Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

26 November 2020

George Poland & Son – furriers to the rich, friends to the poor

When furrier George Poland died at his home in Oxford Street, London, on 10 May 1860 at the age of 64, many local shops closed as a sign of respect.  Obituaries described him as a benevolent guardian to the poor, diligent, courteous and conscientious.

Advert for G Poland and Son furriers at 90 Oxford Street London from London Daily News 2 December 1880
Advert for G Poland and Son furriers at 90 Oxford Street London from London Daily News 2 December 1880 British Newspaper Archive

George Poland was churchwarden for Marylebone at the time of his death.  He was first elected to serve on the St Marylebone Vestry in 1850.  He joked in 1852 that he had lived for 50 years in one house in Oxford Street, but was only two years old as a vestry man.

In September 1853 George Poland joined a committee appointed by the St Marylebone Board of Guardians to enquire into cholera and scarlet fever and the sanitary condition of the crowded and populous local districts.  Poland was also a director of the Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes which was incorporated by Royal Charter in April 1854.

Advert promoting the work of the Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from Marylebone Mercury 10 July 1858 - list of directors

Advert promoting the work of the Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from Marylebone Mercury 10 July 1858 - properties owned with rentsAdvert promoting the work of the Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from Marylebone Mercury 10 July 1858 British Newspaper Archive

The aim of the Association was to acquire houses or ground in densely populated districts and provide clean and healthy dwellings for the poor by converting existing properties or building new ones.   Money was raised from shareholders and dividends paid.

By 1858 the Association owned a number of properties, many around Lisson Grove, a very poor area of Marylebone with appalling sanitary conditions.  Rents varied from 1s 3d to 5s 6d per week.  Some accommodation provided water and a sink in each room, whilst others had sculleries, dust shafts, and coppers and flat roofs for washing and drying clothes.  One of the properties acquired by the Association was Lisson Cottages.  The old houses were renovated in 1855 and let as apartments.  The Cottages are now listed artisans’ dwellings

Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes 3
Advert listing rooms to let from Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from Marylebone Mercury 16 October 1858 British Newspaper Archive

George Poland and his wife Jane (née Minton) had five sons, but two died as babies.  Charles became a quantity surveyor.  Edward worked as shopman and clerk to his father.  In 1847 Edward incurred debts for a diamond ring and the hire of horses and gigs.  He was admonished at the Insolvent Debtors’ Court for idleness, folly and vain extravagance.  Edward died in 1851 at the age of 27.

The eldest son George Arthur Poland, born in 1820, followed his father into the fur trade, apart from a brief period around 1850 when he worked as a straw hat maker.  He married Hetty Rosina Esquilant in 1842 and they had eleven children, two of whom died in infancy. By 1880, George Poland & Son were furriers to the Royal family.

George Arthur Poland also followed his father in his commitment to public duty.  He was a member of the St Marylebone Vestry for 23 years, serving as chairman and churchwarden.  He represented St Marylebone on the Metropolitan Board of Works and was involved in Liberal politics in the borough.  Poland was Master of the Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers in 1875.

Poland supported many local social improvement initiatives with both time and money.  When he died in 1883, his obituary in the Marylebone Mercury praised him as ‘an honest, warm-hearted, upright man; an excellent and willing worker; a friend to the poor. To know him was to love him; and the respect and esteem in which he was held by all classes are strong testimony to his excellence and worth’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast) e.g. Marylebone Mercury 10 July and 16 October 1858; 10 May 1879; 3 February 1883.
The Observer 12 January 1852; 14 May 1860
Records of Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes are held at Westminster City Archives ht
Anthony S. Wohl, The Eternal Slum: Housing and Social Policy in Victorian London (London, 1977)

 

24 November 2020

The Lives and Letters of the Black Loyalists – Part 3 Cato Perkins and Nathaniel Snowball

The previous blog post in this series explored the written legacy of Thomas Peters.  This post explores letters from two other figures who travelled to Sierra Leone in late 1791.  These letters are addressed to John Clarkson after he had returned to England in December 1792.

