Robert Ainsworth Cheetham, Photographer of Woburn Sands

When I first began collecting local postcards, I noticed some tiny embossing on some examples, usually in the lower right-hand corner. You can just make out “R. A. Cheetham” in a script-font. Sometimes the cards have captions on the front, sometimes they do not, but they are always very good quality photographic images, and some are of one-off events, which make them extremely interesting.  I know you are here for the postcard views, but first, a short biography…

Robert Ainsworth Cheetham was born in Dukinfield, near Stalybridge, Cheshire in 1867 and baptised on 9th January 1868. He was the son of an accountant, Robert and Sarah.  The baptismal service wasn’t performed by the regular vicar of the parish, but by John Cheetham, his uncle.

It appears Robert snr. died before his son was even a year old, as there is a death recorded in Salford in the autumn of 1868 of a Robert Cheetham. At the census of 1871, the family are in Plantation Road, Dukinfield, with Sarah, 28, now a widow, as head of the family.  She and her son were living with her sister Elizabeth Ainsworth, 16. They were both dressmakers.

Sarah remarried in late 1878 and then appears as Sarah Reece in the 1881 census at 72 Wakefield Road, Ashton under Lyne, Lancashire, along with Edward Reece, 33, an unemployed farmer.  Robert jnr., now 13, was there, described as a scholar, along with his sister Helena, 15, who was already a pupil teacher.  She had also been born in Stalybridge, but I cannot locate her on the earlier 1871 census. The Reece’s also had their own son (Edward) by now, who was a year old, as well as four boarders staying in the house.

Ten years on, and Robert was living with his uncle who had baptised him, in Shepherds Green, Greenfield, Saddleworth, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. The 1891 census:

John Cheetham, Head, Single, 48, Clerk in Holy Orders, born Dukinfield, Cheshire
Elizabeth Cheetham, Sister, Single, 59, -, Dukinfield, Cheshire
Mary Bell, Sister, Widow, 45, -, Dukinfield, Cheshire
Alfred H. Bell, Nephew, Single, 25, Bank Clerk, Dukinfield, Cheshire
Robert A. Cheetham, Nephew, Single, 23, Solicitors Clerk, Dukinfield, Cheshire
Mary T. Bell, Niece, Single, 19, -, Dukinfield, Cheshire
Elizabeth Street, Servant, Single, 20, General Domestic Servant, Birmingham, Cheshire [?!]

But where was his sister Helena now?  She was living at “Dun Springs”, in Station Road, Woburn Sands, as a boarder with Harriett Platt, having obtained the position of Infants Mistress at the local Elementary School at Aspley Heath in September 1890. We do not know when Robert’s interest in photography started, but by December 1891, Robert had given up his clerkship in Yorkshire, and joined her here, where he became the town’s photographer.  This is confirmed by the image of a woodcut of St. Michael’s Church, which appears on the cover of the parish magazine, credited inside as “Woodcut prepared from a photograph by Robert Cheetham.”

This small note appeared in the Bedfordshire Times & Independent of 2nd December 1893:

“WOBURN SANDS. Church History – Lecture. Mr. Ernest Elford gave the first of a series of lantern lectures illustrating the history of the Church of England, in the Institute, Woburn Sands, on Monday evening. There was a large audience, who listened with great attention to the lecturer’s remarks. The lantern was kindly lent and worked by Mr. Cheetham, and the various views, which well-illustrated the lecture, were much admired.”

Lantern-lectures were the forerunner to a night out at the movies!  Glass-plate images could be projected onto a wall or sheet, to show photographs to a large audience.  Cheetham obviously had the equipment and experience with images already. The series of lectures continued into the New Year and after another event it was reported that “…upwards of 50 views, comprising some of the principal Cathedrals were thrown on the canvas.”

But it wasn’t only religious history that could be taught this way.  The medium was very popular, and other subjects were covered too. The Leighton Buzzard Observer & Linslade Gazette of 23rd January 1894:

“WOBURN SANDS. Church History Lectures. The monthly lantern lecture given by Mr. B. E. C. Elford, the lay reader, took place in the Institute, Monday evening in last week, the lecture, “The Establishment of the Church of England,” summing up the two weekly lectures given this month by Mr, Elford in the Parish Room, “The Danish lnvasion,” and “The Norman Invasion.” The illustrations, which were exhibited by Mr. Cheetham, were exceedingly good. Mr. Elford completed his first year as lay reader at Woburn Sands last month, and his Church history lectures been special feature in his year’s work.”

