SUTERS THE EARLY YEARS - Part Two
A LEDBURY DRAPER Extracts from Suter Family History by Richard Ensor
Please note that if click on some of the images on this page they will enlarge
Drapery and Millinery - George William and Elizabeth Suter - 1890's to 1913
Following his retirement, George Allison Suter and Maria moved in with their daughter and her husband and George William and Elizabeth started their married life in the flat over the shop where drapery and millinery had equal status.
George Allison and Maria were living with Frank Denning and Elizabeth at the date of George Allison's will in 1897 and, following his death, Maria aged 70 is recorded as living with her daughter and son in law, at the time of the 1901 Census. The household at 'the Elms' also included one general domestic servant - a German girl aged 22.
Maria's first grandchild, George Arthur, was born over the High Street shop in 1895. He had fair hair - a Suter characteristic shared by later generations - a lock, now golden in colour, survives. However, additional space was soon needed for the rapidly expanding family. George Arthur was followed by a second son, William Clarence, in 1896 (also born with blond curls) by which time the family were living in Bank House in the street in Ledbury called 'Southend'.
A daughter, Winifred Elizabeth, was born in 1898. A third son, Frank Cyril, followed in July 1901 by which time the presence of the family is recorded in the Census of 1901. This was, also, the year (according to a surviving certificate) in which George William Suter was admitted to the Third Degree of Masonry in the Eastnor Masonic Lodge.
Death of George Allison Suter
After providing a life interest for Maria, George Allison Suter divided his property between his three children. He gave to his daughter Elizabeth Dack Denning the six freehold houses Nos 30, 32, 34, 36, 38 and 40 Luna Road, Thornton Heath, Surrey, the bequest stating that allowance had been made for gifts made to her brothers during his lifetime. George William received the freehold house and shop No 5 High Street, Ledbury and the mortgage on Elms Cottage New Street Ledbury. Finally the youngest, Frank Allison Suter, received three freehold houses known as Sydney Villa, Otamata Villa and Whynot Villa in Frant Road Thornton Heath and a further two freehold houses Nos 58 and 60 Heath Road Thornton Heath.
Frank Allison had married in 1897, the year before his father's death, Miriam Ruth Vinden. (Auntie Mim) who was the daughter of William Allwright Vinden and Mary Ann Lucas. Miriam's father was a dairyman and councillor at Norwood and her father's father had been a grocer and Baptist Minister in Reading. At the time of the 1901 Census Frank and Miriam were living at 38 Hamlet Court Road, Prittlewell in south east Essex together with Alice Edwards aged 16 who was their 'general domestic servant'.
Frank and Miriam had two children, May Vinden (Maisie) born in 1901 and Ernest Frank born in 1905, both of whom established families. May married Frederick Campbell Stewart in 1924 and had four children all of who married. Ernest married Leonora Harrod in 1933 and had a daughter who in turn married and had two children. In 1901 the Census recorded Frank's profession as 'Dairyman' and that he was an 'Employer'. Unhappily, Frank Allison's business dealings were not successful.
There was a business known as 'Suter-Campbell Oils' which failed and Frank became bankrupt. In 1928 he took his own life at Markyate on the A5 Watling Street in Hertfordshire where he had the garage.
Bank House, Ledbury
The particulars describe the house: "The Residence is brick-built and roofed with slate, and the accommodation comprises:
In the basement (which has a separate entrance from the level of the Garden), Scullery with range, furnace, sink, soft water pump, sink, hard water tap and slab, Larder with stone slab and shelves, Coal Cellar and Wine Cellar with bins.
On the Ground Floor, Entrance Hall, Large Dining Room, Drawing Room with French window opening to Garden, Kitchen with range and large store cupboards.
On the First Floor, a large front Bedroom, Bedroom with dressing room adjoining.
On the Second Floor, large front Bedroom, Bedroom, Bath Room with hot and cold water, Bath, Lavatory Basin and Airing Cupboards and WC.
The Town water and gas are laid on and the gas fittings, Blinds and other tenants fixtures which are the property of the Vendor in this Sale are included.
