The Tallis Street View elevation shows J. Miller as the occupant of 47 Fish Street Hill where one could buy ‘improved patent waterproof coats &c’’. The side of the house also shows the names of two companies for whom Miller acted as agent: the ‘Royal Victoria Windsor Soap Manufacturer’ and the ‘London Caoutchouc Company’. Well, we all know what soap is, but what the heck is caoutchouc? It turns out to be an obsolete term for India rubber, derived from the French, who probably derived it from the Spanish cauchuc, who originally had it from the South America Indians who called it cahu chuc ‘weeping wood’. The rubber plant, Hevea Brasiliensis, is indigenous to South America, but is now grown all over the world in tropical regions. The French, by the way, still use the word caoutchouc for rubber.
In the 1830s, Robert William Sievier patented a process for rubberizing fabrics, in other words, to make them waterproof by coating the fabric in a thin layer of rubber. In 1837, he founded the London Caoutchouc Company with an outlet at 36 King Street, Cheapside and factories in Upper Holloway and Tottenham where they produced elastic bands for driving machines, waterproof cloths, braces, rubber-insulated wire, and a whole host of other useful products.(1)
John Miller of 47 Fish Street Hill could supply all the rubber goods the caoutchouc factory produced as his advertisement in the Street View announces, but he seems to have thought that waterproof coats, cloaks and capes would be the best-selling items as he had that written on his shop front in the elevation and they are also listed above everything else in his advert. That waterproof clothing became all the rage in the 1830s can be read in The Sketch Book of Fashion where one Rowerton is laughed at for being “cased in caoutchouc from head to heel … His garments have been made waterproof with Indian rubber, and fireproof with asbestos; under favour of which concealed armour he performs prodigies of valour”.(2)
But waterproof clothing and soap was not all Miller could supply. An engraving by Henry Adlard, ‘The Natural and Spiritual Man’ showing Christ surrounded by eight hearts with symbols of vice and virtue, could also be had from Miller’s shop. Miller had not been long at the Fish Street Hill address when the Tallis Street View was published. Up to 1833, John Albert, a tailor, had been at the address, but he advertised his removal in The Standard of 3 August 1833. Whether Miller immediately took possession of the shop after Albert is unclear, but he had certainly left the premises again by 1841 as The Post Office Directory for that year gives three names for the address: a merchant, a solicitor’s firm and a sailcloth manufacturer, but Miller has disappeared. A bankruptcy notice in The London Gazette of 28 June 1844 tells us more. Miller appears to have been moving from one failed enterprise to another until his creditors caught up with him. I will quote the LG entry in full:
John Miller, formerly of 67, Thomas-street, Windsor, Berkshire, Brewer’s and Banker’s Clerk, and Proprietor of the Windsor Express Newspaper, Printer and Stationer, in partnership with Richard Oxley, at No. 42, Thomas-street aforesaid, then of High-street, Windsor, Manager of Medley and Son’s Bank, then of Park-street, Windsor aforesaid, Agent to the Hope Insurance Office and Phoenix Office, then of 47, Fish-street-hill, London, Waterproof Coat Warehouseman, then of No. 23, Chadwell-street, Clerkenwell, Middlesex, exhibiting the Biophalax at the Egytian-hall, Piccadilly, then of No. 23, York-place, City-road, Middlesex, out of business, and late of No. 9, Bloomsbury-place, Brighton, Sussex, Lodging Housekeeper.
Few of the jobs Miller had can be substantiated, but some observations may be in order to show that he was not the successful entrepreneur he appeared to be in the Street View elevation. The Windsor and Eton Express reported on 28 January, 1837 that “The inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood of Windsor were yesterday thrown into considerable consternation by the announcement that the bank of Messrs. Medley and Son, and Co., of this town, had stopped payment. The alarm, however as the day advanced, greatly subsided, as it became known that from the short period since its establishment – we believe about three years – its business as a bank of deposit was by no means of an extensive character, and also that of those who did bank there, very few indeed are likely to suffer to any material extent”. Miller cannot have been a very successful manager! I also doubt that Miller played a very important role in the ‘partnership’ between Oxley and himself for the Windsor Express newspaper as he is not mentioned in the Wikipedia page for the paper. They just mention the Oxley family who still owned the paper in 1910. I will look into the exhibiting of the biophalax when I write about the Egyptian Hall in one of the forthcoming entries on this blog, but as you can no doubt guess, the biophalax was not a very successful enterprise either.
At the time of the LG bankruptcy entry, Miller is confined as a debtor in Horsham prison.(3) He must have been one of the last prisoners there, as the goal was closed and the building sold off and subsequently demolished in 1845.(4) I have not been able to find out whether Miller was at that time still an inmate or whether he had been releases beforehand. In fact, the further story of John Miller has proved elusive; having a common name like John Miller does not help either, so I must end the history of the caoutchouc salesman here.
(1) For more information on the Tottenham factory and the goods they produced see: William Robinson, The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Tottenham, in the County of Middlesex, vol. 1 (1940), pp. 66-68 (online here).
(2) C.G.F. Gore, The Sketch Book of Fashion, vol. 2 (1833), pp. 251-252.
(3) London Gazette, 8 March 1844.
(4) See: Ye Olde Sussex Pages, Horsham Goal.
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