A trade directory entry for Robert Cheetham also appeared in 1894, when “Rob. A Cheetham” first appears as a photographer, and a Miss H. Cheetham as infant’s mistress at the Board School in Aspley Heath. In the autumn of the year, a small advert appeared in the Beds Times for Cheetham’s services:

Advert in 1894 from Beds Times.

“PHOTOGRAPHY. R. A. CHEETHAM, (from the Studio of Mr. Franz Baun, Old Bond Street, London, and Manchester). Portraiture, Landscape and Architectural Photography. Attendance at private residence for Groups, &c.”

[Not that I doubt these credentials, but I have not been able to find any trace of a Franz Baun, as a photographer, in either Manchester or London!]

From this point, his name begins to appear in reports about the committees and boards that managed church, town and social life at the end of the 19th century.  In April 1896, it was reported at a Vestry meeting that Mr H. Freeman had had to give up being a sidesman at St. Michael’s church in Aspley Heath due to ill health, and Mr Cheetham would be taking over.  A Sidesman was responsible for greeting members of the congregation, overseeing seating arrangements in church, and for taking the collection. Rev. Mosse was the incumbent at that time, and it seems they became friends.

Cheetham also gave his own lantern shows, as he did for the Girl’s Friendly Society in March 1897, showing views of the various homes owned by the Society to an audience at Aspley Guise. A nationally important date for the whole country was Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Cheetham was much involved in the meetings and arrangements beforehand and appointed to the committee for planning local festivities. Many suggestions were put forward for how the event should be marked.  Ideas included an extension to St. Michael’s, a roving watercart, funding a district nurse or a new recreation ground.  It was Cheetham’s proposal that the 22nd of June should be made a local public holiday and a free tea provided for children under 15 and adults over 50. The committee decided that if funds were raised by public subscription, a free tea could be provided for all parishioners.

By 1899, his sister Helena had become the Head Mistress of the Woburn Sands Infants School.  Rev. Mosse left Woburn Sands during the summer to take on another of the Duke of Bedford’s churches in London. Cheetham was Honorary Secretary of the St Michael’s Communicant Guild in 1900, and still a Sidesman. 1901 saw another census and the Cheetham’s were now living as boarders, now in Aspley Heath at Montrose Villa, but separate from all other boarders that Suzanna Baker had in her household:

Robert A. Cheetham, Boarder, Single, 33, Photographer, Stalybridge, Cheshire
Helena Cheetham, Boarder, Single, 35, Teacher Board School, Cheshire

In October 1901, he was engaged to take the wedding photos of Miss Mary Elizabeth (Sissy) Humphreys of Brogboro’ Park, at her high society wedding to Mr Edward James Readman at Ridgmont. At the age of 37, on 13th September 1905, Robert was finally married himself. The bride was Fanny Elizabeth Bosworth. Rev. Mosse, formerly of St. Michael’s, Woburn Sands, had taken up a new role at St. Paul’s in Covent Garden, and Robert and Fanny travelled down to London to have their marriage conducted by him. Probably in order to gain permission to be married there, Cheetham gave his address as no.7 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, while Fanny’s was “Stoke Albany”, Woburn Sands, which was possibly no. 52 Station Road. She was 39.  Rev. Mosse was later killed in the First World War during an air raid in January 1918.

From the Beds Times, 20th October 1905:

“WOBURN SANDS. At a social meeting held at the Institute, on Thursday, in connection with the St. Michael’s Communicants’ Guild, Mr Cheetham, on the occasion of his marriage, was presented with a handsome arm chair, subscribed for by the members of the Guild, of which Mr Cheetham has been secretary for several years.  The presentation was made by the Rev. D. W. Henry, who, in an appropriate speech, spoke in high terms of the valuable help given by Mr Cheetham to the Guild.  The recipient suitably replied.”

Cheetham’s advert in a 1905 Woburn Sands Guide book.

