History of the Amersham Area

Martha Morris 1813-1888

Martha Morris (1813-88) wife of Ebenezer West, Schoolmaster

This article was written by Judy Buckley, who has also written an article about Richard Morris, Martha’s grandfather 

Martha and Ebenezer were married in 1839 in Wandsworth District (Martha’s home was in Clapham).  Ebenezer West had taken over the headship of Amersham Academy from his father in 1830, and the 1841 Census page showed them settled back in Amersham High Street with his widowed mother and some boarding pupils. By 1851 (see below) they had two sons.

Martha was the only granddaughter of Revd. Richard Morris who built the Lower Meeting Baptist Chapel. Her mother Sophia was the fourth of five children, and the youngest daughter.  Her eldest sister Mary was 17 years older, but Elizabeth was just a year her senior. Her brothers were 5 years older and one year younger. They grew up in Meeting House Yard in the centre of a flourishing Baptist community, with a popular energetic father and all the Chapel activities of services, visiting preachers, Sunday schools and charitable works.

But sadly, when Sophia was 18, her mother died aged only 53, leaving her 64 year old father distraught.  Already in his sixties, he had been shattered by the loss of his closest friend in 1809, and the death of his beloved wife (eleven years younger than he was) seems to have left him so shaken he felt only too ready for his own death.  Richard, his elder son, had some years earlier left home for London, where he worked as a wholesale draper, but George was still at home training as a brush maker.  Less than a year after her mother’s death, Mary, then 34, made a disastrous marriage, which left Elizabeth (19) and Sophia (18) unsupervised.  

It is possible that Elizabeth kept house for their father and George, while Sophia went to London to keep house for Richard, but on 29 August 1813 she was back in Amersham giving birth to an illegitimate daughter, whom she named Martha after her mother.  Was Sophia in London throughout her pregnancy, returning secretly to have her baby in Amersham? Was she engaged to a man who deserted her or died? Records of course don’t help. 

Sophia’s father died in 1817 when Martha was four. His will, written in 1816, mentioned Mary’s three year old son, but not Martha, and  left identical provision for “my youngest daughters” Sophia and Elizabeth.  Perhaps Martha’s grandfather, when he wrote his will, was unaware of her existence?  

Martha’s birth wasn’t actually entered into the Amersham chapel record book until 1823 when she was ten.  And it is likely that mother and daughter did live in London, because in 1826 Sophia was married from her brother Richard’s home in the City.

William Slater (1772-1851) was a Brush Maker and Bristle Merchant with a shop in the City, who was 53 when he married Sophia. He must have met the family through business with both George and Richard.

In 1831 William dissolved his City partnership. He and Sophia (and Martha aged 18) moved to Lark Hall Lane, in Clapham. In the 1830s horse drawn buses began running in Clapham. The National Gazeteer for 1868 described the area, which has long been considered one of the handsomest and most respectable in the suburbs of London, comprising many elegant mansions and villas surrounded by gardens and pleasure-grounds.

By 1841 Martha had been married for two years, but William and Sophia enjoyed another eight years together in Clapham. Then in the Spring of 1849 Sophia died aged 55.

After her death William moved to Amersham, where he lodged with George and Richard Morris in Meeting Yard (next door to Ebenezer and Martha) for the last two years of his life. He wrote his final will on 7th April leaving specific bequests totalling £175 (about £15,000 today) and the residue of his estate to Ebenezer and Martha. He died in July 1851 aged 78.

In 1861 Ebenezer and Martha took Amersham Academy to Caversham, where they flourished. Martha lived to be 74 and Ebenezer survived her for seven years.