The trade directories show us that from about 1889 Porch House in Castle Street Thornbury was the home of Thomas Cox Smith. Thomas Cox Smith was born in Bow in London on 1st September 1856. He was the son of a tailor William Court Smith and his wife Emma nee Gayner both from Thornbury. The 1861 Census shows that the family was living in Hammersmith in London. William was a tailor aged 47 and Emma was aged 43. Thomas was aged four and was a member of a very extensive family. Living in the house at that time were his siblings; Charles aged 22, Emma aged 19, George aged 16, Eliza aged 13, William 11 (who was born in Thornbury), Ellen aged six and Frances aged five months. Thomas and Emma had had another daughter called Eliza born in 1836 but she sadly died in 1843.
By 1871 the family had returned to Thornbury and had moved into their house at 2 The Plain. At this point William and Emma only had three children living with them. They were; William Court Smith aged 21, Ellen aged 18, Florence Sarah aged 10 and Thomas Cox Smith aged 14.
In the March quarter of 1880 Thomas Cox Smith married Eliza Rendall nee Ayres in Bedminster. Eliza was born in Milbury Bubb in Dorset. The 1880 Rate Book shows they had settled in the High Street in Thornbury in a house which is now 4 High Street and occupied by an Italian restaurant. The 1881 Census shows Thomas living at 4 High Street. He was a tailor aged 24. His wife Eliza was aged 35 and a schoolmistress. They appear to have been running the property as a private school. Their daughter Ethel Margaret was aged six months. They had a boarder Jane Bailey who was an annuitant aged 57. They had a governess aged 20 called Alice Read. Also living with them was Lucy Stanley a scholar aged eight. They also had a servant called Celia Stinchcombe aged 14.
By 1889 the Trade Directory shows that Thomas Cox Smith and his family had moved into Porch House in Castle Street. Here he was advertising as a master tailor. This is confirmed by the1890 Rate Book and Census of 1891.
Thomas Cox Smith was a stalwart of the Thornbury Cricket Club and the 1895 Directory describes him as Captain of the Cricket Club.
We are grateful to Les Summerfield, Thornbury Cricket Club and Mike Grace for allowing us to see the documents written by Edgar Mervyn Grace on the history of the Cricket Club. These included the following interesting references to T. C. Smith and his sons:
“a very good all-round cricketer with an immense passion for the game almost from the cradle. A lob bowler and a steady bay with a great reputation for fielding. So sure was his catching at long-on that E. M. Grace, when bowling, and seeing a catch going in his direction, used to shout ‘Run, Tommy, run’ and then, turning to the batsman, would say ‘You needn’t run, you’re out!’.
Tommy played until he was 73, and when he fielded at point was in great danger as he was too close in. During his career he became secretary of the second XI – the Thornbury Castle C. C. – often acting as captain and treasurer from its formation in 1880 until its amalgamation with Thornbury C. C. in 1919, when he still played occasionally at ‘The Ship’. He had three sons, all good cricketers, ‘H’, ‘Fred’, and ‘Arthur’. The latter being a sound bat, who scored a great century against Berkeley at ‘The Ship’. On one occasion, when playing against ‘Robinsons’ at St Johns Lane, Bedminster, he felt compelled to retire in the middle of his innings when firing started on the nearby rifle range, as he suffered from shell-shock brought on by the War. Tommy Smith was a famous tailor, noted for the hard-wearing of his cloth and his excellent workmanship. He made all the livery for the Berkeley Hunt under the Fitzhardinges, and the ‘Pink coats’ and white breeches for the Gentry, going up to London once a week in pursuit of his trade. He lived at Porch House in Castle Street, where he had his workshop. This has now been converted into a Roman Catholic Church. In 1876 he scored 61 against Chewton Keynsham in the famous game when E. M. Grace was undefeated for 327 and Thornbury totalled 502 for the loss of only 4 wickets! H. P. Thurston was not out 55.
