Street View: 68
Address: 10 Wood Street, Cheapside
The shop at 10, Wood Street, has had a rather chequered history. In the fifty odd years I looked at, there were at least eight proprietors. The list starts in 1803 with Robinson & Edwards in the list of subscribers for A Commercial Dictionary. No mention is made of their occupation, so no idea what they were selling. The next occupant is the firm of William Crabb and David and Jonathan Hine, hosiers, who dissolve their partnership at the end of 1809.(1) The two Hines join forces with a third Hine, Daniel, until May 1814 when that partnership is dissolved as well.(2) But at least one of them must have continued the hosier business as in 1822 a Mr. Hine is named as the one to take in subscriptions for the Gaelic School Society of Edinburgh.(3) Did the Hines come from Edinburgh? Possibly.
In 1827, Mr. Hine has disappeared and John Mumford, William Heskins and Sentley Stevenson, lace and gauze merchants, take out an insurance for the premises. In 1834, the shop is once again insured, but this time just by John Mumford as warehouseman. And on 17 October 1838, we find John Bishop & Co at 10 Wood Street, taking out an insurance as warehousemen and dealers in artificial flowers. How long they had been there is conjecture, but the business must have started between 1834 and 1838, at least at that address. They may of course have been at another address before that, but I have found no evidence of it. Tallis found Bishop & Co at 10 Wood Street, not just as artificial flower dealers, but also as milliners selling fancy and embroidered muslins, child bed linen, parasols and stocks. The vignette in the Tallis Street View booklet shows quite a large building, with a natty gentleman standing on the pavement and in the centre of the picture a lady who seems to be looking at something on a trestle table.
But to come back to the artificial flower business, it is clear that the Victorians were absolutely mad about them. The flowers were used to decorate their houses, garments, shoes, hats, bonnets and even Hanson cabs. They were sometimes made from silk, but more often from a cheaper textile, paper or wax. The latter could not easily be used to decorate hats or garments, because it would melt, but because wax could more easily be moulded to resemble actual flowers, it was popular for displays, such as at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and at the International Exhibition of 1862. Wax flower making became a popular pastime for fashionable ladies, but the paper and textile ones, used extensively for decorating hats and dresses, were more often made in a commercial environment. Black crape flowers were produced for mourning. According to an article in Every Saturday of 22 March 1873, artificial flower making in London was “secondary to Paris … except in relation to wax flowers”. There were a few companies employing a hundred or more hands, but the majority had between 30 to 60 employees. And there were middlemen who supplied bigger shops, often buying the produce from individuals working from home, who had the least job security and often the worst condition to work in as regards light and ventilation. The larger dealers could be found in the Cheapside/Wood Street area. In 1860, the Children’s Employment Commissioners conducted an inquiry and they found that children often worked from fifteen to eighteen hours a day, especially in the busy periods, that is: between February and May and from August to November, in order to produce enough stock ready for the summer festivals and Christmas.
In 1871, the Daily Telegraph published an article with the ominous title “Death among the Dew-drops”. It sounds like an Agatha Christie novel, but unfortunately, it pointed the finger at the reality of the poisonous atmosphere created by bad lighting, inadequate ventilation, dust, and worst of all, the use of arsenic or Scheele’s green for colouring the leaves. Very young children, four or five years old, were set to work to thread tiny glass beads – the dew drops – onto “grass”, bunches of thin feathery material, artificially coloured green. If they worked at it for a long time, the colour of their hair would change, especially at the front where it came into contact with the material when they bent over their work. If exposure continued, the hair would fall out. And although other greening agents were known and available, the one containing arsenic was cheaper. The bad conditions and dangers of the work, mostly done by women and children, was noted, however, and several Acts of Parliament that were passed to improve working conditions in general, such as the abolition of night work, the avoidance of overcrowding, and enforced meal breaks and sanitation, also alleviated the conditions of the artificial flower making workforce.(4)
Having said all this, there is no indication that James Bishop was exploiting his employees; he may very well have been a model employer looking after his workers, but there is no evidence either way. We do know that he dissolved two partnerships; one with Opie Staite on 23 December 1838 and one with the same Opie Staite and Francis Newbery on 22 January 1840. Charlotte Newbery signed the statement as the administratrix of F. Newbery. Opie Staite was to settle all debts of the co-partnership.(5) And that was probably the end of the business as we next hear of one John Burls at 10 Wood Street(6) and subsequently of Thomas Evans & Co, parasol manufacturers. Evans entered a number of parasols in the 1851 Great Exhibition, one of which, the Queen’s Parasol, was depicted in an advertisement in The Evangelical Magazine as being registered by Evans & Co on 19 February 1851. They also quoted some commentary on the parasol, heaping praise upon it as being “admirable, brilliant, but not gaudy; light, but not fragile; commodious, but not clumsy”. It was to be had from all drapers and wholesale houses and from the manufacturers at 10 Wood Street.
The name Thomas Evans rang a bell as I had come across it when writing the post for 4 Cripplegate Buildings where Evans and Richard Bowen Colley, umbrella and parasol manufacturers, dissolved a partnership in 1844. The same Thomas Evans? Very likely, but as these things went in Victorian England, the end of the business was not long off as in 1856, Thomas Evans and his then partner James Bailey were declared bankrupt.(7) So, in the first half of the 19th century, 10 Wood Street had a varied succession of occupants, from hosiers to artificial flower makers and from milliners to parasol makers, none of them lasting very long.
And to wrap up this post, two suggestions for those who want to know more about the technique of making wax flowers: E.J. Jaques, A Handbook to the Art of Wax-Flower Making (1862), online here; and: Charles Pepper’s The Art of Modelling and Making Wax Flowers (1859), online here.
(1) The London Gazette, 6 January 1810.
(2) The London Gazette, 4 June 1814.
(3) Evangelical Magazine, 1822.
(4) “The Artificial Flower Trade of London and Paris” in Every Saturday, 22 March 1873.
(5) The London Gazette, 6 March 1840.
(6) The London Gazette, 31 December 1844.
(7) The London Gazette, 28 March 1856.
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