Answers to Questions


VASS, St Albans, early 20th Century

July, 2009



St Albans

Marian Vass (marianvass @t told me her grandfather had a bakers shop in George Street, St Albans, which was described in the following schoolboy verse, by "Taffy," which originally appeared in the Autumn 1926 edition of The Albanian, the school magazine for St. Albans Boys School (the one in the Abbey Gateway) and was a parody of Excelsior by Longfellow.

                                  A Warning.

          The shades of night were falling fast
          As into Mrs. Vass's passed
          A youth, who had more flesh than bones,
          Who cried in faint and famished tones
                                   "Ten Doughnuts."

          Said Mrs. Vass, all in despair,
          "You must be mad I do declare!
          I've kept this shop for many a year,
          But never known a boy to clear
                                   Ten Doughnuts."

          "Rot" said the youth, "I'll have some buns,
          Some pork pies-No! Those larger ones,
          Those sausage rolls, they don't look bad-
          Remember please I've only had
                                   Ten Doughnuts."

          When all this foodstuff hove in sight
          He did the Charleston with delight.
          With waistcoat buttons all undone,
          He then demolished one by one
                                   Ten Doughnuts

          Alas! his inner man was packed,
          His breathing organs failed to act,
          And with a last despairing cry
          He fell weighed down in anguish by
                                   Ten Doughnuts.

          There in Vass's on the mat
          Moaning with agony he sat,
          And ere his mouth was closed by death
          He murmured with his final breath-
                                   "Ten Doughnuts."

Marian continued: I wonder what became of Taffy? The doughnuts and pork pies were family specialities; when I was a small child my Dad worked for Reg Simmons in Hatfield and was affectionately known as Dickie Doughnut. It was a special teat when he made them at home, which he continued to do until well in his eighties.

My father, Gerald Finch Reynolds, was born in St Albans in 1907 and was a pupil at St Albans School until 1921. He lived in Calverton, at the north end of St Peter's Street, and would have passed Vass's shop on his way to and from school - so I decided to look for relevant entries in Kelly's Directories for Hertfordshire to find out some dates for the "tuck shop".

Year   Entry   Notes
1895       [No entry for Vass]

Vass Richard, baker, confectioner & pastrycook; home-made bread, christening and birthday cakes, scones, pastry & vienna bread, wedding cakes supplied, hot rolls at night, fruit and meat pies made to order, families waited on daily, St Michaels.

  This is an exceptionally long paid-for entry when 99% of the entries were the unpaid minimum. It suggests he was new to the business and swallowed the Directory salesman's patter that a long entry would attract more trade.
In the 1901 census Richard was a baker living at 29 St Michael's Street with his wife Lucy, and son Richard James. Herbert Charles Ward (27) was a resident journeyman baker. (Entry on Ancestry wrongly indexed as "Richard Vats")
1902       [No entry for Vass]

Vass Lucy (Mrs), baker, St Michael

    Cooper Frank Hardy, baker & fruiterer, 10 George Street    
1912   Cooper Frank Hardy, baker & fruiterer, 10 George Street   [No entry for Vass]
1917   Vass Richard, baker, 10 George Street    
1922   Vass Richard, baker, 10 George Street    
1926   Vass Richard, baker, 10 George Street    
1929   Tucker Charles, baker, 10 George Street   [No entry for Vass]
Richard Vass's death was registered in St Albans - July-September 1929

Clearly Richard Vass was selling doughnuts and pork pies to school children when my father was passing daily .... However all investigations turn up posing more questions than they answer, and one wonders what happened to Richard and the baker's shop in St Michaels between 1899 and about 1914, when he started selling at 10 George Street. A study of the Street directories in the St Albans Library in the Maltings might provide more information.


In addition to providing the above poem Marian also provided the following information on the family:

The Bakers shop was in George Street, on the left hand side as you go down the hill, below an archway that led to a backyard. The last time I was in St. Albans the shop up the hill from the arch was an antiques shop, whist my grandparents shop was a gift shop (in 2000). They left George St. in 1928, because of my grandfather's ill health.

My Dad -Richard Herbert Vass born 1 Jan.1907.He was a boy chorister at the Abbey. His parents were:

Richard Vass born 1864 in Pulloxhill, Beds.
Lucy Gregory born 1872 in St. Albans.

His siblings:

Evelyn Mary (known as Eva) born 1902. She never married. She was a member of the Embroiderers Guild at the Abbey for many years.
Gladys born1909
Lucy born 1913, married name Tippings. Her husband worked in the printing industry.
Rose born 1917. Her first husband died in a Japanese p.o.w camp.

Lucy Vass, nee Gregory, born 1872. Her parents were Samuel Gregory born 1839, in St. Albans, and Mary Westall, born in Abingdon, Berks.

Lucy's siblings were:

Edward born 1866. He was a coachman at Highfield Hall, which I think was in Hillend.               
Eliza born 1868.She was a cook for a Mrs. Birch who lived in St. Michaels, opposite the 6 Bells.
Sarah, born 1874.
Emma, born 1875,who later went to Wales.
Annie, born 1877. She married Sid Ireland who was a Builder.
Alfred born 1879. He was known as Nobbler and never married In later life he lived with his mother and sister Eliza in Eleanor Ave.
Bessie, birth not known yet, who later lived in East India Dock Road, London.
Polly, birth not known, who later went to Australia.

Samuel Gregory parents - I haven't found his father yet but his mother was Elizabeth Atwood born about 1796 in St. Albans. Elizabeth's parents were Thomas Atwood, born about 1776 and Hannah born about 1781. In the 1841 census they were living in Fishpool Street, Thomas was a postman.

There is no evidence at this stage to suggest that Richard Vass was related to James Vass.

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