Street Views: 73 and 80
Address: 33 Parliament Street and 13 Bridge Street, Westminster
Milns’ drapery could be found on the corner of Parliament Street and Bridge Street and had two house numbers, one for either street, but we are just talking about one shop, called Anglesea House, but why it is called that is unclear. The earliest reference I found for Edward Milns is an 1827 entry in the Sun Fire Office papers where he is described as linen draper and laceman at 33 Parliament Street. He was to marry four years later to Elizabeth Briant.(1) The position of his shop turned out to be a lucky one, as on 25 June, 1838, Edward advertised in The Morning Post that for the coronation of Queen Victoria a few days later, he had “a few good front seats to be let; also a shop front and the use of a shop and balcony outside, commanding a most extensive view of the procession”. Edward obviously saw the festivities as an opportunity to make a bit of money.
In 1844, a Mrs Sarah Truman, came into the shop to look at shawls, but they were not to her satisfaction and she just bought a pair of gloves. She apparently acted suspiciously as Milns followed her to the Haymarket where he saw her take a bundle from her side. It transpired that she had stolen a black satin shawl with a value of 35s 6d. She was given into custody and later tried. The defence asked for clemency as the lady was pregnant and “females very frequently purloined ornamental articles of dress while labouring under strong passions, which they could not control, when in a similar situation to the prisoner”. Despite this plea, the jury returned a verdict of guilty and Truman was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment and hard labour, three weeks of which in solitary confinement. Although the sentence is rather harsh in our 21st-century opinion, pregnancy is of course no valid excuse for shoplifting.(2)
The caption to the vignette tells us that Edward Milns was a linen draper, silk mercer, hosier and haberdasher who sold millinery, baby linen, Irish linen, damask table linen and items for mourning. And we know from the Truman case that shawls and gloves were on offer. What you could also obtain from the Milns drapery were patterns. In 1847, James Holms and his 17-year old son John, Scottish textile manufacturers who specialised in Paisley shawls, were on a visit to London because the father had to give testimony before the Railway Commission, but business was not forgotten and “they ‘got many good patterns at Milns’, Parliament Street”. John became the firm’s representative in London a year later and, although there is no evidence, he may very well have continued his business dealings with the Milns’ firm.(3)
Edward and Elizabeth Milns do not seem to have had any children. In the 1841 census, no children are mentioned, just three male and three female servants. The servants are not given a distinct occupation other than servant, but in the 1851 census, the information is more elaborate and we learn that besides Edward, his wife, his wife’s sister Mary, a nephew Robert, and two visitors, there are also living on the premises three male draper’s assistants, one male apprentice, one young male servant, and one female servant. We also learn from the 1851 census that Edward was born in Lusby, Lincolnshire, c. 1801. Elizabeth originally came from Wiltshire and was a few years younger than Edward. Fast forward another ten years to 1861, when Edward, his wife, the sister and the nephew can still be found in Parliament Street, but this time with just two male assistants and one female servant. We do not necessarily have to read into this that the business was going down as assistants need not necessarily have lived above the shop, but things were certainly about to change.
In 1859, Parliament passed the “Westminster Bridge Act” (C.58 22 & 23 Victoria) in which the widening of the western approach road to the new bridge was set out. In other words, Milns (and his neighbours) were to be bought out and their houses and shops removed to be able to widen Bridge Street. But, government departments are not always as efficient as they should or could be (nothing changes) and the Office of Works had neglected to serve the required notices of the compulsory purchase orders to some of the occupants and the whole process was delayed.(4) No wonder Milns could still be found in his shop in 1861, but in the end, the shop had to be demolished.
We know where he went from a notice in The London Gazette of 22 May 1868 in which the partnership between Edward Milns, George Miller and Robert Briant (most likely the nephew who had been living with the Milnses since 1851) is dissolved. Who George Miller was is unclear, but he was to continue the linen drapers’ business which had been at 1 Broadway, Westminster, at 134 Long Acre. Miller was not the original occupant of 1 Broadway as the 1861 census gives a John Beard, linen draper, as the resident. Milns & Co. probably took over the Broadway shop when Beard got into difficulties with his creditors as he is recorded as having assigned all his effects in trust to two of his creditors “for the benefit of themselves and the rest of the creditors”.(5) According to the electoral registers, Milns himself could be found in Park Street from 1864 onwards and the 1871 census finds him there at number 16 as “retired draper”. I have not found the 1881 census entry for Edward, but his probate entry of 1884 says that he was “late of 9 Queen-Anne’s-gate Westminster … and of Sunninghill in the County of Berks”. Elizabeth died in 1890.(6)
(1) The marriage took place at St. Mark’s, Kennington, on 6 October 1831.
(2) The Examiner, 30 March, 1844.
(3) H.L. Malchow, Gentlemen Capitalists. The Social and Political World of the Victorian Businessman (1991), p. 260-261.
(4) The Observer, 11 December, 1859.
(5) The London Gazette, 25 June, 1861.
(6) England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1884 and 1890. When Edward died, the estate was valued at £31,323. Elizabeth left £29,870.
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