Our past paves the way for our today.
The history of Brownbills goes back to the cinque port of Rye in Sussex where a gentleman by the name of Mr. Angus started his ophthalmic practice. In the late 1920s he took the decision to move his business to Ashford. Its new home was a 1860s 3 story building on the lower end of Bank Street, in the centre of the growing market town. According to census records from the time, the building had previously been occupied by Mr Walter Prebble, a local butcher, along with his wife and three children aged 4-11 and Miss Fanny Bishop, their servant of the time. Despite this occupancy, for some reason the property is missed on the 1901 census but does appear on the 1891 and 1911 censuses.
A few years after moving the practice to its new home, it is thought that Mr. Angus decided to move abroad to Africa (his son however is still a patient of ours today). At this stage the business was sold to Mr. William Oxford who continued to work in the practice until the late 1960s. In the late 1960’s the practice again gained new ownership by a local husband and wife team (Gordon and Connie Brownbill) who are still remembered fondly by many of our patients today. Some of Connie’s own spectacles from her days in the practice can be found on display round the lampshade in our disabled toilet – It’s well worth a look!
After working as an optometrist with Mr Brownbill for a number of years, Huw Pinney and his wife Helen took over the practice in 1994. It was at this stage that they decided to rename the practice from ‘G.D.Brownbill’ to ‘Brownbills’, a name which has become a permanent fixture in Ashford’s town centre ever since. Due to the practices success and growth since Huw and Helen took over the practice, a decision was made in December 2008 to move the business to a new and more appropriate location on Norwood Street – a street built at a similar time to Bank Street.
The newly found premises was Cecil House, which was in existence in 1891 as a house and home to James Mastertons, a local mechanic, along with his wife Charlotte and daughter Mary as well as a lodger who was a registered general medical called Thomas. At this time, the now staff car park was a family garden which unusually had a public right of way directly across it. This right of way has since been removed but can still be used by patients and the public whilst the practice is open.
Since playing the role of a family home in 1891, the property has been home to various businesses and institutions over the years including a registry office, the water board offices, coal board offices, an accountants and a solicitors. It is also very possible that another family occupied the house at some stage during these years.
The property as it stands today is believed to have been built in four parts to accommodate the growth needed for the occupying businesses. The earliest section of the building is believed to be one of the consulting rooms and the two downstairs toilets as these are of single brick construction. The second consulting room and reception area are most likely to be the next oldest section and it is thought that this addition is the first cavity wall constructions in Ashford. The third addition is the dispensing area and upstairs offices which were added in the 1960s as a flat roof extension. Lastly, during Brownbills’ occupancy we have carried out further building work, focusing on accessibility issues for the disabled. This now means that our two primary consultation rooms, diagnostic suites and dispensary are all located on the ground floor along with a disabled toilet facility (for which we were awarded a GOLD award from the Ashford Access Group)
The new home of Brownbills is a much better environment for both our patients and staff in many ways and we hope to continue developing the practice over the coming years.