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20 Ainsworth Street

Bricklayer and Coal Yard Labourer

Number 20 is one of a terrace of seven houses on the east side of Ainsworth Street.


The Head of Household in 1881 is Henry Vail, bricklayer, orginally from Fulbourn.  He is living here with his wife Hannah (31) and four of their children.

Catherine is 8, Roseannah is 7, Florence is 5, they all go to school.  The youngest child is Alice, aged 3.

Henry is on the Electoral Register for 1888 at this property, but the family moves to number 5 Ainsworth Street by 1891, to number 10 by 1901 and to number 25 by 1905.  The full family story for the Vail’s is at number 10.


The Smith’s, originally from Sudbury in Suffolk, are here in 1891. Edgar is 33 and coal yard labourer.  He is married to Eliza, 32.

They have four children. Laura, 11 and Gertrude, 9, were both born in Kentish Town. They are at school, as is 7-year-old Nellie.  The youngest child is 1 year old Precilla.

A FRACTURED KNEE. – On Saturday, Edgar Smith, aged 39, a coal dealer, of 20 Ainsworth Street, when jumping into a cart caught his knee against the side and fractured the cap. He was removed to the Hospital.
Cambridge Chronicle and Journal 26 March 1897


James Pratt, 26, Carman for Builder, b Cambridge
Emily Jane Pratt, 22, Little Eversden, Cambs
Henry Pratt, 3 months, b Cambridge
The Pratt family have moved next door to number 18 by 1911.

1908-1909 – The Electoral Register shows a Horace William Pleasance registered at 20 Ainsworth Street.

1911 – 1955

Robert Asby married Esther Barton in 1900.  In 1901 they are living at 110 York Street with their baby Charlie Barton.

In 1911 Robert is 38 and working as a bricklayer, Esther is 36.  Baby Charlie is now 10 and there are four more children.  Robert Barton is 9, Beatrice Barton is 7, Leonard is 3 and Sidney is 1. The 1911 Census records that the couple have been married for eleven years and have had six children, one of whom has died.

Robert and Esther had a son, Stanley Owen Asby, who died in 1906.

SANITARY REQUIREMENTS – The Public Health Committee report that at their meeting it was agreed that notices be served under the Public Health Act, 1875, calling upon the owners of the under-mentioned premises, viz: … 18 and 20 Ainsworth Street … to provide proper and sufficient lavatory accommodation to their respective premises [and] abate the nuisances existing there.
Cambridge Daily News 09 July 1912

Eldest son Charlie joined the 23rd (Service) Battalion Royal Fusiliers (1st Sportsman’s) as a Private towards the end of World War 1. His service records are missing, but he shows up on the records of the 139th Field Ambulance.  Charlie, now 19, has tonsilitis and is transferring to the 37th Casualty Clearing Station on the 4th June 1919.  At this time the 37th CCS is in Deutz near Cologne.

The 1921 Census records more information about occupations, so we now see that Robert is a bricklayer for Norman Cement Company in Cherryhinton, while his son Robert is a cement labourer for Saxon Cement Factory in Cherryhinton. Both companies owned by British Portland Cement Ltd.

Charlie is living with his maternal uncle, Charles Barton, in Lambeth and working as a packer for Crocker’s Limited, a wholesale draper.  In 1931 he marries Ivy Baker, and they live at 74 York Street.  Charlie works as a wine cellarman.

Robert & Esther’s eldest daughter, Beatrice, is working part time as a private domestic servant.

Leonard & Sidney are still at school and there are four more children.  Frank (9), Kathleen Adah (7) and Harry (4) are all school children, then there is one year old Fred.  Records show that Esther had another daughter, Hilda, in 1922.

Robert (the younger) married Hilda Mary Chandler in 1926.  At this time, he is working as a coal porter.  On the 1939 Register they are living in March with their son Ronald.  Robert is a railway telegraph wirer.

Beatrice married Herbert Richardson in May 1926.  In 1939 they are living at 80 Hobart Road.  Herbert is a locomotive fireman.

Leonard married May George (from 38 Ainsworth Street) in 1931.  They appear on the 1939 Register living at 44 Cam Causeway with their four children.  Leonard is a builder’s bricklayer.  He enlisted in 1940 with the Royal Engineers, on the 3rd August that year he was reported Missing (rank of Lance Corporal).  There is a follow-up record for the 12th October to say he no longer missing.

Sidney married Alice Maud Matthews in 1936 and they move to 34 Ainsworth Street.  Sidney is a bricklayer.

The 1939 Register for 20 Ainsworth Street records Robert Asby (bricklayer) still living here with Esther (housewife), their youngest son Harry (hairdresser) and youngest daughter Hilda (preserve labeller).

Of the other three children who appeared on the 1921 Census, Fred died in 1923 (age 2).

Fred Asby – In the presence of a number of sympathisers, the remains of Fred Asby, the little son of Mr. and Mrs. R. Asby, of 20 Ainsworth Street, were laid to rest in the Borough Cemetery on March 3rd.  The boy passed away after only four days illness, loved by all for his winsome ways.
Saffron Walden Weekly News 16 March 1923

Frank died in 1928 (age 16) and Kathleen married Stephen Tedder, a carpenter, in 1938.  The marriage record shows that Kathleen was working as shop assistant at the time.

Robert died in 1942, aged 71, but that’s not the last we hear of him!

Grandson Finds Link With Grandfather – Coincidence can play peculiar tricks.  This is something that 18-year-old Malcolm Aby, and apprentice bricklayer employed by Kerridge (Cambridge) Ltd., discovered when he was working at Trinity College this week.
Working on a turret at the College he delved into the crumbling brickwork and found a small tin.  Inside it, he found a small piece of paper, yellow with age and only three inches square, bearing a  date, 1908, and the name R.B. Randal and R. Asby.
Here comes the coincidence – Mr. R. Asby was Malcolm’s grandfather!
Malcolm’s grandmother, Mrs. R. Asby, who lives at 20 Ainsworth Street, told the Cambridge Daily News that it was a custom amongst bricklayers, when doing a job, to write their names on a piece of paper and bury it on the site.  Mr. R. Asby was a first-class bricklayer, the equivalent to a foreman-bricklayer today, and was employed for most of his life by Sindall’s.
Cambridge Daily News 26 June 1954

Esther passed away in 1955.

Sources: UK census records (1881 to 1921), 1939 Register, Civil Registration Death Index (1916-2007), Cambridgeshire Electoral Registers (1722-1966), British Armed Forces – First World War Soldiers’ Medical Records, Cambridgeshire Marriages, British Army – Royal Engineers 1900-1949, , Forces War Records, Cambridge Chronicle and Journal, Cambridge Daily News, Saffron Walden Weekly News


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