Street View: 13
Address: 4 Strand
On the 1st of March, 1912, windows in a large number of shops in Westminster were deliberately smashed by women trying to get attention for their struggle to get the vote. And attention is what they got. The Manchester Guardian reported on the disturbance the next day with a triple headline “Militant suffragists. | Window-smashing raid in the West End. | Mrs. Parkhurst arrested.” Emmeline Parkhurst was, however, not arrested for breaking shop windows, she went one better and, with two other women, went to 10 Downing Street and broke the windows of Asquith’s residence. As we now know, it still took several more years for the final granting of their wishes, but the noise they made in 1912 certainly made everybody sit up. Among the shops that were attacked was the chemist shop of Starkie at 126 Strand. From 1911 to her death in 1926, the shop was managed by Mrs Jane Starkie, the widow of Richard Stringer Starkie who had succeeded his father James Starkie after the latter’s death in 1863.(1)
The 1912 incident was not the only time that glass was broken in the Starkie shop. In 1887, a demonstration in Trafalgar Square on the 13th of November(2) turned into a riot and Richard later appeared at the Old Bailey to state that
I am a chemist, and one of my shops is 7, Grand Hotel Buildings, Charing Cross, which faces the S. E. corner of Trafalgar Square—on Sunday afternoon, November 13th, I went to the Square about 4 o’clock from the Strand—I found great difficulty in getting to my shop—the mounted police were trying to disperse the crowd that choked the Strand, and as they returned, pieces of stick and a few stones were thrown at them, and there was hooting and booing at them—I got just up to my shop—my plate-glass windows are not protected by shutters, and about 6 o’clock one of my windows was smashed.
Two incidents and two Starkie shops: 7, Grand Hotel Building and 126, Strand. The 1881 census shows that Richard and his wife Elizabeth were living at 126 Strand.(3) The Grand Hotel had only opened in 1880 and Richard explained at the Old Bailey that “no one lives in the shop; it is under the Grand Hotel”. According to the description of the listed building the “ground floor has central archivolt arched entrance and altered shop fronts articulated by polished granite pilasters carrying entablature”.(4) In the late 1870s, major redevelopments had taken place in the Strand/Charing Cross/Trafalgar Square area and the two shops listed for Richard had only recently been acquired by him. Before that, he had had his – only – shop at 4, Strand and so had his father before him. Whether the move from there had been voluntary or forced by the development scheme is unclear, but judging by Richard’s wealth at the time of his death, almost £14,000, he had not fared badly.(5)
When exactly father James Starkie obtained the shop at 4 Strand, corner of Northumberland Street, is uncertain, but he was certainly there on 18 April, 1824 when Richard’s sister Cecelia Louisa Eliza was baptised at St. Martin in the Fields. Richard Stringer was baptised on 8 June 1828 at St. Marylebone Christ Church (he was born 17 December 1827). A third child, Julia, was baptised 8 May 1831, also at St. Marylebone (she was born 29 Sept. 1829). James had married the mother of his children, Cicely Amelia Green, on 5 May, 1822 at St. Marylebone, but his address at that time was not recorded.
Although Starkie was not one to advertise his chemist shop, or at least not in the papers that I have seen, other advertisements in various papers can still tell us what James had for sale. In 1835, he was mentioned as one of the addresses where Stirling’s Stomach Pills could be bought. The pills were prepared by J.W. Stirling, a chemist at 86 High Street, Whitechapel, and contained “sulphate of quinine, and the most choice stomachic and aperient drugs of the Materia Medica” and they were – of course – “superior to every other medicine in the cure of stomach and liver complaints, loss of appetite, indigestion, sensation of fullness and oppression after meals, flatulence, shortness of breath, spasms, worms, and all disorders of the stomach and bowels”.(6) And if that was not enough, the advertisement goes on with a whole list of other complaint that would benefit from these pills, but I will spare you the rest. Stirling was a busy man and a week later another of his remedies was advertised; this time his Ree’s Cubebs with Sarsaparilla, which would cure gonorrhoea, pains in the kidneys, bladder irritation, etc. The stuff could be bought in bottles of 4s. 6d, 10s. or 20s. It was allegedly “invaluable for the removal of secondary symptoms, pains of the bones, and all diseases arising from the impure state of the fluids.”(7) This time, Starkie is the only chemist mentioned by name where the concoction could be bought; the others are grouped under “all the principal medicine vendors in town and country”. Stirling ends his advert with a caution against imitations; the buyer had to make sure that ‘J.W. Stirling’ was engraved on the stamp.
