Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Champion & Wilton Saddlers and Harness Makers

Oxford Street at Selfridges the most famous street of shops on the planet
cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Ben Brooksbank - geograph.org.uk/p/4661642

As juxtapositions go, with my last post having been about the workhouse-poor matchgirls, I could not have found a more starkly contrasting one if I'd planned it. I didn't. Whilst looking for an entirely different store, of an entirely different branch of the family, I'd come across Pigot's Directory of Essex 1823, which listed a Henry Wilton as a saddler in Great Dunmow, he was uncle of the matchgirl's father, my 3rd great-grandfather, Richard Wilton, a harness maker and his older brother, Henry Wilton, also a saddler. Right now though, we're concerned with Henry Wilton's son, Henry Staines Wilton, who you'll deduce is a first cousin to the unfortunate match girl. Just five miles apart in distance, in fortunes it was a whole world away. As the son of my 3rd great-grand uncle, Henry Staines Wilton is therefore my 1st cousin 4 times removed. 

St. Giles Church, near Mountnessing
cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Malc McDonald geograph.org.uk/p/4514320

Henry Staines Wilton, son of Henry Wilton, Saddler, and his first wife Sarah (née Staines), was baptised on 27 Sep 1840 at St Giles Church, Mountnessing and is listed, aged 0, with his parents on the 1841 Census in High Street, Great Dunmow, where Henry Wilton had his saddlery business. 

As the census returns for 1851 in Great Dunmow are missing, we next catch up with Henry Staines Wilton, Saddler, in 1861, aged 20, staying with his grandparents, Thomas Staines and Sally Hockley at Lord Peters (Sir William Petre) Alms Houses, Stone Field, Ingatestone, Chelmsford.

Bridge Street, Bishop's Stortford
cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Bill Boaden - geograph.org.uk/p/6410237

Having set up business next door to his future father-in-law, on 4 Aug 1868, Henry Staines Wilton, Harness Maker, married Amelia Palmer, daughter of William Palmer a Tallow Chandler of Bridge Street, Bishop's Stortford at the church of St Michael, Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire. Witnesses to the marriage were the bride's father, William Palmer, the bridegroom's parents, Henry and Sarah Wilton and Martha Palmer, the bride's older sister. 

This looks like a 'beneficial match' for him, because Amelia's Great Western Railway shares passed to her husband on their marriage. This is, of course, before the Married Women's Property Act 1882, when anything a woman owned, became her husband's by default, effectively becoming dowry

By 1871, Henry Staines Wilton, Saddler and Harness Maker, Employing 2 men, 2 apprentices and 1 boy, is doing well enough to also employ a general servant and a nurse as he and Amelia grew their family of 5 children:
  1. William Palmer Wilton was born 19 Sep 1869, and baptised 28 Nov 1869 at St Michael's, Bishop's Stortford
  2. Mary Henrietta Wilton, was baptised 30 Apr 1871 in Bishop's Stortford
  3. Olive Martha Wilton born 25 Dec 1872, baptised 28 Feb 1873 in Bishop's Stortford. (Olive Martha Wilton, artist, died, aged 45, on 14 Apr 1918 in Ringwood, Hampshire. She is not buried with the family.)
  4. John Staines Wilton, baptised 24 Apr 1874 in Bishop's Stortford. (John Staines Wilton didn't marry either. He died on 6 May 1936.)
  5. Margaret Staines Wilton born 1877 in the district of St. George Hanover Square. (Margaret also remained single. She was buried, on 31 Dec 1957, in Hampstead Cemetery, with her parents and brothers.)
As you can see from the location of the birth of their fifth child, the family had moved into London. This was because, in 1875, Henry Staines Wilton had bought into an established saddlery company in Oxford Street and became associated with Henry Champion, and from the merger of the names of its two owners, the Champion & Wilton brand officially appeared. [Source]
"Champion and Wilton were founded in 1780 and had premises in Oxford Street, opposite Selfridges, in London’s West End. At one time they employed over one hundred saddlers making saddles, harness and other saddlery items and became, as holders of the Royal Warrant, the most highly respected firm in the country and I don’t doubt that many a stately home will still have a Champion and Wilton saddle tucked away somewhere in their tack room." - Keith Jenkin, SMSQF of Minster Saddlery
In The London Gazette of 4 January 1878, there is a notice regarding a Patent application: Henry Staines Wilton, of Bishop's Stortford, in the county of Herts, Saddler, for an invention of "improvements in the construction of saddles and saddle girths."—Dated 24th December, 1874. Then in 1879: 