Cato Perkins

Letter to John Clarkson from Cato Perkins and Isaac Anderson  26 October 1793Letter to John Clarkson from Cato Perkins and Isaac Anderson, 26 October 1793, Add MS 41263, f.97  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Cato Perkins was born into slavery around 1739.  He was given the name Perkins after his enslaver, John Perkins of Charleston, South Carolina.  At the age of 39, he ran away from the plantation and joined the British forces at the Siege of Charleston.  In 1783, he left the USA on the ship Briton for Nova Scotia.  By 1792, he had joined others in the relocation to Sierra Leone where he became a vocal member of the settlers’ community.

In 1793 Perkins wrote that the management of the settlement was unacceptable.  Perkins was nominated to travel alongside Isaac Anderson to London to deliver a petition of grievances to the Sierra Leone Company and to ask that Clarkson be reinstalled as governor, but Clarkson had been dismissed from the Company.  Perkins stayed at 13 Finch Lane and from there would continue to lobby the Company.  He expresses his disappointment at not meeting Clarkson given how ‘all the people have been much put upon since you came away’.

The letter below introduces the petition and declares that the settlers ‘want nothing but what you promised us’.  Clarkson would reply that despite his insistence the Company meet with Perkins that they had refused to.  Perkins returned to Sierra Leone where he continued to protest against conditions in Freetown.

Letter from Cato Perkins and Isaac Anderson to John Clarkson  30 October 1793A letter from Cato Perkins and Isaac Anderson to John Clarkson, 30 October 1793, Add MS 41263, f.101 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

Nathaniel Snowball
Nathaniel Snowball was 39 years old when he was evacuated from New York to Port Roseway, Nova Scotia.  He was a slave in Virginia before escaping to the British lines in the Revolutionary War.  His wife Violet, son Nathaniel and his 3-month-old daughter Mary, all travelled to Nova Scotia.  He travelled with his family to resettle in Sierra Leone.  There he became particularly dissatisfied with the lack of good farmland and the management by the Sierra Leone Company.  His objections eventually led him to lead a group of settlers out of Freetown into a new location at Pirate's Bay.  The letter below explains his intentions to take ‘departure as the Ezerlities did’ to escape the ‘boundage of this tyranious crew’.  He explains that he negotiated the new land from King Jimmy, a local tribal leader.

Letter to John Clarkson from Nathaniel Snowball describing his reasons for leading some settlers out of Freetown to a new settlement at Pirate’s Bay  24 May 1796A letter to John Clarkson from Nathaniel Snowball describing his reasons for leading some settlers out of Freetown to a new settlement at Pirate’s Bay, 24 May 1796. Add MS 41263, f.129  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Signatures of Nathaniel Snowball and Luke Jordan  29 July 1796The signatures of Nathaniel Snowball and Luke Jordan 29 July 1796, Add MS 41263, f.131.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Clarkson Papers contain many more letters from members of the Freetown settlement.  These were written by members of the community who enjoyed positions of importance, such as preachers and elected representatives.  Up to thirty people seem to have been responsible for authoring the surviving letters.  Among the authors are Boston King, Moses Murray, Isaac Anderson and James Liaster, but absent are the voices of the women of the settlement.  The next post in this series will explore what we know of the women who travelled to Sierra Leone in 1792.

Signatories of a letter to John Clarkson  all members of the Freetown settlement  including Luke Jordon  Moses Wilkinson (preacher)  American Tolbert  Rubin SimmonsSignatories of a letter to John Clarkson, all members of the Freetown settlement, including Luke Jordon, Moses Wilkinson (preacher), American Tolbert, Rubin Simmons and many more. Add MS 41263, f.115.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Jessica Gregory,
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Our Children, Free and Happy : letters from black settlers in Africa in the 1790's. Edited by Christopher Fyfe with a contribution by Charles Jones. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991)
The Black Loyalists : the search for a promised land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783-1870. James W.St.G. Walker. (London: Longman, 1976)

 

19 November 2020

Eliza Armstrong’s children

This is a further instalment in the story of Eliza Armstrong, the child bought for £5.

