Gadsdons of Brushfield St
If you look carefully, can you decipher the words “H.Gadsdon & Sons Established 1835″ on this wall in Crispin St ? This feint sign – painted out a generation ago yet still just legible if you know what you are looking for – constitutes the last visible evidence in Spitalfields of the five generations of Gadsdons who lived and worked here over three centuries as silk dyers, coach platers and ironmongers. It was pointed out to me by Peter Gadsdon, who came back recently to see how life has been ticking over in the old neighbourhood since his last relative departed, more than half a century ago.
Working from the starting point of a family tree in an old bible and, by writing to every Gadsdon in the telephone directory, Peter Gadsdon has worked conscientiously, reconstructing the history of his ancestors, over the past ten years. “I wouldn’t say they lived in poverty, but some of the streets they inhabited – where Liverpool St Station is today – were classified as slums, and learning about their lives has made realise how lucky I am,” he admitted to me.
The return of descendants of former residents is a regular and welcome occurrence in Spitalfields. Commonly, I am the one to greet them and often they speak so vividly and with such knowledge that it feels – as it does in Peter’s case – as if they are the actual embodiments of their forebears returning from the past.
“I have always had an interest in the East End since I visited Club Row, Brick Lane and Petticoat Lane when I was a teenager. And although I knew that my father was born in Hoxton, I did not know about the connection with Spitalfields until I started to research my family history.
Henry, my great, great, great grandfather was born in City of London in 1774 and baptised in All Hallows, Lombard St. His father, also Henry, was a framework knitter who had three children and found it “difficult to maintain and educate them without assistance.” So he applied to have his son admitted to Christ’s Hospital charity school in Newgate St in the City of London, where young Henry was accepted. Christ’s Hospital was known as the Blue Coat School and his first year was at their preparatory school based in Hertford before progressing to the senior school in Newgate St where he stayed until his fourteenth birthday
On leaving in 1790, the charity school paid for Henry’s five year apprenticeship as a silk dyer at the cost of five pounds and then he set up his own business in Spitalfields, the centre of the silk industry. The first date we know for his business is 1805 in Holden’s Triennial Directory at 26 Paternoster Row, now known as Brushfield St. On a map from 1799, Brushfield St is shown divided in two – from Bishopsgate to Crispin St was named Union St, and from Crispin St to Christ Church was Paternoster Row. In the eighteen twenties, Henry formed a partnership with a Richard Harmer, listed as Gadsdon & Harmer, dyers, scowerers and calenders in Pigots 1828/1829 Directory.
The next we learn of Henry is in the Old Bailey records when a coat is stolen from his business premises in 1830. On retirement, he moved across the Thames to Deptford and his first wife Elizabeth, née Harvey, passed away shortly afterwards. The custom in those days was commonly to return the body to the parish where they had lived and she was buried in Christ Church, Spitalfields, where eight of her nine children had been baptised and one infant was buried.
In 1839, little more than a year later, Henry married for a second time to Charlotte Benskin and moved out to the hamlet of Hatcham, New Cross. He died in 1849 and is buried in Nunhead Cemetery nearby.
Of Henry’s children two of his sons followed him to Christ’s Hospital School and on the application it states “A wife and eight children, one already at Christ’s, six under the age of fourteen years old, income under one hundred pounds per annum.” They were supported at the school by the Skinners’ Livery Guild of which Henry was a member. Another of his sons followed Henry into the silk dying trade, but by now the silk industry in Spitalfields was in its last throes.
Henry had a younger brother, Richard, who also had a business in Union St. Richard trained as a coachplater, making ironmongery for horse drawn carriages. A description from an encyclopaedia of Carriage Driving is as follows – “His job was to make such parts of the carriage as the door handles. He also prepared metal furniture for the harness. The average wage in the first half of the eighteen hundreds, for a plater, was thirty shillings a week.” Another brother, George. was also a coachplater who lived in nearby Gun St and I would assume that he worked with Richard when he set up his business in the early eighteen hundreds.
Advertisements show that they sold American wheels for carriages, and varnishes, japan and colours for the carriage trade. As the years progressed, they also moved into the motor car business and an advert from the turn of the century announces Gadsdons selling foot warmers suitable for both carriages and motor cars. Today, there is still a premises with the Gadsdon name on it in Spitalfields at number 49 Crispin St, though I am not sure if this is the carriage firm or if it is another part of the extended family. In 1926, a new Gadsdon premises of four storeys was built at the corner of Brushfield St and Duke St.
Most of Richard’s offspring went into the business of coachplating and saddle-making. One of his grandchildren was fearful of being buried alive – no doubt influenced by sensationalist press reports of the time – starting his will with “In the first place, I direct that my medical attendant at the time of my decease shall sever my jugular vein as soon as he is of opinion that I have ceased to exist, so that there may be an absolute certainty as to my death having taken place.”
My direct Gadsdon ancestors lived in the area in nearby Bishopsgate up and into the nineteen hundreds. When my grandfather, in the third year of his upholstery apprenticeship, married his pregnant wife in Christ Church, Spitalfields they did not use the usual family church of St Botolph’s in the City. So did they marry in Christ Church to avoid prying eyes? He started his own upholstery business in Hoxton and, in 1907, he moved to the expanding hamlet of Highams Park, near Chingford. Living just down the road to the station, he was able to travel to Liverpool St Station to his business each day.”
Peter Gadson would be delighted to hear from anyone connected to his family and you can contact him direct at firstname.lastname@example.org
Christ’s Hospital where Henry Gadsdon, Peter’s great, great, great grandfather was a pupil at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
The entry in Christ’s Hospital register recording the admission of Henry Gadsdon’s son George of Spitalfields in 1820.
From the Old Bailey records, recording the theft of Henry Gadsdon’s coat in Spitalfields in 1830
This map of Spitalfields by John Horwood (1794-99) shows the street we know as Brushfield St divided in two and named Union St and Paternoster Row.
Plans for the construction of Gadsdons on the corner of Brushfield St and Duke St in 1926.
A Gadsdon’s drill at the Museum of East Anglian Life
Wholesale Coach Ironmongers, C & B Gadsdon, 11 Brushfield St, London E1.
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