THE ACCOUNT LEDGERS OF A LEEK SILK MANUFACTURER: A MYSTERY    SOLVED?  

by
A.W.Bednall

The Bednall Archive 
 Last updated 04/05/2004


  INTRODUCTION

Historical research involves detective work to establish the facts which underpin the researcher's assertions and no more so than when  original documents of importance are listed as "anonymous". While searching through the archives of the Staffordshire Record Office for material on the origin and growth of Leek's silk industry, and in particular for documents which might give details of the extent and scale of the trade, the author found what he was looking for in deposit D/1227/F. The two ledgers which this reference identifies are the account books of a late 18th century  silk manufacturer whose business was evidently substantial. Unfortunately they were (and are still) listed as "anonymous" and even their attribution to Leek is somewhat uncertain. Although still valuable and deserving detailed analysis, they are obviously not as useful as they would be if the manufacturer whose accounts they were could be identified.

The purpose of this short note is to try to identify the manufacturer concerned .  


THE ANONYMOUS SILK FIRM AND ITS TRADE

The accounts of this unknown firm show that in the period from 1789 to 1818 covered by the ledgers, it was trading nationally and internationally on a considerable scale.[1] Internationally their customers included firms in Amsterdam, Dublin, Londonderry, Montreal, Moscow, and New York. At home they were trading with firms in London, Manchester, Glasgow, Nottingham, Shrewsbury, Bath, almost all county towns and a considerable number of smaller market towns the length and breadth of the country.  Their London agent was Robert Scarratt of London Sack who sold for them on a 22 % commission basis. A very superficial assessment of the figures shows a growth of approximately 5 to 1 in the business handled by Scarratts between 1808 and  1812/13 when Scarratts sold  ,89580 of the anonymous firm's products. However, until the firm's accounts have been analysed and compared with those of other silk firms of the period, it is not possible to say how important the firm was in terms of the scale of its business.[2]  

The products marketed by the firm were:- shirt buttons, ferrets, trimmings, silk bindings, galloons, sewing silks and what the accounts refer to as "aparal", made of silk, mohair and/or cotton.  They obtained raw silks (approximately £10000 worth per annum in the 1790s)  from the broker George Marsh of London who may have been connected with the firm  Robert Marsh of 16 Old Broad Street, London. [3]  


LEEK AND MACCLESFIELD FIRMS 

Prior to 1803,the majority of the anonymous silk firm's dyeing was carried out by Joseph Badnall of Leek whose dyehouses were situated close to the junction of Abbey Green Road and Mill Street. Thomas Ball, another Leek dyer (with premises on the opposite side of the Abbey Green Road to those of Badnall) was intermittently employed by the firm between 1791 and 1797 but this business was small. However, the unknown company also had accounts with Macclesfield dyers -such as Thomas Smallwood, Thomas Allen, and Rowland Gould- which although somewhat smaller than the Badnall account were substantial. After 1806 most of the dyeing seems to have been carried out by  Macclesfield firms, probably as a result of changes in the Badnall firm following the death of William Badnall in 1806.[4][5]

Amongst other local firms with whom the company was dealing were:

 -Thomas Washington of Leek;

 -James Horderne of Leek;

 -Samuel Hollinshead of Leek;

 -J & N Phillips, tape manufacturers ;

 -Josiah Gaunt , ribbon,sewing silk, buttons, twist & ferret

  manufacturer of Leek;

 -Josiah Booth of Leek;

 -Daintry & Royle of Macclesfield and

 -Brocklehurst of Macclesfield.  


IDENTIFYING THE FIRM

As a first step in attempting to identify the firm, trade directories were used to answer the question "which silk firms were in business ,in Leek, during the period covered by the ledgers"?  Directories and similar ,contemporary listings of local tradesmen, although usually far from comprehensive, were thought, likely to list at least the more important firms.

William Tunnicliffe [6] names a number of Leek silkmen in business in 1787 including:-

John & Michael Daintry    Silk. Twist and Button Manufacturers;

Knight & Fynney               Ribbon Manufacturers;

Mellor & Bagnall                 Silk, Twist & Button Manufacturers;

Phillips & Ford                     Silk Twist & Button Manufacturers;

Thomas Sleigh                     Silk, Twist & Button Manufacturer;

Hugh Sleigh                         Ribbon Manufacturer;

John Smith                           Twist & Button Manufacturer;

Joshua Strangman              Twist & Button Manuafacturer;and

John & Benjamin Sutton    Ribbon Manufacturers.

To these must be added the names which appeared in the Universal British Directory of Trade etc in 1793 [7]:

Carr & Co                         Ribbon Manufacturers;

Fynney & Badnell          Ribbon & Button Manufacturers;

Gaunt & Co                     Button Manufacturer;

Samuel Lucas                  Button Manufacturer;

Mellor & Pratt                Silk Manufacturers;

Sleigh Alsop & Sleigh  Ribbon Manufacturers;

Geo Thompson              Ribbon Manufacturer.

