Glass lantern slides that preserve the past
We are extremely lucky in the Astons to have a fascinating collection of Victorian glass lantern slides, which are generally thought to have been taken by the Reverend Curry of the Presbyterian Church in Spring Lane, where he was in office from 1892 to his death in 1921, and who was a keen amateur photographer.
Rev Thomas CURRY was born 1845 in Northumberland and was married to Mary Jane Fuller, of the predominant non conformist family in the Astons at that time - after whom Fullers Road is named. Mary’s younger and unmarried sister was Lucy Fuller, the last Fuller to live in the Astons, and the author of a history of the village written in 1921, originally given as a talk to the village Women's Institute. It is a comprehensive history and having been written so soon after the First World War it includes some interesting insights into village life at that time. It was reprinted by the Astons History Group - see their publications page for details.
Curry seemed to have made a deliberate effort to include people as subjects in his photos. On closer examination of some of the photos, we have noticed that in his pictures of a house, there is often a small figure sat in the front or standing at the side of each house. Most of these, we think were the inhabitants of those houses and by checking the two census returns that fell either side of his period of filming (1891 and 1901) we can now make a pretty good stab at knowing who these people are.
Because these glass slides were often used in local lantern slide projection shows before WW1, we were able to ask the older members of the village in the 1960’s and 1970’s who some of the people in the photos were. The notes accompanying this photo of the men standing outside The Smithy (see below) states that the picture pre-dates 1897 as in 1897, The Finch family, who owned The Smithy sold it to the Corderoy family. So, this gives us a date to work from.
Pictured right: Reverend Curry in the garden of the Manse in Baker Street.
When Thomas Curry retired the collection passed to the next minister, the Reverend Lyons, and in turn to his daughter. Miss Jean Lyons lived in the village for most of her life, but when she left the village in the late 1980's she gave the collection to a friend and neighbour, Barbara Engledue, and when Barbara died they were passed to her cousin Stephen Whitwell (a significant recorder of village history) and when Stephen left the village he passed them to his friend and neighbour, Mike Page. Mike converted them into 35mm slides, which were in turn digitised in the 1990's by his granddaughter Anna Dillon. In 1995, when he left the village, Mike gave the original glass lantern slides to the Astons History Group. Below are his notes to his daughter Judy at the time of the handover.
"The slides) were presumed taken towards the end of the last century, or perhaps a little later. For instance, the picture of St Michael’s church is without a clock face and we know that this was put up in 1896.The slides are glass ‘sandwiches’ with the photographic images as the meat in the sandwich, on one of the pieces of glass. Some are cracked or otherwise damaged, probably by being dropped during slide shows. It was to avoid this risk that we got the 35mm copies made. The descriptions of each picture are based upon the bits of paper in the folder and on detailed examination of each one to verify or amend details. The numbering was altered at some time in the past, and there is therefore no direct correlation between the early pencilled list (which is nevertheless interesting on its own account) and the other lists. The present numbering is that which Stephen Whitwell and I inherited when we went through them all, but I lettered the non-Astons ones. My original sorting and indexing was done at the request of Barbara Engledue, who was their ‘guardian’ until just before she died."
The Blacksmiths Story:
This picture of the five men taken outside of The Smithy in Aston Upthorpe is especially interesting as this is the only picture we have where there is a close-up detailed portrait of village people (other than members of the Curry or Fuller families who appear in several of the photos). We have been able to name four out of five of the men in this photo and at least know who the fifth was.The grey horse, we were told, belonged to Reverend Sir John Leigh Hoskyns, the minister of St Michael’s Church Aston Tirrold who lived, with his family in The Rectory next door to the church
1st man from the left. The man on the far left of the picture holding the horse is Sir John Leigh Hoskyn’s groom. We were not given his name. The census returns do not give us any further clues. There were several men shown with the occupation of groom living in the village and, as we do not know his name, we therefore cannot find out any more about him.
2nd man from the left – a large man in a white shirt and leather apron. This was Stephen Elliott, a blacksmith. In 1891, he lived with his family in The Croft, Aston Tirrold and later by 1911 in Aston Street. Stephen or Steve as he is known in the information we have on the photo, was born around 1853 in Blewbury. He was the son of William and Hannah Elliott, who lived in Blewbury. Stephen was married to Rachel who was born in Upton. In 1897 this made Steve Elliott aged about 44. The Elliott family continued to live and work in the Astons through to 1911. The 1911 census shows that Stephen (still a Blacksmith) and Rachel his wife had been married 25 years and had had 3 children.
We think that whilst The Smithy was owned by the Finch family, Stephen Elliott was probably renting or sub-letting the Blacksmith part of The Smithy and carrying on the farrier or blacksmith part of his business from there.
