Street Views: 43
Address: 49 Skinner Street


Nowadays, if you are trying to find Skinner Street, London, you end up in Islington, but in the 19th century, you’d find yourself near Smithfield. The stretch of road with the name Skinner Street, where Thomas Bowtell had his shop, connected Holborn with Newgate Street and Old Bailey. The eastern half of what became Skinner Street was a section of Snow Hill, a street that formed the age-old connection between Holborn and Newgate Street, but which, as Tallis mentioned in his introduction “had been for ages one of the most inconvenient and dangerous passages within the metropolis. Its circuitous way, declivity, and other great obstructions to commercial intercourse, had rendered it a necessary object to improvement”. Creating the Skinner Street short-cut was definitely an improvement, but it did not go far enough and in the 1860s, another change was made. Old Fleet Market was extended northwards and became Farringdon Road and the sharp bend in what had remained of Snow Hill was slackened off, so that the street only met Skinner Street at St. Sepulchre’s Church, rather than halfway. And Skinner Street itself disappeared altogether under Holborn Viaduct, a major reconstruction scheme that put a stop to traffic having to negotiate the dangerous ascent and descent at Holborn Hill. The plan of the proposed 1802 improvement shows the drastic way in which the houses in the neighbourhood between Snow Hill and Fleet Market were destroyed. I have turned the picture upside down to give you the modern prospect with the north at the top. The red dot in the triangular section of houses became Bowtell’s shop. Another, later, engraving shows the triangular part in more detail with Bowtell’s premises indicated as number 49.



If you compare the 1799 Horwood map with the modern Google map, you will see the differences in the layout of the streets. Note that Snow Hill has not just been straightened out, but also ends higher up at its western end in Farringdon Road, rather than where it used to meet the Holborn intersection. One point of reference is St. Sepulchre in the lower right-hand corner and another is Hosier Lane, which, if you imagine it running on further west, would end up in Farringdon Road, just above where Snow Hill now enters Farringdon Road, while in 1799, Snow Hill came nowhere near that far north.



Enough of maps. Let us continue with Bowtell and his shop. In 1813, Thomas acquired the freedom of the City through the Cordwainers’ Company by servitude, and was from that moment onwards allowed to trade as a boot and shoemaker. In 1814, he takes out an insurance for premises at 42 Skinner Street, and in 1816 for 49 Skinner Street. In Johnstone’s London Commercial Guide of 1818, he is duly listed at the latter number. But, Thomas was not content with one shop and already in 1823, we see him listed in Kent’s Directory for 88 St. Martin’s Lane, 51 Cheapside and 49 Skinner Street. It is true that only Skinner Street is listed for Thomas Bowtell, and the other two addresses for Bowtell & Co, but we will see that all shops were run by Thomas and later, by one or more of his sons. Thomas and his wife Sarah had five sons and one daughter.(1) Disaster struck, however, in 1832, when son Henry drowned in a boating accident. The newspapers were rather inaccurate in their reporting as the drowned man was variously called Thomas or Thomas Francis or Henry, the number of brothers out in the boat was either five or six, the name of the shopman and/or apprentice who was/were also on the boat was W. Renceraft, Mr. Rincher, William Sawer and/or Christian Ficken, and the female friend who joined them was named as Elizabeth Morrisford or Mornaford or Emily Detmering. Well, whoever was in the boat, it was definitely Henry Bowtell, 16 years old, who drowned; he was buried at St. Sepulchre on the 19th of September.(2)

That the Bowtell shop was quite a substantial business can be seen from the 1851 census where Thomas is still listed at 49 Skinner Street, “boot & shoe maker employing 16 men”. It does, however, not specify whether all these man were working for him at Skinner Street or in some of the other Bowtell shops. Some of Thomas’s shops were apparently run by his sons, although it is not always clear in what capacity: as managers on behalf of their father, or on their own account. We will come back to the sons in a minute, but first a detour to Norwich and Brighton as Thomas also had shops there. A trade card in the British Museum collection shows the shop in Skinner Street, but one in the trade card collection of Guildhall Library, depicted in G. Riello’s A Foot in the Past (2006) shows the same picture, with the same old man and his stick in the foreground, but with the addresses of the Norwich and Brighton shops in the right and left margin (see here). The name of the shop has changed as well, from ‘New London House’ to ‘Original London Shoe Mart’. ‘Original Shoe Mart’ is also what is depicted above the Tallis elevation at the top of this post.