Eliza Armstrong at the Old Bailey trial in 1885 from Penny Illustrated Paper 12 September 1885Eliza Armstrong at the Old Bailey trial in 1885 from Penny Illustrated Paper 12 September 1885 Image © The British Library Board British Newspaper Archive

Helena Goodwyn’s recent post told how the Salvation Army stepped in to help Eliza when she was in financial difficulties following the death of her husband. This post focuses on Eliza’s children.

Eliza Armstrong was married at the age of 21 to Henry George West on 24 October 1893 in Newcastle upon Tyne.  Henry was a widower aged 35 living in Jarrow and he was working as a plumber.  The couple’s first child Reginald Ladas West was born in 1894.  His unusual middle name may perhaps be explained by the fact that there was a racehorse called Ladas which was very successful in 1893-1894.

Racehorse Ladas after winning the Derby in 1894 Racehorse Ladas after winning the Derby in 1894 from Illustrated London News 16 June 1894 Image © Illustrated London News Group British Newspaper Archive


Sadly Reginald died aged 3 of tubercular meningitis in June 1897.  Eliza and Henry had five other children: Alice Maud May, William Frederick, Sybil Primrose, Phyllis Irene, and Henry George (Harry). 

Eliza’s life took another sad turn in February 1906 when her husband died of heart disease aged just 42.  She took in lodgers to help ends meet and places were found in National Children’s Homes for the three middle children.  Sybil Primrose and Phyllis Irene (just Irene in some records) were sent 300 miles to Stokesmead at Alverstoke in Hampshire.  They are both there in the 1911 census, aged 10 and 8 respectively.  In 1914 the Hampshire Telegraph reported that Irene West from the children’s home had won a Band of Hope prize.

William Frederick was placed at Edgworth children’s home in Lancashire, a ‘farm colony’ where boys and girls were trained in practical skills.  Many were sent to Canada.  In March 1912 William sailed from Liverpool with 90 other boys in the Dominion to Halifax, Nova Scotia. William became a farm hand in Ontario.

Eliza gave birth to five more children between 1907 and 1915: Reginald West in May 1907 (no father is named on his birth certificate) and four with Samuel O’Donnell, a lead worker - Francis Maurice, Frederick, Minnie, and Norman.

In January 1915 William enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  He arrived back in England with his army unit in August 1915 and went to fight in France in May 1916.  William was wounded in the right leg at Passchendaele on 31 October 1917.  He was sent back to Colchester for hospital treatment.

From August 1916 to his discharge in July 1919, William assigned 10 dollars of his pay to his mother.  He returned to Hebburn and married Eliza Carr in April 1919.  The couple moved to Canada and later to the USA.

Newspaper report of Harry and Reginald West being charged with theft  -  Shields Daily News 24 February 1917Report of Harry and Reginald West being charged with theft  -  Shields Daily News 24 February 1917 British Newspaper Archive

In February and March 1917, Harry West (12) and his brother Reginald (9) appeared at a juvenile court after stealing purses by pickpocketing.  They had run away from home, sleeping rough and eating in cocoa rooms.  Eliza had searched for them night and day.  She asked that her sons be taken away, although they had a good home, because she could do nothing with them.  As the boys had several previous convictions for petty theft, it was decided to send them to Wellesley Training Institution until they were sixteen.

Poor Eliza’s troubles did not end there.  Just weeks later, on 19 May 1917, Samuel O’Donnell died aged 49.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records


Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast) e.g. Jarrow Express 2 July 1897, 23 February 1906, & 30 March 1917; Shields Daily News 24 February & 27 March 1917; Hampshire Telegraph 17 April 1914
Stokesmead National Children’s Home 
Edgworth National Children’s Home 

Canadian immigration record for William Frederick West
Canadian Expeditionary Force papers for William Frederick West 

Previous blog posts -
Whatever happened to Eliza Armstrong?
Eiiza Armstrong – still elusive!
Eliza Armstrong – Another Piece of the Puzzle