Street Views: 42 and 17 Suppl
Address: 51 Cheapside


We came across Mr. Pill in the post on James Pimm who had his business further up the street. Pimm’s establishment was compared to that of Alfred Pill with the latter’s considered too small to receive a licence to sell alcohol. There was a bit of wrangling going on between the aldermen whether pastrycooks and confectioners should be allowed a licence and if so, whether the licence should be granted with an endorsement that the premises were not to be used as a gin shop. In the case of Pimm, the licence was eventually granted, but it is not made clear whether Pill received the required licence. At the time of this application, 51 Cheapside was just run by Alfred Pill, but in 1839, when the first batch of Street Views came out, his brother George was a partner in the business.

1827 freedom Alfred

The brothers had no doubt learned their trade from their father George who ran a confectionery in Mile End, Stepney, but the two boys were also apprenticed to London freemen, which, after seven years, enabled them to become freemen themselves and run a business in the City. George was apprenticed in 1815 to George Ponton, a cook and confectioner of Fore Street, Cripplegate, and Alfred in 1820 to John Coombes, a member of the Cooper Company, but his true occupation and address are not known. The brothers seem to have started at Mile End Road, no doubt the establishment run by their father until his death in 1825, but by 1829, they were to be found at 86 Newgate Street, and by 1835 at 51 Cheapside. A partnership between one Harriott Pill and Alfred Pill was dissolved in 1838 with Alfred remaining at 51 Cheapside, but how this Harriott was related to George and Alfred remains unclear. What is clear, is that Alfred remained the proprietor of 51 Cheapside, which was the fifth house west of St. Mary le Bow church. The building was slightly lower than the neighbouring houses. Alfred shared the premises with various other businesses; in the 1839 Street View with Mellor, Mountain & Co, a lace warehouse, and in the 1847 Supplement with Thomas McClure, a Manchester agent, and William Donne & Sons, engravers. No information is available as to how the premises were divided up.

Cheapside with number 51 on the right (Source: British Museum Collection)

Cheapside with number 51 on the right from Thomas Malton’s Picturesque Tour of 1792 (Source: British Museum Collection)

There is one customer who has written down what could be had at Pill’s. Charles George Harper, reminiscing about the London of the past wrote Queer Things about London in 1924 and said,

Then there was Alfred Pill, who, on the south side of Cheapside, between St. Mary-le-Bow and Old Change, sold the most exquisite and alluring jellies. You might have had a bun with Deputy Webber, consumed a jelly (Ah!) at Mr. Pill’s, and then, passing, let us say, through St. Paul’s Churchyard, have found on Ludgate Hill another bun shop …

Harper explains that Deputy Webber had his bun shop in Lombard Street, but he does not give any indication when he might have come across Webber or Pill. Tallis does not deal with Lombard Street, but the Post Office Directory of 1843 has a Thomas Webber as bread and biscuit baker at 81 Lombard Street. The jellies must have been quite famous, but other than this one tantalising glimpse of the food on offer at Pill’s, I have not found any more mention of the food available at the establishment, although the place itself must have developed over time from just a confectionery into a ‘proper’ restaurant. It is labelled as such on Goad’s insurance map of 1886 and in the German Baedeker’s guide to London of 1875 it is listed in the section of Coffee Shops, Pastry Cooks and Oyster Shops in the City, together with such places as Peel’s in Fleet Street and Holt’s in St. Paul’s Churchyard. Baedeker finishes the paragraph with the comment that, in most coffee houses, soup, chops and steaks were also available, but whether Pill actually had those on the menu is not made clear.

In the 1841 census, Alfred was living on his own at Cheapside with just a housekeeper, one Mary Wood. But she was or became more than a housekeeper and in 1847 Mary Cooper Wood and Alfred Pill got married at St. Lawrence Jewry. They had two daughters, Mary Susanna and Elizabeth, and one son Alfred Arthur. All three children are described as confectioner’s assistants in the 1871 census and Alfred must have counted on his son, Alfred Arthur to take over the business, but unfortunately, the young man died in 1875, just 20 years old.(1) This must have been roughly at the same time as Alfred retired as he is still listed in the Land Tax records for 1874, but in 1875 the names of Simpson & Bowser are given for 51 Cheapside. In 1881, Alfred, by then a widower, and his unmarried daughter Mary Susanna, are living at The Knowle, Manor Road, Wallington.

Penny Illustrated Paper, 5 November 1881 (Digital Library@Villanova University)

The Penny Illustrated Paper, 5 November 1881 (Digital Library@Villanova University)

Pill’s quiet retirement was, however, rudely interrupted in 1881 when a man was brutally murdered on the railway from London to Brighton. It turns out that Frederick Isaac Gold, who had married Alfred Pill’s wife’s sister, Lydia Matilda Wood(2), was travelling back from town to Preston, Brighton, on a Monday and somewhere along the line he was shot by Percy Lefroy Mapleton. Gold had put up a good fight, but lost his life and was thrown from the carriage in Balcombe tunnel where his body was later found. Mapleton pretended to have been attacked by two man, hence the blood on his clothes, and the police at first let him go, but as more information came in, they knew he must have been the killer and he was apprehended, charged, convicted and later hanged. Mapleton had been staying at a boarding house in Wallington and daughter Mary Susanna had to give evidence at the inquest that Mr. Gold had not come to visit them on that particular Monday and that they knew nothing about Mapleton. More on the notorious case can be read here and here.(3)

Two weeks before this shocking event, Alfred Pill had attended the forty-fourth anniversary dinner of the London Coffee and Eating-House Keepers’ Association; he is listed as one of the members of the Common Council present.(4) But Pill’s health must have deteriorated after that, as in 1886, the Court of Aldermen decided to disqualify him “by reason of his not having attended any meetings of the Court in the last six months, owing, it was stated, to ill-health”. Pill had represented Bread Ward since 1860, but it was now time to elect a new representative.(5) The 1891 census still saw Pill living at The Knowle with his daughter Mary Susanna, but he died in August of that year.(6) Mary Susanna was one of the executors and remained living at The Knowle until her own death in 1942.(7)

(1) England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1875. Effects valued at under £200.
(2) Lydia Mathilda Wood had married Fredrick Isaac Gold on 13 April 1845 at Holy Trinity Church, Mile End Old Town, Stepney. Her father's name is given as Samuel Wood, gentleman. Alfred Pill's and Mary Cooper Wood's marriage registration also names her father as Samuel Wood, gentleman, so I think we can conclude that most of the papers were wrong in reporting Gold's sister as having married Pill; it was his wife's sister.
(3) At the time, the case was extensively reported in the newspapers, see for instance, The Morning Post and The Standard of 30 June 1881. The Penny Illustrated Paper devoted considerable space in several issues to the case which included graphic pictures. See for links to the magazine the bottom of the Wikipedia page on Mapleton here.
(4) The Era, 18 June 1881.
(5) Daily News, 13 October 1886.
(6) England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1891. Estate valued at over £45,400.
(7) England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1842. Estate valued at over £23,400.


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