Street View: 49
Address: 152 Tottenham Court Road
In two previous post, here and here, we saw that the Bowtells ran various boot and shoe shops, both in and outside London, and we also found out that it is not always easy to tell which Bowtell ran which shop when. Father and eldest son were both named Thomas and were listed without the handy distinction of ‘senior’, ‘junior’, ‘the elder’, ‘the younger’ or somesuch. Or the shop was just listed for Bowtell & Co., which does not help. Anyway, I have tried to give an overview of all the shops in the post for 49 Skinner Street and that will have to do. This post is about the Tottenham Court Road shop at number 152, which is first listed in March 1837 for Thomas Bowtell in a Sun Fire Office record.
But an earlier Old Bailey case of theft shows that Thomas had a shop in Tottenham Court Road a number of years before he took out the insurance, although it may not have been at number 152. In July 1832, one John Rae is indicted for stealing a pair of boots from Thomas Bowtell “and another”. Rae apparently grabbed the boots through the open door of the shop, but the shopboy saw him do it and ran after him. Rae was caught with the boots in his possession, found guilty and transported for seven years.(1) This was, however, not the first time that Rae had attempted to steel boots from Bowtell. A very short transcription of another Old Bailey case saw Rae accused of stealing boots a few weeks before the other attempt, but this time he was found ‘not guilty’.(2) No indication is given what happened exactly, but Thomas Bowtell is recorded as saying “these boots were the property of myself and brother”, so we can deduce that it was Thomas junior who ran the Tottenham Court Road shop. Yet another Old Bailey case helps to identify the brother as William, as in 1837 more boots were allegedly stolen and Thomas testifies that he is “a bootmaker, and in partnership with my brother William, at No. 19, Strand”.(3) In Robson’s 1842 Directory and in the 1843 Post Office Directory, the shops in both Strand and Tottenham Court Road are listed for T. & W., which must be Thomas and William.
And at some point in time, the brothers ran a third shop at 42 Crawford Street, but on the 7th of January 1851, they dissolved their partnership.(4). The Tottenham Court Road shop is by then listed at number 117 and no longer at no. 152. The 1851 census shows William living at number 117 with his assistant Martha Wardley. Thomas is then living at Portland Terrace and is described as master bootmaker, employing 6 men. But things did not go as well as the census appears to indicate, as in 1855, Thomas’s name is found in a list of bankrupts in the Debtor’s Prison and he is described as “formerly of no. 19 Strand, boot and shoe maker, having a private residence, first at no. 51, Saint John’s Wood, then at no. 4, Elm Tree-road, Saint John’s Wood, then again of some place, and next and late of no. 117, Tottenham Court Road, assistant to a boot and shoe maker”.(5) The 1856 Post Office Directory lists both 19 Strand and 117 Tottenham Court Road for William, so he seems to have come to the rescue of Thomas.
But, things were not well at William’s either. In 1860, he appeared to have a debt of 1,600l at Lutwych and George, leather merchants, but what was worse, he had become involved in giving out dodgy bills which also involved his brother John and a John Baker, publican in Hertfordshire. This John Baker was the brother of Thomas Bowtell senior’s second wife Susannah, and a shoe shop had been opened in Baker’s name across the street from William, although Baker had never been in the shoe trade. William ended up in the Queen’s Prison.(6)
But all these bankruptcies did not mean the immediate end of the business in Tottenham Court Road, as in the 1861 census, Thomas could still be found at number 117 as a bootmaker. Also living there as housekeeper is Martha Wardley, sister-in-law. It turns out that Thomas had married Mary Ann Wardley, Martha’s sister, but that was not the end of the family link as sometime between 1861 and 1871, William and Martha marry as well – a double family knot so to speak. Where William is in 1861 is unclear; perhaps still in prison? But by 1871, he could be found as a “shopman in the shoe trade” in Bristol. Living with William and his wife Martha are two daughters of Thomas, Ellen and Alice. Thomas, his wife Mary Ann, and some of their older children are living in Grange Road, Hackney. Fast forward twenty years to 1891 when William is retired, but still in Bristol. Thomas is also retired, but living at Mortlake Surrey at the Bootmaker Institute, also known as the Bootmakers Asylum. These almshouses were founded in 1836 and run by the Master Boot and Shoe Makers’ Association for the Relief of Aged and Decayed members, their Widows and Orphans, which later became the Boot Trade Benevolent Society (see here).
The Bowtell emporium that father Thomas had so carefully built up, did not survive the next generation. John and Thomas went bankrupt in 1855, William in 1860, and Joseph thoroughly disgraced himself in 1857.
(1) Old Bailey case t18320705-86.
(2) Old Bailey case t18320517-141.
(3) Old Bailey case t18370130-557.
(4) The London Gazette, 10 January 1851.
(5) The London Gazette, 12 June and 10 July 1855.
(6) The London Gazette, 6 November 1860.
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