Street View: 15
Address: 69 Fleet Street
In 1839, when Tallis brought out his first set of Street Views, James Chaffin shared 69 Fleet Street with Perkins, Bacon & Petch, bank note engravers. They were the more important occupants, or perhaps they were more willing to pay Tallis to show their names above the building in the Street View booklet. Jacob Perkins paid the tax from 1821 onward, and Chaffin’s name is not listed in the tax records for Fleet Street, suggesting he just rented some space from Perkins & Co. By 1847, when the Street View Supplements came out, Perkins & Co. shared number 69 with bookseller Robinson; Chaffin was no longer mentioned. More on Perkins and Robinson in later posts, but in this post, we will go back in time, rather than forward.
In 1808, James, the son of James Chaffin of Lower Street, Islington, is apprenticed to his father, a chemist and druggist, which may go a long way towards explaining why Chaffin junior is sometimes listed as a chemical glass lamp manufacturer. In 1815, James Chaffin senior wrote his – very short – will. He does not start with the usual preamble, but says that “reflecting upon the uncertainty of life” he considered it “a prudent measure to declare on this written paper my will”. He names his wife Sarah as his sole heir and executrix and gives his address as 5 Lower Street, Islington. He only died in 1840, so quite a number of years after he wrote his will, but he apparently saw no reason to change it in the intermediate years. His son James of 69 Fleet Street, glass manufacturer, and Jane Richards Nash of 2 Canonbury Place, an acquaintance of many years, both testify in 1840 that they knew the deceased well and that the will and signature are indeed in his handwriting. Widow Sarah is duly granted probate.(1) Although James junior had his shop in Fleet Street, he did not live there. The 1841 census saw the bachelor living with his mother Sarah and Jane Nash at Albion Terrace.
Although he did not have his name displayed above the shop in Tallis, Chaffin was considered to supply lamps of quality, good enough for the likes of Michael Faraday, who, in 1835, wrote to Percy Drummond about some bills from Chaffin’s.(2) Chaffin sold, no doubt besides other types of lamps, the Sinumbra, or Shadowless Lamp, patented by Paisley & Co. of New Bond Street. According to an advertisement, the lamps “increase illumination without any additional consumption of oil, dissipates all shadow by the construction of it frosted glass distributor, and softens the glare of light so generally objected to in other lamps”. See for examples here and for more information on the lamps and their history here. But lamps were not all that Chaffin sold. An Old Bailey case of 1829 also mentions decanters, water bottles, tumblers, salt cellars and salt cellar standards.(3) A watchman giving evidence in the same case confirms that nobody actually lived at the property.
The 1843 Post Office Directory lists Chaffin’s at 69 Fleet Street as ‘chemical & gen[eral] glass & lamp wa[rehouse]’, but in the 1848 directory he is no longer present and 69 Fleet Street is occupied by W.W. Robinson and Perkins, Bacon & Petch. A clue can be found in the 1851 census where James is found in Henrietta Street as clerk to a print seller, so no longer with his own glass business. There is no record in The London Gazette of him going bankrupt, so that cannot have been the reason for his career switch, but we will leave his later career for what it is and return to 69 Fleet Street for an earlier occupant.(4)
In 1820, an advertisement in The Morning Chronicle stated that Chaffin and his partner Vaughan were the successors to Messrs. Parker and Sons at their Glass and Lamp Warehouse in Fleet Street. The partnership with Vaughan, by the way, must have lasted till at least 1825 as they are still listed together in Pigot’s Directory for that year.
Samuel Parker and William Perry had been trading together at Fleet Street since 1803 as cut-glass manufacturers, but dissolved their partnership in 1817.(5) Samuel continued the Fleet Street business with his sons till 1820, but then sold the premises, moved his business to Argyll Street and concentrated more on producing goods in bronze rather than glass.(6). Twenty years earlier, in 1798, Samuel had taken over the glass and lamp manufactury from his father William Parker. William was famous for his chandeliers and counted many aristocratic and royal patrons amongst his customers. The catalogue Country House Lighting 1680-1890 calls him the “pre-eminent London maker” of chandeliers from the 1770s and the “development of a supremely elegant style of chandelier [is] associated with his name”. The Prince of Wales’ feathers on his invoices clearly advertise Parker’s royal patronage and he apparently supplied the Prince of Wales with £4,000 worth of items for Carlton House in the 1780s. Country House Lighting quotes an invoice for the Duke of Devonshire which tells us that “2 large 12 light lustres richly cut and ornamented” cost £210 and “13 very large vase lamps” were £11-14-0. But Parker also sold more moderate items, such as decanters, glasses, candle sticks, table lamps, etc., many of which are still to be found. A Google Image search for William Parker + glass brings up a number of examples, see here.
Parker also improved the quality of lenses (or rather burning glasses) to such an extent that the correspondence of men of science favourably reported on them, for instance in 1782 when one William Vaughan wrote to Benjamin Franklin:
I saw yesterday a lense whose powers you are not perhaps unacquainted with. Platina melts in Seventeen Seconds & other metals yeild to its power. The weather has not been favorable for a variety of experiments. Parker has however many in contemplation with the assistance of our philosophical men here. I beleive it is found superior to the one in France. The lense is solid, & weighs 212 pd. (7)
The Benjamin Franklin Papers at the American Philosophical Society include an engraving of Parker’s lens.
Sources vary as to when William Parker started his glass business at 69 Fleet Street, but 1763 seems to be the correct year. At least, from that year onwards we find his name in the Land Tax records for the Salisbury Court Precinct of Farringdon Without. He occupied the second of four houses situated between Water Lane (later renamed Whitefriars Street) and Hanging Sword Court (later Crown Court). In the Tallis Street View, we can indeed see that Chaffin, Robinson and Perkins & Co. had their shops in the second house from Water Lane.
William Parker took over the premises in Fleet Street from Joshua Lewis halfway through the tax return period of 1763; they are both listed for that year. Lewis was most likely the upholder (or upholsterer) who moved to The Three Tents near Water Lane in 1736. But since he had nothing to do with the sale of glass, I will stop this post here.
(1) PROB 11/1924/405.
(2) The Correspondence of Michael Faraday, volume 2: 1832-1840. Letter 823, dated 15 October 1835.
(3) Old Bailey case t18290115-49.
(4) James Chaffin died 16 November 1869. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1870. His estate was valued at under £200.
(5) The London Gazette, 30 September 1817.
(6) Geoffrey De Bellaigue, ‘Samuel Parker and the Vulliamys, purveyors of gilt bronze’, Burlington Magazine, vol.139, 1997, pp.26-37.
(7) Founders Online.
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