Life in Amersham 1880-1930

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

Amersham Broadway (1889) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Weller's Brewery, Amersham (1890) by George WardAmersham Museum

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.

Workmen building Amersham station (1892) by George WardAmersham Museum

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, Amersham (1883) by George WardAmersham Museum

Mr Ayres the blacksmith in 1883

Stevens the butcher's, Amersham (1922) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Mr Hazell the gamekeeper, Amersham by George WardAmersham Museum

Mr Hazell the gamekeeper with his dog in Cow Pastures

New gasholder, Amersham (1910) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Market Hall, Amersham - laying gas (1910) by George WardAmersham Museum

The gas company cart outside the Market Hall 1910

High Street, Amersham (1910) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Whielden Street, Amersham - new gas main (1910) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

George Ward Jnr outside his father's shop by George WardAmersham Museum

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 Jnr in his father's workshop, Amersham High Street (1890/1900) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Inside Bessie Ward's shop, Amersham (1890/1900) by George WardAmersham Museum

Bessie Ward's shop c. 1895

Amersham Sons of Temperance Brass (1890) by George WardAmersham Museum

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.

Amersham Town Band (1892) by George WardAmersham Museum

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 - self portrait (1913) by George WardAmersham Museum

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.

Elizabeth (Bessie) Ward by George WardAmersham Museum

Bessie Eagles, the future Mrs Ward, at Elmodesham House

Children in the Tan Yard, Amersham (1892) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Cornelius Ward with wooden horse, Amersham by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Member of the Amersham Horse-drawn Fire Brigade (1889) by George WardAmersham Museum

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.

Mother and daughter, Amersham (1892) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Mr Nichols the schoolmaster with his class of boys, Amersham (1895) by George WardAmersham Museum

Mr Nichols the schoolmaster with his class of boys 1895

Mr Clem Ford, manager of Weller’s Brewery (1892) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Mr Randell and Annie Swaby in theatrical costume (1895) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Mrs Toovey’s daughter, Amersham (1895) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

High Street, Amersham (1905) by George WardAmersham Museum

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.

Amersham from Coleshill Fields by George WardAmersham Museum

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

High Street, Amersham (1915) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Fire at the Malthouse behind the Broadway, Amersham (1890) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Jubilee Celebrations at the Hare and Hounds, Amersham (1895) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

First car accident in the High Street, Amersham (1930) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Market Square, Amersham (1890) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Town Mill, Amersham (1890/1900) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Boxing day meet, Market Sq, Amersham (1901) by George WardAmersham Museum

The Hunt meet in Market Square 1901

Another car owned by George Ward by George WardAmersham Museum

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.

George Ward's Orient Express with his wife and sons: George, William & Cornelius by George WardAmersham Museum

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

George Ward Jnr & William Ward outside Market Hall, Amersham by George WardAmersham Museum

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

St. Mary’s Church during the works in 1890 (1890) by George WardAmersham Museum

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. 

St Mary's Church, Amersham (1890) by George WardAmersham Museum

Scaffolding surrounds the church during the works in 1890

St Mary's Church, Amersham showing War Memorial by George WardAmersham Museum

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.

Union Workhouse, Amersham (1910) by George WardAmersham Museum

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.

Infirmary building at Amersham workhouse (1905) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Royal Bucks Laundry Van - Town Mill, Amersham by George WardAmersham Museum

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 shop, corner of Whielden St, Amersham (1889) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Wade's shop window, corner of Whielden St, Amersham (1889) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Butcher in Whielden Street, Amersham (1891) by George WardAmersham Museum

Scott's the butcher in Whielden Street 1891

Mrs Aldridge's toy shop, Amersham (1889) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Grocer's shop, Whielden St, Amersham (1888) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

James Gilbert on Weller's dray outside Queens Head, Chesham (1899) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Gurney's Butchers, Amersham (with oxen - Dumpling & Pudding) (1918) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Chesham Bois Dairy milk cart - Harry Gill (1921) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Percy Whitney, Whiteside's van, Amersham (1920) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Dancing Bears in the High Street, Amersham (1880) by Goerge WardAmersham Museum

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, Amersham (1920/1930) by George WardAmersham Museum

The annual Charter Fair c. 1925

Amersham Town Band leads the procession towards the annual Flower Show (1901) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Boxing day meet, Market Sq, Amersham (1901) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Under the Market Hall, Amersham (1899) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Loading wool at the Elephant & Castle, Amersham (1891) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Boys playing in the street in Market Square, Amersham (1899) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Amersham Baptist Sunday School with the Town Band (1893) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Mrs Potts and her dogs (1889) by George WardAmersham Museum

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.

Greasy pole competition in Rectory Meadow, Amersham (1917) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Start of Marathon from Market Hall, Amersham (1922) by Georeg WardAmersham Museum

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 in Barn Meadow (1896) by George WardAmersham Museum

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 from Broadway, Dovecotes Meadow (1894) by George WardAmersham Museum

Amersham Flower Show in Dovecotes Meadow from the Broadway in 1894

Elderly lady in bath chair with companion (1895) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Ford family with goat cart, High Street, Amersham (1895) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Mrs Drake, Great Shardeloes, Amersham (1889) by George WardAmersham Museum

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 by George WardAmersham Museum

Two young women in a donkey cart

Mrs Higham-Hunt of Hyde Heath with horse & cart by George WardAmersham Museum

Mrs Higham-Hunt of Hyde Heath with horse & cart

Temporary statue in Market Square, Amersham for film (1919) by George WardAmersham Museum

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 dressed for Coronation (1911) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Harry Gilbert in pony and cart, Amersham (1912) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Sheep in Amersham High street during Whit Monday cattle fair (1905) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Crashed biplane (1915) by George WardAmersham Museum

A stranded biplane somewhere near Amersham c. 1915

Milk churns on Amersham station platform (1920/1930) by George WardAmersham Museum

Milk churns in the foreground at Amersham station c. 1925

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, Post Office, Amersham (1887) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Oakfield Corner, Amersham by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Baptist Chapel outing, Amersham (1900) by Georeg WardAmersham Museum

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

Amersham High Street decorated for Edward VII’s coronation (1901) by George WardAmersham Museum

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

Kensit's Wickliffe Preachers and children, Amersham (1896) by Georg WardAmersham Museum

Touring Preachers visit Amersham in 1896

Miss Ford collecting for "Silver bullet for Kaiser" in Amersham (1916) by George WardAmersham Museum

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 Market Hall, Amersham (1915) by George WardAmersham Museum

Parade next to the Market Hall in WWI

Raising money for the war effort, Amersham (1915) by George WardAmersham Museum

More fund raising for the war effort

Army and scouts parade in front of The Gables, High St, Amersham (1915) by George WardAmersham Museum

Parading with the Scouts in the High Street

Three female recruits smoking in public, Amersham (1915) by George WardAmersham Museum

Shock horror! Young women in uniform smoking in public.

Recruits in Market Square, Amersham (1915) by George WardAmersham Museum

Recruits on the left in Market Square

Museum front nowAmersham Museum

Amersham Museum

For information about the museum, see www.AmershamMuseum.org

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.

www.AmershamMuseum.org www.AmershamHistory.info/people/george-ward

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.