John Eayrs 1862 - 1940
John is born in 1862 at 9 Bath Row, the son of cooper Benjamin Eayrs and his wife, Elizabeth, both non-conformists. John's father dies when he is twelve and at fourteen he starts work in his aunts' pawnbrokers and boot-sellers shop in Broad Street. Meanwhile, John's elder sister Millicent works as a teacher at St George's National School on Wharf Road, where she will eventually become head.
In 1889 John (who has evidently been training as a tailor) marries Manton blacksmith's daughter Gertrude Tyler and in 1891 we find the couple renting 3 St John's Street, Stamford, which is to remain their home and business premises for the rest of their lives. Daughter Sybil is born later that year, followed in quick succession by siblings Millicent and John junior (Jack).
Meanwhile, John takes a somewhat political stance by joining the town's Early-Closing Movement, 22 years ahead of the legislation that is finally to reduce the standard working week from 72 hours to 60 hours. The initiative divides opinion in the town, with more resistance to the idea of shops closing on Saturday evenings than to half-day (note - starting at 4 pm) closing on Thursdays.
Despite his long working hours and the demands of a young family, John manages to make time for a variety of
leisure and civic pursuits. In 1892 we find him involved in Stamford Harriers Athletics Club, as well as the Oddfellows. Two years later he has become treasurer of the former and secretary of the junior branch of the latter and is actively involved in the local quoits club. Business is going well and John advertises for a tailor, improver level, curiously adding 'indoor work.'
John Eayrs was exactly the kind of respectable town shop-keeper Lord Exeter had in mind when creating the gardens. A tailor and gentlemen's outfitter and leading light in the popular local Oddfellows' Lodge, he was also supplier of bunting for every high day and holiday the town celebrated.
On 27 June 1890 the Mercury reports:
'The early-closing movement amongst the drapers which was reported a few weeks since has not lately met with much success. The proposal to close at 4pm on Thursdays will, however, be carried out by some houses, including Messrs Sellers, Seccombe, G Chapman and Son, C Wood, S Potter and R Tidd. The tailors and outfitters have also fallen in with the arrangement, namely, Messrs Hassan Bros, Stoyell, Middleton, Sayer, W Plant, W Aitken, J Eayrs & Co, and Mrs Parker; also J Jenkinson and Son, W P Dolby and J H Howard, stationers.' (1)
'An entertainment for the benefit of this society was given in the Oddfellows'-hall on Friday evening, when Mr W F Markwick (headmaster of St Michael's Boys' Elementary School) gave a very interesting lecture on "A Trip to Switzerland." This was illustrated by means of a lantern by 50 capital dioramic views. Mr Corkett manipulated the lantern. The chair was taken by Mr Thos Hart. After the lecture life-size portraits of the president (Mr Hart), vice-president (Mr Dodman), and secretary (Mr Eayrs) were thrown on the screen; also a facsimile of the emblem which is to be presented to the three boys who proposed the greatest number of juveniles during the year. During an interval the following programme was admirably rendered: Pianoforte solo, " Modern music," Master F Dodman; song, " The last milestone," Mr Dodman ; duet, " Ora pro nobis," Masters H Green and F Dodman ; pianoforte solo, " Un du Ciel," Master A Coley ; comic song, " I'll ask my mother," (encore, " Down the sea"), Mr G Terry.' Stamford Mercury 2 March 1894 (1)
The Independent Order of Oddfellows is one of the oldest fraternal organisations, although its early history is obscure. Some authorities argue it was formed for the benefit of individuals following unusual or miscellaneous 'odd' occupations, which fell outside the major trade guilds and therefore had no access to financial security during times of sickness or other hardship. By the 19th century the Oddfellows focused primarily on providing recreational facilities and on promoting philanthropy, charity and the ethic of reciprocity.
Stamford's Oddfellows Hall was built in 1876 for the town's Loyal Albion Lodge and provided two large halls, the upper seating 450 and the lower 250. In the early 20th century it became a cinema and was subsequently converted into flats.