I presume his studio, pictured in a local guide book from 1905, was at home at “Stoke Albany”, as well as having some premises he attended once a week in Fenny Stratford. They are living at “Stoke Albany” house in Station Road in the 1911 census:

Robert Ainsworth Cheetham, 43, Professional Photographer, Stalybridge Cheshire.
Fanny Elizabeth Cheetham, 45, Ampthill.
Elizabeth Sarah Bosworth, Wife’s Aunt, Single, 74, Cranfield.
Gertrude Higgins, Single, 15, General Servant Domestic, Aspley Guise.

His sister, Helena, was now at Rose Cottage in Aspley Hill, still as a boarder, at the household of Mary Thompson. Harriett Platt, her former landlady, was also a boarder there.

After the success at the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee celebrations, Robert was elected as Secretary for the 1911 Coronation festivities. The Bedford Record of 5th December 1911 reported that the committee were so impressed with his hard work, where a total of £90 had been collected and spent on the event, that they presented him with a set of dessert knives and forks, the box of which was inscribed “A token of appreciation for Mr R. A. Cheetham’s work as Hon. Secretary of the Woburn Sands Coronation Commemoration 1911”.

Sadly, Robert and Fanny’s marriage was to last less than eight years.  The Luton Times, of 7th February 1913:

“WOBURN SANDS. A great loss has been sustained in church circles by the demise of Mrs R. A. Cheetham which took place on Saturday at her residence, “Stoke Albany.” Wide sympathy is felt for her bereaved husband.”

The burial was at St. Michael’s, marked with a marble cross, she was buried between the graves of her mother and father.

Robert was co-opted on to the Woburn Sands Parish Council in April 1918, but resigned that September, on his appointment as Assistant Overseer. The 1920 trade directory has a commercial entry for him as “Assistant Overseer; office, High Street” but no photographers business was now listed under his name. In 1920, he was elected to be a trustee of the Woburn Sands Social Club, when it built new premises behind the High Street. He was still acting as Overseer for Woburn Sands in 1922, when he was mentioned in a case brought against Thomas Ganderton for non-payment of rates.  Cheetham seems to have been as lenient as possible, and tried to get the arrrears paid in installments, but Ganderton had not offered to pay anything. Robert was the Honourary Secretary of the Woburn Sands Musical Society in September 1922. It had about 70 members, and they were rehearsing “The May Queen”.

Helena continued as the Head Mistress of the Infants School until February 1926.  She was presented with a fitted dressing gown and a handbag when she retired from her post after 35 years.  Helena was obviously well loved by her staff and pupils, and they spoke touchingly of her sunny courage, spirit of love and quiet happiness. It was decided not to have a separate infant’s and junior school at Aspley Heath after that, and the schools were amalgamated.  It appears Robert Cheetham was retiring at about the same time, as Mr F. Wingrave, Chairman of the School Managers, remarked that he wished Miss Cheetham and her brother every happiness in their retirement.  This is the last mention of him that I can find relating to Woburn Sands.

Robert next appears in official records when he was married again at the age of 60 in the second quarter of 1927 to Ann Miles Greenham in Falmouth, Devon.  She was 46. Neither party seems to have any family links there.  The couple then appear in the Register of Electors in Torquay in 1929 & 1930, living in a house called “Mount Vernon”, on Erith Road Higher.  In 1931, they had moved on to “Hill View”, Fore Street, Kingsbridge, which is where they were still living when Robert died in 1932, aged 64. His second wife, Ann Miles, later moved to live with her sister at “Gardd llowarch” house in a village called Valley, on Anglesey, Wale, and was still there when the 1939 Register was taken.  She died in 1940, aged 58.

Robert’s sister, Helena Cheetham, was still alive in 1939, at 29 South Parade, Hoylake, described as a retired Head Teacher, when the 1939 Register was taken. She died in the autumn of 1945, around Wakefield, in Yorkshire.

These are some of the Cheetham postcards and carte d’visit in my collection. Many are of Woburn Sands, but he also covered other local villages, such as Wavendon, Bow Brickhill, Aspley Guise, Woburn, and even as far as Cranfield. I am sure some of the other cards in my collection are ‘Cheetham’s’ as well, but they do not feature his embossed name. Perhaps they sometimes sold before he could apply it to all the cards!  The rear of the cards varies greatly, depending on what photographic stock he had bought, but he never printed his details on the rear. There are many Cheetham photos and postcards at the Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service, at Bedford, particularly in catalogues Z50, Z251 and Z608, as well as others.