Extras – it should be mentioned that T. C. Smith (The Tailor) who had distinguished himself as a fielder at long–on when Thornbury were performing great deeds from 1870 – 1880 and then became Secretary and often captain of the 2nd XI when it was created and became the Thornbury Castle Cricket Club, turned out in 1923 at the age of 72, taking 3 wickets for 36 runs, as well as scoring 66 runs in 13 innings with a top score of 20 not out! The old man enjoyed the game so much that he would have gone on playing indefinitely, but because he would insist on fielding either at point or silly point, it was felt that the danger was so great that it was decided to stop him playing by not selecting him!”
Thomas was also a Gleeman which was a musical group who sang in Thornbury for many years. The tradition of the Thornbury Gleemen was a very old one although the group lapsed at different times. It was revived by H P Thurston and a special presentation was made to him in 1896 of a silver baton and a framed testimonial on which were photographs of the gleemen of that time. On the right we have the photograph of Thomas Cox Smith which appeared on this testimonial.
An advertisement in Brown’s Almanac of 1904 announces: ‘the most Fashionable Goods of the Best Makes kept in Stock.’ He also made ‘Ladies’ Riding Habits, Jackets and Ulsters, Liveries, Etc.’ The small photograph on the left is another of his advertisements. Click on the image on the left for a larger version.
We know that hunting was a major aspect of life in Thornbury, and indeed it still plays a role today. Thomas Cox Smith seems to have been very much aware of the importance of this to his trade and he became tailor to the Berkeley Hunt. This honour may have been due to his attention to detail with riding habits. We have been told of a description of his methods given by a descendent of Thomas Cox Smith.
‘Thomas Smith, tailor, had a type of horse in his workshop (I imagine this was rather like a vaulting horse). When he made riding habits for his customers he would get them to sit on the horse so that he could check the fit/drape of the habit or jacket when ‘seated’ on a horse!”
We were also given a lovely description of how the business operated;
“The tailor’s workshop was situated on the right of Porch House as you look at it from the road; it ran from the front to the back of the house but on the upper level. It had skylights in the roof to let in the light for the workers, some of whom used to sit cross-legged on the tables to sew. Thomas used to employ a young lad who used to sit and work in the little room above the porch. When he saw Thomas Cox Smith’s customers coming down the road he used to shout out to let Thomas know so that he could greet them at the door and be ready with their outfits. Thomas Cox Smith was known as TC by his family.’
Although Thomas Cox Smith was living in Porch House by 1889, he did not buy it straight away. There was a Re-conveyance dated 1913 between Thomas Cox Smith and Thomas Smith of Brimsham Farm in Yate and now of Brookside in Chipping Sodbury which referred to an original conveyance of 22nd December 1890 between Thomas Cox Smith and Thomas Smith. The document relates to
“all that messuage or dwelling house called “The Porch” situate in the High Street or Castle Street in the town and borough of Thornbury…….and now in the occupation of the said Thomas Cox Smith together with the stable yard and garden thereto belonging and adjoining and the stable erected on a portion of the said yard containing altogether by admeasurement 1r 37p and which said premises are more particularly described in the Tithe Apportionment Map …The tithe map numbers confirm that this relates to Porch House as the numbers are said to be; 34 Yard and stable 14p; 35 site of house now taken down and garden 1r 14p, 36 House and court 9p”.
The fact that number 35 on the tithe map is “now taken down” could explain why there were no longer two households on this plot but we are unable to say at this stage what was taken down, if anything. Certainly the shape of the modern building looks similar to that on the 1840 Tithe Map.
The 1911 Census shows that Thomas Cox Smith then aged 53 had been married to Eliza for 30 years. They had had five children, one of whom had died but only Arthur Court Smith was living with them and helping his father in the tailoring business. They had a servant Fanny Jeremy from Berkeley. The Census shows that Porch House had ten rooms.
In 1914 the Trade Directories were describing the business as Thomas Cox Smith and Son. This is particularly poignant as Thomas Cox Smith was soon to lose sons in the First World War.
