I thought it would be interesting to investigate some of the trades my ancestors had. I will start one that sounds exotic but isn’t – a cordwainer (which Microsoft Word doesn’t have in its dictionary). I have several forebears who were cordwainers and will share the story of one of them, William Ayers*. The word cordwainer is derived from the Spanish word “cordovan”, a type of leather, and people who worked with cordovan to make shoes were known as cordwainers or shoemakers. A cordwainer is different to a cobbler, a cobbler repairs shoes, whereas a cordwainer made them. Shoemaking was a very traditional trade with the process changing very little from the Middle Ages until the mid-1800s when it became industrialised. Here is a picture of a shoemaker at work.
|Public domain photo found via Google images.|
William Ayers was born around 1755 in Fairford, Gloucestershire, the seventh of eight children of Richard Ayers and Mary Hughes, although at least three of the children had died before William was born. The other children were: John (died young), Elizabeth, John, James, David, Temperance and Richard. With a Temperance in the family, I wonder if the Ayers family had puritan tendencies. The children were all baptised in Fairford parish church. Curiously, another line of my family also lived in Fairford at this time but those two lines didn’t join until 1878.
In 1767, age about 12, William Ayers of Fairford was apprenticed to Thomas Bond for £8 bond. Like all trades, an apprenticeship was the first step in a career and typically lasted 7 years. Sometime after completing his apprenticeship, William moved to nearby Coln St Aldwyns, Gloucestershire. In 1788, he took on his own apprentice, John Porter. It is likely that William was the only cordwainer in Coln St Aldwyns and he would have made everyone’s shoes, so he would have been an important figure in the village (Coln St Aldwyns is still a village). In spite of this, shoemakers often had to take on a second job to be able to afford to maintain their families, perhaps something like farming. As mentioned further on, I have some reason to think that the Ayers family had some money or another source of income.
In January 1782, William Ayres married Mary Mihill by licence at Coln St Aldwyns. Mary was underage, 19 years old, and her father Thomas was also named in the licence. The money for the licence may have come from the Mihill family, who were Yeoman farmers, rather than from the Ayers family, although I haven’t found any record of Richard Ayers prior to his marriage to Mary Hughes, to indicate anything about the family background. In any case, William’s family appear to have been well off enough to afford property and further marriage licences. I know from land tax records that William owned the property in Coln St Aldwyns.
William and Mary had seven children: Thomas, Lydia, Mary (my ancestor), David, Lucy, Rose, Jane. All of the children were born in Coln St Aldwyns. I am curious about the children’s names as Lydia, David, Lucy and Rose were not common names at the time.
Before 1811, the family moved to Chedworth, Gloucestershire. Chedworth’s claim to fame is the ruins of a Roman Villa, which I have visited. I am not sure what took them there but several of the children, including my ancestor Mary, were married in the village. The children married by licence rather than banns, suggesting that the family continued to have funds available to them.
I am not sure what happened to William’s wife Mary. She may have been buried in Fairford in April 1792, although daughter Rose wasn’t baptised until May the following year.
William lived to a good age of 84 before he died and was buried in Chedworth.
Waller, Ian 2015 “My Ancestor was a Leather Worker” pub. Society of Genaologist.
*Spelling variations include Ayres, Eyers & Eyres.
Notes on lineage: Me > Dad > Helen Francis Ruth Akeroyd > Florence Ruth Kirby > Oscar John Kirby > Henry Kirby > Mary Ayers > William Ayers