Street View: 10
Address: 31 Fleet Street
While writing the post on Henry Farley who had the toy shop at 31 Fleet Street in the 1847 Supplement to Tallis’s Street Views, it became apparent that, although Farley had lived at that address at least since 1838, he only became the proprietor of the shop sometime after the first lot of Street Views were published. Tallis lists Mary Harrison as the shopkeeper at number 31 in his 1839 booklet. Not much is known about this Mary Harrison, other than that she paid the Land Tax on the property from 1824 to 1839 and that she was the niece of Mary Pierce junior, also known as Mary Ann. I will use the name Mary Ann in this post to distinguish her from her mother, also Mary. Mary Ann left her niece her “estate, goods, and effects whatsoever and wheresoever” in her will, drawn up in 1818 and proved after her death in 1824.(1)
Contrary to most posts in this blog, I am going backwards, rather than forwards in time as the later history of the shop has already been written in the post on Farley (see here). From 1802 till 1824, the land tax was paid by Mary Ann Pearson and before that, by her mother Mary Pearson, the widow of John Pearson, a goldsmith who had died in 1765. When the widow first took over from her husband, she was described as jeweller and toy dealer, but the jewellery business seemed to have slacked off a little over time and toys became the mainstay of the shop. There is a 1768 Old Bailey case were two men were accused of stealing four gold rings from the shop and Mrs Pearson states that she buys all the rings she sells from a William Grafton.(2) I assume that after her husband’s death, she bought in the jewellery rather than make it herself.
The court case also tells us that mother and daughter Pearson were in partnership, so daughter Mary Ann must at least have been an adult by then and born before 1750, which means that in 1808, she could have been considered an old lady. Why 1808 you may well ask, and the answer can be found in Mrs Leicester’s School. The history of several young ladies, related by themselves. The short stories in this collection were written in 1808 by Mary and Charles Lamb and first published in 1809. One of the stories is called ‘Emily Barton: Visit to the Cousins’ and in it little Emily is taken to London by her parents:
My papa stopped the coach opposite to St. Dunstan’s church, that I might see the great iron figures strike upon the bell, to give notice that it was a quarter of an hour past two. We waited some time that I might see this sight, but just at the moment they were striking, I happened to be looking at a toy-shop that was on the other side of the way, and unluckily missed it. Papa said, “Never mind: we will go into the toyshop, and I dare say we shall find something that will console you for your disappointment.” “Do,” said mamma, “for I knew Miss Pearson, that keeps this shop, at Weymouth, when I was a little girl, not much older than Emily. Take notice of her, she is a very intelligent old lady.” Mamma made herself known to Miss Pearson, and shewed me to her, but I did not much mind what they said; no more did papa, for we were busy among the toys. A large wax doll, a baby-house completely furnished, and several other beautiful toys, were bought for me. I sat and looked at them with an amazing deal of pleasure as we rode home. They quite filled up one side of the coach.
So, Miss Pearson – it must be the daughter Mary Ann, as they would hardly call a widow Miss – must have lived in Weymouth for a while, unless fiction comes into it, but then why use an existing toy shop to set the scene? I have tried to find records which would prove the link to Weymouth, but to no avail. Even in London there is precious little definite biographical data to be found about the Pearsons and the Harrisons and their exact family relation, although perhaps I should not be surprised with names like that; it is amazing how many John and Mary Pearsons there were. Never mind, we will concentrate on other things.
On the 4th of December 1760, Mary Ann gave evidence in an Old Bailey case about the theft of several spoons of which one had ended up in the Pearson shop.(3) Mary Ann states, “my father keeps a silver-smith’s shop under St. Dunstan’s-church, Fleet-street” and a little further on it becomes clear that she was the one who bought the spoon of the prisoner, which would set back her year of birth to 1745 and probably earlier; she was indeed an old lady when encountered by the Bartons. What I did not know is whether “under St. Dunstan’s Church” could be considered the same as opposite, as number 31 was, or are we talking about two shops? Did they move? I tried to find out with the help of the land tax records, but there is more than one John Pearson in Fleet Street without any indication which one is the silversmith. From 1739, there is a John Pearson in a shop under St. Dunstan’s. From 1749 till 1763, there are two John Pearsons; one still under the church and one across the street, just around the corner from Falcon Court, which talleys with number 31. As Mary Ann said that the shop was under the church in 1760, I guess that the Pearsons had two properties. The shop under the church was apparently let go when John died as widow Mary only paid tax for the property across the street.
A trade card for one George Carroll seems to suggest that Mary Pearson already had a toy shop when her husband was still alive. According to a hand-written note, the card must be dated to 1762, but if we look closer at the names mentioned, that cannot be true; it must be later. With the help of the British Book Trade Index, I traced Mr. Southern who did not start work until 1770, Mr. Shiercliff, not before 1775; and Mr. Hall, not before 1766. Now, I will be the last person to say that these dates must be considered rock solid, but it would be unlikely for all of them to be so far out. Pity, but we still cannot prove that Mary started the toy shop before her husband’s death (but do look at the 1743 bill below). The trade card does, however, give us the name of the Pearson shop, “The Seven Stars”, and that gives us another clue to continue the research.
In the collection of Ambrose Heal in the British Library, we find a bilingual trade card for John Pearson with a note by Heal that there is an earlier identical one for G. Markham with just the name altered. Heal refers to Hilton-Price, who in his Signs of Fleet Street tells us that in 1658, John Field, a law bookseller, was at the Seven Stars under St. Dunstan’s, after him came a Mrs Cole and then the Markham family which seems to have been the same sort of set-up as the Pearsons with Mr. Markham selling silverware and Mrs. Markham toys and patent medicine. According to Hilton-Price, from 1737 to 1742, one Edward Withers, a booksellers occupied the Seven Stars.(4) Well, sort of. Yes, Withers used the sign of the Seven Stars, but a trade card for him shows him “over against Chancery Lane’, so on the opposite side of the Church, further along than number 31. The tax records confirm this. And Pearson and the widow Markham both had a shop under the church in the period 1739 to 1741, so Pearson did not take over her shop, but he may, of course, have taken over the sign when she stopped trading. A complicated story, and no doubt lots more out there to find if one is to dig deeper, but I will leave it for now and end with the text of Pearson’s trade card as it is quite hard to read from the picture (as far as I can make it out that is – corrections welcome):
I. Pearson, at the Seven Stars against St. Dunstans Church, Fleet Street, London, sells curiosities of all sorts & of the newest fashion in gold, silver & other metals, mother of pearl, agate, amber, tortoise shell, ivory & fine wood. As snuff boxes, cases of knives, forks & spoons. Tweezer cases, equipages, burses, rings, seals, essence bottles, necklaces, earrings, gold & silver chains & strings, pocket books, travellers cases, sword belts, knots, Cxxx whips, spurs, flasks, pinchers, pistol tinder boxes, buckles, buttons, combs & all sorts of Calters/Carlton(?) wares as cheap as any publick shop or private workman can pretend to sell any of these particulars. Wholesale or retail.
(1) LMA DL/C/488; Will Number: 66
(2) Old Bailey case t17680706-11.
(3) Old Bailey case t17601204-30.
(4) F. G. Hilton Price, “The Signs of Old Fleet Street to the end of the Eighteenth Century” in The Archaeological Journal, vol. 52 (1895), p. 374-375.
You may also like to read the post on Henry Farley who had the toyshop at number 31 after Mary Harrison.