Address: 146 Holborn Bars
Street View: 8
In 1780, the Land Tax records for the Farringdon Without Ward list John and Robert Dymond for a substantial property in Holborn. They are charged almost twice as much as their near neighbours; not suprisingly if you consider the width of their property. The Medical Register for the year 1783 tells us that Robert, an apothecary, has died 17 June 1783 at Barnsley, Yorkshire. And in the list of subscribers to John Sheldon’s The History of the Absorbent System (1784), John describes himself as ‘surgeon’. We next hear of Dymond in 1802 as being the apothecary to the House of Recovery, the Institution for the Cure and Prevention of Contagious Fevers in the Metropolis.(1) He seems to have combined the skills of apothecary and physician as that same year, The London Medical and Physical Journal lists him as ‘physician extraordinary’ and as ‘apothecary’.
In 1813, the Land Tax records list Joseph Dymond as the owner of 146 Holborn Bars and The London Gazette tells us that the partnership between Joseph Dymond and Samuel Smith as surgeons and apothecaries has been dissolved by mutual consent on 25 December 1812. The next Dymond we hear from is another Robert who in 1820 receives a medical degree from Edinburgh University with his Dissertatio Medica Inauguralis de Morbis Artuum Quibusdam and we find him in 1836 in the Land Tax record for Holborn. The 1841 census lists him with his wife Mary, his daughter Mary and his son Robert at 146 Holborn Bars, but the large property is also occupied by Owen Thomas Owen, a surgeon and his family, John Turner, a chemist, and various servants. In other words, the property more or less houses a complete medical centre. Owen Thomas Owen and one Charles Button had at one time been in partnership “trading under the style or firm Dymond and Company, Operative and Manufacturing Chymists”, but the partnership was dissolved at the end of 1838.(2) Although Owen is mentioned first in the census, Dymond seems to have been the owner of the business as he is mentioned as the one insured when a fire broke out in the premises by a “bursting small chemical apparatus”.(3)
In 1844, Dymond is still the one listed in the Land Tax records, but by 1847, Charles Button had taken over the premises. Was he the same person who had been in partnership with Owen before? The 1851 census tell us that Robert Dymond has moved to Bolton Hall in Yorkshire. He must have done well for himself in the time he had his business in Holborn as he now employs nine servants, ranging from domestics to gardeners. In the 1851 census, Button is living at 146 Holborn Bars and styles himself “operative and manufacturing chemist employing five persons”. That same year, a report in the newspaper shows us that Button was not just a chemist who concocted pills and potions, as we are told that “a number of gentlemen met yesterday at 146, Holborn-bars, to inspect a model of Messrs. Shepherd and Button’s submarine telegraph”. The invention consisted of a chemical substance with which the usual gutta percha coating of electrical wires was covered. Around these layers came a metal casing which was to protect the wire when placed on rocky seabeds.(4) The wire was to be used for the electric telegraph between Copenhagen and Hamburg.(5)
In 1853, Button placed an advertisement in The Journal of the Society of Arts to notify “photographers &c., that he still continues to manufacture and supply Chemical and Apparatus for their use”. The curious use of the word “still” may very well have something to do with a fire that broke out on the premises. The inquest, reported in The Standard of 16 March 1853, tells us that police constable Walker and serjeant Patterson had discovered that the back warehouse of Button’s shop was on fire. The firemen were alerted, who doused the fire quickly, but one of the firemen brought out “a vessel of melted fluid, which he poured into the gutter. The liquid immediately ignited, but was put out by the firemen in the course of a few minutes, by their throwing water upon it. It then formed itself into a solid mass about the pavement and road”. A little later, the stuff had ignited again and serjeant Patterson tried to stamp the fire out and while doing that, his trousers caught fire and after the firemen doused him in water, he was transported to the hospital, but later died of complications. Patterson admitted to having put a piece of the material in his coat pocket, which probably ignited when he was trying to stamp out the fire in the road. It turned out to have been phosphorus which, according to Button “was quite safe when covered with water”, but, although the external had become solid when the fireman doused it, the internal was still liquid and when Patterson stamped on it, hot sparks would fly out in all directions and that was what probably ignited the piece in his coat pocket. The verdict was accidental death. At the inquest, it also transpired that Button, who had been at his country residence when the fire broke out, occupied the back warehouse and that the front shop was occupied by Mr. Boulton (this was in fact William Bolton), chemist and druggist.
Although Button annouced in the advertisement that he continued to supply photographers, his business was declared bankrupt in 1854, but he must have managed to hang on, as in 1856, both Bolton and Button were still at 146 Holborn Bars. In that year, they were mentioned in the papers because several inhabitants of Holborn and Brook Street had complained of unpleasant smells because of the chemical experiments carried out on the premises. Dr. Letherby, the medical officer of health, reported that he had “directed that Mr. Button should construct a hood over his yard, for collecting the acid vapours, that he should discontinue the distillation of muriatic acid, and that he should adopt means for preventing the escape of sulphuretted hydrogen”. He also “directed that Mr. Boulton should discontinue the manufacture of gun cotton.”(6) Chemistry was a dangerous business and later that same year, Bolton himself got his hands burned when he tried to extinguish a fire when two bottles of ether exploded.(7)
After Button was once again declared a bankrupt in 1858, Bolton remained at number 146 until his death in 1867(8), at one point in partnership with Francis Barnitt (1859-1864). One of their distinguised customers was Charles Darwin who in 1863 bought 9s worth of “poison for plants” to protect his childrens’ dried flowers from getting mouldy. Joseph Dalton Hooker, Darwin’s friend and Director of the Royal Botanical Gardens, had advised him to ask Bolton and Barnitt for a bottle of the poison they supplied to the Kew Herbarium and to wash the flowers in it before drying.(9)
If you are interested in what Dymond had for sale, there are 1834 (Joshua Dymond, 28 pages) and 1837 (Dymond & Co., 34 pages) catalogues under the title Chemicals and Apparatus Prepared and Sold, Wholesale and Retail to be found in various libraries, but you may have to travel some distance (see WorldCat).
(1) The Morning Chronicle, 3 February 1802.
(2) The London Gazette, 1 January 1839.
(3) The Charter, 8 December 1839.
(4) The Morning Chronicle, 10 July 1851.
(5) The Morning Chronicle, 30 December 1851.
(6) The Morning Chronicle, 19 March 1853.
(7) The Standard, 18 August 1856.
(8) England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1867. Probate was granted to Catharine, his widow, and the estate was valued at £10,000, later resworn at £6,000.
(9) The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, volume 11: 1863 (1999).
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