Street Views: 46 and 16 Suppl.
Address: 16 St. Paul’s Churchyard

elevation 1847

Tallis’s Street View of St. Paul’s Churchyard in his 1847 Supplement just shows a very large property as number 16, but his 1839 edition (see below) is nearer the mark as it distinguishes between numbers 15 and 16 and shows the name of Allsup (late Pallatt & Green). I do not know for certain, but I presume that Allsup had the show rooms on the lower floor for his glass and china business, while Toplis had the first floor, possibly just at number 16. The premises were situated on the south side of St. Paul’s Cathedral, on the corner of Paul’s Chain, later renamed Goldiman Street. The row of houses east from Paul’s Chain have disappeared altogether and there is now a green space called Carter Gardens with the pavement in front of the triangular City of London information centre roughly where Toplis and Allsup had their businesses.

elevation in Street View of 1839

elevation in Street View of 1839

1799 detail from Horwood's map

1799 detail from Horwood’s map

print by Thomas Hornor of the south side of St. Paul's Cathedral, c. 1820 (Source: British Museum Collection) The red arrow points to number 16 and the blue one to nrs 22-23

print by Thomas Hornor of the south side of St. Paul’s Cathedral, c. 1820 (Source: British Museum Collection)
The red arrow points to number 16 and the blue one to nrs 22-23

James Toplis had started his career in 1790 as the apprentice of James Duthois, an upholder. In 1814, we find Toplis in the Sun Fire Office books at 22 and 23 St. Paul’s Churchyard, a few houses more to the east than number 16, as upholder (or with the more modern name upholsterer) and cabinet maker. From 1839 onwards, we find him in the insurance records at number 16 and auctioneering is added to his job description. But from an 1820 Old Bailey case, we know that he also acted as surveyor and appraiser for the Sun Fire Office.(1) In 1831, a Robert Maynard rented part of the Toplis house; this must have been at numbers 22-23 as the Land Tax records show that Toplis moved to number 16 in 1833. Maynard, who is always listed in the directories as a linen draper of 8 Ludgate Street gave the following information:

I am proprietor of an out-fitting warehouse. I did live on Ludgate-hill, but about a fortnight previous to this transaction, I had removed to St. Paul’s church-yard, to a house which has been parted off from the premises of Mr. Toplis, for the purpose of separate occupation – I occupied the first and second floors; the ground floor was under repair, and was to be occupied by Messrs. Toplis and Son – I enter by the front door, from which there is no direct communication with Mr. Toplis’ premises; there is by a back stair case – I believe Mr. Toplis, Sen., Mr. Toplis, Jun., and their families reside there; I have seen them, and had communication with them.(2)

The thieves are found guilty of trying to abscond with material belonging to Maynard and are sentenced to transportation for seven years, but that is not why I quoted Maynard’s testimony. He mentioned Mr. Toplis jun. which was James Toplis junior, who had been apprenticed to Thomas Stead, a surveyor, from 1816. The indenture does not say so, but James obtained his freedom in 1823 after the customary seven years and went into business with his father.

We know a little bit of the everyday running of the business, because Job Knight, a young furniture maker from Chelmsford, Essex, came to London to improve his situation and he started work for Toplis as draftsman and clerk. Knight left a diary for the year 1818 in which we can read that he was given all sorts of odd jobs to do, from collecting rent to helping out at the auctions, and from drawing furniture designs to helping in the upholstery workshop.(3) Only in the winter months, when the evenings were too dark to work, did Job have time to attend lectures, for instance at Guy’s Hospital or the London Philosophical Society. Eating and visiting friends or relatives were often combined activities. According to Heller, Job had the hour between 16.00 and 17.00 for his evening meal and he frequently spent that time at a friend’s or relative’s house. Knight died in 1819, just 30 years old.(4) Had he lived longer we might have learned a lot more about the everyday life of a young man trying to make his way as a cabinet maker.

1829 indenture Fox

Another young man with his eye on the future was Thomas Fox who became apprenticed to the Toplis firm in 1829 (see his indenture above), but in stead of remaining with them, he married one of the daughters(5) and then went to work in Bishopsgate Street where he took over from Henry Luke Cooper who had had a similar sort of business. No hard feelings apparently within the family about this ‘desertion’ as Fox was named as one of executors in the wills of both father and son Toplis.

Toplis was constantly on the look out for new houses to buy, sell or rent out, judging by the advertisements in The Morning Chronicle and The Morning Post, such as this one which was repeated numerous times in 1823:

1823 Morning Post 28 July

But the firm did not just deal in houses, but also ran an ‘ordinary’ auction house. In May 1845, for instance, they organised the sale of “the remaining stock of a wine merchant, about 500 dozen wine, chiefly port and sherry, including small quantities of champagne, claret, & sparkling hock. Also 11 dozen pints Tokay, salvage from the marquis of Bute’s from Luton Hoo”. The Luton Hoo property had gone up in flames in November 1843 (see here), but was insured with the Sun Fire Office and various other companies, so perhaps Toplis had been involved in his capacity as surveyor and appraiser for one of the Fire companies and had managed to combine his skills as auctioneer and surveyor to make some money from the unhappy event.

Advertisement in The Morning Chronicle, 19 February 1840.

Advertisement in The Morning Chronicle, 19 February 1840.

Sometime before 1845, Toplis expanded the business to a property at 30 New Bridge Street. On 7 April of that year, one of their employees, John Yeoman Hamilton, gave evidence in a case of theft. He said that he was in the employ of Mr. James Toplis of New Bridge Street, Blackfriars, and that the warehouses were in Water Lane.(6) That is not to say that the St. Paul’s Churchyard premises were let go, but they may have been reserved for the auction sale room as on 3 May 1854, they sold furniture, late the property of H.B. Swabey of 15, Great Cumberland Place, from “their rooms” at number 16. James Toplis junior died in 1855 and his father in 1861.(7)

The Toplis company still exists, but nowadays as Toplis & Harding, who, on one of their their websites say that William Daniel Harding joined the firm in 1844. I have not seen any evidence of that, but it is quite possible, although perhaps not straight away as a partner. The earliest mention of the name ‘Toplis and Harding’ I found was for 1858. William Daniel obtained the freedom of the City in 1865 and his sons Edward Ernest and William Daniel junior in 1879. The address of 16 St. Paul’s Churchyard remained until at least 1886; afterwards they could be found at 80 St. Paul’s Churchyard.

Daily News, 14 June 1886

Daily News, 14 June 1886

(1) Old Bailey case t18200918-2.
(2) Old Bailey case t18310512-131.
(3) B. Heller, Leisure and Pleasure in London Society, 1760-1820: an agent-centred approach, 2009. The original diary can be found in the Library of the Society of Friends, MS Vol S 485.
(4) PROB 11/1613/389. Job must have been a thrifty man as his estate was valued at over £720.
(5) Thomas Fox and Jane Toplis were married by licence at St. Ann Blackfriars on the thirty-first[!] day of September 1837.
(6) Old Bailey case t18450407-905.
(7) PROB 11/2224/25; and England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1861.


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