Some of the above firms were discounted, either because they went bankrupt within the period of the anonymous accounts or for other reasons.  The Daintries were one of Leek's most successful partnerships but they transferred their principal interests to Macclesfield in the late 1780s and furthermore, the unknown Leek firm had accounts with Daintry & Royle of Macclesfield from 1796 to 1799. They can therefore be discounted. The Mellor and Bagnall partnership was dissolved sometime before 1793 and their successors -Mellor & Pratt- became bankrupt in (or about) 1797.  

The partnership of Knight & Fynney underwent a number of changes in the period from 1787 to 1818 including a complete reformation in 1808 when the then partnership -Fynney & Badnall- was dissolved . This subsequently resulted in the formation of two new firms -Fynney & Carr; and Badnall & Laugharn and it is, perhaps, unlikely that the ledgers relate to this firm or its successors since the accounts continue without any indication of a break throughout this period of transition: they cannot, however, be totally ruled out on this basis.  John Smith was not in business in the 1790s.  

By 1809 a number of new partnerships had been formed. Carr and Thompson had joined forces; Gaunt & Co was listed in the Directories as Gaunt, Lucas & Lay; and Suttons as Sutton & Pratt.  The latter may not represent actual changes in the companies concerned but merely more precise descriptions.[8] [9]  However , useful though this approach was, it was only possible to eliminate a few firms and so a different approach was adopted.  


CLUES IN THE LEDGERS

The ledgers offer a few clues to the identity of the firm. From the 1790s onwards the proprietors rented a shade on Spout Street, Leek from Ann Strangman the ownership of which was subsequently transferred to Toft Chorley.  The Chorley and the Strangman families were related to the Tofts (successful silk men of the first half of the 18th century) by both marriage and religion (they were Quakers) and it may be that there were similar connections between them and the proprietors of the firm.  The Lucas family , for example, were Quakers who had been engaged in the silk business from at least the 1750s and in 1769 Samuel Lucas, a button merchant, was a beneficiary in the will of Joshua Toft.  The Lucas family also had property on Spout Street Leek and despite the bankruptcy of James Lucas (partner of William Key) in the 1780s, continued in business, in Leek, throughout the period covered by the ledgers.  Could the unknown firm have been that of which another Samuel Lucas was the proprietor in 1793? [10][11]  

A more important clue was found in the ledger entries for June 1790. The firm was experiencing difficulties with regard to their account with John Hall of Coventry Street, London and as a result had had to consult a Leek solicitor. The consequence of this was that the their bookkeeper entered a reminder  of the consultation in the form of a footnote which recorded " Proved by Richard Gaunt before Thomas Mills".[12]  

Richard Gaunt would have been 24 years of age at the time and although listed in the Universal British Directory etc[7] of 1793 under "Gentry" both he and his brother Josiah Gaunt were silk manufacturers[8].  Either or both may have been involved in the  firm "Gaunt & Co-Button Manufacturers" listed in that Directory. Sleigh [13] gives "John & James Gaunt of Summerhill, Buttonmen" in 1767 and thus both Richard and Josiah Gaunt may have been continuing a family involvement in the silk trade.  


THE FIRM'S LONDON OFFICE?

Only a few Leek, or Macclesfield, silk firms -presumably the larger and more successful ones such as the Badnalls, the Phillips and the Daintries- had London offices and advertised that fact in both Leek and London directories. Circumstantial evidence as to the firm's identity was found in Critchell's London Post Office Annual Directory for 1808 and in Holden's Triennial Directory of 1809 for Leek. These show that the Leek firm of Gaunt, Lucas & Lay had a London office at 12 Milk Street and that they shared this address with "Scarratt & Co, Silk Manufacturers" the London commission agents of the unknown Leek silk firm. Was this coincidence or commercial convenience?  

More circumstantial evidence is provided in a listing of  bills in the hands of the short lived Leek bank of Badnall, Ellis & Co.  The list drawn up by Richard Badnall notes that one of the bills that he and his partners had accepted was "drawn by S. Lucas on Scarratt for £260".[14]  Confirmation that the anonymous ledgers in the Staffordshire Record Office archives  are those of the firm Gaunt. Lucas & Lay is provided by the assessment made in 1818 for the Leek Church Rate . This records Toft Chorley as the owner of a twisting shade "in the pathway" -just off  Spout Street (now St. Edward Street) and Spooners Lane- which was occupied by Gaunt, Lucas & Co. This was the shade which had previously belonged to Ann Strangman and for which the "anonymous" accounts reveal half yearly payments being made.[15]  

Of course it might argued that the Gaunt involved in this company was Josiah Gaunt whose entry in the 1809 Directory [8] indicates that he was manufacturing many of the products sold by the "anonymous" firm and that he had a shade in Spout Street, Leek. His shade was, however, the property of Michael -and later John Smith- Daintry [15] and the accounts of the "anonymous" firm show that it was trading with a "J. Gaunt". Furthermore, sometime before 1817 he was in partnership with Walmsley and Wardle, silk manufacturers of New Street, Leek and it is seemed unlikely that he was the "Gaunt" partner .[16]  It is of course possible that he had a connection with the company even though he was running his own separate business.  

