Saturday 8 January 2011

Shopping Saturday - Old houses in Fetter Lane

Old houses in Fetter Lane, West side, near the Record Office, from a drawing by Shepherd 1853
Fetter Lane is on the western edge of the City of London and runs between Holborn to the north and Fleet Street to the south. The 'Record Office' referred to is the Public Record Office, which was in nearby Chancery Lane until 1997, and is now part of The National Archives at Kew.

The business of Lightfoot, fruiterer and greengrocer, at number 133 is clearly visible in the engraving, and next door is Talmage, Dyer and Scourer. Both businesses were run by widows at this time, and the 1851 census shows both Ann Lightfoot and her son Thomas (TNA Ref HO107/1527 f226 p11) and Katherine Talmage with her daughters Frances Ann and Mary at Number 134, on the next page. In 1841 the Talmage and Lightfoot families were at the same addresses (TNA Ref HO107/1527 726 book 9 f7 p7), when both husbands, Henry Talmage and Thomas Lightfoot snr were still alive.

The 1841 Post Office Street Directory for London containes entries for many, but not all, of the addresses in the street. It includes Henry Talmage at 134, but there is no entry for No 133.

These shops are just two among many examples of women continuing to run businesses after their husbands had died. I did a lot of research on this many years ago, looking at female proprietors of businesses in Maidstone, Kent, in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Who knows, I may even write it up one day! After the 1851 census, the Lightfoots disappear from Fetter Lane, but the Talmage dying business was carried on by one of the daughters, Frances Ann. She never married, and when she died in 1879 she left an estate worth between £2000 and £3000, a tidy sum for those days. Her name also appears a number of times in the London Gazette as holder of bank shares, so she must have been a pretty good businesswoman. Girl power!

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