Street View: 13 Suppl.
Address: 55 Fleet Street

55 Fleet Street was a large building shared in 1848 by Colas, box maker, Alfred Page, bootmaker, and E. Burton, tobacconist. A small alley led through the building to Pleydell Court and hence to Lombard Lane (Lombard Street in Horwood’s 1799 map). The entrance to the Court seems to be situated more towards the left nowadays, but that may just be because the new buildings of numbers 55 and 56 have not been rebuilt along the exact boundary lines of the old ones that stood there in Tallis’s time. The land tax records show Burton and Page as the property holders who paid the tax; Colas must just have rented some space from one of them, probably from Page as he had the larger share of the house and paid three times as much tax as Burton. Colas is sometimes referred to as a paper box maker or, more often, as a mill-board box maker. According to The Dictionary of Trade, Products, Manufacturing, and Technical Terms (1898), a mill-board box maker was “a manufacturer of stout paper or card-board boxes”, including “hat and bonnet boxes, pill-boxes, snuff-boxes, match-boxes, fancy-boxes, muff-boxes, linen drapers-boxes, etc.”

Louis Ferdinand Colas was born in Rémalard, Normandy, France, in ±1821, and was listed in the 1841 census as Louis Colas, a 20-year old French box maker, living at Lower Marsh in the household of Francis Moque, cheesemonger. This Francis Mouqué was officially called Francis Augustus Mouqué (also spelled Mougue or Mouque without the accent) and came from Ostend, Belgium. His wife, whom he married in 1835, was Susanna Marian Reid; she is called Marian in the 1841 census, but Susanna in the 1851 census. The same confusion of names occurred with Louis Ferdinand Colas who was named Louis F. in the census and other records, but more often just Ferdinand Colas. In the 1845 and 1848 Post Office Directories, Colas can be found at 55 Fleet Street as a box manufacturer and Mouqué as an engraver at the same address. At some point before 1850, Colas and Mouqué entered into a partnership and moved to 105 Cheapside. The 1850 Post Office Directory confuses the two addresses and lists Colas at both 105 Fleet Street and 105 Cheapside. Here again, they rented the property, as the Land Tax records show other names; in 1852 Messrs Smith (Simpson) and in 1858 Wilson & Morgan.

advertisement in The Mechanics’ Magazine, 23 March, 1850

The move to Cheapside coincided with an additional line of business as they not only produced fancy boxes, but also daguerrotypes. In The London Gazette of 1 December 1854, Mouqué and Colas announce that they have dissolved their partnership with Colas to continue the business at Cheapside. Mouqué had another change of occupation and is listed in the 1861 census as warehouseman of a shirt maker. He died in 1868. Colas seems to have concentrated on his original work, the making of boxes, and in 1865 removes the business to 57 Cheapside. However, a year later he is to surrender himself in a charge of bankruptcy and is then listed with the addresses 9 Westmoreland-buildings, Aldersgate Street, and 28 Hildrop Crescent, Camden. Earlier that same year he had been elected to be a member of the Freemasons’ United Grand Lodge, but if he thought that network might be useful to him, he was mistaken, as in 1870 he is once again asked to surrender himself to the Registrar of the Bankruptcy Court. He is then listed as of 32 Norfolk Road, Dalston and of 40½ Monkwell Street, late of 232 Fore Street and before that of 112 Fore Street. Fancy box making was apparently not quite as profitable as it had been.

The 1871 census still lists him as millboard box maker at 32 Norfolk Road, so he must have been able to turn things round to continue his business. He died in 1876.

In 1850, our box maker L.F. Colas of 105 Cheapside had written a booklet on photography in which he explained the difference between the French and the American method of polishing the plates and the composition of the accelerant used. In his text he refers to Mr. Claudet whom we have come across in this blog as one of the partners in the firm of Claudet & Houghton, glass dealers (see here). Daguerrotypy, or the Daguerro process, had been invented by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre in 1839 and became a readily available method of photography until ±1860 when easier and cheaper methods were developed (see here). In the 1840s, a lot of people jumped on the bandwagon and started a Daguerrotype studio in addition to their regular business. It seems that Mouqué and Colas did just that.

Sliding box camera with Colas lens (Source: http://earlyphotography.co.uk/site/entry_C700.html. With grateful thanks for allowing me to use the photograph)

The publishers of Colas’s text, Lerebours and Secretan, were well-known manufacturers of optical instruments and photographic supplies and at some point Colas may even have learned the art of grinding lenses from Lerebours, as lenses exist with the text “L.F. Colas élève de Lerebours Paris”, although it is not absolutely certain that the L.F. Colas who worked in London was the lens maker (information from earlyphotography.co.uk; see also here). It is even possible that he just imported the lenses.

advertisement in the Liverpool and Manchester Photographic Journal, 15 April 1857. As it says that Mander is the sole agent in England, it would suggest that L.F. Colas did not reside in the country, and that would indicate that there were two people called L.F. Colas, one in London and one in France

1853 book by A. Claudet and Colas. This edition also published by Lerebours and Secretan

Whatever the true involvement of box maker Colas with the grinding of lenses will, for the moment, have to remain an unsolved puzzle for lack of evidence, but that the box maker from France was involved in early photography in London is certain.


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