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Street View: 86 and 18 Suppl.
Address: 37 Cornhill and 27 King William Street

Wiliam Henry Ablett, hosier, was made free of the City of London on 26 October, 1824, as “the fourteenth of fifty”, in other words: he had not gone through the usual 7-year apprenticeship, but became a freeman via the Company of Fanmakers by paying a fine of 46s 8d. Sun Fire insurance entries place his shop from 1824-1829 at 37 Fish Street Hill, but at some point before 1832 he moved the shop to 37 Cornhill. When son William Henry junior was baptised in May 1830, the family still lived at the Fish Street Hill address, but when the next son, Charles Grey, was baptised on the 1st of April 1832, the family had already moved to Cornhill.(1) A case of attempted theft from Ablett’s shop helps us to narrow down the removal period. John Wheeler, shopman to Ablett, caught a thief trying to put a silk handkerchief under his apron in June 1831.(2) The shop was then still in Fish Street Hill. The move to Cornhill must therefore have taken place between June 1831 (the theft) and April 1832 (baptism Charles). In November 1832, Ablett was assisted by his nephew John Lee Ablett who apprehended another thief who had walked off with six handkerchiefs.(3) At the Old Bailey, John Lee stated that William Henry was an outfitter and an advertisement in The Spectator of 1840 tells us that Ablett sold ladies chemises, night gowns, collars, and all kinds of shirts: made from calico or Irish linen, with linen collars, with plaited fronts, etc., and all cheaper if bought per dozen.


N. Whittock published a book in 1840 On the Construction and Decoration of the Shop Fronts of London and for plate 5 he chose Ablett’s outfitting warehouse in Cornhill, which shows lots of drapery in the windows, two swords as window decoration and something indefinable hanging over the counter. No evidence of any of the shirts Ablett advertised, however.

An advertisement in The Morning Chronicle of 22 April, 1845, tells us that Ablett had removed his business from 37 Cornhill to 27 King William Street, where he was to be trading as Rehsif & Ablett. According to the earlier set of Tallis Street Views, those premises had been in the occupation of Carpenter & Co., also outfitters. The shirts Ablett was celebrated for could still be ordered from the new establishment as all the patterns of W.H. Ablett had been preserved. An advertisement in The Times later that year, on 4 August, lists the shirts that could be bought. The range of items was the same as in the earlier advertisement, and all, as before, cheaper if bought by the dozen. But it was not to last. In October 1846, one H. Hurst, a publisher, occupied 27 King William Street, with no indication where Rehsif and/or Ablett have gone, although they may have shared the building for a while as Tallis’s Supplement was published in 1847 and he only lists Rehsif Ablett & Co. Who Rehsif was, where he came from and where he went is unclear, nor is clear what happened to Ablett. There is a suggestion that he and his family moved to South Africa and that he died there in 1876.(4)

But is this the Cornhill and King Willam Street outfitter? A William Henry Ablett did indeed die in South Africa in 1876, but the record that I saw transcribed his age as 22, although the original document is so mangled that it is hard to make out. If it says 82 instead of 22, then it is possibly our outfitter as he was born in ±1793. But, other records help us out. In 1880, Sarah Ablett, relict of William Henry Ablett, 80 years old, died of kidney failure in Durban. The informant who reported her death to the registrar is her son William Henry. Other Abletts who died in South Africa were Charles Grey in 1874 and James Potter in 1917. The latter died of pneumonia when he was 82 years old, but Charles Grey was only 42 years old and died in Pietermaritzburg of “suffocation caused by his falling into the watercourse in Boom Street when in an epileptic fit”. It would be extremely unlikely that another Ablett family existed with the same first names, so I think we may conclude that is was indeed the outfitter who went to Natal.

More on Ablett’s family history can be found in the Campbell Collection of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. They hold four files of manuscripts, typescripts, printed material, and photographs on the Ablett family. The first file consists of two accounts by James Potter of trading trips made from Lourenco Marques to Port Natal in 1871-1872, and to the Gold Fields, Eastern Transvaal, in c.1873. The other files contain biographical data and photographs. The record description given by the university tells us a bit more about the family’s journey to South Africa and their life in the new country.(5)

“William Henry Ablett came to Natal on the ‘Amazon’ in 1850 with 3 of his sons, William, James and Auther [mistake for Arthur]. His wife, Sarah, and another child, Charles, followed in January 1854 on the ‘Lady of the Lake’. The family farmed in various parts of Natal. James Potter Ablett was born in England on 31 December 1835 and came to Natal with his father in 1850. He was married to Rosario Winn on 10 March 1863 at Verulam. In 1867 he went bankrupt and had to sell his sugar estate ‘Kirkly Vale’. In the early 1870s he went on trading trips up the east coast from Durban and appears to have been based at Lourenco Marques for a time from July 1870. Later he went to Kimberley and Johannesburg where he worked as an auditor for several gold-mining companies. He returned to Durban in 1916 and died on 19 May 1917, two days after the death of his wife Rosario.”

The sons that came with their father to Natal were obviously the four sons born to William Henry and Sarah between 1830 and 1836 (see footnote 1). No mention is made of eldest daughter Sarah Ann, so she may have stayed in England, or perhaps she had died young as her sisters had, but I found no record of her death.

(1) William Henry married Sarah Potter in 1827. Their children were: Sarah Ann (1828), William Henry (1830), Charles Grey (1832), Arthur Wilson (1835), James Potter (1836), Emily (1837, she died in 1838), Isabella (1839, she died that same year) and Eliza Emmeline (1842, she died in 1852 at Park House asylum, Highgate).
(2) Old Bailey case t18310630-146.
(3) Old Bailey case t18321129-14.
(4) Suffolk Roots, v.17, 1991 via Family History Library Catalog online.
(5) University of KwaZulu-Natal, Campbell Collection, Ablett Family Papers (record online here)

Neighbours:

<– 36 Cornhill
<– 28 King William Street
38 Cornhill –>
26 King William Street –>
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