The Matthews family has been prominent in Abingdon business and communal affairs, for more than a hundred years.
In the nineteenth century, the Matthews were a farming family in Hampshire, but after the death in 1889 of Thomas Matthews, his three children all moved to North Berkshire (as it then was). The youngest, Frederick William Matthews (1874−1919), always known as Fred, came to Abingdon.
In 1896, Fred entered into partnership with John Harris to form the business of Harris & Matthews, Seedsmen and Corn Merchants, with premises in East St Helen Street. The shop premises were at Nos. 4 & 6 East St Helen Street and there was warehousing at Fairlawn Wharf. But in 1902, Harris & Matthews took a lease on the Old Gaol and moved the business there. Fred also developed other business interests outside Abingdon in association with his sister and his brother-in-law.
Fred Matthews became active in local affairs, and was first elected to the Borough Council in 1911. He was returned unopposed in 1914 and 1917. He died in 1919 at the early age of forty-five years.
By then John Harris had also died, and the business was taken over by Fred’s widow, Mary Eliza, known as Lylie. She employed P T Wake as manager, subsequently taking him into partnership. In 1922, the lease having run out, she bought the entire Old Gaol site. Her son Gerald William, known as Gegg (1904−1972), took over his mother’s interest in the business in 1931. The firm expanded, with branches in Didcot, Thame and Stanford-in-the Vale. After the war, it was turned into a limited company.
Lylie Matthews died in 1973 at the age of 101 years, and the Old Gaol, which by this time was no longer suitable for industrial use, was sold on to the Abingdon Borough Council by her executors. The company’s head office was moved to Didcot in 1971. It eventually closed down in 1984.
Gegg’s son. Michael William Matthews (born1933), followed his grandfather into a career of service to the town. He was elected to the Borough Council in 1964, and was Mayor in 1973. He was Master of Christ’s Hospital from 1995 to 1997, was made an honorary freeman in 1998, and is currently (2013) chairman of The Friends of Abingdon.
© AAAHS and contributors 2013