(© The Trustees of the British Museum)

(© The Trustees of the British Museum)

Thomas senior died in 1852 and was buried 25 July at All Souls, Kensal Green. I have not found a will for him, so there is no way of knowing how he left his money, but presumably he provided for his second wife Susannah (more on her in the forthcoming post on the shop in Tottenham Court Road). The lack of a will also makes it more difficult to determine whether the other shoe shops for the Bowtells were owned by Thomas senior or by one or more of his sons. Especially when the name is just given as Thomas Bowtell, there is sometimes no telling whether the father or the son is meant. Tallis lists two more Bowtell shoe shops, one at 58 Cheapside and one at 152 Tottenham Court Road, but there were many more. The two Tallis shops have been given a blog post of their own, but I have compiled a list of all the Bowtell shops with their proprietors and probable years of business. Records, such as the tax records, or advertisements, do not always give enough information to determine who was running which shop when, but they often mention more than one address, thereby making it certain that all the shops were in some way linked to the Bowtell family of Skinner Street. It is likely that it was Thomas senior who started branching out, but that at some point he turned some of the shops over to one or more of his sons. There is also mention of Bowtell & Co., but it is not clear who the Co. is; the partnership occurs too early to include the sons. It is, however, clear that the Bowtell in Bowtell & Co is Thomas as the name occurs on the same trade cards as 49 Skinner Street which is definitely Thomas’s shop. The two – very similar – trade cards below are both dated to c. 1825 by the British Museum, which could very well be correct. Kent’s Directory for 1823, lists Bowtell & Co. at 88 St. Martin’s Lane and 51 Cheapside. Both cards state that Bowtell took over from Stubbs and Hughes, and we know that Henry Stubbs acquired the patent for revolving heels in 1818 and that the partnership between Stubs and Hughes was dissolved in 1820.(3) The list at the bottom of this post is not complete, but I may be able to refine it when sorting out the other Bowtell shops that Tallis listed. To be continued ….

(© The Trustees of the British Museum)

(© The Trustees of the British Museum)

11 Charles Street
1810-1812 Thomas senior

49 Skinner Street, Snow Hill
1813-1852 Thomas senior

88 St. Martin’s Lane
1822-? Bowtell & Co

11 Fish Street Hill
1822-? Thomas senior

51 Cheapside
1823-? Bowtell & Co

58 Cheapside
1835-1852 Thomas senior
1854-1855 William

Tottenham Court Road
1832 Thomas and brother

152 Tottenham Court Road
1837 Thomas
1839-1843 Thomas and William
1848-1851 William

117 Tottenham Court Road
1851 Thomas and William
1851-1860 William
1861 Thomas junior

19 Strand
1837-1851 Thomas and William
1851-1856 William

181 Piccadilly
1842-1843 John and Joseph
1848 William

170 Piccadilly
1848-1856 John and Joseph

42 Crawford Street
1848 William
1851 Thomas and William

35 Crawford Street
1856 Mrs Eliza [it is at the moment unclear what relation she was, if any, of Thomas]

Brighton, 106 St. James’s Street

Brighton, 116 St. James’s Street
1838?- Thomas senior
1850?-1856 Joseph

Norwich, 1 (later 20 & 21) Davey Place
1824-? Thomas senior

advertisement in The Norwich Guide and Directory, 1842

advertisement in The Norwich Guide and Directory, 1842

(1) Thomas 1808, William 1810, John 1812, Sarah 1814, Henry 1816, Joseph 1818.
(2) Examiner, 16 and 23 September 1832, The Morning Chronicle, 13 and 19 September 1832.
(3) Titles of Patents of Invention, Chronologically Arranged From March 2, 1617 (14 James I.) to October 1, 1852 (16 Victoriae), 1854; European Magazine, April 1820.


<– 1 Skinner Street (across the road) 48 Skinner Street –>