Street View: 88
Address: 54 Moorgate Street

William Witcomb started his career in the City of London in 1828 when he was made free of the Feltmakers’ Company by redemption, that is, by paying a fine of 46s 8d for not having gone through the usual 7-year period of an apprentice. He originally came from Frome in Somerset and may already have been working as a tailor before he moved to London. According to the information he gave in the 1841-1871 censuses, he was born in ±1800 and could easily have worked somewhere else for a number of years before coming to London. As the freedom document shows, he began his career in Little Bell Alley in the parish of St. Stephen Coleman Street. In the same year that he acquired the City’s freedom, 1828, he married Sophia Mary Macarthur, and the baptism records of his eldest children tell us that he worked as a tailor and glover at no. 4 Little Bell Alley.(1)

Little Bell Alley, not necessarily showing Witcomb’s property

Little Bell Alley was a very narrow street running from London Wall to Great Bell Alley; later in the nineteenth century it was widened and renamed Copthall Avenue. Moorgate Street (it later lost the ‘Street’ part of its name) was a new street of the 1830s, constructed as one of the roads to connect London Bridge with the north. Although Wikipedia says Moorgate was constructed in 1846, it must have been earlier as it is not only depicted in the Tallis Street View, but the inhabitants are listed in Moorgate Street from 1840 onwards in the tax records of the Coleman Street ward. The tax records show Witcomb for the first time in 1829 in Little Bell Alley, having taken over from one Savory. Witcomb is still listed in the 1837 poll book at 4 Little Bell Alley, but he must have moved to Moorgate between June 1837 – when three of his children are baptised at St. Stephen’s and his address is still listed as 4 Little Bell Alley – and June 1840 when his eldest son William is buried from Moorgate Street. The 1840 tax record for Little Bell Alley does indeed show a different name.

An insurance record of the Sun Fire Office, dated 21 October 1839, shows one John Joseph Tanner, solicitor of 53-54 Moorgate Street, paying the premiums for 47, 48 and 49 Moorgate. Tanner either acted for other proprietors, or he had invested in property himself and only used the address in Moorgate Street temporarily as he does not appear in any of these properties in the 1841 census. Proof that the Witcomb family moved to Moorgate around that time is given in the 1841 census where William, Sophia, and five children are listed, next to Thomas Johnston, the bookseller at number 53. Witcomb’s new property was next to White’s Alley and is nowadays known as 20, Moorgate. The 1887 insurance map below shows Witcomb’s property at no. 20 (was 54), with the entrance to White’s Alley on the south side of the building, leading to Moorgate Street Buildings. On the right-hand side of the map the southern section of Little Bell Street can be seen.

Goad’s insurance map of 1887

Things were, however, not going very well and in November 1842, William Witcomb, “late of no. 54, Moorgate-street, London, Tailor, Draper, and Glover” was in the Debtor’s Prison for London and Middlesex on his own petition. The 1843 Post Office Directory still lists him at no. 54, but that may have been because their information had been gathered in late 1842, that is, before Witcomb was imprisoned. In 1845, number 54 is occupied by L.J. Gaskill and Co., General advertising agents for the United Kingdom, France, America, and the Colonies.

top part of an advertisement in The British and Foreign Railway Review, vol. 1, 1845

And Witcomb? Well, he managed to be released from prison and in the 1851 census could be found as an accountant at 10 New Road, Stepney. An aptitude for administrative work apparently ran in the family as son Charles John is listed as a bookkeeper and son James Robert as a solicitor’s clerk. Ten years later, the youngest son Walter is listed as a clerk to a brandy merchant, George is a barrister’s clerk, and daughter Fanny has become a teacher. William himself is listed in 1861 as a clerk to a colonial broker. In 1871, William and his sons George and Walter are all listed as ‘clerk’ without any further specification. William died in 1874 and was buried at Abney Park Cemetery.

Bombing raids in World War II did a lot of damage to the buildings on Moorgate and in White’s Alley and Witcomb’s shop no longer exists (see here). The whole block of houses between Great Bell Alley (renamed Telegraph Street) and Great Swan Alley is now designated as 20 Moorgate and houses the Prudential Regulation Authority.

(1) The five eldest children were all baptised at St. Stephen Coleman: William (1829-1840); Sophia Maria (1834-1834, she died when she was just 4 months old); Charles John (1830-1912), James Robert (1831-1859) and Alexander (1836-?). I have not found a baptism record for George (1839-1871), but the two youngest children, Fanny Sophia (1841-1875) and Walter (1846-1921) were baptised in 1867 at Dalston Presbyterian Church.


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