Street View: 41
Address: 140 Oxford Street
According to the advertisement Henry Churton had in several of Tallis’s Street View booklets, he had taken over from the late E. Churton who had established the shop in 1781. E. Churton was Henry’s father who does indeed feature in early directories, for instance in Lowndes’s London Directory of 1786. The premises at 140 Oxford Street were situated on the corner of Old Cavendish Street and “nearly opposite New Bond Street” as Churton said in his advertisements. That is stretching it a little bit, but Churton no doubt thought that New Bond Street was a better reference for his shop than Old Cavendish Street. The corner property, and in fact, the whole block, is now occupied by John Lewis. The map from the Street View booklet is orientated south-north, so upside down from the usual orientation we nowadays use. New Bond Street seems to run north on the map, but it does in fact run southwards. The building, and many of the surrounding ones, belonged to the Duke of Portland who took out an insurance in 1814 and in 1817 for his Oxford Street properties. The Sun Fire Office entry lists Edward Churton as the tenant of number 140.
Edward possibly married three times. At least, three marriages are recorded at St. Marylebone, but all were by banns, so no additional information about occupation or parents is available in the online records that I have seen. The first marriage was to Harriet Barber in 1784, the second to Elizabeth Blinman in 1789 and the third to Mary Smith in 1809. There were apparently no children from the previous marriages, but Edward and Mary’s son Henry was baptised in December 1809 and his brother Edward on 9 July 1812. There were two more children, Maria and Frederick, but they play no role in the further story of the hosier’s business. Edward wrote a will in 1827, making sure that the silver that belonged to his wife went back to her and that the rest of the silver was divided between the four children. The executors were asked to sell all other effects and hold them in trust for the children until they attained the age of twenty-one years. The executors were either to sell the business or to continue it, whatever they though best. In a codicil Edward stipulated that if Henry wanted to continue the business, he had to compensate his siblings but on no account was he to be charged more than £1200 for the lease and the fixtures of the shop and the goodwill was not to cost him anything.(1)
So, Henry took on the hosier’s shop of his father and he received a favourable mention in 1839 for the elastic rollers for horses’ legs in The Era of 27 October. The newspaper report tell the story of a horse after a long hunt which not only had to contend with the cross-country chase and the fences that need to be jumped, but also with the ride home which may be many miles. After such exertion, the legs of the animal need to be washed with warm water, rubbed and kept warm. This is normally done with flannel bandages, which, although it keeps the legs warm, are inflexible and will either be wound too tight and then hampering blood flow or too loose and then likely to slip down. But, Churton’s Cotton Webb is elastic and hence far superior to the old-fashioned flannel.
Despite this apparent success and the insertion of several advertisements in the Tallis booklets, a year later, bachelor Henry leaves England for New Zealand, so only just after Tallis listed him in his Street View of Oxford Street. The hosiery shop was listed for one Gilbert Wilson in the 1843 Post Office Directory. Churton travelled on the ship ‘London’ which sailed on 13 August 1840 and arrived four months later in Wellington on 12 December (see here). Henry was a cabin passenger, so certainly not fleeing from financial troubles and later reports of him suggest that he was rather well off. Why he went to New Zealand is unclear; he may have been drawn to the adventure or just sick and tired of hosiery.
Henry settled in Wanganui on the North Island, which had only recently been reached by Europeans. The first traders only arrived at the mouth of the Wanganui river in 1831. According to David Young in his Woven by Water: Histories from the Wanganui River (1998), Churton ran a public house, which was presumably more profitable than selling hosiery to the early settlers. Henry seemed to have had a good relationship with the indigenous population and in 1880, he built a school/college/home for Maori girls. Read more about the building here or even more about it in the newspaper articles listed here. In 1845, some letters written by Churton in 1844 were published by his brother Edward, who had his business in Holles Street. The whole book can be read online here. The title-page contained a paragraph by Henry on his thoughts about the treatment of the Maoris.
“I much wish, that more was known in England about the real position of the Maoris and the Missionaries; and this can only be gathered by persons living, as we have done, in contact with them so long, and having no prejudicial interests to serve. I am more convinced every day, that as long as the present system is continued, the Maoris will not be improved, and no one is more anxious for their welfare than I am.”
Henry was known for his fair treatment of the indigenous population and his efforts to give them a better life. It may now seem like Victorian interference, but he certainly meant well. His brother Edward, the bookseller, also came to live in New Zealand. He arrived in 1862 and died in 1885. He busied himself with various societies and institutions, such as the Equitable Building Society, the Harbor Board and the Gas Company.(2) The former hosier turned settler Henry died in 1887 and a notice in the newspaper about his death described him as a good friend of the natives.(3)
(1) PROB 11/1833/396. One of the executors is “my brother William Churton” who may be the hosier of 91 Oxford Street.
(2) Wanganui Herald, 27 July 1885.
(3) Wanganui Herald, 1 September 1887.
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