Street View: 48
Address: 172 Oxford Street
We saw in the post on Henry Fricker, shoemaker, at 171 Oxford Street, that at some point in time his neighbour at number 172, Henry Mills, extended his own property to include number 171. That is not to say that the two buildings very physically merged into one; they were not, but Mills apparently thought it advantageous to spread his shop over two properties. It appears from the 1841 census that the shops were already combined in or before that year as there is only one entry between the occupants of numbers 170 and 173, listing Mills and his family. The next census, of 1851, however, reverted to two entries with Benjamin Burchett, watchmaker, two shop assistants and a general servant at number 172 and John Finlayson, jeweller’s assistant at number 171. Also at number 171 could be found a house decorator with his wife and a lodger. It would appear that the decorator just rented part of the house as we still find Mills as “Mills, Henry, silversmith & goldsmith, watchmaker & jeweller, importer of foreign clocks & watches” at 171 & 172 Oxford Street in the 1856 Post Office Directory, without any mention of anyone else trading from either property. Mills himself, by the way, was by then living at Turnham Green, Chiswick.
Not surprisingly perhaps, over the years the jeweller’s shop fell victim to a number of thefts and swindles. In March 1843, for instance, a woman came into the shop who wanted to look at a gold watch. According to the newspaper article about the case, she indeed bought a watch, but could only pay with a 50l. bank note. She said that if Mills could change the note she would be happy to buy other items from him and she told Mills that she had been given the note by Mr. Wyatt of Oxford Street. Mills said he could not change the note, but would give her a cheque. After some hesitation she agreed. Mills did not quite trust her and sent one of his apprentices to follow her to see if she went to the address she had given. No, she did not. The apprentice was heard as a witness and he said that the lady had appeared “in the family way”, wore spectacles, a straw hat, a veil and a black silk dress. A lodger at the house the accused went to testified that she did indeed have a room there and had been wearing a black silk dress on the day in question. When a policeman searched the room of the accused, he found various items that were “apparently the result of habitual pilfering”. He also found a black dress and straw bonnet, but no trace of the watch or cheque. The woman declined to say anything in her defence and was committed to be tried at the Old Bailey.(1)
From the proceedings of the Old Bailey case a few months later, we learn that the woman’s name was Harriet Oakley and that she was accused of stealing the 50l. note from Edward Wyatt, a carver and gilder of 360 Oxford Street. When Mills sent his apprentice to follow the prisoner, he also sent his other apprentice to Mr. Wyatt to inquire about the woman and the bank note. It turned out that the accused had been employed as a seamstress and domestic servant by Mrs. Wyatt and that Mr. Wyatt had given his wife the 50l. note, which she kept in an unlocked drawer. Wyatt went to Oakley’s address after he heard from Mills, but went away again and only involved the police the next day, giving her every opportunity to hide or dispose of the goods acquired with the stolen money. During the hearing at the Old Bailey, the various witnesses were rather hesitant when it came to identifying the woman, the dress or the straw bonnet and frequently contradicted their own story. Mills, for instance, could not recollect exactly whether he had been shown the bonnet: “I think I saw a bonnet, since that time, at the police-office — I have been shown a bonnet since than by the police-officer — perhaps it might be twice — I do not think he showed it me at all — he might have shown me the bonnet in Court — it might be there — he did not show it to me — he did show it, I believe”. Although it seems most likely that Harriet Oakley had pilfered the note from the Wyatts, there was not enough conclusive evidence against her and she was found ‘not guilty’.(1)
By 1861, sons William James and Henry junior were living at 171 Oxford Street, although Henry senior was still involved. At least, the census for Turnham Green lists him as jeweller, not as retired jeweller. In 1864 a newspaper report saw William testifying in a case of “obtaining goods by false pretences”. William described himself as assistant to his father, certainly suggesting that Henry senior was still in charge. The case, by the way, revolved around a Thomas Godfrey, auctioneer and house agent, who bought silver tea spoons from Mills’s and paid with what turned out to be a bad cheque. Mills was not the only victim of Mr. Godfrey who seemed to have made a habit of shopping in this way.(3)
Henry senior died in April 1868 and the burial and probate records still gave Oxford Street as his abode, so he apparently never officially retired.(4) Son William James was to follow him to the grave two years later, just 31 years old.(5) Louisa, William’s widow, was listed as watchmaker and jeweller at 172 Oxford Street in the 1871 census, and Henry junior with the same profession at number 171. By 1881, however, Henry had disappeared from Oxford Street and numbers 170 & 171 are occupied by James Moore, upholsterer and carman. Louisa is still at number 172, though. A little after the census was taken, the house numbering in Oxford Street changed and 172 became 394.
It is not clear how long Louisa remained at number 172 after the 1881 census was taken, but in 1891 and 1901, number 394 was occupied by Frederick Dixon, a jeweller originally from Lincoln. In the 1911 census he is still described as a jeweller and his son Leslie Frederick as an assistant jeweller, although they were no longer living at Oxford Street, but at Gayton Road, Harrow. In 1909, Leslie had acquired the freedom of the City through the Company of Spectacle Makers by redemption. On the Company’s documents he was described as an optician. The Dixons may have continued trading as jewellers while sharing the premises with others, but it is clear that totally different things were available from number 172/394 in 1913 and 1919.
(1) The Morning Post, 22 March 1843.
(2) Old Bailey case t18430508-1499. Online here.
(3) Daily News, 15 September 1864.
(4) England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1868. Estate valued at under £7,000.
(5) England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1870. Estate valued at under £2,000
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