Street View: 17
Address: 44 Regent Street
Writing this post was fraught with difficulties. Not only was the name Ann Drewett not to be found in any of the advertisements for a circulating library in Regent Street, there was only one advertisement for number 44. That was a notice in The Times of 21 August 1838 in which “Drewett’s library” at number 44 was the place where chymists could buy “a quantity of fixtures, bottles, drugs, and utensils, the complete stock of a gentleman declining retail”. Not quite what you expect to find in a library, but the place seemed big enough to set aside a room for some extracurricular activities. Then I found for 1839: Joseph Bunney’s Christian Phrenology: a Guide to Self-Knowledge which was published by A. Drewett and Co., public library, 62 Regent Street. Well, A. Drewett could of course be Ann, but who the Co. was remains a mystery. It is at least clear that the library must have moved from number 44 to number 62 quite soon after the publication of the Tallis Street View booklet. Number 62 in the Tallis booklet was still occupied by J. Whitehouse (late Brown), a milliner, so he must have moved out quite soon after the publication of the booklet for Drewett to appear in a 1839 advertisement.
Quite a number of advertisements appear for the circulating library (and attached stationary business) at number 62 in the period July 1839 to early 1844, but in none of them an initial is given for the proprietor, so whether we are still dealing with Ann Drewett is unclear. The advertisements either call the place Drewett’s circulating library, Drewett’s library, Drewett and Co., or just plain Drewett’s. The 1841 census is no help either. No Drewetts to be found in the relevant section. There are of course enough Drewetts living in London, but no Ann that can be matched to the library and without another first name, it is hopeless to find out who it was that ran the library. Never mind, we can still find out what they had on offer in their library and shop.
Besides the one publication mentioned above, no other books seems to have been published by Drewett’s, so that does not help us any further. The advertisements, most of them in The Morning Post, however, do tell us a little bit about the library itself. A subscription was only a guinea a year and they had “a good supply of books and all the new works”. Well, they would say that, would not they? But, you could not just borrow the books, you could also buy them. They had “5,000 juvenile and other books at little more than half price. Bibles, Prayers, or Church Service, in velvet, morocco, and illuminated. Handsomely bound Bibles 2s only.”(1) But their biggest advertorial item was not the library, but the envelopes they sold. In July 1840, for instance, they say that they are selling off “good envelopes 4d. per 100.” In the same advertisement they also mention other items that could be bought at number 62: envelope cases, blotting books, scrap books, travelling cases, dressing cases, despatch boxes, post office stamps, black-bordered envelopes and cards.(2) In another advertisement, juvenile books, novels, fancy papers, silver-bordered envelopes and wafers are offered.(3)
And special occassions were not forgotten. Christmas presents were suggested, such as leather envelope cases, matching blotting books, rosewood or mahogony writing desks, portable dressing cases, complete with razor, shaving brush, strop and comb, or what about an inkstand?(4) For Valentine’s Day Drewett offered a “splendid asortment of Valentines, French papers, and envelopes just received from Paris”(5) And for Easter, the perfect gift would be, “at an immense reduction” (see further on why), a writing desk, a work box, a music or pamphlet case, or perhaps a book “at less than half price”?(6)
The cheapness of the product became more and more an important selling point in the advertisements and plain Drewett’s even became Drewett’s Cheap Stationary Warehouse. Competition in the field of stationary was fierce. The introduction of the Penny Post in 1840 caused an enormous increase in letter-writing and the development of the separate envelop; with the subsequent surge in retail outlets. Just across the road from Drewett’s, Stocken could be found who also advertised heavily with his envelopes, often on the same page as Drewett in The Morning Post. Before 1840, a letter was folded and sealed and then sent on with the recipient having to pay for the delivery. Putting a letter in a separate envelop would double the charge. Rowland Hill’s Post Office Reform revolutionized the system and any letter under an ounce could be sent anywhere in the UK for a penny, to be paid for by the sender.(7) A whole new industry in envelope making (and selling) developed and Drewett had obviously jumped on the bandwagon. Not only did he sell them, he also produced them himself.
The journalist George Augustus Sala (1828-1895) wrote in his autobiography that one summer (no exact year mentioned, but it seems to be in 1841(8)), he and his mother and siblings, after “a week in a boarding house … where … we were most terribly bitten by fleas, settled down in our old happy hunting ground in the Quadrant; our apartments being this time at the house of a stationer named Drewitt.” And this is where it gets interesting, because Sala relates that there he “made acquaintance with a most ingenious machine for cutting envelopes, which now universally used accessories to correspondence were, until the penny postage system became firmly established, very rarely made use of”.(9) No wonder Drewett could slash his prices of envelopes if he no longer had to rely on manual labour to cut his envelopes. Sala unfortunately does not describe the machine any further, so we do not know if it was anywhere near as sophisticated as the one shown by De La Rue at the 1851 Exhibition. Probably not. Drewett may have imported his from France where they were using envelopes a little earlier than they did in England and we know he imported stationary from across the Channel.
Up till 6 December 1842, Drewett inserted advertisements in The Morning Post more than once a week, but all of a sudden they stopped. In April 1843, we learn why. That month, three identical advertisements were put in the paper, mentioning that they were “declining business”, hence the “immense reduction” in the prices mentioned when the Easter gifts were advertized.(10) In early 1844, a few more advertisements were put in the paper, inviting “attention to a stock of various articles now being cleared off at prices not to be equalled in London”. Envelopes went for one penny a hundred.(11) The stationary business was taken over by Allcroft and Co, and they were still at 62 Regent Street when the second lot of Tallis’s Street Views came out in 1847, but they will be the subject of a separate post some other time.
(1) The Morning Post, 4 June 1842.
(2) The Morning Post, 3 July 1840.
(3) The Morning Post, 4 November 1840.
(4) The Morning Post, 9 December 1840.
(5) The Morning Post, 12 February 1841.
(6) The Morning Post, 17 April 1843.
(7) More information here.
(8) The census for 1841 lists Henrietta Sala, music teacher, Frederick Sala, piano teacher, and daughter and son Augusta and George in the Quadrant, but as the census does not mention house numbers, it is difficult to determine where they were staying exactly. Drewett him- or herself is certainly not listed in Regent Street.
(9) The life and adventures of George Augustus Sala, written by himself (1895), volume 1, p. 122.
(10) The Morning Post, 12, 15 and 17 April 1843.
(11) Last advertisement in The Morning Post appeared on 19 March 1844.