'Look The Problem In The Face'
John and Gertrude live and work only two doors down from St John's and in September 1897 they are involved in a fundraising initiative for the church, led by Mr & Mrs Edward Blackstone of Rock House. John receives an honourable mention for providing bunting; indeed he seems to be on permanent standby with bunting for
every celebration. The event is a great success in the afternoon, owing partly to the unexpected appearance of the Marquess and Marchioness of Exeter but, as the Mercury intriguingly puts it,'in the evening many who would otherwise have been present were beguiled by the seductions of a menagerie.' (1)
All in all the affair sounds splendid 'The grounds of The Rock had been made very attractive through the exertions of Messrs Blackstone and others. The house was decorated with flags, whilst in all directions there was a profusion of fairy lights, Chinese lanterns etc and when all were lighted the effect was charming.. "God Save The Queen" having been played by the band, his Lordship, Lady Exeter, and Lady Westmorland then made a tour of the grounds and made many purchases. The stalls had been erected under marquees, and they were well laden with goods ... Mrs Winhall and Miss Dolby had transformed the circular greenhouse into a fair bower, laden with flowers, fruit, &c, and here a good business was done in nosegays... Mr Fields looked after the fish pond, where useful goods were angled for a small charge, and much amusement was caused ...'(1)
Although £50 is raised, the poor evening attendance stings.'During the afternoon and evening excellent entertainments had been arranged for a large marquee, which had been erected on the tennis lawn. This department was under the charge of Mr George Blackstone and Mr H E Sergeant. Unfortunately, several of these had to be omitted owing to the small attendance. Dr Farrar, Mr Copley (the Infirmary), and Miss Evans gave a splendid performance of "Uncle's Will", which was much appreciated and certainly deserved better patronage.'Nonetheless, the Rector expressed gratitude and Lord Exeter
spurred everyone on with his robust encouragement to 'look the problem in the face.' (1)
1898 finds John as banquet organiser for the Oddfellows' Diamond Jubilee celebrations, and two years later he is organising their Patriotic Smoking Concert - a form of gentleman's entertainment much approved of by Lord Exeter, who attends in person. John is clearly still interested in sport, as he is on the Stamford Town Football Club general and match committees.
In 1901 Gertrude's young brother, Percy Tyler, a 19 year old cycle-maker, is lodging with the family and the same year John's Aunt Elizabeth, who gave him his first job, is declared bankrupt.
Elizabeth's money problems are in stark contrast to John's own financial acumen, as in 1902 he buys the freehold for No 1 St John's Street for the not unsubstantial sum of £570, meaning he is finally both the proprietor and the owner of Nos 1-3. He seems to have inherited prudence from his parents as, although his father had only been a cooper, Benjamin left his widow enough money to remain in their Bath Row house supported by an annuity after his early death. She later moved to Adelaide Street, where she died suddenly of a stroke in 1896.
It is in February 1903 we discover John's connection with the gardens when he advertises one to let. How long he has been a tenant and why he chooses to sub-let at this point we do not know. It is the same year the Eayrs family is completed with the arrival of second son, Harry.
Situated on bustling St John's Street - a notorious accident blackspot - in 1905 and 1906 John and his staff provide assistance in two nasty road incidents:
'An unfortunate accident befell a little girl named Short, of Harcourt Terrace, Casterton-road, on Friday afternoon. She was standing near the edge of the pavement close to Mr J Eayrs' shop at the bottom of St John's-street, when a horse and cart, belonging to Mr F Smith, Oakham, but driven by a man named Bent, turned the corner and knocked the child into the road. One of the wheels passed over her right hand, crushing the third and little fingers. Some slight injury was also done her face. The unfortunate child was surgically attended by Dr. Boyd.' Stamford Mercury 26 May 1905 (1)
'An unfortunate accident occurred in St John's street on Wednesday afternoon. A brougham from the Stamford Hotel was proceeding round the corner at the bottom of the street, and at the bar at the back of the vehicle sat a little boy named Ralph, whose parents reside in Bentley-street. By some means the little lad got his right leg over the springs, and it became entangled in one of the wheels, with the result that his thigh was fractured. His cries drew attention to his sad plight, and fortunately the brougham was quickly pulled up or the consequences must have been fatal. With difficulty he was extricated and removed to Mr J T Eayrs' residence close to, where he received attention from Dr Smith. Later he was removed to the Infirmary.' Stamford Mercury 30 November 1906 (1)
Family life seems to continue fairly uneventfully for the next few years. In the 1911 census we find John junior has joined the family firm as a tailor, whilst Sybil is following in her Aunt Millicent's footsteps and working as a teacher.
John's elder sister, Millicent Eayrs, retired from her role as head teacher of St George's National School for Infants in 1921. In the front row of this photo we see (left to right) Millicent, niece Edith Wilcox, and Edith's mother, Lavinia. Lavinia was married to John's younger brother, Arthur, a cabinet-maker. Arthur and Lavinia had a house on St Leonard's Street and Millicent lived nearby at 10 Wharf Terrace. Millicent outlived both her younger brothers, dying in December 1947 at the age of 87. (2)
When war breaks out son Jack serves as a Corporal in the Royal Engineers, attaining the Victory Medal and British War Medal. In 1918 he rejoins his father's business, which keeps its head above water throughout the difficult years of the Depression.
But as the family regains one child it loses another when daughter Sybil marries Scotsman Frederick Swan in 1919 and moves to Cardiganshire. Fifty years previously her great-aunt Susannah had worked in Wales for a while as a servant, so perhaps a family connection remains. Daughter Millicent does not marry and remains in Stamford for the rest of her life.
Gertrude dies in 1936 and John senior finally retires about that time. He dies four years later on 27 January 1940.
SOURCES AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
(1) The British Newspaper Archive © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. All Rights Reserved.
(2) Kind courtesy of the Lincolnshire Museums Service.
Copyright © Karen Meadows 2018