There is an excellent walled-in Garden which has an entrance from the South Parade and contains a Pigs Cot and Closet."
While Bank House was a substantial four bedroom house George William had a large household! The 1901 Census records as living in the house: (1) George William Suter aged 33, (2) his wife Elizabeth Suter aged 28, (3) his son George A. Suter aged 6, (4) his son Clarence W. Suter aged 5, (5) his daughter Winifred E. Suter aged 2, (6) his sister in law Sarah E. Bill aged 31 whose profession is given as 'Housekeeper Domestic' and status as 'Worker', (7) a 'boarder' Sarah H. Ashby aged 25 whose profession was 'Milliner' and status 'Worker', (8) another 'Boarder' Gertrude F. Farrington aged 20 whose profession was 'Drapers Assistant', (9) a third 'Boarder' Alice M. Griffiths aged 17 who was a 'Drapers Apprentice', (10) a fourth 'Boarder' Reginald E. Twycross aged 17 who was also a 'Drapers Apprentice', and finally (11) a 'Servant' Fanny Freer aged 11 whose 'profession' is given as 'General Servant Domestic'.
If they all slept at the house there could not have been very much spare space! However, George William may have had some 'overflow' accommodation nearby in Southend. The Census does not specify that they were all at Bank House -merely at an address in Southend Street.
The boys both had birthdays in the same week in March. Clarence's was on the sixth and Arthur's on the twelfth of the month. In 1901 their grandmother, Maria, who was still living with her daughter and son-in-law Elizabeth and Frank Denning at 'The Elms' wrote them both birthday letters. The letter to Clarence (aged 5) is dated the 5th March and reads:
My dear little Clarence,
I wish you many happy returns of your birth day, I have sent you 5/- your dear mother must buy you what she thinks best for your Grandmother is very sorry to hear you are not well but hope you are better,
Thank you for your Xmas letter but you know I was very ill and could not write you then,
Will you give my love to Arthur and Winnie tell them if I live I shall write to them someday, I think you have got a little brother I have not seen I hope you are very good to him,
I think you are a very little boy to go to school and learn all you can and after a time you will be useful to dear Father and Mother and that will be nice to help them,
Goodbye dear from your ever Affectionate Grandmother M. Suter
A few days letter Arthur received his 'birthday letter' from Maria:
My Dear Arthur
I wish you many happy returns of your birth day. I hope you will enjoy it & have a nice Cake for your tea for Market day you cannot have a party of little friends. I often wish I could just drop & see you all. Now you are 6 years old you will soon be a useful little boy to your dear father & mother & be pleased to do what they tell you & when you see brother or little sister doing anything which you know is wrong you must tell them not to do it.
Aunty Denning wants to know when she is to have a letter she thought she was to have one when your thumb was well, but I expect you have almost forgotten how to write not been to school for so long, but never mind you will soon learn again. I think you take Winnie to Chapel now. I hope you are all very quiet & good children
I have sent you 2/6 the same as Clarence
You must kiss them for me Your ever loving Grandmother M Suter
Maria seems to have forgotten that Clarence had received 5/- on his birthday!
A photograph of the family taken in the garden of Bank House, Ledbury in 1903, has Elizabeth and George William standing at the back with Clarence (in front of his mother), Winifred, Frank (on the rocking horse) and Arthur. (aged 8) The family are at the foot of the steps leading down from the Drawing Room French window and the entrance to the basement can be seen on the right.
Bank House was in Southend and a photo taken in 1904 can be found in 'A Glimpse of Old Ledbury'. A horse and trap are being driven away from the Royal Oak Hotel and a small flock of sheep are being driven up the street.
A growing family
Both the two elder boys, Arthur and Clarence, started at the Russell Endowed School in Ledbury otherwise known as Mr Wade's School (after the Headmaster). The school was fee-paying and later became Ledbury Grammar School.. A small pocket Dictionary, belonging to Arthur, survives marked "G.A. Suter Southend Ledbury".
A fifth child and fourth son, John Dack, was born in 1907. There is a photograph taken in about 1910, in which he stands on the steps leading up to Bank House in a dress clutching a teddy bear and with what appears to be a grubby chin.
