Thomas Blake (1825-1901) was a Victorian Philanthropist who lived and worked in Ross and was probably one of, if not the, biggest benefactor of the town; he was to Ross in the 19th Century what John Kyrle was to the town in the 17th Century.
William Blake, Thomas' father, was born in London and became an apprentice to a coppersmith and brazier in the city. After he completed his apprenticeship he went to India to serve in the British Army. Upon returning to England he came to Herefordshire where he met and later married Miss Mary Catora who was from Ross.
Thomas Blake was a true Rossian and was born on 11th March 1825 above Blake's Hardware Score at the corner of Station Street and Broad Street.
Thomas was schooled in Ross about which he was very enthusiastic. He showed a great deal of diligence and aptitude which set him up for his working life.
After he left school his first job was in a Bristol draper's shop, run by Edward Phillips. He enjoyed this job and he stayed for fourteen months but he finally decided that the drapery business was not to be his life's work.
The site of Blakes Hardware Store (now The General Tool Store as seen in 2005) (Click for a larger image)
At this point he returned to Ross and entered the British and Foreign School as a trainee teacher and he aimed to become a schoolmaster.
After his training he was offered a job as a schoolmaster in a small Buckinghamshire town but due to a number of reasons, which included his father being ill, he decided to stay in Ross. As a result in early 1843, at an annual salary of £50, he got a job in the post office as an assistant to the postmaster, William Paine. as his experience increased so did his workload but his salary didn't noticeably. He had been offered many jobs in larger offices outside of Ross, he declined these in order to remain in Ross.
To supplement his income he started up a Fire and Life insurance agency and he also started a newspaper and an advertising agency; for many years he was the Ross reporter for the Hereford Times.
In his meagre spare time he carried out accountancy work and book-keeping for the town's folk and he became a letting agent for cottages and other properties which he looked after. For this he received 5% commission on the rents received. Additionally he was also working as the secretary for the Baker's Charity and did the accounts for the organisation for £20 per annum.
Lebanon on Walford Road (Click for a larger image)
His friends recognised his potential and advised him to give up the post office job and become an accountant. So on 30th June 1857, after 14 years service and at the age of 32, he gave up his Post Office position. At around this time he lived at 'Lebanon' which was his luxurious residence on Walford Road.
He immediately opened a business on his own as a public accountant, house and estate agent, and expanded his news and advertising agency.
He found these businesses to be a very lucrative and the businesses rapidly expanded which meant he needed to move to a larger premises and hire clerks. He was an excellent businessman and his business sense and skills served him well and as a result 11 years later, in June 1868 at the age of 43, he retired and passed the business to Alexander Gordon who was his nephew.
Thomas Blake carefully managed his monies and his accountancy skills meant that he was able to keep accurate accounts of all income and expenditure and produced an accurate balance sheet every three months. Any net profit on his income was invested in a number of safe commercial undertakings; many of these he continued to maintain right up until his death.
He soon found that his income was more than sufficient for his own needs and he was therefore able to give generous amounts to the poor in Ross. By the time he died his expenditure to the poor was recorded as £20,000.
He also carried out an endless number of acts of generosity to the towns people which included:-
Purchased the Prospect and gave the freehold to the townspeople of Ross for all time
The lease of several buildings on Kyrle Street for public use
Thomas Blake gave £3,162 of the £3,700 required to replace the original Baptist Chapel with a modern one.
Paid for the repair works needed for the upkeep of the Almshouses in Ross
Paid for the rebuilding, modernisation and improvement of the the six Alms houses in Edde Cross Street and the four Alms houses in Old Gloucester Road
For a period of 31 years, at Christmas time he gave every widow in Ross a hundredweight of coal (the tickets for which were obtained from the Town Hall)
He gave a packet of groceries to the people residing in each of the 26 Almshouses of Ross. He also gave them a silver coin to purchase flour for a Christmas pudding
He provided the Town with a pure and plentiful water supply by purchasing Alton Court and its buildings
He purchased the engine house, plant and mains which formerly supplied the infected water supply to the town from the river. The river water was soft and was much better for cleaning and for laundry work
He extended the mains to serve Ross Railway Station
He purchased no. 20 Broad Street which he fitted up as a Free Library which included the grounds behind which could be used by the local townspeople for games and recreation. He also paid one hundred pounds into the Gloucester Bank for the purchase of books and he setup a ten guinea annual subscription towards maintenance of the building and to supply the reading room with four daily newspapers
The site of the Ross Free Library (Click for a larger image)
Thomas Blake owned a number of areas of land around the Town and in 1897 he signed a contract with Queen Victoria's government to allow five militia regiments (these regiments were the 3rd 4th Shropshire Infantry, which included the Herefordshire, 3rd Royal Warwick and 3rd and 4th Worcester Regiments) to camp and be trained around Ross.
From May to August the militia were allowed to use the 85 acres at Alton Court but being as about 60 acres were used for arable purposes, Thomas placed Broadmeadow and Stockmeadow (near the old cattle market off Homs Road) at the disposal of the authorities.
At Alton Court he allowed the the construction of a new rifle range to the modern specifications of the day and under the guidance of the War Department.
Thomas was married twice in his life, first to Susan Ellen who died on the 22nd April 1874 (aged 57) and second to Annie who died on the 16th February 1898
His will was his last major benevolent gesture to Ross in which he made a donation of 1,000 guineas to support the Ross Cottage Hospital.
Thomas Blake died on 31st March 1901 (aged 75) and was interred in Ross churchyard on Thursday, April 4th, 1901.
The headstone of Thomas Blake`s grave (Click for a larger image)
As a mark of respect the residents of Ashfield and Ross closed their window blinds and tradesmen in the town closed their premises for the whole afternoon.
The funeral cortege was made up of over 200 people and included grateful residents of the local almshouses and representatives of a large number of the societies, institutions and public bodies which Thomas Blake was associated.
Special preparations were made for the grave too which was lined with ferns, mosses, white narcissi and marigolds. He was buried in a polished oak coffin with brass furniture and a simple inscription.
Considering what he did for the town, and unlike John Kyrle, the the Town's contribution to the memory of Thomas Blake is restricted to a cul-de-sac in Merrivale and a memorial garden in Wye Street which seems a short measure. After his death there was a proposal to erect a statue to Thomas Blake on the edge of the Market Place but this was poorly received by the town and sadly was never carried out.