The Gazette of June 5th 1920 carried a brief mention of the death of Mrs T C Smith. This was Eliza Smith who died on the 24th May aged 75 and was buried in Thornbury Cemetery.
On 29th November 1921 Thomas Cox Smith then aged 65 and described as a widower and a tailor of Porch House married Mary Kathleen Patricia Hickey aged 31 a spinster whose address was also Porch House. Mary was the daughter of John Hickey, a secretary. Mary Kathleen Patricia Smith died on 25th April 1925 aged 34 and was buried in Thornbury Cemetery.
Thomas then married Muriel Gwendoline Kingston on 18th April 1933. She was 35 years old at that time and he was 75. She was the daughter of Frederick James Kingston, a clerk and was born on 17th October 1897.
The register compiled in 1939 in readiness for the outbreak of World War II shows Hilda M Price born 18 December 1911 and her son Alan Price born 25th April 1934 also lived in the house at that time. We do not know whether this was a separate household.
Thomas died in Castle Street in 1942. He was buried in Thornbury Cemetery on 1st August 1942. The Dursley Gazette of the 8th of August 1942 had an obituary for Thomas Cox Smith.
“Thornbury has lost an old and much respected inhabitant by the death of Mr Thomas Cox Smith of Porch House Castle Street which occurred on July 29th. Mr Smith who was in his 85th year, carried on business for many years as a tailor. In his younger days he was an able and enthusiastic cricketer. For many years he captained the Thornbury Castle XI when he excelled in the field and was also a cunning bowler of lobs. He first played for Thornbury C.C. in August 1871, the year in which the club first played on its present historic pitch at the Ship Inn Alveston. He continued to play until he was well in his seventies and later was a valued member of the committee. He retained his interest in the game and the fortunes of the Thornbury Club up to the time of his death. Much sympathy has been extended to his widow…. the chief mourners were Mrs T.C. Smith (widow), Mr and Mrs A Court Smith (son and daughter in law) Mr S H Gayner (cousin)…”
Thomas’s widow, Muriel Gwendoline Smith died in 1961.
Of the children of Thomas Cox Smith;
Ethel Margaret was born in the December quarter of 1880. The Western Daily Press of August 8th 1902 reported her marriage to Alexander McGaw M.A. of Golspie Sutherland. The pair apparently spent their honeymoon in Paris. The directory of Scotland shows that in 1903 Alexander was a schoolmaster. We have been told that they emigrated to South Africa in 1902, where they may have lived in Dunnattor near Johannesburg.
Hubert Thomas Ayres Smith was born in March quarter 1882. The 1901 Census shows he was still living with his parents and that he had become a banker’s clerk. The Western Daily Press reported on 22nd February 1905 after he returned from work in Bristol, he rode his father’s horse to Old Down. On his return he appeared to lose control of the animal and was seen attempting to get off his horse near The Ship, Alveston when he fell under it and was picked up unconscious. He had a severe wound above a knee but appeared to be recovering until a few days later when he suffered from tetanus and died on March 8th 1905 aged 23. He was still living at Porch House at the time of his death.
William Gayner Smith. William’s birth was registered in Thornbury in the September quarter of 1883. We do not know when he emigrated to South Africa. The passenger records also show that William Gayner Smith sailed from Cape Town to Melbourne Australia on the “Berbice” on 20th May 1904.
During World War I William joined the South African Forces serving in France. We have been told that he was on sick leave, recovering from wounds, received at the Battle for Delville Wood, July 16 when he was married on 24th October 1916. This would appear to be supported by a report in the South Gloucestershire Chronicle which said that “Willie Smith of Porch House Thornbury received a bullet wound and some bayonet wounds.” The article mentioned that before enlisting Willie was in the South African Police Force.
