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Street View: 20
Address: 223 High Holborn

elevation

The earliest reference I found to Alexander Thorn’s shop is 1827 when the shopman, Henry Ottley, gives evidence in a case of a stolen neat’s tongue (value 5s). He says he lives with Thorn who keeps an oil and Italian warehouse in Holborn.(1) No house number is given, but in 1835, an advertisement in Alexander’s East India and Colonial Magazine mentions number 223. The advertisement is for two items: Thorn’s Tally Ho! Sauce and Thorn’s Potted Yarmouth Bloaters. I have not found any advertisements in which other goods are mentioned, so the extent of the produce sold by Thorn is unknown, but it was probably similar to what other Italian delis sold, that is, basic stock such as Italian olive oil and dried pasta, sauces, anchovies and raisins. The elevation in Tallis does show “British wines” on the front of the building, so presumably Thorn sold those as well.

Advertisement in Tallis's Street View 43

Advertisement in Tallis’s Street View 43

The Tally Ho! sauce and the potted bloaters also figure in advertisements that Thorn entered in some of Tallis’s Street View booklets. The one in number 43 can be seen above, but the same one also appeared in booklets 35 and 42. In the 1835 advertisement, Thorn claims that the “finest Yarmouth bloaters [were] cured especially and in a peculiar manner after the proprietor’s instructions” and were “particularly recommended as being free from the rancid, oily, salt flavour, so generally complained of”. And the only genuine ones were – of course – the ones signed by Thorn himself. In later advertisement, for instance in the Street View one and in the 1840 one shown below, Thorn warns his customers that “spurious compositions” are offered as potted bloaters, but only the real ones have the signature A. Thorn on the side of the pot. I saw a picture of one such pot on Pinterest which does indeed have the name of Thorn on the side (see here).

Postcard, origin unknown, c.1922? (Source: The Foods of England website)

Postcard, origin unknown, c.1922? (Source: The Foods of England website)

Bloaters are whole cold-smoked salted herrings, particularly associated with Great Yarmouth. For the difference between bloaters and kippers, see here. The bloaters were so called because they swelled up a bit during the smoking process. The potted variety was made by removing the skin, head, tail and bones of the smoked herring, stewing the fish in spiced butter, rubbing the resulting mess through a coarse sieve and putting the paste in small pots covered with clarified butter. And ready was your fish paste to be spread on biscuits or sandwiches.

Precious little is known about Alexander Thorn himself. He was probably the son of Peter and Mary Thorn, born 29 January 1798 and baptised a few month later on 21 March at St. Mary’s, Ealing. In 1824, he married Elizabeth Hierons at the same church. In 1840, Thorn was the defendant in a case of adultery. The son of a Mr. Morgan, when still a minor, had married the young daughter of the postmistress of Ealing without the knowledge or consent of either parent and in 1840 Morgan tried to get a divorce for his son.(2) What does transpire from the case is that Thorn was living in Little Queen Street, but as the shop was on the corner of Holborn and Little Queen Street, that does not mean much. The building probably had an entrance to Thorn’s private apartment in Little Queen Street while the shop’s entrance was in Holborn. Having said that, I have not found Thorn in the 1841 census at the Holborn address, nor anywhere else. There is a fishmonger listed at number 223, but his name is rather unclear on the form; it looks like Rett Sybon, but could be Rch (Richard?) Syben.

Advertisement in The Musical World, 1840

Advertisement in The Musical World, 1840

In 1846, it was almost over for our Italian deli proprietor. A bankruptcy charge was filed against him, dated 19 May, and he was to disclose his finances to prove that he could meet the demands of his creditors.(3) He seems to have been able to satisfy the commissioner as in April 1847 he was given a certificate.(4) The 1851 census, just as that of 1841, fails to find Alexander anywhere, but 223 Holborn is in the occupation of one Henry Brown, cheesemonger, so despite the bankruptcy certificate, Thorn must have terminated or relocated his business sometime between 1847 and 1851. He died in 1854 and was buried at All Souls, Kensal Green on the 13th of October. His address is then given as 52 York Road, Lambeth. And that was the end of the Tally Ho! sauce and the potted Yarmouth bloaters from Holborn.

Still Life with Bloaters and Garlic by Vincent van Gogh, 1887 (Source: WikiArt)

Still Life with Bloaters and Garlic by Vincent van Gogh, 1887 (Source: WikiArt)

(1) Old Bailey case t18271206-64.
(2) Morgan started with a case at the Queen’s Bench against Thorn for damages as a first step towards a divorce (see here). You can read the – incomplete – second reading of the so-called Morgan Divorce Bill in the House of Lords here. The whole case seems to have been trumped up by father Morgan in order to obtain a divorce for his son, although real evidence seems to have been scarce.
(3) The London Gazette, 22 May 1846.
(3) The London Gazette, 6 April 1847.

Neighbours:

<– 224 High Holborn 221 High Holborn –>
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