A History of Preston in Hertfordshire
Tom Ashton - Preston’s baker
Tom Ashton was the baker in Preston from the mid-1880’s. Born on 5 April 1856 in the village of Hawnes, Beds, Tom was the son of master baker James Ashton and Elizabeth. He was brought up in the Bedfordshire village of Shillington where, at the age of 14, he assisted his father in the bakery.
Marriage and family
In 1878, Tom (21) married Catherine (Kate) Smith (21) at Shillington. Catherine was the daughter of publican Frederick Smith. He kept the ‘Queens Head’, Swan Street, Weston, Herts. Tom and Catherine had eight children born between 1878-1900:
Charlotte Smith Selina Augusta Thomas Reginald James Stephen Rosa Caroline Mary Elizabeth Catherine Rose
born 1878 born 1879 born 1882 born 1884 born 1887 born 1889 born 1893 born 1900
Tom and Catherine were living at Arlesly, Bedfordshire in 1878. By the winter of 1884 they had moved to Stevenage, Herts and they arrived in Preston a few years later.
Right, Tom and Catherine (Kate) Ashton circa 1878
They put down their roots at ‘The Old Forge’, Church Road, which they rented from Geoffrey Pryor. Their home was almost opposite the lych-gate of St Martins Church. This was a convenient location for Tom as he was the organist at the church. His daughter Catherine pumped the organ bellows. If Tom thought the sermon was dragging, he would look at his watch and glance meaningfully at the vicar. On the subject of Tom’s bakery business, in his history of Preston Cricket Club, D. Frost described his fond memories of Tom’s ‘delicious rock cakes’ which were supplied for the cricketers’ afternoon teas. Villagers, such as my aunt, Maggie Whitby (nee Wray), delivered Tom’s bread and cakes by bicycle and 14- year-old Reginald Peters was a bakery helper in 1901. Like many of the tradesmen in Preston, Tom had his own means of transport - a pony and trap - which he used to collect supplies and deliver his delicacies. He also used the trap to visit his brother Arthur in Hitchin. Sometimes he would fall asleep on the return journey - but the pony would take him safely home.
The Ashtons at Preston
Re: the Ashton children
Tom and Catherine sent their children to Preston School. There are some informative comments about them in the school log book: 1 Nov 1896 - ‘Carrie (Ashton) is not quite seven and has been away with whooping cough and is quite deaf and very backward. I have put her back to first class infants.’ 5 Aug 1898 - ‘Rosa has gone to Stevenage to help her sister.’ 17 Jan 1896 - ‘Stephen (Standard V) ran out of school this morning to escape a caning. It will be necessary to complain to his parents and get their consent to give him a double punishment.’ 6 Oct 1899 - ‘Rosa, a bright girl in Standard V died Sunday 1 October from typhoid fever and pneumonia.
L to r: Thomas ; Charlotte ; Rosa; Selina and Stephen
Tom Ashton, the man
Discovering what ‘made things tick’ was a passion for Tom. He liked clocks and delighted in repairing them. ‘The Old Forge’ resounded not with the sound of a blacksmith’s hammer but with a cacophony of chimes from the many clocks which festooned its walls. Tom also made a crystal radio set from a kit. He would listen to broadcasts of classical music and, as he was able to read music, he would follow recitals using his own score. He played the organ for St Martin’s congregation. Clearly Tom was one of Preston’s familiar figures. On one occasion he organized a charabanc trip for the villagers to watch the Derby horse race at Epsom. Tom was the enumerator at Preston when the 1911 census was taken. Perhaps not quite so well appreciated by the locals was his work as rating officer for Preston. At the Preston parish meeting of March 1895, Tom was appointed ‘overseer’.
Catherine died on 28 May 1926 - shortly after her daughter Mary Elizabeth’s wedding photograph was taken. (see below) Tom was in constant pain from a hernia - common baker’s injury. He died on 25 April 1934. Tom and Catherine are buried in a double grave in St Martins churchyard (see right)
The marriage of Mary Elizabeth Ashton to Sidney R Skinner in 1926. This family photograph was taken outside ‘The Old Forge’, Church Road, Preston. Front row , l to r: ?,?,?,?, Sidney R Skinner (groom), Mary Elizabeth Ashton (bride), -, Catherine (Kate) Ashton, Tom Ashton.
Left: Three generations of Ashtons in 1926c - Tom, son Stephen and grandson, Thomas. Stephen exaggerated his age and called himself Charles S. Ashton in order to join the army. He served in the Boer War and World War I in Egypt. By contrast, Stephen’s brother, Thomas jnr (above, right - who was married, living at 24 Bucklesbury, Hitchin and employed as a manager at a yeast company) sought to avoid conscription in November 1916.
(I am grateful to Wendy Dinsdale and June Nicholson for their help, memories and photographs which make this page so interesting)
In October 1910. Katie (Catherine) Ashton was one of three Preston children who wrote a short story which was published in the Daily Mirror. Link: Mirror article