In October 1916 a report of William’s marriage appeared in the Bristol Mercury; “A large congregation assembled at the Parish Church of St Mary Thornbury on Tuesday morning while the wedding took place of Miss Marjorie Annie Gayner daughter of Mr and Mrs F Gayner of City House, Thornbury with Mr William Gayner Smith (Durban Light Infantry, South Africa) son of Mr and Mrs T C Smith of Porch House Thornbury. The parents of both parties are held in high esteem in the town and neighbourhood. Owing to the bridegroom having only recently recovered from wounds received in action in July last in France the wedding was of a quiet nature…..A reception chiefly confined to relatives of the parties was held subsequently at City House.”
William seems to have had a hard time in the war and we have been told that he was again wounded on the 9th April 1917 at the battle of Arras.
The couple had a daughter, Vivienne, in 1917. Marjorie was not a bride for very long. William’s memorial in Thornbury Cemetery tells the sad end of their story; ‘WILLIAM GAYNER SMITH 2nd South African Infantry killed in action Flanders October 18th 1917.’
William’s Commonwealth War Grave record shows that his service number 1007 and that he was a Lance Corporal in the South African Infantry. It confirms that he was the son of Thomas Cox Smith and Eliza and the husband of Marjorie. He was buried at Buffs Road Cemetery. He was serving in the 2nd Regiment and this record says he died on 15th October 1917 at Ypres.
Their daughter Vivienne died on 25th July 1935 aged only 17. The newspaper report shows that she died in a Clifton nursing home and died from blood poisoning having cut her foot whilst swimming at Purton. Marjorie died December 14th 1965.
Frederick Charles Smith was born in 1884. The 1901 Census shows Frederick became a tailor like his father. We know from an article printed in the Gazette on his death that in his early years Frederick served with the Oldown Troop of the Gloucestershire Yeomanry and was at that time well known in local cricket and football fields as a good athlete. Frederick left Thornbury to go to America and he joined the Army there. It was reported that he fought in the Philippian War (sic – probably the Philippine War 1899 – 1902 but he would have been very young then). He may appear in the 1910 USA Census where he was a soldier living in Manhattan. He became a recruiting officer for Brooklyn for three years following which he was sent to Camp Jackson with the 371st Infantry. This was an African/American Regiment comprising African-America draftees and white officers. It served in the French Army during the War.
He went to France on 4th April 1918. In the following September he suffered from a gas attack and was in hospital for several weeks. He was accidentally kiled by the explosion of a hand grenade which he was examining. He died on 1st January 1919 and is buried in US Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, France. He is commemorated on the war memorial in the Thornbury United Reformed Church, where it is noted that he was a Captain in the 371st Infantry Regiment. Frederick’s name also appears on the War Memorial in the Parish Church under the name of ‘FC Smith’. His widow received the cablegram of his death just when she was expecting one notifying her of his return with his Regiment to the US.
Arthur Court Smith was born in the September quarter of 1891. He joined the Natal Rifles in August 1914 and was promoted to Lieutenant in the KA rifles. He fought in the German South West Africa theatre of War. He appears to have returned to this country in 1920 according to sailing records. We have been told that even when he returned to this country he flew the South African flag in his garden. We have been told that the Thornbury Wesleyan Football Club used Porch house as a changing room. This would seem very likely as we have Trade Directories from 1927 to 1935 that show that A C Smith of Castle Street was Secretary to the Wesleyan Football Club in Thornbury as well as being scoutmaster for the Thornbury and District Scouting Association. He died in 1949.
Mary Philomina Smith the daughter of Thomas Cox Smith and his second wife, Mary Kathleen Hickey, was born in 1925. On 19th October 1946 Mary Philomina Smith then aged 21 married Hector George Pritchett son of Howard John Pritchett a farmer at Glebe Farm Bibury.
It is possible that there was another connection between Porch House and Thornbury life. We have been told that in the 1950s and 1960s the Miss Smith who taught the girls commercial subjects used to take a group of them to Porch House where they learned to type to the strains of the William Tell Overture.