Street View: 57
Address: 17½ Blackfriars Road


Tallis does not provide a house number for Gray’s establishment, but in the index he is listed between numbers 17 and 18 and Gray himself sometimes refers to his address as number 17½, and so does the 1843 Post Office Directory, so I’ll stick to that. But, as can be seen from the advertisement in the Tallis booklet, Gray had other premises on the opposite side of the Thames, in Earl Street, which was later incorporated into Queen Victoria Street, the newly constructed street to connect Blackfriars to Mansion House.


top part of the oath, found attached to Henry junior's freedom papers (LMA)

top part of the oath, found attached to Henry junior’s freedom papers (LMA)

In 1790, Henry Gray, son of John Gray, a grazier of Steeple Dale in the county of Huntingdonshire (now Cambridgeshire), bought himself the freedom of the City of London through the Innholders’ Company. On his freedom paper, he is already given the occupation of stable keeper, but as no address is given, I do not know whether that was already at Earl Street. He was certainly there in April 1791, when he takes out an insurance with the Sun Fire Office. In December 1793, when he is 29 years old, he marries Susannah Goodeve, 21 years old, originally of Great Waltham, Essex, at St. Ann Blackfriars. In November 1796, they have their eldest son, Henry, baptised at St. Ann’s and more children were to follow.(1) Henry junior obtained his freedom of the Innholders’ Company and the City in 1819 by patrimony. Henry senior died in 1825 and in his will, he says that he has been in partnership with son Henry as stable keepers since 1 June 1819 and that the partnership was to last 21 years. Well, he never made it the whole 21 years and Henry junior continued the business on his own. In the will, no mention is yet made of the property on Blackfriars Road, just that on Earl Street.(2)

The Register of Arts, and Journal of Patent Inventions, ed. by L. Herbert (1832), plate 8.

The Register of Arts, and Journal of Patent Inventions, ed. by L. Herbert (1832), plate 8.

In 1837, The Derby Mercury, quoting The Morning Advertiser reported on a new type of coach, “the new patent safety coach on Stafford’s principle” which was driven by Henry Gray from Earl Street to Palace Yard “at full gallop” while going “through a variety of apparently hazardous evolutions, all of which were performed amidst the applause of the bystanders, with perfect safety”.(3) This new coach had been developed by Daniel Stafford of Liverpool and had its suspension placed a lot higher than in the regular coaches, improving the balance and manoeuvrability with far less chance of it overturning.(4) But Gray did not just rent out horses and coaches, he was also a postmaster and as such would have had a nice regular additional income, but for the railways.

Royal Mails starting from the Post Office, Lombard Street by Charles Hunt, 1829 (Source: British Museum)

Royal Mails starting from the Post Office, Lombard Street by Charles Hunt, 1829 (Source: British Museum)

In 1839, a postmaster, L. Radcliffe, wrote to the Postmasters’ Society, represented by chairman Henry Gray, that the railways had usurped such a large portion of the postal traffic that it caused “a fearful deficiency” in Radcliffe’s finances and he states that “ruin stares the postmasters in the face”. There was an official investigation and Gray was called to give evidence and he explains that the aggregate of the various taxes (one for coaches, one for horses and one for mileage) is so great that many public houses on the railroad where passengers might get off will not be able to keep a chaise or carriage for the convenience of those passengers, but were the taxes moderated, more carriages could be kept and hence there would be no detriment to the state finances from lowering the tax. And his concluding sentence is, “it will be totally impossible to compete with steam-power on the rail-roads, unless the mileage duty is abolished altogether”. The newspaper reporting on the postmasters’ plight quotes Radcliffe’s letter and claimed that customers living some distance away from a railway line were inconvenienced because the railways allegedly “bought coaches off the roads communicating directly with London”, leaving the inhabitants without a cheap and reliable service. The paper makes a case for abolishing the tax on post horses so that the villages along the railway routes were not deprived of the much needed income for public houses, shops, harness-makers and farriers.(5) Yes, progress had its victims I am afraid and in the long run, the post horses and coaches lost the battle.

