It was a chance discovery in an old wooden box which had belonged to my husband’s paternal grandfather Bertie Amey, who died when John was three.
It was just a slip of paper but it led to John becoming a Freeman of Sudbury. It brought new friendships; it brought us to Sudbury and it brought alive the family history of the Ameys in Sudbury. The slip of paper was the confirmation of Bertie’s admission as a Freeman of Sudbury in August 1904.
What did this mean? Research led to the Sudbury Freemen’s Society and to one of their most prominent members, Anthony Wheeler. He confirmed that John was eligible to become a Freeman as the grandson of a Freeman and descended through the male line. Members of the Amey family had been Freemen as far back as the 1600s. John was admitted in a short ceremony held in Sudbury Town Hall in July 2006 and in that moment was connected to his Sudbury ancestors.
John’s name was entered into the Cocket books where most Freemen names over hundreds of years, have been entered. These fabulous books are kept by the Town Council and on admission days are brought out for us to see and turn the pages of Sudbury’s Freemen history.
We know of Thomas Amey/Amy admitted in 1667, John and Humphry in 1727, sons of John Amie and Grace, and Humphry’s son Humphry in 1778 along with Samuel and William Amy.
A page from the Cocket book for admissions 1778-80 showing Samuel Amy (weaver) and William Amy (weaver), sons of Humphry.
The Cocket books tell us their occupations. For several generations, many of the Ameys were silk weavers, although one of the Humphrys was thought to have been a soldier wounded at the battle of Minden in 1759 in the Seven Years War. It has been suggested that the Amey/Amy/Amie family were originally Flemish weavers brought to England for their expertise, during the reign of Edward III.
Back home in London, the wooden box produced an Amey family tree reaching back to Humphry Amey Senior. Now we knew he was a Freeman along with many of his descendants and we had their names from the Cocket books.
Amey Freemen continue to appear in the Cocket books over the centuries up to 2014 when Maggie Jackson, granddaughter of Bertie Amey was admitted. Maggie was the first Freeman to be admitted after the rules were altered in line with equality legislation, to allow grandchildren of Freemen to be admitted whether they descended through the male or female line. Maggie was descended through Bertie’s daughter Lucy. Maggie’s three children are now entitled to become Freemen and her five grandchildren when they reach adulthood. So the tradition of Amey Freemen can continue.
John knew very little about Grandfather Bertie. Maggie remembers an elderly man sitting close to the fire on chilly days to soothe his arthritis. But he was a young man once; a boy growing up in Sudbury who no doubt played on the Freemen’s meadows that we now know so well.
Census returns show that Bertie’s father Henry Amey lived at various rented lodgings in Sudbury. Interestingly, they are all in the Cross Street Area. In the 1841 Census, Henry first appears age 4, the sixth of eight children, all living with their parents, Joseph Amey a weaver aged 55 and his wife Susannah (nee Salter) age 40. They are living at Jones Yard, Cross Street. In the 1851 Census, Henry, now 14, is an errand boy living on Cross Street.
By 1861, Henry (24) is a bricklayer living at Byford’s Yard and White Hart Yard, with his widowed mother, his brother Joseph (35) and youngest sister Emma . Two years earlier, Henry had been admitted as a Freeman by inheritance from his father Joseph. Henry’s brother William, a bleacher, also of Cross Street, had been admitted the previous year.
A year later, Henry married Harriet Ann Fulcher, daughter of Thomas Fulcher and Sarah Spring. The family tree from the wooden box states that Sarah Spring was descended from the Springs of Lavenham, thus connecting the Amey family with Sir Thomas Spring, once the wealthiest clothier in England. In the early1500s, Sir Thomas and the Earl of Oxford paid for the building of the church tower in Lavenham and the initials TS are found on the tower. Sir Thomas is buried within the church at his request, in a most ornate parclose.
Freemen families seemed to marry amongst themselves quite frequently. We must assume that their Freemen status in the town meant that they knew one another socially. For example, Henry’s sister Emily married Walter Barber in 1854. Their witnesses who later married were William Amey and Susan Hibble. In 1850, James Amey married Hannah Wheeler. Bertie Amey’s brother Ernest married Emma Bonney. Hibbles, Wheelers and Bonneys are Freemen families and all currently have family members who are Freemen.
The wooden box continued to give up its secrets. It contained a few ancient photos one of which we believe is of Harriet Fulcher as an elderly lady. Was she related to George Williams Fulcher, poet, printer, publisher and four times Mayor of Sudbury? We haven’t found out yet but someone reading this may have the answer.
By 1871, life has moved on and in Bells Yard, Cross Street, Henry Amey, bricklayer, age 34 and his wife Harriet are living with their three sons, Harry (8), Fulcher (5) and Ernest (1).
Bertie Amey appears for the first time in the 1881 Census at 98 Ballingdon Street. Henry is now 44, Harriet 46. Harry (18) is an engine fitter’s assistant and Fulcher (15) a baker’s assistant. Ernest (11) is at school along with Bertie Alfred who is 6 years old.
All Saints School Sudbury class photo c1880s. We believe Bertie is immediately behind the boy holding the slate.
We see Bertie again in the 1891 Census. The family now live at 42 Cross Street, very close to the bridge over the Stour. Bertie’s father Henry (54) now calls himself a Master Bricklayer, Harriet is 56. Their sons Harry and Fulcher are gone but Ernest and Bertie are still at home. In 1891, Ernest is 21, a boat builder who was admitted as a Freeman in that year. He later married Emma Bonney, moved to Ipswich and had three children Cyril Fulcher, Russell and Ivy.