The memorandum in the ledgers, mentioning Richard Gaunt, is the main evidence for supposing that he was the principal Gaunt partner in the unknown firm if it was indeed Gaunt, Lucas & Lay but confirmation of this relationship is given in an indenture of 1828 to which "Richard Gaunt and Samuel Lucas, partners and silk manufacturers" were party. [17]  Richard Gaunt, who was listed as a member of the gentry throughout the period, acquired much land in and around Leek in the 1820s and benefited from the bankruptcy of one of the other major silk manufacturing firms -the Badnalls- in 1826. The Gaunts were one of Leek's leading families and were involved  not only in silk manufacturing  but in the town "government" and banking.  

Richard Gaunt's  partner ,Samuel Lucas, died in the early 1830s but his estate was sufficient to allow one of his sons Samuel to live the life off a gentleman at Cartmel in Cumbria and the other, Allan, to establish himself in the silk business in Leek.  Although such evidence is not the most positive proof of success in the silk trade  it seems reasonable to conclude that the Gaunt firm was one of the most successful in Leek in the first quarter of the 19th century.[18]  

More research is needed to establish the origins of the firm Gaunt, Lucas & Co, and to chart its history in detail but it may have been established shortly after the death of Samuel Lucas of Leek, Button Merchant, in the Spring of 1784 by the combination of two Leek, family firms with long established traditions in the silk trade.


SUMMARY.

The evidence so far collected indicates that the silk manufacturer's accounts (SRO D/1227/F) are those of Gaunt & Co, or Gaunt, Lucas and Lay, silk manufacturers of Derby Street, Leek and 12 Milk Street London. The principal partners were probably Samuel Lucas and Richard Gaunt. Both were the sons of button merchants and who probably first entered into partnership in the late 1780s.  

Although this piece of simple detective work may be complete, the work of establishing the history of this Leek silk firm -its foundation, growth; and contribution to the development of the local silk industry- has hardly begun. When, or if, this work is completed there will still remain much scope for research into a Leek industry which from small beginnings in the 1650s brought growth and prosperity to the town for nearly three centuries.

A.W.Bednall  
Macclesfield  March 1990


REFERENCES

[1] Staffordshire Record Office (SRO) D1227/F Vol.1 1789 to 1807, Vol.2 1807 to 1818.Account     ledgers of an unknown Leek silk firm.

[2] Ibid., Volume 1 . Accounts indexed by the name of the firm.

[3] Critchell B. The Post Office Annual Directory. London 1808.  

See Robert Marsh-Silk Broker of 16 Old Broad Street; and Scarratt & Co.-Silk Manufacturers of 12 Milk Street, London.

[4] SRO D1227/F  Account ledgers of a Leek silk firm Vol.11 re Joseph Badnall 1789 to 1805.

[5] Bednall A.W. Mohair and Silk Dyers in 18th and early 19th century Leek. Staffordshire History Vol.8, p.1 Autumn 1988.

[6]

[7] The Universal British Directory of Trade, Commerce and Manufacture 1793.

[8] Directories of Leek, Staffordshire. Staffordshire County  Council, Local History Source Book L 11.

[9] SRO D3359 Challinor & Shaw- Badnall. Abstract of Deeds.  Bargain of Sale 9th December 1797- Commissioners in   Bankruptcy of Joseph Mellor and George Pratt, silk manufacturers, dealers, chapmen and co-partners.

[10]

[11] Will of Joshua Toft dated 27th April 1765. Probate September 1769. William Salt Library 328/15/40.

[12] SRO D 1227/F Vol.1., p.24.Account of John Hall of Coventry  Street, London  22 June 1790. 

[13] Sleigh J. History of the Ancient Parish of Leek,1894 p.6-8.

[14] SRO D3359 Challinor & Shaw -Badnall. Account of bills drawn      on Everett & Co., London held by the Leek bank of Badnall, Ellis & Co. following Everett's failure in 1826.

[15] SRO D1040/8 Assessment for the church rates, Leek 1818.

[16] SRO Q/S Bm 28 Calendar of Prisoners in Stafford Goal 1817. 26th Sept. Noah Trafford, aged 27, charged with stealing silk from Messrs Josiah Gaunt, Wardle & Walmsley at Leek.

[17] SRO D 3359 Challinor & Shaw, Box 20/3/46 Re the reconveyance of property held in trust for Miss Ann Badnall to Mr Mathew Gaunt. 12/13 November 1834.

[18] Miller M.H., Olde Leeke. Vols 1 & 2 (1891) Map of Leek in 1838.  

 

                                                                            ©awbednall_macclesfield 1990