In addition to the quality of the product, the main peculiarity that distinguished the saddles of this brand, owed much to the invention made in 1879 by Henry Wilton, who patented the well-known safety system, still in use and much appreciated today, which represented a technical revolution. 

In their time, it is said that Champion & Wilton held Royal Warrants to Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, King George V, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth II, and the Duke of Edinburgh, as well as to the German Emperor, Queen Maud of Norway and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. 

A neighbouring firm of saddlers, Samuel Blackwell, also long-established, was taken over by Champion & Wilton in the 1880s. 

In 1891, the family were living at Braywick, High Town Road, Bray, Cookham, Berkshire. At the time of daughter, Mary Henrietta Wilton's marriage to Augustus Percival Bartley (of the equally top-notch Bartley & Sons, Military and Hunting Bootmakers, of 493, Oxford Street), on 11 Aug 1894, at St Michael's Church, Bray, Berkshire, the Wilton family resided at the rather stately Stafferton Lodge, Braywick Road, Maidenhead

Fake news is not a new thing: Apparently, according to this document (PDF), in Vol IV No 5 of 'Saddlery and Harness' November 1894, a spurious claim appears, "p.101 Notable Members of the Trade: Mr H S Wilton (Champion and Wilton) Owner of Champion and Wilton. At 457/459 Oxford Street. One of the leading West End saddlery firms. Made Queen Victoria's first saddle when HSW was only 19 years old, some 63 years ago." [i.e. 1831] Complete and utter bull poop, of course, like so many family stories, as he wasn't even born until 1840! (My feeling is the Oxford Street company that became Champion & Wilton did make Queen Victoria's first saddle. It was Henry Staines Wilton's personal involvement that got tacked (pun intended) on as an embellishment.)

By 1901, the Wilton family had moved back into town to 29, St Johns Wood Park, in the affluent community of Hampstead, where they remained in 1911. 

The Rebuilding of Oxford Street

"Nos. 453–459 (odd) Oxford Street and Nos. 22 and 23 North Audley Street, a small but elegant set of shops with flats over, were designed by Herbert Read and Robert Falconer Macdonald and built by Holloway Brothers in 1900–2 (Plate 46b). The client was E. H. Wilton of Champion and Wilton, saddlers, of Nos. 457 and 459 Oxford Street. The building had three storeys towards North Audley Street and five on to Oxford Street. The ground floor was of Doulting stone, the upper storeys of red brick with stone dressings, and the style a picturesque and effective Arts and Crafts treatment."

This tells us where the Champion and Wilton premises were, on the diagonally opposite corner to where Selfridges was later built. The building is long gone and replaced, with currently, a branch of Zara on that corner. The curious thing is that I cannot find anyone with the initials E. H. in the Wilton family. 

Henry Staines Wilton died on 31 May 1915 and his funeral took place on Thursday 3 Jun 1915. He is interred in Hampstead Cemetery (Camden) grave reference WE/222. He left his fortune to his two sons, William Palmer Wilton and John Staines Wilton, saddlers, and his son-in-law, Augustus Percival Bartley, bootmaker. The Probate record shows that he left £57,256 11s 4d, which is worth just shy of six million pounds today (£5,925,591 in 2020).

Amelia Wilton died, aged 77 and was buried, on 17 Dec 1919, in Hampstead Cemetery, along with her husband. 

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If you're related to any of the people written about, I'm guessing you'll recognise them from the surnames. If you are, do please get in touch.