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Street View: 14
Address: 36 St. James’s Street

elevation

In July 1828, Charles Ely, patent shot cartridge manufacturer, of 11 Kirby Street, Hatton Garden, took out a fire insurance. Later that year, on 17 December, he and his brother William took out another policy with the Sun Fire Office for their premises at 14 Charlotte Street, Rathbone Place. They are listed as “patent shot cartridge manufacturers”. On the face of it, they entered into a partnership somewhere in the second half of 1828. However, at the end of December 1828, their partnership is already dissolved.(1) They are then described as “of Lovell’s-Court, Paternoster-Row, London, Silversmiths, and of Charlotte-Street, Fitzroy-Square […] Patent Shot Cartridge Manufacturers”.

Trade Card (Source: British Museum)

trade card (Source: British Museum)

By 1837, they, or perhaps just William, must have moved to 36 St. James’s Street where Tallis was to find them, because in the insurance entry for Robert Thomas, bootmaker and dealer in spurs, they are mentioned as the other occupiers of the premises. As you can see from the elevation at the top of this post, number 36 was a large property on the corner of Jermyn Street, which the Eleys shared with Robert Thomas. Whether Charles was actively involved in the shop, or whether he remained in the background, just having a financial stake, is not entirely clear, but on the 1st of January 1840, the brothers once again dissolve a partnership. The St. James’s Street address is given, but Old Bond Street is also mentioned. They apparently did not live above the shop as the 1841 census locates William and his family in Chelsea, and Charles with his family in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire.

Advert in Street View 14

Advert in Street View 14

Charles and William had developed a cartridge which looks as if they wrapped chicken wire around the shot, but apparently you could shoot further with them than with loose shot, the idea being that the wire came off somewhere between the gun and the target. The wire was wrapped in thin paper and also contained the wadding, so it was a lot easier to load your gun with one of those than with loose shot. Sorry animals, I am just repeating their brochure, not condoning the use of their ammunition. One of their advertorial brochures, explaining the product in detail, can be found online here. An instruction paper on how to load your gun with the wire cartridges and more technical information can be found here.

But, as we all know, guns, gunpowder and accessory chemicals are dangerous things to handle and it went drastically wrong in June 1841. Below the report found in several newspapers.

Dreadful explosion in Old Bond Street – On Friday evening, between the hours of six and seven o’clock, a tremendous explosion, similar to a discharge of cannon, was heard to proceed from the extensive manufactory of Messrs. Eley and Company, cartridge and percussion cap manufacturers, of Emmatt’s Mews, Old Bond-street. A vast number of persons immediately proceeded to the premises, accompanied by a number of the police on duty near the spot, when they found that great destruction had taken place. It was very shortly discovered that Mr. Eley, the proprietor of the manufactory, and who carries on his business in St. James’s, at the corner of Jermyn-street, had perished. On search being made through the dilapidated premises he was discovered stretched on the floor of the counting house, a frightful spectacle. His left arm and hand were blown off, his right thigh was nearly severed, both his feet were blown to pieces, his person in other respects was mutilated and blackened, and scarcely a remnant of his apparel was left about him. Information of the awful catastrophe was immediately forwarded to Mr. Gell, coroner for Westminster, who appointed Saturday afternoon for the holding of the inquest. After the jury had viewed the body of the deceased, the following evidence was produced. Mr. Charles Eley, of Cheshunt, said that deceased was in the habit of using detonating or fulminating mercury, a composition of most combustable and dangerous nature. He had no doubt that deceased was stirring the composition when it exploded. A soliciter stated, on behalf of Mr. Emmatt, the proprietor of the premises, that he had not been aware of any combustable matter being used by the deceased; that had the fact been known to the neighbours deceased would have been indicted. Ann Stubbins, servant to the deceased, stated that the whole of the partition and roof of the room in which the composition was made had been more or less carried away and injured, and all the windows destroyed. Joseph Long and James Price, both in the deceased’s employ, stated that the detonating mercury was obtained at Mr. Diamond’s, on Holborn-hill. After other evidence had been heard, the jury returned a verdict of “accidental death.” The deceased, who has left a large family, was much respected.(2)

Despite this fatal warning, the Eleys continued producing their dangerous products and are, in fact, still in business. You can read the later history of the firm here or on their own website here.

Advert in The Bradford Observer; and Halifax, Huddersfield, and Keighley Reporter, 25 September 1845

Advert in The Bradford Observer; and Halifax, Huddersfield, and Keighley Reporter, 25 September 1845

(1) The London Gazette, 30 January 1829.
(2) The Morning Post, 28 June 1841. Most of the other London newspapers carried a similar report.

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