I am always looking for other Cheetham postcards or examples of his studio portraits.

An unknown portrait sitter, this photo was bought back from a dealer in America.


An early view in the woods, with a gate in view, possibly the gate at Woodside, Aspley Guise. Sent 1904.
A wide open woodland path, usually referred to as The Green Drive, unsent. People came from far and wide to take the airs in Woburn Sands woods. [Image courtesy of Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service.]
St. James’s Church, Husborne Crawley. This was sent from Whitsable to Potsgrove. The sender, in 1906, thanks their friends for the fruit that arrived first post that day, but regrets that the box had given way, and some was missing! I have seen another example from 1905.
The Fullers Earth Lodge, on the Woburn to Woburn Sands road. Posted in 1904.
The centre of Wavendon, with St. Mary’s Church in the background. Used 1904, saying: “I think this is a very good view of our dear old Church. E. B.”
St. Botolph’s Church, Aspley Guise. Used in 1904.
A view of a woodland walk, used in 1904.
An interior view of St Mary’s Church, Woburn. Sent in 1905.
Crossroads and All Saints Church, in Ridgmont. Unused.
A bright summers day in the Aspley Heath woods. Used 1905.
A view, possibly of The Old Coach Road, parallel to Woburn Road, in the woods, used 1905.
The junction where Weathercock Lane splits off to the left from Station Road. “The Cyclists Rest”, the thatched shop, can be seen in the middle, with The Weathercock Pub on the extreme left. [Image courtesy of Mrs M. Yates, Aspley Guise.]
“The Cyclists Rest” on fire, on the junction of Station Road and Weathercock Lane, in Woburn Sands. Sparks from a Foden steam lorry had caught in it’s thatch.

Here, the building is well alight. Mr Cheetham must have been running around the event with his camera! [Image courtesy of Mrs M. Yates, Aspley Guise.]
The aftermath: just a blackened shell remains. It was later rebuilt in brick, and was the office of ‘Stonebridge and Foll’, later ‘Foll and Parker’, before becoming Alexanders furnishings shop it is today. All four of these fire cards were sent in 1906, the year of this event. [Image courtesy of Mrs M. Yates, Aspley Guise.]

