Street View: 31
Address: 30 Blackman Street


You may assume that a confectioner produces daintly little cakes, sugared nuts, candied fruit and lots of sweets, and Holwell may very well have done that, but checking through some newspapers, I came across his name in advertisements for patent medicines. In The Examiner of 24 November 1833, the Holwell shop is listed as one of the agents where Allender’s Pectoral Balsam of Carrageen could be bought. This balsam alleged to have been “used with the most decided success in a vast number of cases of coughs, asthma, hoarseness, colds, influenza, and all diseases of the lungs”. But Allender’s amazing balsam was not the only solution available at Holwell’s to sort our your cough problems, you could also buy Collis’s Essence of Honey(1) or Greenough’s Tolu Lozenges(2). And after a copious dinner, you might have need of either Hall’s or Plumbe’s Digestive Pills(3). In advertisements for Plumbe’s pills (1823), Holwell was given the address of 96 High Street Borough and unless the street name and the numbering changed dramatically, there must have been at least one move. None of the advertisements give an initial or first name for Holwell, so we must turn to other sources to determine who the proprietor of the confectioner’s shop was.

T. Rowlandson and G. Woodward, 1801 (Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images)

T. Rowlandson and G. Woodward, 1801 (Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images)

An obvious place to look are the records of the Sun Fire Office, but Holwell, confectioner, cannot be found there, so further detective work had to be done. Tallis kindly gave the initial B in his index and that letter can also be seen on the façade (see top of this post). This pointer led to an announcement in The London Gazette in which Esther and Benjamin Holwell let it be known that they had dissolved their partnership of wholesale and retail confectioners at 30 Blackman Street as of the 31st of January 1838 and that Benjamin was to continue the business.(4) The 1841 census gives us a Benjamin Holwell, confectioner, with his wife Elizabeth and children in Blackman Street, but no house number.(5) If, however, we compare the names of his neighbours with those in the Tallis index, it becomes clear that this Benjamin indeed lives at number 30. Although the youngest child is called Esther, she would be unlikely to have been his business partner, but a close family relationship is indicated. Perhaps his mother?

Confectioners' Shop c.1820-1840 (Source: British Museum)

Confectioners’ Shop c.1820-1840 (Source: British Museum)

No, not his mother. A lead to this Esther and Benjamin can be found in the will of one William Holwell, confectioner of 269 Borough High Street. William asks his executors to sell his property and business and to invest the money for the benefit of his wife Esther and after her decease to divide the income equally among his children. One of the signees of the will is Benjamin Holwell of 32 St. Andrew’s Road, Horsemonger Lane. The will is dated 16 February 1832 and proved 16 November 1836. William Holwell and Esther Carter married on 13 September 1817 at St. Giles, Camberwell, but unfortunately by licence and names of fathers are not included in the record. Anyway, when William drew up his will in 1832, his children were all minors, so the Benjamin witnessing the will was not William’s son, but perhaps his brother which would make Esther Benjamin’s sister-in-law. That we are talking about the same Benjamin as the one who later occupied the 30 Blackman Street property, can be worked out in a roundabout way. Benjamin married Elizabeth Butlin on 26 March 1816 at St. Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney and the addresses where they lived can be deduced from some of the baptismal records of their children. The couple moved regularly in the first years of their marriage and Benjamin’s occupation changed a number of times, from shoemaker(!) in 1816, to confectioner (1818), to ‘gent’ (1820), to confectioner again (1822) and once again to ‘gent’ (1825-1830). When his son Alfred Robert is baptised on 7 November 1830, the address is indeed given as St. Andrews Road, so that corresponds nicely to the 1832 signing of the will.

Benjamin obtains his freedom of the City of London in 1833 by redemption via the Saddlers’ Company and he is then described as a confectioner of Blackman Street. Can we assume that Esther used the income she received from William’s estate to invest in Benjamin’s business? We will probably never know for certain why and how exactly, but that the shops of confectioners William and Benjamin were somehow linked through Esther seems certain.

Thomas Mills & Brother, United States Confectioners' Tool Works, Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue of Goods (1886) (Source: University of Michigan)

Thomas Mills & Brother, United States Confectioners’ Tool Works, Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue of Goods (1886) (Source: Exhibition University of Michigan here)

As we saw, Benjamin was found above the shop at 30 Blackman Street in the 1841 census. Elizabeth dies in 1842 and Benjamin remarries in 1843 to Frances Caroline Allen (neé Turner), a widow. The marriage registration at St. Marylebone’s helps a lot as Benjamin’s father is named as Edward Holwell, a hatter (and through him Benjamin is possibly related to Charles Holwell, the hatter of Westminster Bridge Street). The registration also tells us that Benjamin has changed careers (again) and is now a chapel clerk. The 1851 census gives his occupation as scripture reader and his address as 17 Hayes Place, Marylebone. So, the confectionary shop in Blackman Street has been let go and does indeed show different occupants in the 1851 census. The 1851 census also gives us a clue to Benjamin’s origins as it lists Exeter as his place of birth. The 1861 census goes one better and says Exeter High Street. Another clue may be the name of one of Benjamin’s children. In 1830 Elizabeth Christiana is baptised and in 1772 one Edward Holwell of Exeter had married a Christiana Cooper. There is no concrete evidence that this Edward was indeed Benjamin’s father (or grandfather or uncle or …), nor can I conclusively link Benjamin to Charles Holwell the hatter, but perhaps one day …

I will leave you with the title-page of a recipe book, one that the Holwell’s may very well have had, and two recipes from it, just in case you feel you are in need of something sweet after so much genealogical information.

The Complete Confectioner

The Complete Confectioner - Coffee-cream bomboons

The Complete Confectioner - Quince jelly.jpg

(1) Advertisement in The Morning Post, 26 March 1841.
(2) Advertisements in The Morning Post, 19 February and 24 December 1845. See for Greenough himself here.
(3) The Times, 29 October 1823.
(4) The London Gazette, 13 March 1838.
(5) Benjamin is given as 45 years old, Elizabeth as 40, but the 1841 census ages are only approximate. The children are William (15), Susannah (20), Henry (15), Jane (15), Alfred (11) and Esther (9). Benjamin and Elizabeth were not born in London, but the children were.


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