History of the Amersham Area

Thomas Ayres senior & junior

This article was written by Richard Ayres, great grandson of Thomas Ayres the blacksmith, and is reproduced here with his permission

9009TThomas Ayres, the youngest of 7 children of William Ayres (1797-1859), was born on 17 August 1841 in Penn Street. In 1851 age 10 he was living with his parents in Winchmore Hill, and he was an errand boy.  By 1861 Thomas, now a blacksmith (presumably an apprentice) age 19 and unmarried was living with his widowed mother Elizabeth in Penn Street, but by 1868 he was married to Julia and living in The Broadway, Amersham where he was a journeyman blacksmith. (His wife Julia, nee Cox, was listed in the 1851 census as a 15 year-old servant at the Saracen’s Head in Whielden Street.)

In 1871 Thomas and Julia with their five children (Alice, Amy, Amelia, William, Annie) and with Thomas’ mother Elizabeth were living near to Hatches Farm in Kingshill (Hughenden Parish) where Thomas was a blacksmith. Alice, Amy and Amelia were born in Amersham, William and Annie were born in Hughenden. From the ages of the children it is possible to calculate that the family moved to Kingshill in 1870. The next child, Rosa was also born in Kingshill around 1873, but the following three children (Gertrude, Thomas, Frank) were all born in Amersham, and it would seem that the family moved back to Amersham around 1874. Thomas was listed as a blacksmith in Amersham in Kelly’s Street Directory of 1877.

The photograph of Thomas taken by George Ward in the 1880s shows him standing outside what was presumably his blacksmith’s shop.  From the 1881 census return it would seem that Thomas’ home and shop was on the south side of the High Street, between what is now ‘The Worthies’ and the terrace of three Victorian houses, ‘St James House’, ‘Lynwood’ and ‘Sherwood’. Living with Thomas and Julia were their children Amelia, Annie, William, Rosa, Gertrude, Thomas and Frank.

By 1891 Thomas and Julia were still living in the High Street along with unmarried daughters Alice and Amy, and son Frank. Thomas was still a blacksmith, as he was in 1901, when he and Julia had been rejoined by their unmarried daughter Annie, but no other children were present.

He is listed as a blacksmith in the 1903 Kelly’s directory. He had moved from Amersham by the time of the 1910 ‘Domesday’ Survey.  In fact he had moved to Lewisham. The 1911 census lists him as a shopkeeper (confectioner and fancy goods) at 264 Sydenham Road, Lewisham. Living with him were his daughters Alice and Annie. It is difficult to imagine the circumstances which prompted a blacksmith who had spent all his life in Buckinghamshire to move to Lewisham to become a confectioner – unless Annie had already been there and he joined her after being widowed. This seems likely given the description of his former occupation on his death certificate. (A flyleaf inscription on a bible owned by my father indicates that it was given to him on January 27th 1918 by his grandfather, but the inscription must have been written by someone else.)

He died at 204 Sydenham Road on 13 May 1914, age 72, of acute bronchitis and heart failure. Either Alice or Annie was present at his the death.  The death certificate describes his occupation as ‘Blacksmith (retired)’.

Thomas Ayres junior as a young man (PHO3012)

Thomas Ayres junior as a young man (PHO3012)

Thomas Ayres junior (1876-1953), hairdresser of Whielden Street, Amersham. Thomas’s middle son Thomas was prominent in Amersham life. He was born in Amersham and was a five-year old scholar in 1881, living in Amersham High Street. In 1891 he was an apprentice hairdresser in the household of Robert Alien in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire and in 1901 he was listed in Thame as a hairdresser, unmarried, living at 121 Buller Market, with a hairdresser’s assistant.  He was back in Amersham as a hairdresser in Whielden Street at the time of his marriage to Ethel West at Beaconsfield Congregational Church on 4 February 1907. The shop in Whielden Street had been a hairdressers since the 1860s and is still one today. Ethel had been living in 1901 with her maternal grandfather William George at the Broadway Grocer’s Shop in Amersham Broadway, and her address was given as ‘Broadway, Amersham’ on the marriage certificate. (The shop had been in the George family since around 1850 when Ethel’s grandfather William George had been a baker there, subsequently a grocer.  The shop today is now ‘Broadway Newsagents’ and is still owned  by the descendants of the Georges/Wests.)

Thomas Ayres and Ethel c. 1940 (PHO3013)

Thomas Ayres and Ethel in 1940 (PHO3013)

Thomas was first listed as a hairdresser in Kelly’s Directory of 1907, and the last Directory listing thus far seen was in 1939. A member of the Baptist Chapel, he was also a Deputy Registrar of Marriages, a Town Councillor, and had the task of winding the Market Hall clock and ringing the weekly market bell. The house and barber’s shop, No 139 Whielden Street was one of numerous properties in Amersham owned by the Tyrwhitt-Drakes, Squires of Amersham. In 1928 all the Tyrwhitt-Drake properties in Amersham were put up for sale by auction, though existing tenants were given the right to buy beforehand. Thomas took advantage of this and purchased the property: the purchase price was £365 and before that he was paying an annual rent of £19-8s-8d, fixed on 13th March 1914.

Ethel died of cancer on 1 October 1942 and Thomas of a heart attack on 30 September 1953. After Thomas’ death the Whielden Street property was sold. Thomas and Ethel are buried in the yard of Amersham Baptist Chapel (now the King’s Church). They were probably the last to be buried there. Today their’s is one of only two graves whose headstones remain in situ, all others having been removed and laid horizontally near the chapel.