Street Views: 1 and 18 Suppl.
Address: 28 King William Street


Henry Tolkien was baptised on the 26th of September, 1814, at St. John’s Clerkenwell as the son of George Tolkien and his wife Eliza Lydia Murrell. Father George is described as a glass seller, living in White Lion Street. On the 23rd of September, 1840, Henry marries Amelia Sophia Barber at St. Olave’s, Southwark and three years later, he applies for his freedom of the City of London by redemption (that is: by paying a fine of £5.3.6) through the Company of the Loriners. But he must have been established at 28 King William Street before his official freedom, as we find his name in the Tallis Street Views which were published in 1839. Number 28 is situated in the section of King William Street between Crooked Lane and Arthur Street and where, coming from London Bridge, King William Street bends to the left and Gracechurch Street begins. As Tallis explains in his booklet, King William Street formed the new access from the foot of New London Bridge to the Bank of England. According to Tallis, it “consists entirely of large houses, appropriated to Insurance Company’s, or shops” and “it will rival any of the new improvements in London, for its great architectural beauty”. See the post on Henry Blenkinsop for a shop that had to be demolished for the new approach to the bridge.

Map from the Street View booklet with Tolkien's shop marked in red

Map from the Street View booklet with Tolkien’s shop marked in red


The earliest newspaper advertisement I found for Henry Tolkien is in The Morning Chronicle of 18 May, 1841, from which we learn that he not only sold and published music as the index to the Street Views stated, but also musical instruments. The advertisement mentions pianos, such as the “much admired piccolos in mahogany and rosewood cases” for 28 guineas, or if you preferred them in zebra wood, they were 31 guineas. Still not enough luxury for your taste? Well, why not buy a cottage piano “with double columns” and “lion scrolled legs” for 36 guineas.

Selection of sheet music available from Henry Tolkien

Selection of sheet music available from Henry Tolkien

In September 1854, a number of music publishers were summoned to appear at Guildhall to answer complaints from Antonio Panizzi, the keeper of printed books and manuscripts at the British Museum(1), for not delivering copies of certain works of music to the library within one month after publication as they were required to do according to the Legal Deposit rules. The library section of the Museum is now the separate British Library, but the same deposit rules still apply (see here). Tolkien was the only publisher to appear at Guildhall and the charge against him was that he had neglected to send the library a copy of “The Guardsman’s Farewell” (price 2s 6d). To begin with, Tolkien said that he thought the Museum was rather sharp as the music had only been published a few weeks before and the omission to send a copy was entirely accidental. The Museum denied being sharp and in any case, Tolkien “had not delivered any work for years”. Tolkien then changed his excuse for non-delivery by claiming that he was not aware that he was required to send a copy as all the works he published were reprinted and out-of-copyright foreign productions. And the same productions were published by every other London bookseller and the Museum would have a hundred copies of each piece of music if all these reprints had to be submitted. Alderman Farebrother said that music sellers were not required to send in music imported from abroad, but if they reprinted the music in England, they must send a copy to the British Museum. Tolkien said that as soon he had been made aware of that rule, he had sent a copy to the library, but they had refused it. The library replied that it had been refused because the summons to Guildhall had already been issued. Oh dear. To cut a long story short, Tolkien had to pay a 10s fine, the cost of the case (4s) and he was to send the disputed copy to the library.(2) Where, by the way, it still resides under shelfmark H.1756.(12.).

The Bruce Polka by H. Oakey (Source: Royal Academy of Music)

The Bruce Polka by H. Oakey (Source: Royal Academy of Music)

Unfortunately, in November 1850, Henry’s wife Amelia had died and in the 1851 census, 28 King William Street was occupied by Henry, his brother William Murrell (born 1810), his sister Anne (born ±1827) and a servant. Henry is given as music publisher and dealer in musical instruments. William is given the same job description and Anne is acting as housekeeper. Five years later, Henry marries his second wife, Elizabeth Charlotte Wright. The 1861 census does not list any occupants for 27-30 King William Street and I have not found Henry anywhere else, so there is a gap in the timeline, but we know that he extended the business to include number 27, concentrating more and more on the manufacture of pianofortes. In 1857, he registered “improvements in pianofortes” together with one Joseph Middleton of Finsbury, but what those improvements were is unclear.(3)

Source: Ebay

Source: Ebay

Somewhere in the second half of 1876, the business relocated to 51 King William Street, although the family no longer lived above the shop. In the 1871 census, Henry, and his extending family, can be found at 69 Brook Green, Hammersmith. Henry is listed as piano manufacturer, employing 20 men and 4 boys. Ten years later, the family is found at 6 William Terrace, High Road, Chiswick. Henry is still listed as piano manufacturer but the number of employees is not given. Son Charles (23 years old) is listed as manager for his father. Two other sons, William Brindley (21 years old) and George (19 years old) are “pianoforte employees”, presumably in their father’s business, although that is not stated. Henry died 29 December 1885 and probate was granted to the widow and two of the sons (Henry Monteith and Charles Constantine). The estate was valued at just over £5,304.(4)

And yes, in case you were wondering, Henry and J.R.R. are related. J.R.R. was the grandson of John Benjamin Tolkien who was Henry’s elder brother (see more on the Tolkien family in general here and on John Benjamin in particular here.) And for a portrait of music publisher Henry see here.

(1) Update 15 September 2015: post on Panizzi on the Untold Lives blog of the British Library. See here.
(2) The Morning Post, 6 September 1854.
(3) London Gazette, 29 May 1857.
(4) England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1886.


<– 29 King William Street 27 King William Street –>