There is also a photo (in the form of a post card) of John seated with his mother and her sister Francis (Fanny) who had married a master draper of Farnham. The card has a message from Elizabeth to her sister Catherine (Kate) who had married George Westbury.
George Suter preserved an invoice and an account rendered from the Ledbury shop. The Ladyday 1909 account is particularly interesting in that it is addressed to 'Mr Bill' (presumably Ernest Bill who had married Elizabeth Suter's sister Sarah) and was receipted as paid by 'G.A.Suter'. Arthur must have been helping his father in the shop. His grandmother, Maria, would have been pleased!
Arthur (George Arthur Suter), who was the eldest of the brothers, left home in 1911 in order to start a drapery apprenticeship with Frank Cast of Oxford. The Autograph Book given to Arthur by his Auntie Fanny in 1909 contains three entries signed by friends living in Oxford in October 1911. The apprenticeship was continued with Wellsteads in Reading. From there he moved on to Mathew Rose of Hackney where he was still working in October 1913 but, whether he was suffering from lack of interest in the drapers trade or began to feel that there might be better prospects elsewhere, he decided to make a change and accepted a job with Welford Surrey Dairies of which Frank Denning was joint Managing Director with Mr R. W. Welford.
When Clarence left school in 1912 his father decided that he should also 'learn the business'. In an interview given to the Slough Observer many years later Clarence told the reporter that he was apprenticed for three years to Mr Harry Loomes who had a drapery shop in Colchester: "My father insisted that I went away to learn the business thoroughly," he recalled in the soft West Country burr which has never left him during his 60 years "in exile".
"The learning was pretty tough. We lived in the shop, and were paid only 2s.0d a week until we had finished our indentures when we received the fine sum of £20 a year. We worked terrifically long hours, sometimes until 11 p.m. at night, and while we didn't actually sleep under the counter, the conditions - particularly the food were not all that good. The discipline was tough too. We were not allowed to go near a customer until we had at least six months' training, and when we were eventually regarded as good enough to serve, woe betide us if we were unable to sell a customer who had asked for a particular article which was not in stock, something else." - Slough Observer 1970
Ledbury was a busy town and crowded, particularly on market days. The High Street continued to be thick with stalls and George William's shop was well placed right in the midst of the crowds. Ledbury enjoyed its share of political excitement and there is an photo of the shop taken over the heads of a women's suffrage meeting
The Suter family in 1914
Left: Ledbury High Street in the first World War - "Armed Forces High Street Looking South , Soldiers Marching with Rifles" displayed on this site with kind permission from Herefordshire Council Library Visit their Hereforshire History site Here
George William Suter was aged 47 in 1914 and had owned the drapers business in Ledbury since the death of his father sixteen years previously in 1898. His wife, Elizabeth, who had worked in the shop in the early years of their marriage had long since become exclusively occupied in raising their five children and running their extended household. This included, at one time or another, apprentices and assistants working in the High Street shop and members of her own family. Elizabeth's children were born spread out over a period of 12 years and from 1898 until the two elder sons Arthur and Clarence were ready to leave school in 1911 and 1912 the family home at Bank House must have been a very busy place.
By the summer of 1914 the two elder boys were living away from home. Arthur was in digs in Croydon and was working for the dairy company owned by his uncle Frank Denning. Clarence was nearing the end of his apprenticeship as a draper in Colchester. The family required less space than formerly and had moved out of Bank House and into the smaller West View. All three of the younger children had started at school. The boys Frank, aged 12 and John, aged 6, were at the Grammar School formerly the Russell Endowed School. Winifred, aged 16, had been at school in South Norwood living with her Aunt and Uncle Denning in term time and returning home for the holidays. 1914 was, probably, the year she left school and started a Secretarial course in London.
The wider family included Uncle Frank Denning and Aunt Elizabeth Dack, the Mayor and Mayoress of Croydon. They were now childless but took a keen and benevolent interest in their nephews and nieces, particularly Winifred and Arthur.. Winifred, was increasingly assisting her aunt and uncle in their official duties and when she married fifteen years later the local paper commented on the help she had provided and the fact that she had, consequently, became well known in the area.
