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Street View: 62
Address: 96 Wardour Street


In 1815, Ralph Rylance wrote in his Epicure’s Almanack that the York Chop-house could be found in Wardour Street, across from St. Anne’s Court. The proprietor at the time was a Mr. Clark, and, according to Rylance

the house is very neatly fitted up, and the handmaids are in general way neatly dressed, which circumstance, added to the goodness of the cheer, constitutes no small temptation to youth of sanguine temperament and vigorous digestive organs. The beef steaks and chops here are capitally cooked.(1)

The chop-house has made it into online search results, not so much because of the neat dresses of the waitresses, but because some of its clientèle became famous; Washington Irving, Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Robert Leslie all dined there. The editor of the modern edition of Rylance’s guide tells us helpfully that Mr. Clark was Christopher Clark, and that leads us to a notice in The London Gazette of 26 October 1827, in which Christopher Clark is described as formerly a captain in the Cumberland militia, but afterwards of 1 Short Street, Finsbury Square, then of 384 Oxford Street, then of 96 Wardour Street, eating house keeper, and lately of 34 Carmarthen Street, Fitzroy Square, out of business. In 1809, Charles Turner, a builder of Hampstead Road insures 96 Wardour Street with the Sun Fire Office. The actual occupant of number 96 is one Pitt, a print seller. In 1828, the executors of Charles Turner once again insure 96 Wardour Street, but this time the Sun Fire Office record states that the property is used by Dolby, coffee house keeper. This is Samuel Dolby who is listed as chop house keeper when the baptism of his son George is registered in 1830 at St. James’s, Piccadilly. But Samuel had not always been a caterer, as earlier records show.

A leg-of-beef shop from George Cruikshank's Omnibus, 1842. Not Dolby's, but his may very well have looked like this (© Trustees of the British Museum)

A leg-of-beef shop from George Cruikshank’s Omnibus (1842). Cruikshank did not depict Dolby’s establishment, but the York chop-house may very well have looked much the same (© Trustees of the British Museum)

The baptism record for son George also gives the mother’s name, Charlotte, which helps to find the other children of the couple. The eldest child seems to have been Charlotte Helen who was born on 17 May 1821, and baptised a little later at St. Anne, Soho.(2) The family’s address is given as St. Anne’s Court and Dolby’s occupation as ‘tobacconist’. This matches the entry in the 1820 Poll Book for St. Paul and St. Ann, which lists him at number 7 St. Anne’s Court. The Poll Book must have been slightly behind with the current state of affairs, as Samuel’s brother Thomas wrote in his Memoirs that during his own trial for seditious libel in the summer of 1821, Samuel “had only about a year and a half been settled in Wardour Street”, which makes it early 1820.(3) An 1824 Old Bailey case tells us a lot more about Samuel’s shop, which, by the way, was then still at number 95 Wardour Street. One William Ramsden Robinson is indicted for stealing 20 printed books valued at 10s from Dolby. Dolby explained the situation in his shop to the magistrates, “I keep a tobacco shop which communicates with my stationer’s shop, by two glass doors. I can see in one shop what is going on in the other”. While Samuel Dolby was in the tobacco department, his wife Charlotte sorted out the issues required by the accused of “Dolby’s Acting Plays”, which had been published by Samuel’s brother Thomas, and put them on the counter in front of her customer.(4) When her back was turned to find some additional numbers the prisoner said he also wanted, he grabbed the books that were on the counter and ran. Mr. and Mrs. Dolby were certain of their identification and, despite an alibi provided by the prisoner’s brother, the jury found him guilty.(5)


But when and why did Samuel Dolby turn from a tobacconist cum stationer to a chop house keeper? In Pigot’s Directory of 1825 he is still listed at number 95 as a tobacconist, but the 1826 Land Tax records for St. James, Westminster, show him between Harrison and Vidall. Although the tax records do not give any house numbers, Harrison is the first name under the heading of ‘Wardour Street’ in that particular section, indicating that his shop was on a corner, and Tallis has Harrison, pawnbroker, at number 95, and Vidall, carver & gilder, at number 97. This certainly seems to indicate that Dolby took over Clark’s chop-house when the latter ‘lately’ removed himself to Carmarthen Street as The London Gazette of 1827 tells us. Does this mean that Dolby gave up his other business? No, it does not, as as late as 1843, The Post Office Directory lists Charlotte, by then a widow, as both tobacconist at number 95 and keeper of the York chop-house at number 96. But the Dolbys seem to have given up on the stationary side of their business in the late 1820s and this may very well have been a case of collateral damage of his brother Thomas’s bankruptcy in 1825. Samuel may have been more an outlet for Thomas’s publications rather than an independent stationer and the bankruptcy would have cut off his access to cheap editions. See the post on The Printshop Window blog for lots more information on Thomas Dolby’s fortunes and misfortunes.

When Samuel died is a bit of a mystery, but a Samuel Dolby was buried at St. Mary’s, Greenwich, on the 5th of December, 1831, and he is described as of St. James, Westminster. No will has been found for him, so I am not absolutely sure it is him and I cannot explain why he should be buried at Greenwich, but by 1835, the tax records were listing Charlotte and not Samuel, so he must have died before 1835. Although I have not found a marriage registration for Samuel and Charlotte which might have given an indication where he came from or who his father was, we do know that he came from Northamptonshire. The only other snippet we know is that Charlotte came from Oxfordshire as she gives that as her place of birth in the 1851 census and we can surmise that her last name was Niven as daughters Rebecca and Sarah were baptised as Rebecca Niven and Sarah Amy Niven, but that is as far as I got with their origins.

