Life in Amersham 1880-1930

Amersham Museum

The town and its people recorded in photographs by George Ward (Amersham Museum's copyright images)

Amersham Broadway in the late 1880’s, whilst the church tower was being renovated

George Ward
George Ward (1860–1943) was well known in Amersham as a Town Councillor, cycle and motor engineer, founder of Amersham Town Band and a keen photographer. Many of his glass plate negatives were left to Amersham Museum by local historian, Jean Archer, and by his family. This display of his photographs shows everyday life and special events in Amersham from the 1880s to 1930. 
Early Years
George Ward was born in 1860 in a cottage in Amersham Broadway. His father worked for Weller’s Brewery for over 60 years, first as a carpenter and later manager of their property department.   George started his working life as a delivery boy for the Bucks Advertiser, which was printed at King’s the Chemist in Market Square, Amersham. He became a good friend of Ebenezer King, the son of the owner and his interest in photography may well date from this time. By the 1881 census, George was working with his father as a painter and glazier at Weller’s Brewery, shown in this photograph.
Working Life
George Ward made a number of portraits of men at work, showing their working environment and the tools of their trade. Perhaps inspired by his early experience of working at Weller’s Brewery, or aware of changing times, the photographs provide a record of rural working life before and after the coming of the railway.

Workmen building Amersham railway station in 1892

Mr Ayres the blacksmith in 1883

Mr Stevens and Mr Pusey in their butchers' shop in 1922

Mr Hazell the gamekeeper with his dog in Cow Pastures

The gas mains cometh ...
When the demand for gas increased, a second gasholder was built on the Tan Yard, where George and Bessie had first set up home. He recorded its construction and the disruption to the streets in 1910 caused by laying a new gas main.

The new gasholder in Tan Yard in 1910

The gas company cart outside the Market Hall 1910

Improving the road surface in the High Street with a steam roller 1910

Digging the trench for the new gas main in Whielden Street, September 1910

George Ward: Entrepreneur
By 1890, George and Bessie had a shop in the Broadway selling crockery and toys with a newly built photographic studio in the yard behind. In 1896 they moved to larger premises, opposite the Market Hall in Amersham High Street. Here George set up an engineering business and a ‘Cycle and Motor Works and Domestic Machinery Stores’. They offered a wide range of services, including watch repairs, and sold phonographs and records. Until about 1910 he manufactured the “Wizard” bicycle in his workshop. 

George Ward Junior in his father's workshop c. 1895

Bessie Ward's shop c. 1895

George Ward: the musician
In his spare time, George played the violin at chapels in the area and was a strong supporter of the Temperance Movement. He started the ‘Amersham Sons of Temperance Brass Band’ in 1890 and was the first bandmaster, secretary and treasurer. They practised in his photographic studio, which he hired to them for nine pence per night to include lighting and warming. This photograph shows the band with George Ward on the left. It is said that he was able to play all the musical instruments.

By 1892 the band had been renamed The Amersham Town Band, as various members had broken their pledge! Here George Ward is in the centre of the back row

George Ward: Amersham personality
Whilst photographing Elmodesham House for the Cheese family, George met his future wife, Elizabeth (Bessie) Eagles, who came from Malvern in Worcestershire. They married at Chenies Baptist Chapel in 1886. Shortly after their wedding, George became the first manager of the new Amersham Gasworks and they moved into a house in the Tan Yard. As part of his duties, he used to ride around on his ‘Coventry’ tricycle at dusk lighting the street lamps. Soon George’s brother Fred took over as manager of the Gasworks and George and Bessie opened their first shop in the Broadway. George and Bessie were married for over 50 years and their golden wedding was announced in the local paper in November 1936. By this time they had three sons and two grandchildren. Their sons George and Cornelius carried on the family business in the High Street for many years.

Bessie Eagles, the future Mrs Ward, at Elmodesham House

Children in Tan Yard, with the gasholder in the background 1910

Cornelius (known as Corrie) was George Ward's youngest son. Photo taken in about 1904 when small boys wore skirts!

Portrait photography
Early photography required long exposure times and so portraits were very formal and usually unsmiling. By the 1890s, George Ward was able to take photographs relatively quickly so it was possible to capture more natural expressions.

