Street View: 44
Address: 18 St Martin’s-Le-Grand


The Bodleian Library has a one-sheet document among its collection in which “Robert Farr, at his Cheap Bread Manufactory, no 18, St. Martin’s le Grand, begs leave to inform his customers and the public in general, that the shop now open against him is supported by a set of artful over-grown FULL PRICE BAKERS (as they stile themselves), for the sole purpose of stopping any bread from being sold under the full price in that neighbourhood”. Competition is obviously not encouraged by Farr and he warns his customers that as soon as these new bakers have driven away the competition – that is Farr – they will raise their prices, so going to these new bakers is only a short-term advantage. Farr also says that he is about to install two large ovens and that he will deliver to the homes of private families for the same price if they pay cash on delivery.(1)

Baker from Tabart’s Book of Trades, vol. 1 (1806)

Baker from Tabart’s Book of Trades, vol. 1 (1806)

Whether this new competition brought Farr down or whether things were not going so well anyway is uncertain, but fact is, that in 1801 bankruptcy proceedings were started against him.(2) The notice in The London Gazette tells us that Farr was “late of Leather-Lane […] and now of Aldersgate Street” and that he was a victualler, dealer and chapman. For a couple of years, the Land Tax on the property was paid by a John Farr, presumably a relative, but from 1803 to 1805 it is paid by William Harmer. In 1805, Margaret Harmer marries Thomas Woodward by licence at St. Anne and St. Agnes, Aldersgate.(3) Although it is not explicitely stated, one of the witnesses was William Harmer and we may presume a father-daughter relation. From 1806 onwards, Thomas Woodward enters the tax records as the proprietor of 81 St. Martin’s-Le-Grand.


The 1799 Horwood map confirms that Farr, Harmer and Woodward had their shop at number 18. The tax collector walked from house to house and the ledger shows him going through Four Dove Court, then to the two houses “in the street”, that is, in St. Martin’s-Le-Grand, and then continuing into King’s Head Court. The bakery is always given as the second property from Four Dove Court. Thomas and Margaret had at least four children: a daughter Margaret and three boys, John, Thomas junior, and James.(4) The boys were all taken on as apprentices in their father’s business (in 1821, 1813 and 1827 respectively) and the two youngest were to continue the business after their father’s death.

1821 freedom Woodward

Thomas senior only bought his freedom from the Bakers’ Company in 1821. Why he did so only many years after he started his business is unclear, but perhaps it was to be able to formally take on his sons as apprentices. An insurance record for 1830 shows us that Woodward was extending his property into King’s Head Court. He was paying the premium on 18 and 19 St. Martin’s-Le-Grand (number 19 occupied by a fishmonger) and on 4-7 King’s Head Court (oocupied by a painter). The 1851 census shows various tenants living in the Court, so Woodward did not obtain them to extend his business, although he may of course have used the ground floor with the tenants on the higher floors.

The baking business apparently went on without any major mishaps, or at least, I have found no record of them. By 1843, however, Thomas Woodward & Son are listed in the Post Office Directory as flour factors, but they had not given up the bakery itself as in the 1851 directory, Thomas & Son are again listed as flour factors, but at the same address James could be found as the baker. Thomas senior died in 1854 and from his will we learn that son John is deceased, so no wonder the name of the flour factor’s business was Thomas & Son and not Thomas & Sons.(5) From 1855 onwards, 18 St. Martin’s-Le-Grand is listed for Thomas junior and James jointly and the Kings’ Head Court properties for Thomas alone. That situation remains the same until 1860 when the properties are suddenly listed for Henry Stephens. James Woodward can be found in Islington in the 1861 census, still as a baker, and Thomas, flour factor, has moved to Hornsey.


Dr. Henry Stephens dealt in inks and stains, and was the inventor of an indelible blue-black writing fluid which was to become famous as “Stephens’ Ink”. The catalogue of the 1862 International Exhibition includes various positive comments on the inks that Stephens produced (see here – bottom half of the page). Stephens had been at Stamford Street before he took over the bakery premises, but he was not to enjoy the shop in St. Martin’s-Le-Grand for very long as the Post Office had plans to extend their already substantial building on the east side of the street to the opposite side (see here). Stephens moved his business to Aldersgate Street and later to Holloway. His son became known as Henry ‘Inky’ Stephens, but that is another story and you can read all about him here.

St. Martin's-le-Grand c. 1795 (before the Post Office was built). Watercolour by Thomas Girtin (Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art)

St. Martin’s-le-Grand c. 1795 (before the Post Office on the east side was built) by Thomas Girtin (Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art)

(1) The Bodleian Library dates the document to “1790?”, but I think it must be later. The Land Tax records show Robert Farr at the premises in 1798 and 1799. It is then taken over by a John Farr, presumably a relative, who pays the tax from 1800 to 1802. However, in 1797, the property is given as empty in the tax records suggesting that Robert only started his bakery in 1798.
(2) The London Gazette, 24 February 1801.
(3) The marriage took place on 10 July, 1805, by licence, and unfortunately, the church record does not include the names of parents or an address.
(4) They were all baptised in the local church of St. Anne and St. Agnes: John 23 February 1806, Margaret 27 december 1807, Thomas 14 May 1809, and James 14 April 1811.
(5) The National Archives; Kew, England; Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 2195.


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