Street View: 87
Address: 3 Cripplegate Buildings
In 1848, Thomas Vyse and his sons, Charles, Richard and Henry, end a partnership they had started in 1845 as “merchants and straw hat manufacturers, carrying on business at No. 3, Cripplegate-buildings, and No. 76 Wood-Street, Cheapside, both in the City of London; at Luton, in the county of Bedford; at New York, in the United States of America; and at Florence”.(1) Another document states that Charles had been in New York, but was now “on the Continent”.(2) Thomas is said to be Charles’ attorney in a London Gazette notice, which has probably to do with the very imprecise “on the Continent” address.(3) Didn’t they know where he was? The document in the LMA says that some money had been invested for Charles “for his own use but so that the said Charles Vyse shall not have power to deprive himself of the benefit of the said annual income or any part thereof by any sale mortgage or change or otherwise in the way of anticipation and so that his receipts in writing under his own hand given after the interest shall become due and payable and not before”. Hmmm, Charles seems to have been the black sheep of the family and not to be trusted with money. Various later notices in The London Gazette show that Richard concentrated on the Luton side of the business, Henry on Wood Street and two other sons, William, and after his death, Thomas Andrew, on the New York branch. Earlier, Thomas Andrew had looked after the Italian branch. Despite all these changes, Vyse and sons remained one large firm until 1864.
Thomas first traded from Holborn Hill, but later from 3 Cripplegate Buildings. For a map of the Cripplegate area and the later history of the buildings in the street see the post on neighbour Richard Finden. According to the Land Tax records, Vyse could be found at number 3 from 1830 to 1850. The family did not live above the Cripplegate shop for very long, if at all, as in the 1841 census, William Barnet, a straw hatter, and his family can be found at the property. In the 1851 census, Thomas and his wife Alice are found at The Abbey, Herne Hill, but they had apparenty already been there since the 1830s.(4) By 1851, the Cripplegate shop had been taken over by Joseph Fisher who dealt in artificial flowers.
As the partnership notice already indicated, there were branches of the firm in New York and Florence. Family members were sent out there to see to things, but some unfortunately also died there. In December 1843, son William died of apoplexy at New York(5), but the firm continued to trade in New York and in 1864, Thomas Vyse jr. bought 126 West 18th Street. It is said that he lived at 20 West 17th Street.(6) A few years before William died, in 1840, Frederick, another of Thomas’s sons, died in Florence, 23 years old. One website says that he was buried at the English cemetery in the same grave as his sister, Florence Ann, but that is incorrect. They have interpreted their own findings wrongly as they say that she died 21 October, 1829, just 16 months old. However, they also transcribe the entry in the churchyard records where she is named “Ann Wyse (Florence)”, which I interpret as Anna Vyse of Florence; she is just “quinze mois”, which is fifteen months, not sixteen; and “fille de Thomas Andrews Wyse et de Mary J. Fisher”.(7) Thomas Andrew was the son of Thomas, and the little girl was hence Frederick’s niece. Never mind, languages can be difficult and it does show that the Vyses were in Italy at least since 1829. Colnaghi (see below) mentions 1827 as the year the Vyse business started trading in Italy.
Italy was a huge supplier of straw hats and the Vyses imported the broad-rimmed floppy straw hat, the Leghorn (example here), so named after the English name for the Livorno region, in large quantities, so it is not surprising that they set up a branch over there to control the trade.
“From the year 1826 the demand for the ‘fioretto’ hat [that is, the Leghorn hat] began gradually to fall off, and it was necessary to supply its place with another article. This was found in the eleven-end plait, one strip of which, in making up the hat, was sewn so as to overlap the other. The merit of introducing this plait was chiefly due to Messrs. Vyse, an English firm, first established at Florence about the year 1827. After some temporary changes, the factory was finally removed to Prato, about the year 1844, where the centre of the business has ever since remained.”(8)
Straw hats were not just produced in Italy, but also in England, and especially in Bedfordshire. Vyse set up a factory in Luton and the building, at least its reincarnation after a 1930 fire, can still be seen with the V for Vyse between the windows. For more information about the Luton factory, see here.
In 1843, Thomas had a disagreement with the customs officers at St. Katherine Docks and he applied to the House of Commons where a Special Committee investigated the matter and found the case for Thomas. The duty on straw hats was to be levied per quarter of a pound and not per ounce.(9)
Thomas died on 8 January 1861 and he was buried on the 16th at Norwood Cemetery. His probate entry said that he was of Herne Hill, Surrey and of Wood Street, Cheapside, and that his estate was valued at £180.000.(10) Many more changes took place after Thomas’s death, but the firm continued until well into the 20th century.
Thomas Vyse was most likely the brother of Charles Vyse, the subject of a previous post. A Thomas and a Charles Vyse were baptised as the children of Andrew and Jane Vyse (or Vize) in Birmingham in 1782 and 1785 respectively. This does tie in with the ages we know they had in later records. I have not found absolute proof, just circumstantial evidence for the relation between the two straw hat manufacturers, but for now, I will assume that they were indeed brothers. [UPDATE: yes, they were brothers, see the comment by Martyn Priestnall on yet another brother William who was convicted of receiving stolen goods. His wife and his two brothers Thomas and Charles petitioned for clemency] Thomas turned out to be a much better businessman than his brother Charles who went bankrupt at some point. You can read all about Charles and his unlucky son Valentine here.
(1) The London Gazette, 1 August 1848.
(2) London Metropolitan Archives: CLC/B/227/Ms12057.
(3) The London Gazette, 20 September 1853 and 2 September 1859. In 1864, Thomas Andrew the younger split off the New York branch and continued on his own account. The rest of the family continued to trade as Vyse and sons (The London Gazette, 26 August 1864).
(4) Herne Hill Personalities, researched by G. Young et al. (2006). See also there for the later purchase of the property for Herne Hill railway station.
(5) The Times, 16 January 1844.
(6) Manhattan Landmarks Preservation Commission December 11, 1990 Designation List 230 LP-1815.
(7) Thomas Andrew Vyse (1802-1865) and Mary Jane Fisher were married on 2 March 1826 at St. Martin Ludgate.
(8) Consul-General Colnaghi, “Notes on the Florentine Straw Industry” in The Antiquary, September 1886, p. 123.
(9) Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons, volume 52 (1843).
(10) England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1861
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