Street View: 74
Address: 30 Fenchurch Street


From his job description in the index to the Street View booklet, you might gather that Thomas Snelling supplied oil for lamps and perhaps paraffin and candles, and he may very well have done that, but the Post Office Directory of 1843 tells us that he ran an oil and Italian warehouse. That was the description for a shop we would now call a deli in the English sense of the word where all sorts of specialised food stuff could be bought.(1) As “oil and Italian warehouse” suggests, the first shops so designated in the 18th century were run by Italian immigrants who realised there was a market for food from their home country. At first, they targetted the upper classes who had perhaps been to Italy on their Grand Tour where they not only acquired a taste for Italian art and culture, but also for Italian food. Quite quickly, the middle classes embraced the new food and Italian warehouses sprang up all over the place, not necessarily run by Italians.(2) The basic stock in all these shops was Italian olive oil and food, such as dried pasta, sauce, anchovies and raisins, but more and more delicacies from other countries were supplied and as we shall see, even home-grown produce made it onto the shelves.


We have no list of what Snelling sold in his shop, but that he sold more than just oil and Italian wares can be seen in the advertisements some suppliers put in the newspapers. For instance, in an 1839 advertisement in which Thomas Kirby of New Bond Street promotes Kirby’s Queen’s Own Sauce, Snelling is listed as one of the addresses where the sauce could be had.(3) In 1844, two more suppliers list Snellling as one of their outlets. Scholefield for his Original Concentrated Jerry and Blanc Mange(4) and Wollaston for his Patent Gelatine.(5) An advertisement by Snelling himself for his produce has not been found, but in April 1844, he advertises for a “young man who understands the […] trade in oil, Italian, pickle and fish sauce” and “likewise the manufacturing of marmalade, jams, bottled fruits &c.”(6) This seems to suggest that Snelling not just sold groceries, but also produced them himself.

From a report by A.H. Hassall on Food and its Adulterations (1855), we know that Snelling sold square bottles of anchovies for 1s. Hassall found the “fish, as well as the brine, highly coloured with a large quantity of red earth”. And another sample of potted bloaters (no price given) was “of a very deep and unnatural red; contains very much bole Armenian. And the anchovy paste (also 1s) was “of a deep and earthy red colour; contains an immense quantity of bole Armenian“. This red earth, containing iron oxide, added to enhance the colour, was, according to Hassall, not dangerous in itself, but the earth could accidentally also be contaminated with lead, which is poisonous, although he had not found any example of that in this survey. To single out Snelling, as I have just done, is unfair to him, as Hassall showed that almost all the samples he obtained from the London oilmen were adulterated with red earth, even those of Fortnum & Mason.

Rowlandson, Sauce shop

T. Rowlandson, Sauce shop (Source: British Museum)

But it was not only food that Snelling sold as in 1844, an advertisement for Doudney’s Patent Mould Candles lists him as one of the London agents for their candles.(7) In 1843, George Ebenezer and Edward Phillips Doudney(8) of Portsea, candle manufacturers, received a patent “for improvements in the manufacture of dip and mould candles”. Apparently, they developed a superior kind of wick which needed less snuffing.(9) Always useful in a time when most lighting still came from candles. A year later, Snelling is mentioned as one of the wholesale suppliers of G. & G.W. Foyle & Co’s Polishing Powders, Pastes, and Liquids.(10)

In the 1851 census, we find one James Lilley, 44 years old, listed as the shopman at 30 Fenchurch Street, but whether he was the one taken on because of the 1844 advertisement is not known. What is clear, however, is that James Lilley became a trusted servant and in the 1861 and 1871 census, when the Snelling family are living south of the river, we find that James and his family live above the shop. We learn a bit more about the Snelling business from an Old Bailey case where Hannah Ward and Margaret Chapman are accused of stealing from their employer. Evidence is given by James Lilley who says that the two women were employed at Snelling’s warehouse. They were accused of having stolen some pots of pickles, capers, cayenne and damsons, besides some empty pots. According to Lilley, the pots were never sold empty and were specially made for Snelling. The ladies were found guilty and sentenced to three months.(11) Unfortunately, I have not found any Snelling pots or bottles, so below a picture of some others.

Victorian bottles (Source: http://forums.pigeonwatch.co.uk/forums/topic/157491-digging-victorian-bottles/)

Victorian bottles (Source: forums.pigeonwatch.co.uk)

The 1851 census tells us that Thomas Snelling was born in St. Mary Cray, Kent and working backwards, we find his baptism as the son of Joseph and Elizabeth Snelling on 8 May 1811 at St. Mary Cray. Thomas married Mary Taylor on 2 February 1836, probably at St. Margaret Pattens. The records say that he married her at St. Gabriel Fenchurch, but that church had been destroyed in the great Fire of 1666 and was never rebuilt. The parish amalgamated with St. Margaret Pattens, so presumably that was the church used. That same year, the property at 30 Fenchurch is insured with the Sun Fire Office, at which time Thomas is called an “oil and colourman”. Logically, the 1841 census should have found Thomas and his family at 30 Fenchurch Street, but they were away and the property is only inhabited by an apprentice, a shopman, a warehouseman and a female servant. Thomas, Mary and their three young children can be found in Gravesend where they are visiting John and Mary Ann Burt. The information the census gives is so minimal, that it is not clear what the relation between the Burts and the Snellings is. Anyway, the Snellings continue to live above the shop until sometime between 1851 and 1861 when they move to Cray Lodge, Lower Tulse Hill, Surrey, although Thomas remains the proprietor of the Fenchurch shop. As late as 1863, we see him listed with that address as one of the signees of a petition regarding the amalgamation of the City and the Metropolitan Police Forces.(12) I have not found the Snellings in the 1871 census, but in 1881 Thomas, now a widower and retired, can be found with three unmarried daughters at 13 Warrior Square, Hastings. In 1886, however, he is back at Lower Tulse Hill where he dies on 4 February.(13)

Merchant Taylors

The 30 Fenchurch Street property was owned by the Merchant Taylors’ Company to whom it was left in the will of Hugh Candish in 1640. The stipulation of the bequest was that part of the income from the property should be given to St. Martin Outwich and the remainder could be used by the Company. However, in the London Livery Companies Commission Report, volume 4, on the charities of the Merchant Taylors’ Company (1884), it was stated that despite the fact that the Company could use the proceeds for themselves, they had always applied the residue to charitable purposes. The same report states that 30 Fenchurch Street extends back 64 feet and “is let to Thomas Snelling, oilman, for a term of 21 years from Lady-day 1847, at a rent of 170l“. We know that he was at the property before that, at least since 1836, so the 1847 agreement must have been an extension of a previous one.


(1) See Wikipedia for the different meanings of deli or delicatessen in the different countries
(2) Giorgio Riello, “A Taste of Italy: Italian Businesses and the Culinary Delicacies of Georgian London” in The London Journal, November 2006, vol. 31, no. 2, pp. 201-222.
(3) The Morning Post, 6 February 1839.
(4) The Morning Chronicle, 19 March 1845 and 9 September 1845.
(5) The Morning Chronicle, 21 March 1845.
(6) The Times, 13 April 1844
(7) The Times, 17 February 1844.
(8) Most likely related to George David Doudney of Fleet Street whose father was also called Edward Phillips.
(9) Repertory of Patent Inventions and other Discoveries, volume 2, 1843.
(10) Berrow’s Worcester Journal, 16 October 1845.
(11) Old Bailey, 6 January 1851, ref. nr. t18510106-375.
(12) The Standard, 28 April 1863.
(13) Probate is granted 25 March 1886 and the estate is valued at over £58,600.


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