9 King Edward Street

Company News



Why should this unexceptional London street be of interest to the Plumbers’ Company? The answer is both straightforward and curious: over a period of some hundred and thirty years no fewer than nine Masters of the Company and three Company Beadles lived and worked there or else had links to it.

The street was in the parish of Christchurch, a large church on the west side. It had previously rejoiced under the names Stinking Lane, Fowle Lane, Blowbladder Street and Chick Lane. As these names suggest, it had been full of slaughter houses. Stow’s survey indicated that “ it is now kept clean from Annoyance”. However a different form of annoyance afflicted the street: it had earned notoriety as a haven for pickpockets, who stole items from people watching funeral processions from Christchurch. By the 1700s the name had been changed again to Butchers Hall Lane. Both the Butchers and the Poulters had had their hall on the street; both halls were destroyed in the Great Fire.

The story begins in 1744. At a Plumbers’ court meeting on 25th April John Warren, the son of Thomas Warren, a clothworker of Butcher Hall Lane, was apprenticed to Samuel Bignell for the usual period of seven years. At the same meeting James Priest, described as late a child of Christ Hospital ( an orphanage just round the corner in Newgate Street ) was bound to Robert Evans.

James Priest’s apprenticeship did not follow a smooth path, as on 11th April 1749 the Court of the Lord Mayor and Aldermen ruled that it should be discharged, on the ground that he had not been enrolled according to the custom of the City. He was duly turned over, not to another liveryman of the Plumbers, but to William Hanson, a Glazier exercising the trade of plumber.

James Priest was summoned to come onto the livery in 1760. In those times freemen were summoned, usually because the Court considered that the Company’s finances required the admission fine. In common with many other freemen James managed to defer his admission by two years.

James took his first apprentice, Thomas Bedford, the son of a victualler, in 1763, which was the beginning of a lengthy relationship between the two families.

It is not clear exactly when James Priest moved to Butcher Hall Lane, but that was his given address in a livery list of 1768. By 1780 we can be a little more precise, for in that year his son George was apprenticed to him at No 9 Butcher Hall Lane, and fire insurance documents of the following year confirm that address, as well as an insured value of £500 for the property.

James Priest’s business was clearly prospering, as in 1780 he took on a second apprentice, William Boyer. He later became clerk to the well known plumber Lancelot Burton in the Strand, and in 1802 formed his own plumbing and glazing business in Shoe Lane, off Fleet Street. He must have had a prodigious thirst, as a newspaper article, on his death in 1823, announced that “40 dozen bottles of port and sherry ….. to be tasted at the time of sale” were to be auctioned off.

The other apprentice of interest to us is Joseph Humpleby, who was bound to James Priest in 1782. He started a successful plumbing and glazing business in Counter Street, Southwark, before eventually suffering a fate that has happily not befallen many of the Plumbers’ Masters: a Commission of Lunacy was issued against him in 1828, and he was declared of unsound mind.

The indentures of both these apprentices confirm that James Priest was living in Butcher Hall Lane.

After his father’s death in 1791 George Priest continued the family business at Butcher Hall Lane.

By 1802 Thomas Bedford was the Plumbers’ Company’s Beadle, and his son Robert was apprenticed to George Priest at Butchers Hall Lane.

George Priest has the unusual honour of having two cases of thefts of his property recorded. On 23rd February 1814 Thomas Webb was charged with stealing two bars of solder, and on 29th March 1817 James Chesunt allegedly stole twenty-four glass panes. Given the feebleness of their respective defences Webb and Chesunt were both unsurprisingly convicted; each was sentenced to seven years’ transportation.

On a far happier note, George married Sarah Moffett in 1819, after which he moved to Newington Green, but he maintained the plumbing business in Butcher Hall Lane. William Lucas, who had given evidence at the trial of Webb, was his clerk there, and Thomas Bedford his foreman.

He died in 1828, and like his father was buried in the graveyard at Christchurch. In his will he made bequests both to William Lucas and to Anne, Thomas Bedford’s widow.

The family business did not fold up upon George’s death. Instead it was continued by his widow Sarah, in partnership with William Lucas. However it did not prosper long; a notice in the London Gazette announced the dissolution of the business with effect from 31st January 1832. This may have had something to do with Sarah’s ill health, for she died later that year.

Sarah was clearly an exceptionally wealthy woman; in her lengthy will she left an astonishing number of bequests: the house and fittings at Butcher Hall Lane she left to William Lucas, together with an encyclopaedia and some silver; the Bedford family was also not overlooked.

William Lucas kept the business at 9 Butcher Hall Lane, as shown by the Census of 1841, which indicates that he was living there with his wife Mary and two apprentices.

Lucas died in 1842, a year before the street’s name was changed to King Edward Street, commemorating King Edward VI. Mary carried on the business alone.

Perhaps sensing a good business opportunity Thomas Henry Fenton, who had been trading as a plumber and glazier in Smithfield, and at the ripe age of sixty-four, married Mary Lucas, William’s widow. Where was their newly formed joint business located ? Yes, at no 9 King Edward Street. It lasted until the late 1850s.

Exactly how George Shaw came to occupy these premises we cannot be sure. In around 1857 he resigned as the Plumbers’ Beadle, as his own plumbing business was expanding so rapidly. He proposed to the Company that his own foreman, John Wimperis of 9 King Edward Street, should succeed him as Beadle, to which the Company readily agreed.

George Shaw brought his brother James from Scotland, to act as his clerk and manager. Between them they had ten children living at No.9, which overcrowdedness prompted George to move with his large family to Cheshunt in about 1868.

James moved the business across the road to No 20, before later moving out of the area altogether, thereby terminating the links between the Plumbers and the street. By 1873 No 9 was occupied by a Frederic Ough, who claimed copyright in the work “Drawing of 25 comical heads”.

Butchers Hall Lane and subsequently King Edward Street therefore were the home and workplace of three Beadles: Thomas Bedford, George Shaw and James Wimperis; two Masters had links to them: Robert Evans (1740 and 1757) and Samuel Bignall (1769) and seven Masters, John Warren (1770), James Priest (1780), George Priest (1803 and 1825), Joseph Humpleby (1805 and 1806), William Boyer (1816), William Lucas (1837) and George Shaw (1878 and 1883-5) lived or worked there.