A mother and daughter dressed in their best clothes c.1892

Mr Nichols the schoolmaster with his class of boys 1895

Clem Ford, the Manager of Weller's brewery, with his sporting trophies 1892

A studio portrait of Mr Randell (Butler at Coleshill House) and Annie Swaby in theatrical costume 1895

Mrs Toovey’s daughter in a formal pose in George Ward’s studio 1895

George Ward: Amersham's photographer
The earliest surviving photographs by George Ward date from the late 1880s, and show St. Mary’s Church before the restoration of the tower in 1890. His camera used glass plates coated with chemicals that captured the image as a negative. The positive image could then be printed onto paper. He methodically recorded his photographs in a notebook.We do not know where his first photographic studio was situated, but he records taking his first photograph in his new studio behind the shop in the Broadway on March 4th 1890. His early records show that he took many portraits of Ebenezer King and his dog in 1889 and 1890 as he worked to perfect his photographic skills.

This view of Amersham clearly shows the tower of St. Mary’s Church before it was remodelled. The Rectory is on the hill behind.

The King's Arms in 1915 before the facade was "improved". Elmodesham House is at the right of the picture

After the 1890 fire at the Malthouse behind the Broadway in Amersham

Jubilee Celebrations at the Hare and Hounds included a troupe of black faced entertainers before that became politically incorrect 1895

The first recorded car accident in the High Street, Amersham about 1930

Sheep in Market Square with Mr Lillywhite, the policeman, in 1890

Town Mill with the Dower House in the background c.1895

The Hunt meet in Market Square 1901

George Ward : Motoring Pioneer
George Ward was one of the first car owners in Amersham. In 1904, he purchased a car called ‘The Orient Express’ for £35 from Mr J. Powell in Kent. The car had been built by Bergmann’s Industriewerke in Gaggenau, Germany in 1898 and delivered to Mr Powell on a horse-drawn cart. George Ward registered the car on March 31st 1904 (Registration number BH 260) and used the car until about 1909, when it was dismantled and stored in his “Wizard” cycle works behind the shop in Amersham. (The car in the picture to the right replaced it.) Orient Express cars were not a great technical success. The car featured in one of the earliest motoring novels The Lightning Conductor by C.N and A.M. Williamson, when it was referred to as “the Brute Beast”. The car required two people to operate the ten hand controls and one foot pedal. The belt drive had three forward speed settings, 6 mph, 12 mph or 22mph and one reverse speed.

Orient Express with George's wife and their three sons George, William & Cornelius c.1900

George Ward's two older sons on their motorbikes outside the Market Hall

Changing Times
Photographs of St Mary’s Church, Amersham before, during and after the renovation works clearly show the amount of rebuilding. The building was refaced with flints and the tower was rebuilt with a small spire above the stairs. This photo shows the church before it was given a facelift. 

Scaffolding surrounds the church during the works in 1890

The Church after the works showing the war memorial cross in the churchyard, which was constructed in 1919 after the First World War. It was moved to the Memorial Gardens after WWII.

The Union Workhouse was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott who also designed the Albert memorial in Hyde Park and St Pancras Station in London. It was built in 1838 and served a number of local parishes and provided basic care of the elderly and those unable to work. The building later became Amersham General Hospital and is now Gilbert Scott Court.

The infirmary building was a later addition to the workhouse complex. On this image the title was scratched into the negative by George Ward.

Shops and Deliveries
Amersham had many family run shops and businesses in the early 20th century. They provided a wide range of services, including delivery of fresh produce. The method of delivery changed from horse-drawn transport to motor vehicles during George Ward’s lifetime.

Wade’s Corner Shop run by George Ward’s friend Ebenezer King 1889

Wade’s window with price tags in shillings and pence 1889

Scott's the butcher in Whielden Street 1891

Mrs Aldridge’s toy shop with hoops and skipping ropes hung beside the door 1889

A grocery shop in Whielden Street next to the Saracen’s Head 1888

Weller’s brewery dray outside the Queen’s Head in Chesham 1899

Gurney’s butcher’s shop with oxen named Suet & Dumpling pulling a wagon advertising Atora suet 1918

Chesham Bois Dairy delivering milk. Milk was dispensed from the churn by a measuring ladle into your own jug 1921

J. Whiteside, Amersham’s baker delivered fresh bread daily 1920

Time to stand and stare
Children are often included in George Ward’s photographs. Sometimes they were wearing their best clothes for a special event or deliberately placed for the photograph but often they were simply there as bystanders watching an entertainment. However, it seems that the arrival of the Dancing Bears caused the streets to clear rather than attract a crowd.  

