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Silver Tray

Silver tray with gadrooned rim, three ball-and-claw feet and engraved inscription; made by Charles Boyton & Son, Upper Charles Street, Clerkenwell, with London hallmark for 1893

The inscription records the presentation of this tray by the Borough Council and local magistrates to Lieutenant Colonel John May at the end of his fourth term as Mayor of Basingstoke in 1894.

The Mays were a distinguished family, linked to Basingstoke since the 16th century and founders in 1750 of a brewery in Brook Street that operated until 1950. John May (1837-1920) was born in Church Street. He was the fifth member of the family to serve as Mayor; the first, Charles T May was elected in 1711. The presentation of this tray did not mark the end of his mayoral career, as he filled the office twice more in 1896-97 and 1901-02.

Joining the Hampshire Volunteers (since absorbed into the Territorial Army) as a Private in 1859, he rose through the ranks and was promoted to Hon. Lieutenant Colonel in 1890. In 1883 he paid for a Drill Hall to be built for the Volunteers at the top of Sarum Hill. This later became the Plaza cinema, now demolished.

A number of his other gifts to the town are also lost, including a memorial in the Market Square for the coronation of Edward VII and an elaborate clock tower added to this building in 1887. Deemed unsafe, it was taken down in 1961, though one of the clock faces is displayed here on the top floor. What survives of his generosity to Basingstoke is chiefly May’s Bounty, the cricket ground in Fairfields Road that was once a meadow where, as a boy, he had played the game himself.

Charles Boyton & Son began in the early 19th century as makers of spoons and forks. They later added items like this tray (or ‘salver’) to their stock in trade, describing themselves in 1895 as ‘silver spoon and presentation plate and wholesale manufacturing silversmiths’. Later still they diversified into general metalwork, including, during the First World War, aeroplane propellers. A successor company styled ‘Charles Boyton & Son (1933) Ltd’ traded from Wardour Street W1 until around 1977.

Gift of the Friends of the Willis Museum, Basingstoke

Accession no M2010.3