And if you should happen to have a decaying tooth, all you had to do was go to Starkie’s and buy Thomas and Howard’s Succedaneum and put some in the cavity. It would fill the hole, harden to the consistency of enamel and remain firm for many years.(8)
In February 1847, an advertisement appeared for a book by George Franks on urino-genital diseases, which could be ordered from all booksellers, but was also available at Starkie’s. Although the advertisement for the book does not say that Franks had also developed a medicine to go with it, an injunction in Chancery does. In The Era of 10 October that same year it is stated that in Franks versus Weaver the injunction is granted to Franks restraining John Weaver of Wolverhampton of “making, vending, or offering for sale, or in any manner disposing of any preparation with which any statement or representation is made indicating, or implying, or tending to induce the public or purchasers to suppose that such preparation is the same as ‘Franks’s specific solution of copaiba.’” Franks’ medicine had “the government stamp attached and covering the cork of each bottle, on which is engraved the name and address, ‘George Franks, Blackfriars-road.’” The solution and the book could both be bought from Starkie’s.
Whether all these patent medicines actually worked is very much to be doubted, but most of them did no harm either. Unfortunately, partaking of one of the products that Starkie sold would have dire consequences. One Charles Tathana of Stanhope Street came to Starkie’s shop one Thursday in October 1846 asking for some arsenic to kill rats. Starkie replied that he did not keep arsenic in the house because of the dangerous qualities. But, if the customer wanted something to kill rats, he could recommend Butler’s Vermin and Insect Killer. Tathana bough a packet for sixpence and went home. He committed suicide by taking the poison and at the inquest into his death Dr. McKenzie who had conducted the post-mortem and subsequently examined the powder, gave it as his opinion that the product contained arsenic and there was enough in one packet to kill six men.(9) What Starkie’s reaction was to this discovery went unreported, but Butler’s product remained on the market and figured in another – slightly botched – suicide case of 1863.(10)
But dodgy medicines were not the only items that could be bought from Starkie’s. They may not even have made up the major share of his supplies, but were certainly the items that made it into the newspapers. To round off the list of items that could be bought from him, one innocuous one: Guerlains’s shaving cream. An advertisement in the York Herald of 28 November 1840, tells the prospective customers that “this luxurious article has obtained the favour and patronage of the first ranks of fashion and distinction” and that it was only made by Monsieur Guerlain of 42, Rue de Rivoli, Paris. In 1828, Pierre-Francois-Pascal Guerlain had opened his first shop at the rue de Rivoli. In the same street the Hotel Meurice, a favorite haunt of the British high society, could also be found. To begin with, Guerlain imported products from Britain, but he was soon developing his own toilet waters, soaps, creams, cosmetics and perfumes which he also exported to the UK.(11)
The Starkies do not appear to have attracted any unusual attention themselves, but went quietly about their business in the Strand for just over 100 years and did quite well out of toiletries, patent medicine and poison.
(1) The London Gazette of 16 April, 1926 contained a notice that Jane Starkie had died 7 February and that all claimants should address themselves to Woolley and Whitfield, solicitors. A similar notice had appeared in 1911 after the death of Richard Stringer Starkie on 4 August, 1911.
(2) See Wikipedia: Bloody Sunday (1887) and here for the press reports.
(3) Richard and Elizabeth had married 22 August 1877. Richard was to become a widower and marry again on 22 July 1891 to Jane Tavener.
(4) Heritage list of English Heritage, online here.
(5) England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1911, p. 260.
(6) Morning Chronicle, 15 January 1835.
(7) Morning Chronicle, 20 January 1835.
(8) Morning Chronicle, 16 January 1847.
(9) The Northern Star and National Trades’ Journal, 17 October 1846.
(10) See here.
(11) More information on Guerlain’s history here.
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