Street Views: 27 and 61
Addresses: 32 High Street, Bloomsbury and 75 Shoreditch


The elevation at the top of this post is for the property Charles Ubsdell had on 32 High Street, Bloomsbury, or, as he sometimes put it in his advertisements, opposite the end of Oxford Street. The earliest mention of Ubsdell in an advertisement is in the London Dispatch and People’s Political and Social Reformer of 14 January 1838. He calls his shop the “Great Western Emporium” and you could buy your suits and coats there “in any colour” and with “a good fit warranted”.elevation Shoreditch But he also had a shop at 75 High Street, Shoreditch (elevation on the left), perhaps predictably called the “Northern Emporium”. An Old Bailey case of August 1838 tells us that Richard Ubsdell, Charles’ son, is living at Shoreditch and we can assume that he managed that branch for his father.(1)

The 1841 census tells us that Charles is 52 years old, not born in Middlesex, married to Jean (also called Jane) who is 53 years old, and that the couple have five children living with them (Matilda, 23, Richard, 21, Martha, 19, Asa, 17, and Thomas, 14). They are living in Boziers Court, a small road behind a block of houses on the corner of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road. See The Cat’s Meat Shop for more information on Boziers Court. By then, that is by 1841, the Ubsdells had moved their Emporium from High Street, Bloomsbury to 1 & 2 Oxford Street. The shop in Shoreditch is no longer mentioned in the advertisements.

Advert in various Street View booklets

Advert in various Street View booklets

Nothing spectacular happens in the tailor’s shop at the Great Western Emporium as the shop is still called, but that cannot be said of the personal life of some of the Ubsdells. Matilda, the eldest daughter went off in 1842 with “a Noble Lord, the younger son of a Duke, to Ireland, where she lived with him for some months, and having become enceinte by him, she returned to this country and was delivered of a boy”.(2) Matilda sued the young Lord for breach of promise and was paid 300l. to hush it all up. She assumed the name of Mrs Black and with her younger sister Martha set up as milliners at 113 Park Street, Camden Town. In 1844, she met a young man who worked as a clerk in the goods department of Ely station and they became engaged. The engagement was, however, broken off and they did not see each other for a while. They renewed their engagement in 1846 after a chance meeting and the wedding day was fixed for September 1847. The millinery business was advertised for sale and the money raised was to be used for a house. On the 8th of August, Matilda received a letter from her young man in which he wrote that he thought they should acquaint her father with the engagement. Apparently they had kept it a secret. Why one wonders? Mr. W.R. Carr – the young man’s first name is not mentioned – wanted to get their financial future on a better footing and he thought that Matilda might “be furnished with 800l. or 1,000l.” He stresses that he does not want the money for himself, but for “the society I shall have to enter into and other things”. Matilda was not having any of that and she alleged that the letter amounted to a refusal to marry her and she consulted an attorney who wrote to Mr. Carr threatening proceedings, but also offering a way out if money were to change hands. In other words, Matilda thought she could get some money out of a second young man for another breach of promise. But this young man was not such a push-over as the Irish nobleman, or had less to lose, and it came to a court case.

The defence stated that Mr. Carr had not known of ‘Mrs. Black’s’ earlier history, but had thought her to be a young widow with a child. Witnesses were called to refute that claim as Matilda had frequently been called by her maiden name in front of the defendant and her young son had been called by his father’s real name. Two witnesses said that Carr had told them he knew of Matilda’s previous history but “that it would make no difference in his respect and esteem for the plaintiff”. The defence claimed that “it was not likely that with the knowledge of so serious a lapse of virtue on her part as consenting to live as the paramour of another man defendant would have entered into this engagement.” Chief Justice Wild considered the fact that this was Matilda’s second action for breach of promise and that she had entered this second one under her assumed name of Mrs. Black, giving the world the impression that she was a widow. She should have made the real facts known to the defendant and “as to the question of damages, if it should arise, plaintiff’s feelings were not likely to have suffered so severely as if this had been her first appearance in court as plaintiff in an action of this nature. Verdict for plaintiff – damages one farthing”.(3) Not quite the 300l. she might have hoped for! If you now think that Matilda went on to lead the quiet life of a spinster, or even an assumed widow, you are wrong. The same year as the court case againt Carr, she managed to get her hooks into one John Lymes, a widowed coffee house keeper. The couple got married on 7 December 1848 and presumably lived happily ever after as Matilda’s name did not appear in the papers again.

Matilda behind the counter? (Source: British Museum)

Matilda behind the counter? (Source: British Museum)

Back to the Western Emporium on Oxford Street. In the 1851 census, we can still find Charles and his wife Jane at Boziers Court. Living with them are sons Thomas and Asa, and daughter Martha and her husband Jonathan King whom she had married in 1850. I am afraid things did not go well for Charles Ubsdell after that. Whether that had anything to do with the shenanigans of his daughter which lost him customers, or whether he just fell foul of the debit/credit balance is unclear, but in early 1853 he is confined to the Queen’s Prison as a bankrupt.(4) And this story is unfortunately not a fairy tale and so does not have a happy end; in 1877, Charles dies on the 31st of March, 86 years old, at the Saint Pancras Workhouse. Life was not kind to this particular London tailor.

(1) Old Bailey t18380820-1949.
(2) the Morning Post, 17 May 1848.
(3) Lloyd’s Weekly, 21 May 1848.
(4) London Gazette, 11 and 21 January 1853.