December 30, 2015 by auntkatefirmin
Amy Beatrice Baynham was born on the 19th of August and baptized on the 28th of October, 1881, in Camberwell. Amy was the oldest of the four children of Kate Maud (born Firmin) and William Beavan Baynham. Mr Baynham was a chemist in Peckham and the children grew up in a well-to-do middle class home (which was also a shop) at 6 Rye Lane. The children’s schooling is not much discussed in the correspondence but it seems that none of the girls continued past the primary grades, though clearly their brother Horace had more education, or at least professional training, as he became a dentist.
The National Archives, in Kew, has a photograph of a cat named “Tresser” taken in 1898 by Amy’s father – could it be the same cat as in Amy’s portrait shown above? I have not spent the time to potentially pin down the date of the picture of Amy as a child – though it can’t be as late as 1898 as she is not 17 in the photo. What catches my attention is how short her hair is. Amy never mentioned a childhood illness, but I don’t recall that short hair cuts for children were fashionable in the 1890s which causes me to wonder if she had an extended illness or fever and had her hair cut as a result.
Amy and her siblings grew up in a London suburb in the vibrant Rye Lane shopping district, close to the intersection with Peckham High Street. Based on the 1891 census, the west side of the street had a bookseller, an ironmonger, the Baynham’s chemist & druggist shop, a boot & shoe dealer, an undertaker, a cutler, and a little farther down the street the medical offices of Dr. Josiah Blomfield. Many of the buildings on the west side of the street had originally been family residences but by 1891 most had been converted to shops and the premises extended into what had once been the front gardens.
The family lived across the street from Jones & Higgins drapery shop, which had opened around 1867 – something like a precursor to what was later called a department store. Did this inspire Amy with the desire to work in a retail shop?
By the time Amy was 17, the family had moved from Peckham to Woking; we know this because the copyright forms for the photo of the cat Tresser have the address of Commercial Road, Woking. It seems reasonable to conclude that Mr Baynham, like many chemist-druggists, dabbled in photography and may have sold photographic supplies. So far nothing has turned up in city directories to confirm the exact date the family moved to Woking or what advertisements he might have placed for his business. Now that I think about it, I find it very interesting that many of the family photographs provided by Amy do not have the business name anywhere on the mounting card, leading me to speculate that they were printed by her father. The exact location of their shop and residence in Woking has not been determined, in part because the 1901 census does not provide street numbers. They were still in Woking in 1905 when Amy’s Uncle Mick visited from Africa.
Amy’s mother kept up with her siblings that remained in England and the Baynham children knew their Firmin cousins. In particular, Amy and her cousin Fan remained close all their lives. No Baynham cousins are never mentioned in the letters, but in addition to the focus on the Firmin family, that may simply be a factor of time or distance as I have not fully researched William Baynham’s side of the family to be certain what members of the extended Baynham family were still living by 1948.
By the 1901 census, Amy was boarding at a drapery shop in Surbiton at 15 St James’ Road. At the time it was common for the staff to “live in” and she was one of eleven young women boarders living in the shop with the caretaker and his wife. I have not yet found the name of the shop.
In 1909, at the time of her marriage, Amy’s address was given as 1 Annett Road, Walton-on-Thames – possibly the house known as “Ivy Lea” where her parents lived in 1911. Her husband’s full name was Richard Percival Summers, he was an ironmonger, and at the time he lived at 20 Montpelier Vale, Blackheath, Lewisham. Percy’s father, Alfred Dever Summers, was listed with the profession of huntsman. Amy and Percy were married in St Mary’s Church in Walton-on-Thames. I do not recall a mention in the correspondence of how they met.
By the 1911 census, Amy was living with her parents at Ivy Lea on Annett Road with little Gwen who had been born in Blackheath in 1910. At a guess, for some time after their marriage Amy and Percy remained on Montpelier Road in Blackheath. But by 1911 Percy was over 100 miles away working as a butler in the household of Leonard & Edith Tate in “Swinford Lodge,” Swinford, an 11-room house with a cook and housemaid in addition to Percy. There is no indication in the correspondence of how Percy gained experience as a butler or why he was in Leicestershire. Percy’s father still lived in Hampshire in 1911, though he was a widower, retired from his profession as a huntsman, and lived as a boarder in Winchester. I don’t know if a little more research might turn up the employer of Alfred Summers and if that might provide a clue to Percy’s employment. Personal references were still a strong factor in employment in 1911 and if Percy’s employer (Mr Tate) was acquainted with Alfred Summers in his role as a huntsman that might be a start at understanding the situation.
Percy grew up in a family of seven children in Hampshire, and he was the sixth child. The Firmin correspondence seldom included information about in-laws so while Percy’s family history could be very interesting, I haven’t yet done much research on the Summers. Alfred Dever Summers did live to be 91 but how involved he, or any of the extended Summers family, was able to be with Amy, Percy, and little Gwen is as yet unknown. Gwen’s Summers grandmother, born Sophia Rowe, died in 1909, the year Percy & Amy were married, though preliminary research indicates Alfred may have married again.
Given Amy’s statement that Percy had been troubled by arthritis for 20 years, by the time their daughter Gwen was a young woman he may have had difficulty in finding employment. Amy never gave the date that she was able to buy the cottage where she lived in 1948, so we don’t know when she received the friend’s legacy she mentioned in her first letter that enabled her to purchase the property.
During much of their marriage Amy appears to have continued to work as a Buyer for Harrod’s. Her life actually sounds very modern – for a time, at least, both Amy and Percy were working and the grandparents took care of little Gwen. She enjoyed both the responsibility of her position and the work as she mentioned in later letters.
While the letters provide an interesting view into Amy’s daily life of 1948 to 1950, for much of her adult life the information we have is limited. Happily, while we don’t have all the details, we have the pleasure of knowing Amy through her attitude and sense of humor. As more of her letters are posted, it will be clear that whatever happened Amy did her best to create a cheerful, cozy home.
PS: For a detailed history of Rye Lane and Peckham see Central Peckham, London Borough of Southwark, Historic Area Assessment; there is a good photo of the intersection of Rye Lane and Peckham High Street from 1889 on page 31.