Blacksmiths to Optometrists

Number 7 North Street, Ashford is a very handsome, well-maintained 3-storey business building.  And has been for aproximately 700 years – though in various, very different, uses.

This apparently 16th century timber-framed house (a few doors down from the Epes’ House mentioned here) has decorative bargeboards supporting the gable.

ornate bressummer cargills
Decorative bargeboards supporting the gable

The upper two floors are overhanging on brackets and a bressumer.  (Bressummers are load bearing beams in a timber framed house.  The word ‘summer’ derives from sumpter or the old French ‘sommier’, which means a pack horse, ie something bearing great burden or weight).  However, each floor only overhangs the other in a very slight way, suggesting that the building has been altered.  Robert Furley, Ashford historian and already mentioned in my post on the Freemasons’ Hall, North Street, claimed, in 1886, that the building had “lost its frontage” at some point.  It is thought that the building is actually older than the date on its bressummer – 1671, so that may be the year the building’s facade was changed.  Indeed, the brick ground floor front is built approximately 1 foot in front of the original wall, so it was probably a medieval house with non-mock-actually-original-Tudor cladding!

Blacksmiths front
Slightly overhanging floors

The ground and first floor contain original iron casement windows with small rectangular leaded panes.

Currently, it is home to Cargill’s Optometrists.   In 1962 it was home to another opticians: EJ Price.

The property originally had land at the side (now occupied by Park Street) and at the rear: all necessary for the business of a blacksmith.  And, indeed, that is how the building was first utilized.  The medieval Lord of the Manor set up his blacksmith here.

During the Victorian period, Robert Furley, stated that No 7 was a public house called “The Forge”: a throwback to its original use, providing continuity of heritage, but a great example of how buildings have to find uses to suit contemporary requirements if they are to survive.

It must have been a very small pub and anyone above average height would probably have knocked their head on the door frame after too many strong ales, as it is very low.  The upstairs rooms have exceedingly uneven floors, which may also have proved disconcerting to the inebriated.

Cargills front door

It soon became a blacksmith’s again, occupied by Albert Chittenden until at least 1918.  Albert’s son, also Albert, took over the business, maintaining the coaches serving the Saracen’s Head Hotel, (which stood on the corner of the High Street and North Street).  However, the forge eventually closed in the 1930s when an increase in the use of cars lead to the decline in horse drawn coaches.  Now, of course, Ashford Town’s streets are ‘dual use’ again, with pedestrians and cars sharing the roads at the same time.

Chittenden 1901 census
1891 Census: 4th item down.

The above census is an interesting document for a number of Ashford heritage related reasons.  Here Albert Chittenden lives in Tufton Street.  It tells us that he was born in Wye, his wife, Eliza, in Barham, and their three sons in Ashford – no doubt at this very house.  It also describes his profession or occupation as Blacksmith and Railways Worker.  The railways were a very large employer at this time in Ashford and I shall be writing more on them and their associated buildings in the coming weeks.

 The other households on this census above were house painters or working on the railways.  (The column with all the “1”s in it, denotes that those occupants were ‘deaf and dumb’.  On one side of Albert everyone in the house were deaf and dumb.

Chittenden 1911 census
1901 Census

Here we have the 1901 census and we find Albert, Eliza and their three sons in North Street.  It must have been a hot, loud, noisy, smelly place with molten metal being beaten into shape and horses pounding the cobbles.


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