Bertie is 16 in 1891 and a Printer’s Apprentice. Suddenly we understand another document in the wooden box. It is an indenture – the agreement for Bertie’s apprenticeship which began in 1888 when Bertie was 14. He was apprenticed to William Lambton Lewis, Printer.
This handwritten historical document tells us so much about what was expected of a Printer’s apprentice in the late 19th century. Seven years apprenticeship starting on 2s for a 57 hour week, hard repetitive work and fines for all kinds of misdemeanours. By remarkable coincidence, we discovered that the printers in Institute Road, Sudbury now a social club, was where for a number of years, we enjoyed afternoon tea following the annual Freemen’s walk on the meadows. The Freemen were continuing to connect John with his family.
The indenture for Bertie’s apprenticeship signed by Bertie, his father Henry and Lambton Lewis.
Bertie literally had more than one string to his bow. He played the violin. The wooden box was revealing its secrets. Here was a photo of a handsome young man in clothes of the early 1900s, posing in a studio with his violin. The photo was taken in a Knightbridge studio and we know that by 1903, Bertie was working in London, living in Lysia Street, Fulham and was about to marry Lucy Baines from Essex to whom he had apparently been engaged for many years. She was in service in Pembridge Villas, Kensington.
Bertie’s granddaughter Maggie believes that he played the violin on a semi-professional basis to earn extra money. A second, earlier photograph from the wooden box shows Bertie and his violin with four other musicians. It was taken in a studio at 8 Sepulchre Street Sudbury (now renamed Gainsborough Street). It appears that Bertie was in a band in Sudbury before he moved to London. Does anyone recognise them? Did the band have a name? Who did they play for and did they perhaps buy their instruments from the music shop that we know existed in Sudbury at that time. Who taught Bertie to play? So many questions – but we have the photos and we have the violin.
Bertie Amey is front left. (Interestingly, a member of the Partridge family married Bertie’s aunt Emma Amey).
Unlike so many Ameys of previous generations, Henry’s four sons all left Sudbury to seek their fortunes elsewhere. We know that Harry went to live in Cambridge and had three daughters, Gladys, Gertrude and Winifred. Fulcher allegedly ran away to join the army, eventually becoming a Major in the Royal Artillery and awarded an MBE. He lived in Woolwich, London for some time with his wife Laura Kirkpatrick and their children Nevill Fulcher and Kathleen Amey. Fulcher and his wife are buried in the cemetery in Sudbury so we assume that at some stage he returned to live in the place of his birth. Both Harry and Fulcher were Freemen, admitted in 1883 and 1893. Nevill, who was in the Royal Marine Artillery, was admitted as a Freeman in 1918.
Marriage of Fulcher Amey to Laura Kirkpatrick 1891. His brother Ernest Amey and future wife Emma Bonney stand behind bride and groom. The boy on the left is probably Bertie Amey.
As we know from the slip of paper, Bertie was admitted as a Freeman in Sudbury Town Hall in August 1904, a year after his marriage to Lucy Baines. They were living in Wealdstone, Middlesex but it seems he still had strong ties to Sudbury and of course his parents were still living in Cross Street. His father Henry died in 1909. The wooden box produces a letter written by Bertie to his son Gilbert Fulcher Amey in the 1940s saying he was going to use his Freemen’s money (tax free income from the Freemen’s lands), to buy a pair of shoes.
After his marriage, Bertie worked as a Printer, moved eventually to a house in Spencer Road, Wealdstone and had four children, Lucy, Gilbert, Mary and Margaret. Gilbert was father to John Fulcher and Jane. Lucy was mother to Maggie Jackson. Bertie died in 1953.
Gilbert never became a Freeman. He had not been born in Sudbury which was a requirement during his lifetime but this rule was subsequently changed.
In 1992, the Freemen altered their admission rules as their Charter allowed them to do, to admit women. In that same year, Bertie’s daughter Mary Payne was admitted as the first female Freeman in the Amey history. Currently, her son and her grandchildren are entitled to become Freemen.
What is the future for the Amey family as Freemen? There are now just two Amey Freemen, John and his cousin Maggie. We must hope that Maggie’s children and the descendants of Bertie’s daughter Mary, take up their right to be admitted as Freemen or the line of Amey Freemen will die out after 400 years.
The future of the Freemen depends upon families like the Ameys carrying on the long tradition of Freemen of Sudbury. Perhaps those of you reading this might have a family connection with Sudbury and you may find that you, like John, have the right to be admitted as a Freeman. Your relatives may have played with Bertie on the meadows, swum in the pool or fished in the river. They may have been weavers like so many Ameys, straining their eyes to see their fine work, or been served beer by James Amey in the Spreadeagle Inn, Cross Street. They may have worn boots made by Albert Amey or listened to Bertie playing his violin.
When we visit Sudbury, we walk in Bertie’s footsteps and in those of his father Henry the Bricklayer and his father Joseph the Weaver and Joseph and Samuel and Humphry. We walk in the footsteps of Thomas Amey, Freeman, admitted in 1667, who lived through the rule of Oliver Cromwell to see Charles II restored to the throne of England. Sudbury and the Freemen link them all to John.
A chance discovery in an old wooden box. It was just a slip of paper but it led us to the Freemen, to Sudbury and to so much more.
(Mrs John Fulcher Amey)