At least two members of Elizabeth Suter's family had come to live in or near Ledbury. Auntie Sally who had married Uncle Ernest Bill was living at Shears Bank. She had remained close to Elizabeth and had helped out with the children when they were younger. A further sister, Martha Fisher, (Auntie Pattie) was married to George Ketley who worked in the Suters Drapery shop. Her sister Kate, living in Bromsgrove, was also relatively close to Ledbury. Kate was married to George Westbury and they had a daughter Winifred born in 1897.
There are studio portraits of Winifred Westbury taken with her parents (above left) and on her own (above right) in about 1903-04 and there is also a combined portrait taken in about 1914 of Winifred with her cousins Jessie Bill and Winifred Suter. (Below)
In 1914 it would have been reasonable for George William to be looking forward to another 15 or 20 years business in the Ledbury High Street. His father had retired at about the age of 65 and had then handed the business on to his elder son. Both Arthur and Clarence had been apprenticed in the trade.
Arthur's decision to leave and work for Frank Denning does not seem to have unduly disturbed his father and, indeed, may have been regarded as a sensible move designed to preserve Frank's business for the benefit of his wife's family. Clarence was near to completing his apprenticeship and in due course might wish to take on the business. The two younger boys were still at school and within a year Frank Suter was talking about engineering as a profession.
Whatever hopes or expectations George William and his family may have had they are unlikely to have included war on the scale which engulfed first Europe and later most of the World in the months which followed August 1914.
Left: From 1916 Tilleys Almanack Advertiser - the only year printed during the war years - Images supplied by Old Ledbury
The inscription says: "Presented to Mr & Mrs Suter on their leaving the LEDBURY CIRCUIT BY A FEW FRIENDS as a mark of affection and esteem"
©Richard Ensor - January 2005
The image on the left (click on it to enlarge) has been in the personal collection of Philip Suter for many years. Thanks to the Old Ledbury Facebook Group & Website in December 2014 we now have details about when the fire damage took place that exposes the church spire through the second floor window.
An enlargement on the left shows the shop was occupied by J T Walters (James Walters), The Old Ledbury Facebook Group & Website have also provided us with the image below.
The Ledbury Facebook Group have found out the following information about this fire "Reported in the Gloucestershire Echo Tuesday 12th March 1935
LEDBURY BLAZE Fire Guts Shop and stock
The drapery premises of Messrs. J. T. Walters and Co., a three-story building in High Street, Ledbury containing heavy stocks of new spring goods, were completely destroyed by fire.
The majority of the stock was ruined and the building gutted, only the outer front wall remaining. The proprietor, Mr. R. A. TURNER, who lives a few minutes from his premises, was unaware of the outbreak of fire until informed later in the morning.
The outbreak apparently started in the rear of the premises, and fanned by a strong wind, the whole building was soon a roaring furnace, the flames shooting high up and illuminating the town. The Ledbury and Malvern brigades were quickly on the scene, and got to work with the hose from several different vantage points. After three hours' work the fire was under control and the adjoining buildings saved, though not without some damage.
The outbreak was discovered by a Mrs. BOSANKE, who occupies a flat in adjoining premises. Finding smoke in her room she got out of bed and awakened her son Ronald, aged 14, who, clad only in his pyjamas, dashed barefooted across the road with his mother to the fire alarm and summoned the brigade.
We believe the date of the fire was 10th March 1935 nor February as stated on the rear of the photo." Source Old Ledbury Facebook Group & Website
After these two photos were taken the shop was re-built there were then two windows at first floor level as per the image below taken in the early 1960s
Below pictures taken in 1990 and 1994. In 1990 it was Fruity Freds and in 1994 was a clothing retailer with a tea room on the first floor
1950s Market House courtesy Jo Manuschka Old Ledbury Group and below enlarged section of image showing the shop with canopy.
We understand further information about Suters Ltd can be found at the Slough Museum, Slough Berks Find out more Here
©Philip Suter - December 2013
Source of images, unless otherwise stated - Suter family archives