Five ladies busy with their lace-making, once one of the principle trades in this district. This card is titled Cranfield Lacemakers. Used in 1906, but I have seen another from 1904.
This is St James’s Church, at Husborne Crawley. Posted in 1906.
A view of Wavendon House. Once the home of the Lords of the Manor of Wavendon, including the Selby-Lownes family, it was later owned by Henry Hugh Hoare, and is now split into flats. Sent in 1906.
The London Lodge, the ornate entrance into Woburn Park and the Abbey, home of The Duke of Bedford. Postcard unused.
Possibly one of the main walkways in Aspley Heath woods, known as Green Drive. Used in 1907. The writer on this card has written ‘mirror-style’ to disguise his message, but it just said he was moving again soon.
A game of living whist, using children as cards. They made their own entertainment those days! The Beds Times, June 21st 1907:- “A garden fete in aid of the Church of England Homes for Waifs and Strays was held in the Knoll grounds, Aspley Heath on Wednesday and Thursday….Woburn Sands Prize Band played…A feature of this entertainments was a game of living whist played by a number of children who looked very nice and smart. The movements were well executed and a good number of people watched them on the lawn. A public tea was served…”
The living whist game. Time for a shuffle…. 1907.
A snowy scene looking up Station Road, Woburn Sands. Nicely dated for us, as 24th April, 1908.
Pinfoldpond, the area out from Woburn towards Leighton Buzzard. Posted in 1909, to The Fox and Hounds in Chiswick.
These two cards I call the “Calendar Show”, but what they called it, I don’t know! Everyone is dressed as months of the year, seasons or hours of the clock, and some are holding “1909” signs. I doubt this was New Year, as they are dressed for summer.
Ladies dancing at the 1909 show.
I have seen another copy of this card, and the message refers to Dog Races at Woburn. Note the disused railway carriage used as a pavilion! Postally used 1905. [Image courtesy of J. Gough, Woburn Sands]
Now here’s a puzzle. Almost the same shot, same background, same bookie etc., but this was posted in 1909. Even the same parts of the tent in the rear are draped open. It must have been taken at the same time as that above, but used 4 years later.
Leighton Hollow, also known as Georges Square, was a collection of poor cottages towards the top of Aspley Heath on Sandy Lane. For many years home of the Lee family who made brushes from the woodland around them. Unsent.
According to the book ‘Wavendon As It Was’, this is Mrs Chance at the village pump. She was a lacemaker and school cleaner. Both the pump and house in the background now demolished. Sent in 1910.
Five ladies doing their lace work, different from the earlier one. Obviously a popular topic which Cheetham revisited. This area was heavily involved with the lace trade. This one is titled Bedfordshire Lace Makers. Used in 1911.
“Now Ladies, I’ll just take one more before I go, so could the lady in the middle please stand up. Now watch the birdie!”  This postcard has been used from Llandrindod Wells, but the stamp and date are missing. The writer says this card is “..where our kitchen maid comes from…”   [Image courtesy of Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service.] Another version of the card with the ladies named on appeared in 2020. So we know this is Mrs Bettle, Mrs Rust, Mrs John Lancaster, Mrs Burley and Rose Lancaster.  All lived within a small area of Cranfield High Street.
A Church youth group, dressed as people from all corners of the Empire. The sign on the shield on the right reads “St Michael’s, Woburn Sands D.P.G.” Possibly Drama Players Group? Unsent, so no clue as to year.
Alfred Dawborn, 1820 – 1919, a general agricultural labourer, supplemented his income. He became known as The Woburn Birdcatcher, as he trapped and sold all kinds of birds. Here he is at the gate of Birdcatchers Cottage at Pinfoldpond, just out of Woburn on the road to Leighton Buzzard. He had 13 children, six daughters and seven sons. Most of the daughters went into service, and two sons died of fever in India whilst in the army. Card unsent.
The font at St. Michael’s, Aspley Heath, decorated for the Harvest Festival. Unsent.
This is the Crow Hotel, at Cranfield, which burnt down in 1916. Unsent.
A composite of pictures: The Fullers Earth Lodge, Aspley Hill, the woods, and the Henry VII Lodge. Unsent.
On Woburn Road, looking north towards Woburn Sands, with the entrance to Aspley Lane to leading off to the right. Unsent.
Quite far for our local photographer to go, this is the Red Lion Inn and centre of Milton Bryan village, just to the south east of Woburn.
From information pencilled on the rear of this card, this is Hulcote Rectory, or White Ladies, also known as Hulcote Manor.
Until recently Marylands College, this was Woburn Cottage Hospital, commissioned by The Duchess of Bedford in WWI to care for injured soldiers. Now residences.
An undated view from Aspley Heath woods.
St. Mary’s Church at Salford. Unposted.
The front of Woburn Abbey. Unused.
The interior of St Michael’s, Aspley Heath. Undated.
Woods views were always popular with the day-trippers who had come to walk in the Bedford Estate woods. Unused.
The road towards Woburn Abbey, in Woburn Park, from Woburn. Unsent.
The Park gates going into Woburn Abbey grounds, with Lion Lodge on the right. Unsent.
….and of course, no photographer ever missed the Henry VII Lodge, on Woburn Road! This example posted in 1906.
Originally the Bletchley Road Schools, with Fenny Stratford Board School, these are now Knowles Schools on Queensway, Bletchley. Posted from Bletchley, 1905, to Miss G. Brigden, West Hill House, Aspley Guise. [Image courtesy of J. Gough, Woburn Sands]
Wavendon Manor, at Cross End. The message reads: “My dear Kitty, please accept sincere thanks for yours of this morning and your good wishes for today. This is a picture of Wavendon Manor, I thought it may interest you. With fondest lover ever, your devoted sister Nan.” It was addressed to Miss K. Tasker, in Highgate, London. Posted in 1910.
This card shows a very rare view of Woburn Sands windmill, which blew down in 1900. It stood on Mill Lane, on land now occupied by the Aspley Guise & Woburn Sands Golf Club. The local paper wrote “The old wind mill at the end of Mill Lane, which has stood for as long as anyone can remember, was blown down during a heavy wind. It was a very picturesque relic, which attracted numerous artists to Woburn Sands to capture it in oils or watercolours.” This card was used in 1907. [Image courtesy of J. Gough, Woburn Sands]
“South Wood” is a house on Aspley Heath, used for many years as a boarding house, run by Mrs Emma Tyers. She also ran Heathview as a similar business. This card was sent in August 1909. The writer, Elsie, comments to her friend Nellie how nice the woods are, but how wet the weather is!
St Mary’s Church, Wavendon. This was sent to Miss L Buxton, the daughter of Henry Buxton, the schoolmaster at Wavendon, for her birthday. He had come to the village in 1889, and did much to improve the school and its pupils. He retired to Woburn Sands in 1924. It looks like it was posted in 1908, but the stamp has been pilfered by collectors and the postmark is difficult to clearly see.
The interior of St Mary’s church, Wavendon. Although unsent, we can safely say that this was during the time that the Revd. Philpotts was at St Mary’s, as he was there from 1893 – 1947! He was famous for wearing a boater hat and riding around the village on his green bicycle.
A slightly different view to the previous one, of the exterior of St. Mary’s, Wavendon.

