In my earlier post about my 3 x great grandparents’ home at 29 Charing Cross, I made the mistake of assuming that the Francis Place living nearby at No. 16 in 1841 was the famous ‘radical tailor of Charing Cross’. In fact it was his son, also Francis, who took over the family business when Francis senior retired in 1817.
I came across this information while reading Place’s autobiography, where I also made the astonishing discovery that the tailor’s first shop in Charing Cross was actually at No. 29 – the very building where my ancestors would be living at the time of the 1841 census. On 8th April 1799 Place went into business with Richard Wild, and they set up shop together at No. 29. Place only moved out, and took up residence further up the street at No. 16, in 1801, when his partnership with Wild ended acrimoniously.
As well as being a key document of the radical and working-class political movements of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, The Autobiography of Francis Place offers a fascinating insight into life in London – and especially Charing Cross – during this period. As someone with a keen interest in the history and literature of the period, I’m intrigued to think that my 3 x great grandparents’ home once served as a meeting-place for some of the key figures of the London Corresponding Society.
James Gillray’s depiction of a London Corresponding Society meeting at Spa Fields, 1795
In Chapter 11 of his autobiography, Place describes at length how the business arrangement with Richard Wild came about, and their search for suitable premises (I have left Place’s spelling and punctuation unchanged):
Having thus satisfied ourselves that we could raise forty pounds, we went in search of a house towards the west, and having seen several we at length found one, No. 29 Charing Cross which just the thing for us, if we could obtain possession of it. The rent was only fifty pounds a year, but for the lease, fixtures, and conveyance of the Lease eighty four pounds were demanded, the house had a good front and needed only outside painting. The rent was very low the house was small, it was rated low in the Parish Books, but how to raise the Eighty four pounds was a question not easily solved. Borrowing was the only chance we had, so we set to work at it, Wild amongst his acquaintances I amongst mine.
Once the two men had managed to obtain sufficient credit, they moved into the house in Charing Cross and opened the shop:
My furniture consisted of very few articles, and excepting two or three pieces were of a very mean description. As we were going into a respectable neighbourhood, as the Shop had been nicely painted, and our names put along the front in large gilt letters, so as to have the appearance of means to do business in good stile; as the goods we had purchased would enable us to make a handsome display in the windows we were desirous to conceal the proofs of our poverty which the furniture would have given if exposed by day light, A small cart was therefore hired, the goods were packed in convenient pieces and at dusk were put into the cart. My Brother, Wilds Brother Richard Hayward, myself and Wild were all there and in a few minutes the goods were carried into the shop and we were in actual possession of a house and a shewey shop almost to our own surprise, in which I anticipated great success my wife great fears for the result.
The house was in excellent condition but very dirty, so on the next Sunday, Wild his brother, myself and my wife all set to work early in the morning and scowerd it from the top to the bottom, as well the wainscot as the floors, and finished by whitewashing the Kitchen ceiling.
Thus for the first time in our lives, or rather I should perhaps say since we were married I and my wife enjoyed a truly comfortable residence in which we had rooms enough intirely to separate our domestic concerns, and get rid of the many inconveniences which had hitherto annoyed us.
Up to the time that I collected the money due to me from my customers to take the house I never had been at any time since my birth in possession of five pounds which I could fairly call my own.
When we got into the house at Charing Cross we had but one shilling and tenpence among us all, but we had a well digested plan to obtain and carry on business, we had health and knowledge, abstemious habits great industry, a shewy shop a good stock of fashionable goods and a determination to succeed let what would happen.