Patents for inventions. Abridgments of specifications relating to ventilation (1872)

Patents for inventions. Abridgments of specifications relating to ventilation (1872)

In 1857, Gray made it into the papers once again with a new mode of transport, this time a new omnibus, invented by Thomas Cooke of St. John’s Wood, and built by Gray “The conductor when the vehicle is full in hot weather has only to turn a small handle and the roof is at once raised, giving a rush of fresh air into the interior. Again, if the weather is cold, at the request of the passengers the roof can be lowered in less than a minute by the conductor”.(7) Well, Victorian hygiene being what it was, one with ventilation would certainly be an improvement over the closed omnibuses that had been going round London up till then.

The building that used to be Gray's stables in Blackfriars Road in 2015. Project by artist Alex Chinneck, see here

The building that used to be Gray’s stables in Blackfriars Road in 2015. Project by artist Alex Chinneck, see here

Gray must have expanded his Earl Street business to the property south of the river sometime before the Tallis Street View came out (±1839), but I have not found any definite date on which he did so. The first tax record I found him in is 1838, but there is a gap in the records between 1834 and 1838, so he could have been there earlier. The 1841 census tells us that between number 17 and 18 on the Blackfriars Road, “Gray’s stables” could be found, occupied by William and Susan Sellars. The occupation field is rather indistinct in this particular census entry, or at least it is in the online copy, but it could be ‘hostler’. The occupation given for Henry Gray himself in Earl Street is even less legible, but it probably says ‘livery stabler’. The tax records for Southwark Christ Church give Gray in Blackfriars Road until 1850 and then one Savage takes over. In the 1851 census for Blackfriars Road, John Savage is indeed mentioned as stable keeper, employing 4 men, so it looks as if Gray’s adventure across the Thames was rather short-lived. So was, by the way, the carreer of John Savage as The London Gazette of 24 October 1854 reports him in Surrey Goal as an insolvent debtor. The 1851 census for Earl Street is clearer than the 1841 one and Henry is given as a ‘job master’ employing 7 men. Living in Earl Street is also son Henry William who in an 1847 Old Bailey case said that he assists his father in the livery stables.(6)

Gray had his stables at 4 Earl Street, but that section of the street disappeared completely when the street was widened and St. Paul’s Railway station (now Blackfriars station) was built. You can see what happened if you compare the 1799 Horwood map to the 1893 Ordnance Survey map below. Only the top left-hand corner of the block in which number 4 was situated remained. In the 1860s, Joseph Bazalgette proposed the new street from Blackfriars to Mansion House and the subsequent widening – read: the disappearance – of Earl Street was part of the Thames Embankment (North Side) Bill. The Report from the Select Committee with the proceedings and minutes of evidence on the change was published in the House of Lords Sessional Papers for 1863. The 1869 Illustrated Times shows the “improvements”. The new St. Paul’s Railway Station and the Blackfriars Railway Bridge were completed in 1883 as part of the expansion of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway.(8) The area had changed completely in 20 years, but what happened to Henry Gray and his business is unclear. Did he get compensated and subsequently retired to the country? I have not found any indication where he went to, so this post ends rather in the air. Sorry about that.

Horwood 1799 map with the triangular section of the block that remained after the reconstruction of the street

Horwood 1799 map with the triangular block in red remaining after the 1860s reconstruction

Ordnance Survey map 1893-1895

Ordnance Survey map 1893-1895 with the red dot indicating – roughly – the original position of Gray’s establishment

London Illustrated, 1869

Illustrated Times, January 1869, showing the building work at what was to become Queen Victoria Street

(1) Henry (4 November 1796), John (5 April 1798), John (9 February 1800), William (27 June 1802), Susannah (20 October 1805), Charles (19 April 1807), George and Susannah (21 April 1811), and Frederick (23 August 1812). As some of the names are used twice, I presume the earlier child with that name had died and the name got recycled.
(2) National Archives, PROB 11/1702/434.
(3) The Derby Mercury, 29 November 1837.
(4) The London Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Letters, Arts, Sciences, etc., 1831.
(5) The Champion and Weekly Herald, 10 March 1839; and ‘Report from the Select Committee on Internal Communication Taxation’ in Reports from Committees (1837; online here)
(6) Old Bailey case t18470920 in which a forged check was used to pay Gray.
(7) The Morning Chronicle, 13 July 1857.
(8) Daily News, 30 April 1883.


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