The Friends of St. Peter's Berkhamsted

Friends of St Peter's, Great Berkhamsted

William Key (1807 – 1890)

Grave Number 7

William Key 31st October 1807 – 27th February 1890 

William Key was born on 6 October 1807 in Berkhamsted. He had two brothers and two sisters. A successful timber merchant, he died, unmarried, in January 1890 in his hometown, having lived a long life of 82 years.

The family lived close to the Hall and William Claridge (14) at the east end of town. William Key’s father was born in Shotswell, Warwickshire and had settled in Berkhamsted having finished working as a fencing contractor on the London to Birmingham railway. He established a successful timber business (William Key & Son) on the canal wharf and by 1851, was employing 22 men.

William (senr.) died in 1854, aged 78, and his son took over the business. As well as importing timber along the canal, he also bought large quantities of trees in the neighbourhood and converted them in his yard.

As William never married, he employed housekeepers. Emma Wilson, aged 48 and a widow, was living with him as a servant in 1881, and three years later was convicted of theft of a sovereign and sent to prison. The case illustrated that William was perhaps somewhat miserly, keeping money in a box in his bedroom. (Hertford Mercury 12th July 1884)

For when William died in 1890, his property was valued at around £12,000. Thomas Norris, his nephew, took over the business, retaining the name William Key & Son, and moved it to Castle Street, next to the canal on the site later occupied by Alsfords (and where the Totem Pole is situated). One of Thomas’ son’s, William Key Norris, is also buried in the Cemetery (52).

The stability of William Key’s memorial, together with 6 & 8, was affected when the wall behind collapsed onto it in 2012. The headstone fell over entirely on the night of 3rd April 2018.  This is one of the 19 memorials which was conserved in 2018.

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