Street Views: 15 and 13 Suppl.
Address: 69 Fleet Street
In a previous post, we saw that Samuel Parker, cut-glass manufacturer, occupied 69 Fleet Street with his partner William Perry up to 1820. The tax record for 1821 lists Jacob Perkins for the first time. They have not yet worked out the correct spelling of his name and call him ‘Perks’. By 1822, they have amended the name and the property is listed for Jacob Perkins & Co. According to the Baker Perkins Historical Society (see here), Jacob came to London from Boston, America; not as a young man seeking his fortune, but as a 53-year old who had already made his mark as an inventor and engineer. He had worked in Boston and New York, but moved to Philadelphia in 1814 (according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography it was in 1817), where he was involved in the business of printing banknotes from a number of separate engraved plates to prevent counterfeiting. “Jacob’s engineering genius had a very significant influence on the banknote printing industry both in the United States and in England and led him to set sail for England on the sailing ship ‘Telegraph’, with his eldest son, Ebenezer Greenleaf Perkins, his engraver colleagues, Gideon Fairman and Asa Spencer, some workmen and many cases of machinery, on 31st May 1819, in the hope of gaining a contract with the Bank of England”.(1)
Perkins and Fairman started their work in London at 29 Austin Friars and were joined at various times by other partners, some only for a short period. Already in December 1819, for instance, one Joseph Chessborough Dyer left the partnership he had with Perkins and Fairman(2). That same month, Charles Heath, engraver to King George III, joined the partnership and they moved the business to 69 Fleet Street. On 16 October 1821, Jacob Perkins, Gideon Fairman, Charles Heath, George Thomas Heath and Marcus Bull dissolve a partnership, because Bull wanted out; the remaining partners continued the business in Fleet Street.(3) In August 1822, Fairman decided to return to America and relinquish his share in the business.(4)
Jacob Perkins was much more interested in inventing new things than in running a solid business, frequently exasperating his partners as he withdrew large sums of money from the business to fund his inventions, and in November 1824, G.T. Heath withdrew from a partnership he had with Perkins at Regent’s Park.(5) This seems to have been a separate partnership from the Fleet Street one. The remaining partner, Charles Heath, dissolved the partnership with Perkins in Fleet Street in January 1826.(6) In May 1929, Joshua Butters Bacon, who had married Jacob Perkins’ second daughter, joined the business and it became Perkins and Bacon. In 1834, Henry P. Petch was taken into the partnership – he had joined the firm in 1823 as an engraver – and the company became Perkins, Bacon & Petch.
Jacob’s son, Ebenezer, was not in good health and returned to America. He is listed as an engraver of metal work in the 1829 Boston Directory. Jacob’s other son, Angier March, also came over when the contract for producing banknotes had been obtained:
We embarked in the ship Electra, 500 tons, about November 1821 and arrived in England in thirty days where we found my father and brother and all our friends. I … went at once into the employment of my father and his partners and was engaged for the next eight years in manufacturing banknotes, dies and plates. During the latter part of the time I taught other parties to do the work I was engaged upon and my services in the firm became unnecessary and I found myself obliged to obtain other business.(4)
According to the censuses of 1841, 1851 and 1861, 69 Fleet Street was not occupied as a house, or at least, no one slept on the premises when the census people came round. The Perkins family may of course have lived above the business before 1841, but they had moved out by the time of the first census. In 1841, Jacob could be found living in Great Coram Street with his son Angier, his daughter-in-law Julia, and his own daughter Henrietta. After Angier left his father’s business in Fleet Street, he established an independent business as heating and steam engineer, first at Harpur Street, Holborn, but after a few more moves, he settled in 1843 at 18 Regent Square, where Jacob also came to live and where he spent the last years of his life. Jacob died on July 30th 1849, aged 83, and was buried at Kensal Green.
Jacob’s method of printing bank notes in several layers with ‘siderographic’ plates to combat forgery also attracted Sir Rowland Hill, who was a friend of Jacob, and Perkins, Bacon & Petch obtained the contract to produce the Penny Black, which was first issued in 1840. Within a few years, twenty-two thousand million stamps for Great Britain and the Colonies had been printed by the Perkins process.
According to the 1886 insurance map, the engravers’ workshop ran backwards from 69 Fleet Street towards Whitefriars Street, comprising house numbers 36-40. You can still see the division at number 69 where first Chaffin and later Robinson had their shop. Following the death of Henry Petch in 1887, the firm became Perkins, Bacon & Co. Ltd. In 1904, they moved the business from 69 Fleet Street to Southwark Bridge Road.
(1) Website Baker Perkins Historical Society, see here.
(2) The London Gazette, 19 August 1820.
(3) The London Gazette, 20 October 1821.
(4) The London Gazette, 3 August 1822.
(5) The London Gazette, 23 November 1824.
(6) The London Gazette, 28 January 1826.
(4) G. Bathe and D. Bathe, Jacob Perkins: his inventions, his times, and his contemporaries (1943). Quoted in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry for Angier Perkins.
There is lots more information to be found on Jacob Perkins and his inventions, see for instance:
Jenn Nguyen, blogpost ‘Happy Birthday, Jacob Perkins’, 9 July 2018
Wikipedia page Jacob Perkins
Website Baker Perkins Historical Society
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