Street View: 85
Address: 21 Soho Square
Thanks to the archaeological excavations that have taken place in areas where the gigantic undertaking of the Crossrail tunnel made it possible, that is, mainly where the bore holes for the stations were made, we now know at lot more about Crosse and Blackwell than we knew before. The archaeological dig at the Crossrail Tottenham Court area brought an unexpected hoard of pots, glasses and jars to light. They appear to have been used to infill a disused kiln or cistern and provide a rare glimpse into the range of packing material used for the great variety of wares produced by Crosse and Blackwell, and no, they did not just produce fish sauce, although that is how it all started. The photographs of the Crosse and Blackwell ‘hoard’, if I may use that term (bottom of this post), were taken at the exhibition on Crossrail at the Docklands Museum of London, and I am indebted to the MOLA book on the Crossrail excavation for some of the information below, especially that relating to the dig. But before we go into the various pots and glasses and the goods they contained, first something about the two gentleman, Edmund Crosse and Thomas Blackwell, who started the company in 1830 by taking over the firm of West and Wyatt at 11 King Street. Crosse and Blackwell had both been apprenticed in 1819 to William Wyatt, Salter, working as an ‘oilman’, and when he retired in 1830 (Richard West had died in 1824), the two friends took over the business and moved to 21 Soho Square in 1839, so not long before Tallis produced his booklet.
Edmund Crosse was the son of William Crosse of York Place, Chelsea, deceased, and five pounds of his apprentice fee of £210 was put up by Christ’s Hospital and the rest by “the friends of the said apprentice”. Thomas Blackwell ‘only’ had to pay £150 but no indication is given on his indenture who paid it, presumably his father Charles Blackwell of Harrow Weald Common. The 1841 census saw Thomas living in Harrow on the Hill with his wife Ann and two young children. Edmund was living above the business at 21 Soho Square. The 1851 census for Edmund, still at 21 Soho Square, tells us that it is a firm of 2 men, employing 50 men, 56 women and 14 boys. Ten years later, the census for Thomas, still at Harrow, gives us a sense of the expansion, as he is given as employing 102 men, 10 boys and 84 women. By 1861, Edmund had moved to Cambridge Terrace, Paddington, where he was to die a year later.(1) Thomas was not going anywhere and could be found at Harrow till his death in 1879.(2) Various Crosses and Blackwells continued to run the family business until it became a limited company in 1892.
The advertisement Crosse and Blackwell had in several of Tallis’s booklets still puts the emphasis on their fish sauce, but over the years, they expanded the range of food preserves produced into all kinds of pickles, sauces, jams, potted meats, candied fruits, chutneys, soups and bottled fruit. For some products Crosse and Blackwell acted as distributors, such as for Lea & Perrin’s Worchester Sauce, but others were made by licence for other companies, such as Keiler’s marmalade, until Crosse and Blackwell bought that firm in 1919 (see here). Their business premises in Soho expanded accordingly. 20 Soho Square, which had been the premises of D’Almaine, pianoforte makers, was added to number 21 in 1858, and by then, they had also established stables in Dean Street, which were later removed to 111 Charing Cross Road. A building at the back of 20-22 Soho Square, in Sutton Place, was acquired which was to be connected to yet another building in Falconberg Place by an iron footbridge. In a second phase of expansion, 18 Soho Square was added to the complex and also buildings on the corner of Sutton Street (111-155 Charing Cross Road), which were redeveloped between 1877 and 1885. On the vacant plot that can be seen on Goad’s insurance map below, another warehouse, known as 157 Charing Cross Road, completely covering the block, was built in 1893. However, London became busier and busier and the smells from the various manufacturing processes cannot have been too pleasant, and by 1921, Crosse and Blackwell had moved their production line away from London to Branston in Staffordshire. And yes, that is why we now have Branston pickle. Most London buildings were sold off, except for some office space in Soho Square. This is a potted history of the expansion of the Crosse and Blackwell business, leaving out numerous details, such as buildings in other London locations. Much more detailed information can be read in chapter 2 of the Mola book.
The excavations at the Crossrail site found a surprising amount (13,000! items) of pottery and glass that could all be linked to Crosse and Blackwell (see here). The pots and jars had apparently been used as waste material to backfill a cistern, which had once provided clean water. The James Keiler marmelade jars found mention the prizes that company received in 1862, 1869 and 1872, so the infill can be dated to after 1872. The cistern had probably been closed off prior to the work at 151-155 Charing Cross Road in 1877. The Museum of London Docklands has exhibited some of the finds, and below you will find some photographs that I took of the display.
If you want more information on the excavation or on the history of Crosse and Blackwell, I suggest you get hold of a copy of the Mola book by N. Jeffries, L. Blackmore and D. Sorapure, Crosse and Blackwell 1830-1921: A British Food Manufacturer in London’s West End, 2016.
(1) England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 186279. Estate valued at under £140,000.
(2) England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1879. Estate valued at under £160,000.
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