Duke Street in Aspley Guise, looking towards Woodside. No parking problems then! Unsent. [Image courtesy of Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service.]
Crow Lane Chapel in Husborne Crawley. This was the Primitive Methodist Chapel, built in 1867. Postally used in 1913. [Image courtesy of Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service.]
Another of Husborne Crawley, this time with the Bull Inn on the right, which closed in the 1960’s. Unsent. [Image courtesy of Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service.]
The road north from Woburn towards Woburn Sands, once part of the Turnpike Road from Hockliffe to Newport Pagnell. Unsent. [Image courtesy of Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service.]

The Knoll began life as a private residence, before becoming a school in the early 20th century, eventually becoming the home for Bury Lawn Senior School until 1987, when it closed, and was later converted to flats. The grounds are large, and this shot is from the end of the lawn. This card was used sometime after 1940, it must have been tucked away for many years.
On the London Road, just south of Woburn. With The Royal Oak, (still with us) and the Sun Inn (now set) in the distance.
Salford Road in Aspley Guise, with the Aspley Guise Railway Station just in the distance. Unsent. [Image courtesy of Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service.]
A view from Cranfield Church, looking at the Charles Wells pub “The Carpenters Arms”, middle right. Unposted.
One of the entrances into the Bedford Estate woods, possibly on Woburn Road?

Looking west from Aspley Guise Square, the Post Office is just to the right. I wonder what was being sold from the barrel on the handcart? Unposted. [Image originally courtesy of the late H. Sutcliffe, Aspley Guise]
A lovely view down Chapel Street in Woburn Sands, long before the houses were built on the south side of the street. Bert has marked his house with an ‘X’, and sent this in 1905. [Image originally courtesy of the late H. Sutcliffe, Aspley Guise]
A very rare view of the thatched cottages that stood in Hardwick Road. These faced the remaining houses that are on the cul-de-sac part of Hardwick Place. Today it is part of Mowbray Green. Sent to “A. H. Lambert, A.B, Mess 8, HMS Dominion, Channel Fleet. c/o GPO” in 1907. [Image originally courtesy of the late H. Sutcliffe, Aspley Guise]
The houses at Crow Lane, Husborne Crawley made an interesting picture of rural England. I bet all the occupants bought a card! [Image originally courtesy of the late H. Sutcliffe, Aspley Guise]
Here’s a view of Sandy Lane in Aspley Heath, just below where the other end of Narrow Path meets it, with an entrance into the Duke of Bedford’s woods on the right. Unsent. [Image originally courtesy of the late H. Sutcliffe, Aspley Guise]

Two examples of Cheetham’s private work. On the left are a couple of unknown children, but the dapper chap on the right is Fred Spratley, of Wavendon.

If you have any Cheetham postcards that I can add to the display here, I would be pleased to hear from you. Check the corners carefully for embossing!


Page last updated Feb. 2020.