The annual Charter Fair c. 1925

The Amersham Town Band lead the procession along the High Street towards the annual Flower Show c. 1901

The Old Berkeley Hunt meet outside The Gables, seen from Ward’s upstairs window 1901

A posed shot of children under the arches of the Market Hall, before the right hand arch was filled in by the second staircase. The rope attached to the fire bell can be seen hanging from the ceiling. 1899

Adults and children watching Mr Knight loading wool bales outside the Elephant & Castle 1891

A group of boys playing in the street outside the Crown Hotel 1899

A group photograph of the Amersham Baptist Sunday School with the Town Band 1893

Sport and Leisure
Early photography was unable to record action shots during a cricket or football match, so most of the sporting teams are shown as formal group portraits. However, he does give an insight into the very different activities enjoyed by men and women 100 years ago.  This photograph is of "Mrs Potts and her dogs" in 1889.

The greasy pole competition at the Flower Show in Rectory Meadow. Dr Henderson in the trilby is judging. 1917

The start of the Amersham Marathon race at the Market Hall was photographed by more than one camera as we can see the leg of a tripod on the right hand side. 1922

Amersham Football Team in fancy dress c. 1896. The team was started in 1890 by the Rev. E B Cooper, Headmaster of Dr. Challoner’s Grammar School, standing on the left.

Amersham Flower Show in Dovecotes Meadow from the Broadway in 1894

An elderly lady in a bath chair with a young companion in 1895

The Ford family with children riding in a goat cart in 1895

Mrs Drake of Shardeloes, dressed in a riding habit and riding side saddle, poses on a hunter outside the stables 1889

Two young women in a donkey cart

Mrs Higham-Hunt of Hyde Heath with horse & cart

What a picture!
George Ward was both a commercial photographer and a chronicler of events in the town. Some of his surviving photographs were clearly commissions, whilst others appear to reflect his own interests or were perhaps taken for friends. The resulting miscellany offers a unique insight into local happenings.  The photograph to the right is of a temporary statue in Market Square of the Mayor of "Umberminster" for the film 'As He Was Born, 1919.

Weller's dray in the Broadway dressed for the Coronation in 1911

Harry Gilbert in pony and cart in Amersham High Street. Not much traffic! 1912

Sheep in the High Street near the Market Hall during the Whit Monday cattle fair 1905

A stranded biplane somewhere near Amersham c. 1915

Milk churns in the foreground at Amersham station c. 1925

Celebrating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee outside the Post Office 1887

Oakfield Corner in Amersham-on-the-Hill in the 1920s before traffic increased

All aboard. Setting off on the annual Baptist Chapel outing. 1900

Frith House in the High Street decorated for Edward VII’s coronation 1901

Touring Preachers visit Amersham in 1896

The Great War 1914-18
George Ward took many photos during WWI and these show soldiers and recruits, also something  of what happened to those left behind.  

A "silver bullet" for the Kaiser. Miss Ford raising money for wounded soldiers during the First World War. Coins have been pressed into the marrow which has been painted with the face of the Kaiser

Parade next to the Market Hall in WWI

More fund raising for the war effort

Parading with the Scouts in the High Street

Shock horror! Young women in uniform smoking in public.

Recruits on the left in Market Square

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Credits: Story

All the photographs were taken by George Ward (1860-1943) of Amersham, Bucks and were digitised between 2004 and 2011 by Amersham Museum (which owns the copyright of the digitised images) from the original glass negatives.

This "exhibition" is based on one created by Jane Bowen in 2008 when she was the Curator. It has been updated in 2015 by Emily Toettcher, the current Curator, and Anthony del Tufo to include some of the Ward images donated or acquired since 2008.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.