Street View: 56
Address: 56 Fenchurch Street
The vignette in the Tallis Street View booklet (see below) shows the grocery run by successive members of the family from – as they claim on their facade – 1725 onwards. The earliest Land Tax record I could find for a Sharpe, Thomas Sharpe that is, at the property on the corner of Fenchurch Street and Mark Lane, however, is 1731. In 1730 the property was still listed for Dorothy Pope, but that does not mean that the grocery shop had not been started in 1725, just not at number 56. In 1756, according to the indenture signed on the 13th of April that year, Lancelot Sharpe, son of Thomas Sharpe, Citizen of London and Grocer, “doth put himself apprentice to his father”. The indenture paper does not give father Thomas’s address, but son Lancelot is mentioned in The London Directory for 1772 as grocer and confectioner at 56 Gracechurch Street. The following year, Lancelot obtained a licence for his marriage to Sarah Till and they were married at St. Katherine Coleman on the 18th of November by the curate of St. Mary Woolnoth, John Till, Sarah’s brother. In 1827, the reverend John Till (1768-1827) of Hayes, Kent, mentions his sister Sarah Sharpe of Stoke Newington, widow, in his will, and also his nephew Lancelot Sharpe, rector of All Hallows Staining.(1) Lancelot, the son of grocer Lancelot, had been chaplain to the countess of Loudoun and was presented with the “perpetual curacy of All Hallows Staining, Mark Lane on the unanimous nomination of the Worshipful Company of Grocers”.(2)
But back to the grocer in Fenchurch Street. Lancelot and Sarah had two sons who went into the grocer’s business: Richard Scrafton (baptised 1777) and Thomas (baptised 1780). Richard Scrafton became his father’s apprentice in 1791 and Thomas in 1794, so a regular family business. The British Museum has a small leaflet of the grocery shop listing the items they had for sale, such as coffee and sugar, but also slightly more exotic products, such as cinnamon, dates and lemon peel, and even macaroni and pistachio nuts. Lancelot senior died in 1810 and in his will he mentions, besides Richard and Thomas, two daughters, Ann and Catherine, his son, the reverend Lancelot, and another son, Charles, who had gone into partnership with Vernon & Hood of the Poultry, publishers.(3) Richard Scrafton and Thomas continued the grocery shop in Fenchurch Street under the name of L. Sharpe & Sons and are listed as such in The Post Office Directory of 1814. That the two men were in partnership is made clear in an Old Bailey case of 1822 where one Edmund Tucker, shopman, is tried for stealing 7 lbs. of coffee, valued at 14s. from his employers, the Sharpes. He had pretended to be making up a parcel with an order for a friend, while in fact, the woman receiving it was his wife, and the amount of coffee delivered was more than officially left the Sharpe shop and was paid for.(4)
Advertisements show that Lancelot, and later his sons Richard and Thomas, were proud of the imported exotic food they could supply.
In 1831, the partnership between the brothers came to an end and Thomas removed himself to 44 Bishopsgate Street Within.(5) His story will be told in a later post, but for now, we will continue with the shop in Fenchurch Street. In 1840, Richard’s son Frederick obtained his freedom of the City by patrimony and joined the firm. An advertisement in the Tallis Street View booklet shows that Sharpe & Son had fallen in with the nineteenth century fashion of calling a grocery that also sold foreign food stuff an Italian warehouse, regardless of the fact that most of the products did not come from Italy at all, see, for instance, also Edward Brown of Wardour Street. In the 1851 census, Richard, by then a widower, is listed at number 56 as a grocer employing five men with Frederick also living there as his business partner. Two unmarried daughters, Caroline and Clara, are also living at home and described as grocer’s daughters, so presumably working in the business. Richard died the following year and left substantial sums of money to his children.(6)
Frederick continued the business, but not at number 56, as the Land Tax record for 1853 noted that the house (and some of the neighbouring properties) had been pulled down. The record for 1854 says “rebuilding” and in 1855, the property is listed for a Mr. Brown. So, where did Frederick go? In the 1856 Post Office Directory, a Frederick Sharpe (late Henry Sharpe), grocer and dealer in British wines is listed at 44 Bishopsgate within and 4 Gracechurch Street. The Bishopsgate address is familiar as that is where his uncle Thomas went after the termination of the partnership with Frederick’s father, but is he the same Frederick? We will sort out the Bishopsgate address some other time, but 4 Gracechurch Street was certainly the address of a Frederick Sharpe till 1873. This Frederick did not live in Gracechurch Street and in the 1861 census, the property is listed for several people without an occupation, except for one John Gray, who is listed as a grocer’s assistant. In 1871, two of the women listed in 1861 are still there and this time with the occupations housekeeper and general servant, which still does not help us much. Grocer Frederick in the mean time was living at Stoke Newington (1861), Hampstead (1871) and Lee, Kent (1881). In this last census he is listed as “retired”. To prove that Frederick of 4 Gracechurch Street was the same as Frederick of 56 Fenchurch Street, I will make a detour to the land of literature, starting with the first lines of a poem:
In a snug little cot lived a fat little mouse,
Who enjoyed, unmolested, the range of the house;
With plain food content, she would breakfast on cheese,
She dined upon bacon, and supped on grey peas.
The lines are from the poem ‘The Country Mouse and the City Mouse’, written by Richard Scrafton Sharpe, yes indeed, our grocer. It was derived from one of Aesop’s Fables (see here) and was one of the poems in Sharpe’s collection of Old Friends in a New Dress which his son Frederick lists as being definitely written by his father. He mentions a few more titles in reply to a query in Notes and Queries by R. Inglis who wanted to know who had written Theodore and Matilda.(7) Fortunately for this post, Frederick adds his address on the bottom of his reply, 4 Gracechurch Street, thereby not only confirming the authorship of his father, but also his own address after the shop in 56 Fenchurch Street was demolished. The family business therefore existed for some 125 years in Fenchurch Street and afterwards for roughly another 25 years in Gracechurch Street. Not bad!
(1) PROB 11/1723/23.
(2) The Orthodox Churchman’s Magazine, February 1802. The grandson of the reverend, Richard Bowdler Sharpe became a famous zoologist, see here.
(3) PROB 11/1517/14. Charles later went to Dublin and used 56 Fenchurch Street as the address where his catalogues could be obtained. For instance: advertisement in Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser, 23 August 1843.
(4) Old Bailey case t18220220-66.
(5) The London Gazette, 30 September 1831.
(6) PROB 11/2155/243.
(7) Notes and Queries, 4th Ser., v.5 (June 1870), p. 560; and Idem, 4th Ser., v.6 (July 1870), p. 16.
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