Detail of Horwood's 1799 map

Detail of Horwood’s 1799 map

Charlotte continued to run the two businesses, but seems to have sold the tobacconist’s section in or before 1851 as in the 1851 Post Office Directory she is only listed with the chop-house. She did not continue to live above the shop after her husband’s death, as in the 1841 census she could be found in Newman Street, Marylebone, with her daughters Charlotte, Rebecca and Sarah. In the 1851 census, she is living in Hinde Street with daughters Charlotte, Eliza, Jane and Sarah. She made at least one more move, probably to live with her daughter (see below), as her burial and probate records give 5 Wimpole Street as the address where she died in July 1866.(6) Two of Samuel and Charlotte’s children made a name for themselves, each in their own way. Son George became the manager of Charles Dickens’s reading tour in America, and daughter Charlotte Helen became a celebrated singer.


George was appointed manager of Dickens’s readings tour in 1866. The men probably already knew each other as Dickens was a friend of Charlotte Helen. Dickens and Dolby became great friends and frequently dined together. These tours in England were so successful that Dolby was also appointed manager of the American tour (1867-1868).(7) In 1885, he wrote Charles Dickens as I Knew Him: the Story of the Readings Tour in Great Britain and America (1866-1870), which he “affectionately inscribed” to his sister Charlotte. George at some point went into partnership with Richard D’Oyly Carte, but that partnership as “opera and concert agents” was dissolved in 1876.(8) Dolby also arranged the English tour of Mark Twain to whom he wrote a short note on 4 January 1874 with directions to his house at “2 Devonshire Terrace, Hyde Park, at foot of Craven Hill, one shilling cab fare from the Langham Hotel”. The note said that the Dolbys dined at six o’clock and that they were looking forward to seeing Twain and his friend Stoddard.(9) Despite all these grand acquaintances, Dolby fell on hard times, it is said because of his personal extravagance, and the 1891 census found him at the Cleveland Street Asylum. He died in 1900 as a pauper in Fulham infirmary.

carte-de-visite for Charlotte (© National Portrait Gallery, London)

carte-de-visite for Charlotte (© National Portrait Gallery)

Charlotte Helen was listed as “musical” in the 1851 census, but she was more than just a bit musical. In 1832, she entered the Royal Academy of Music and received a scholarship in 1837. In 1845, she sang in Leipzig under the auspices of Mendelssohn, which was such a success that he even dedicated his Opus 57 to her. She subsequently went on a tour through the Netherlands and France and in 1860 married Prosper Philippe Sainton, a French violonist who had been living in London since 1844. Charlotte became a celebrated contralto vocalist with her own academy which she opened in 1872 after her retirement from professional singing. Charlotte did a lot better than her brother and when she died in 1885, she left almost £1,600.(10) The probate registration gives her as formerly of 5 Wimpole Street, but lately of 71 Gloucester Place, Hyde Park.(11)

Advertisement for Charlotte's music academy in the 1874 London Illustrated News

Advertisement for Charlotte’s music academy in the 1874 London Illustrated News

And the York chop-house? In the 1849 Land Tax records, Charlotte Dolby is listed between Harrison (the pawnbroker at number 95) and Vidall (carver & gilder at number 97) who were the same neighbours as we saw in the 1826 tax record, but from 1850 onwards, the Land Tax records suddenly list a Mrs Niven. Can we assume a relation of Charlotte? It is unlikely that Charlotte suddenly reverted to her maiden name, as in other records she is still known as Mrs Dolby. The name of Niven has disappeared again in the 1856 Post Office Directory and is replaced by that of dining room keeper Charles Alexander Halfhide. His name, however, disappeared a year later, and various other proprietors can be found in the following years, although it is unclear whether they continued the chop-house, and that is as far as I can take the story of the York chop-house.

(1) Ralph Rylance, The Epicure’s Almanack. Eating and Drinking in Regency London. The Original 1815 Guidebook, ed. by Janet Ing Freeman (2012), p. 117.
(2) The other children were: Samuel (1823-), Eliza (1825-), Jane (1826-), Rebecca Niven (1828-), George (1830-1900), and Sarah Amy Niven (1833-).
(3) Thomas Dolby, Memoirs of T. D. late Printer and Publisher, of Catherine Street, Strand, written by himself (London, 1827), p. 131. Thanks go to Mathew Crowther for sending me this information.
(4) From 1823 to 1825 Thomas Dolby issued his series of plays in paper wrappers at sixpence per number. Thomas Dolby, publisher and printer, had his business in the Strand and at 34 Wardour Street. Read more on Thomas Dolby here.
(5) Old Bailey case t18240715-101.
(6) England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1866. Probate is granted to son George and the effects are gives as under £100.
(7) The Oxford Companion to Charles Dickens. You can also read more about Dolby here.
(8) The London Gazette, 4 February 1876.
(9) Mark Twain’s Letters, vol. 6: 1874-1875 (2002).
(10) England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1885. Probate is granted to her husband.
(11) More information on Charlotte and Prosper can be found in the Oxford Dictionary of Biography.


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