James Payne came to live in Ash in 1887, where he built and lived in Hereford House in Firacre Road and traded as a florist and market gardener, doing much of his business with the army camp at Aldershot. Always heavily involved in parish affairs, it was his idea to build the Victoria Hall to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. |
More recently his grand-daughter, Winifred Massey, ran a school from Hereford House. When she died in 1973 she left the house to charity, and some of the proceeds of the sale of the house have been used to set up the James Payne Memorial Fund which gives financial support to local organisations. Miss Massey is buried in Ash Cemetery in grave number J269, but there is no memorial.
James Payne led quite an eventful life. Born in Bishopsgate in about 1845, he was orphaned at the age of six and found himself in the Central London District Industrial School at Hanwell. There he was taught the tailoring trade and made himself two suits of clothes. As soon as he was old enough he was apprenticed to a shoemaker in London, where he made his own boots. After only two years he left and drifted penniless and homeless for some months, before being offered a home in Calais and a job as a cabin boy on a French cross channel mail steamer.
Four years later, by now fluent in French, he became valet de chambre to Monsieur Ledrue Rollin, former President of the French Republic, and a friend and supporter of Garibaldi, who had been living in exile in St John's Wood since Napoleon III proclaimed himself Emperor. After only six months, longing again to see more of the world, Payne obtained work as an interpreter at the Paris Exhibition, where he also laid floor tiles in the testing house where only English work and wares were exhibited. Next he was employed by Henry Stephens Ink and Stain Manufacturers as interpreter, and met the Emperor Napoleon whilst assisting in the staining of 40 concrete houses built in Paris for the Society of Artists.
Returning to London he worked in Henry Stephens’ warehouse for four years, during which time he met Charlotte Allen at a Christmas party and married her. He moved on to Benetfinks department store in Cheapside, where he worked for 15 years, after which he decided to settle in Ash.
In his later years Mr Payne wrote and published a number of books, ranging from a booklet about the Victoria Hall to "Payne's Theories on God and Nature's Laws". Mr Payne's motto can be seen on the Victoria Hall annexe “Deeds, not words, proves mans worth”, and all his publications are liberally sprinkled with the snippets of verse for which he became well known. Many of these reflected upon the difficulties he had experienced in life. `
This typical piece is from the last booklet he wrote "Facts versus Fiction: a new Version of Creation from its Basic Foundation prior to the Planetary System", which he described as "the deepest and cheapest piece of mental work in history".
Toiling as a pioneer;
To think to write and contemplate,
Now age and wars have ruled my fate."