Sunday 5 December 2010

Shopping Saturday - Henry White & Sons, tailors and habit makers

I bought a new book yesterday (just for a change! It was a bargain, honestly) 'The design and printing of Ephemera in Britain and America 1720-1920' by Graham Hudson, London 2008. It is full of wondeful illustrations, including decorative billheads for shops and other businesses. I have always been fascinated by these, and I have acquired a number of them. This one is an interesting example from my collection.

The business of Henry White and Sons, Tailors and Habit Makers, Regimentals, Uniforms &C is listed in London directories from 1837 to 1913, first at 53 Great Marlborough Street, Westminster, then at number 58. Henry White and his family lived on the premises to start with, and 53 Great Marlborough Street is the address given on his will, proved 6 May 1873; he died there on 1 April 1873. The business passed to his sons, Henry Hart White and Thomas Thrush White, and by the time of the 1891 census they had moved to Wandsworth and Islington respectively. Henry Hart White died 28 October 1896 at his home in Granard Road, Wandsworth, and Thomas was his executor. Thomas Thrush White died in 1933, aged 84.

The bill itself is interesting, partly because it is a nice decorative example, but also for what it says. It details the kind of work undertaken by Henry White and Sons 'Liveries, hunting clothes, ladies jackets, clerical clothes', but the really interesting bit is the phrase '5 Per Cent charged after twelve months Credit'. It was common practice at the time for customers to purchase goods on credit, and tradesmen often had difficulty collecting the sums due; it was a matter of honour to pay one's gambling debts, but tailors' and other tradesmen's bills were another matter. Legal action was theoretically possible, but was likely to result in the loss of any further business not only from that customer, but from their friends and acquaintances. So shopkeepers often preferred to suffer in silence, in the hope of eventual payment.

Finally, the details of the transaction itself are a goldmine for the costume historian, although the finer points of Victorian tailoring are lost on me, I'm afraid.


  1. They definitely don't do letterheads like they used to Audrey! My great grandfather worked for a Glasgow show firm called R & J Dicks (he was their Belgian shops manager), and their letterheads provided a detailed drawing of the actual factory on Glasgow Green where the shoes were manufactured. Nowadays you get a fancy logo that conveys nothing - and I am so not going onto the London Olympics with this...! :) Sounds an interesting book.


  2. Love things like this. Once had an old bill fall out of an entirely unrelated second hand book. The interest charges under the letterhead are new to me. Wonderful.

  3. I agree, Chris. I've been digging into my 'collection' (OK, piles of paper) and discovered that I have more of these things than I remembered. Plenty for more Shopping Saturday posts, if I can find the time.