black leaded stove, for sealing holes in umbrellas.


It was the children who looked forward most to Bill’s visits, as he always had time for them and they would listen intently to one of his many stories, or drolls being the Cornish word.

In fact, he is thought to be one of the last Droll Tellers in East Cornwall.

‘Bill’s’ favourite ‘watering holes’ were the Barley Sheaf and the Webb’s Hotel Tap Room where, I’m sure, he would have found another audience to hear his tales, perhaps of a raunchier nature?

A droll was traditionally a tale of local events and people, some humorous and some not so; a way of spreading news between Cornish towns and villages, before the advent of newspapers, radio and television.

Soon after Bill’s death in 1973, Burness Bunn, writing in the Cornish Guardian, created an image of ‘Bill’ in words: ‘a certain jaunty swagger’, ‘short and jaunty and as chirrupy as a cricket’ and ‘his tales were accompanied by saucy winks that flickered over his eyes like venetian blinds’.

A puppet in the image of ‘Bill’ was created several years ago by Puppetcraft; it was operated by Sue Field as she related traditional Cornish folk tales to children in schools in the Liskeard area.

Performer Nina Hills entertained an audience away from the schools, accompanied by the puppet ‘Bill’ of course, continuing the droll telling tradition in shows, parties and out on the streets across Cornwall.

Sue and Nina’s droll performances were part of an ongoing project called ‘Mazed Tales’.

The BBC plan to air a series of programmes which will tell the true stories behind some of Cornwall’s ancient treasures.

One of the episodes, to be shown on the CBeebies channel later in 2023, will feature Cornish Droll Tellers, including Liskeard’s ‘Bill’ Chubb.

‘Bill’ grew up and lived, for at least 20 years, at 4 Castle Lane, Liskeard, where his mother died in 1899 aged only 29, when ‘Bill’ was about eight.

His father, Samson Chubb, then married his housekeeper, Eleanor Shaw, they had three children and ‘Bill’ was still living with this step family at the age of 27. Samson Chubb appeared in the Cornish Guardian on December 25, 1925, accused of keeping a dog without a licence.

He was ordered to pay costs of 4s, but said he had ‘got no money and no goods’ and he was prepared to ‘go down below’ as he could not pay.

When Samson Chubb was a single man of 20, he was charged with ‘taking, or causing to be taken, away Mary Elizabeth Brailey, being an unmarried girl under the age 18 (she was aged 15 years and eight months) against the will of her father’.

The couple stayed the night of November 3, 1885, in a Callington lodging house as husband and wife. Chubb left the next morning, leaving the girl behind.

Mary’s father and the lodging house keeper both told the court she could easily be taken to be a lot older than her years.

Chubb said that the girl kept asking him to go away with her and that she said her age was 19, adding ‘it was her that took me away, not me taking her’.

The all-male jury dismissed the case as ‘not proven’.