3rd man from the left. The short man in the post office uniform with a badge on his jacket and a GPO hat is shown just as Lewington (postman). The added information we have is that he was one armed and that he had to go to Cholsey every day to pick up the post (presumably as it arrived by train and was sorted there) and bring it back to The Astons’ to distribute it. We do not know if that implied he lived in the Astons’ or elsewhere? We know this picture was taken before 1897. Between 1891 + 1901 there were 2 families of Lewington living and working in the Astons’. Both were shown as farm labourers or carters. These were 2 x brothers, (sons of Thomas and Ann Lewington). The Lewington family had been farm workers going back to the 1800’s in the Astons’. The first family was Charles Lewington and Maria his wife and the second family, George Lewington and Mary Ann his wife. The latter family of George and Mary Lewington had several children including 2 sons Gordon Edgar and Albert William Lewington – both brothers were killed in WW1. None of the censuses give us any hint of any alternative occupation as Postman. It may have been a part-time roll. The Lewington postman in 1897 looks to be a man in his 40’s or 50’s.
4th man from left. Wearing a leather apron and bent over shoeing the horse. This is Ben Mace who we are told in the notes was another smith from South Moreton. Ben looks quite young in this picture. We can find him in some of the censuses. In 1901 he is shown as a Blacksmith living in South Moreton and aged 32. He is shown as a lodger with another family called Thomas and Mercy Mace but is not shown as a relative to them. He was born around 1869. Therefore, aged about 27 or 28 in this picture.
5th man from left (far right) standing behind Ben Mace. We are told in the notes that this is Alf Gregory another smith from South Moreton. I found an Alfred Henry Gregory who was born in South Moreton in 1872, the son of George and Sophia Gregory and living in South Moreton in 1891. Whilst not found specifically shown as a Blacksmith, Alfred is found both in Moreton and in nearby villages in later censuses as a carter on some local farms. However, in the 1891 census, George Gregory is shown living in Mill Lane, South Moreton close by his older brother Joseph Gregory and his wife Harriet. The son of Joseph and Harriet Gregory is called Arthur Gregory and in 1891, aged 16, Arthur Gregory is shown as a blacksmith. Maybe the Alf Gregory remembered by an old villager is in fact Arf (for Arthur) Gregory?
According to notes written on the back of the photo, we know that the blacksmith’s premises were owned by Henry Finch who had been a small holder and farmer. It is likely this is the same Finch family that gave their name to the house Finches off Baker Street, in what had once been called Red Donkey Lane.
In 1891 Henry Finch, a widower, aged 83 is living in the cottage attached to The Smithy (far right as you look at it from the road) with his son Albert Finch aged 43, plus Albert’s wife Ellen and 4 children. Albert is shown on the 1891 census as a Builder and Carpenter. It is likely Albert used the premises and yard at the Smithy for his building business and perhaps sub-let or contracted out the Smithy part of it to Stephen Elliott. The Smithy consisted at this time of a house on the right (when looking at it from the road) and then 2 attached barns in a row. One of which later, fell down. For years, there was a gap between the house and the remaining barn. It was only after The Smithy was sold in the late 1980’s that the middle portion of what had been the barn was restored as part of a now, much extended dwelling house. It is likely that in the 1890’s, the wheelwright and smith part of the business may have been concentrated in one barn and the carpentry and building part of the business in the other.
By 1897, Henry Finch was dead and it looks like the Finch family probably fell on hard times as The Smithy was sold in 1897 to another local farmer called Josiah Corderoy of Blewbury.
By 1901 Albert Finch and family have left the area for a village in Hampshire called Weeke Within, not far from Winchester where Albert is still working as a Carpenter but as a worker (employed) not as an owner of his own business.
Josiah Corderoy, a farmer, the man who bought The Smithy in 1897, was one of a large family of Corderoy’s who lived in and originated from Blewbury. They were known to be close friends and business associates of the Fuller family who also originated from Blewbury. Josiah had a son called Joseph R Corderoy. In 1901 we can find Joseph Corderoy as a lodger in the Chequers Inn, Aston Tirrold . He is a wheelwright and carpenter and is shown as an employer. But the Corderoy family were not living in The Smithy in 1901. It is difficult in 1901 to make out who was living there but no one with an occupation of wheelwright or blacksmith was living there in 1901. Perhaps Joseph Corderoy was carrying on his wheelwright business in one of the barns there. Stephen Elliott and his family were still living in Aston Tirrold in 1901 and 1911, so maybe Steve Elliott was still carrying on the blacksmith business from The Smithy, renting the premises from the Corderoy family. We do know that the Corderoy family and their descendants can be found in at least 3 households by the 1911 census in Aston Tirrold and Upthorpe and remained in the Astons well into the late 1980s and some of them were living in The Smithy right up until when the family finally left the Astons.
In 1997 the History Group (now the Astons History Project) marked the centenary of the purchase of the recreation ground with their first exhibition - "Then and Now" - matching the Curry scenes with contemporary versions, also in black and white. The comparisons were fascinating.