Street View: 24
Address: 35 Gracechurch Street
In 1773, Quaker Miller Christy, originally from Edinburgh, started his career in London as a hatter. In 1789, Miller Christy and his partner Joseph Storrs insured their property at 35 Gracechurch Street. In 1790, 1792 and 1796 respectively, Miller Christy took on his sons Thomas, William Miller and John as his apprentices and the indentures state that Christy was a member of the Feltmakers’ Company. A few years later, in October 1794, Storrs and Christy dissolved their partnership with Christy to continue the business.(1) The two generations of Christys continue as hatters in Gracechurch Street until November 1803 when they dissolve their partnership as regards father Miller; the sons are to carry on.(2)
The Christys are listed in the Sun Fire Office records as insuring property in Gracechurch Street, but also in Nag’s Head Court where they apparently had a warehouse. They also insured property in Bermondsey Street where one Charles Birt, a baker, is listed as the occupant. Thomas’s son, Thomas junior, is apprenticed to his father in 1815 and later becomes a partner. In 1830, one of the young porters employed by the Christys embezzled some funds. He went round to customers of Christy & Co. for the payment of bills owed, but he failed to hand in the money to his employers’ clerk. He was sentenced at the Old Bailey to fourteen years transportation and was shipped out to New South Wales.(3) At the end of December 1830, Thomas Christy senior retired(4) and the firm was henceforth usually referred to as Messrs Christy & Co.
In 1835, another Old Bailey case (t18350511-1289) tells us that the Bermondsey address is where the manufacture takes place with Gracechurch Street as the address for the shop. More and more Christys joined the firm and when William Miller retired in 1845, the other partners were listed as John, Thomas junior, Sam., Henry and Alfred Christy.(5) Henry was definitely the son of William Miller, but I am not sure about Samuel and Alfred. Alfred was probably John’s son, but Samuel is slightly elusive. William Miller had done quite well for himself and when he died in 1858, his probate record values his estate at £60,000.(6)
Son Henry died in 1865 of inflammation of the lungs and his probate record lists Joseph Fell Christy of 35 Gracechurch Street as his brother and one of the executors.(7) Although Henry had been a partner in the hat-making business, he is also credited with inventing the penny receipt stamp, and he was director of the London Joint-Stock Bank as well as an amateur ethnologist. His interest in primitive societies and his funding led, after his death, to the discovery of Cro-Magnon man. He also left a half-finished book, entitled Reliquiae Aquitanicae, being contributions to the Archaeology and Paleontology of Périgord and the adjacent provinces of Southern France, completed at the behest of Christy’s executors, first by Edouard Lartet and, after his death in 1870, by Thomas Rupert Jones. For more on Henry Christy, see here.
George Dodd, in his Days at the Factories (1843) tells us more about the Bermondsey manufacturing department. According to Dodd, it was reported to be the largest in the world and consisted of two “extensive ranges of buildings on opposite sides of Bermondsey Street”. The steam engine required a chimney of a hundred and sixty feet and the whole complex consisted of a great number of individual departments, such as one for trimmers, one for packers, one for the turners and even a blacksmith’s shop, not to mention the storerooms required. The different kinds of hats, be they silk or beaver, were made in different sections of the building and Dodd goes to great lengths to describe the various processes necessary in making hats, which I will not repeat as you can read the whole story here.
But hats were not the only item produced by Christy’s. While Henry was travelling in Istanbul, he noticed the looped pile cotton fabric we now know as terry-cloth. The company developed a machine to make the looped pile and the first efforts, still under the name of ‘Turkish bath towel’, were shown at the Great Exhibition. The towel production continues till this day and you can see the purple and green variety every year at the Wimbledon Championships (their website for the towel business www.christy.co.uk).
The Gracechurch and Bermondsey properties were let go in the 1950s, but Christy’s still produce stylish quality hats as well as the helmets for the Metropolitan Police force (their website for the hat business www.christys-hats.com). And should you be interested in researching the history of the business, you need to go to the John Rylands University Library in Manchester where they keep the papers of W.M. Christy & Sons (see here).
(1) The London Gazette, 25 October 1794
(2) The London Gazette, 9 October 1804.
(3) Old Bailey case t18300527-19.
(4) The London Gazette, 28 December 1830.
(5) The London Gazette, 18 July 1845.
(6) England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858.
(7) England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1865. Value of the estate £60,000.
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