Henry Johnson 1816 - 1889
Bon vivant and born entrepreneur, Henry Johnson seemed to get on with everyone. Although he had known tragedy in his life and didn't shy away from his weighty business and civic responsibilities, there was nothing Henry enjoyed so much as a good party, unless it was beating the competition in the Stamford Horticultural Society show.
Henry is born in Stamford in 1816 to parents Robert and Mary and baptised at St John's on 25 November. His father is the printer of the Lincolnshire Chronicle and his mother a former milliner. One of 15 children, Henry's early life is blighted by the death of one sibling after another; by the age of 16 he has lost five brothers and sisters.
None of this seems to dampen Henry's optimism and entrepreneurial spirit - initially following in his father's footsteps as a printer, Henry is in future to branch out as a bookseller, librarian, recruitment agent, theatre owner and publisher of Stamford's first railway timetable.
But it is misfortune that introduces us to Henry in 1837 when he is injured in a carriage collision:
'At a petty sessions at Louth on Wednesday, before the Mayor and Mr J Johnson, Joseph Brown of Tetford, was charged by Mr Henry Johnson, of Stamford, with furious driving on the turnpike road near Louth, in which the complainant's gig was upset, and himself severely hurt: he was ordered to pay
the damages and costs, amounting to 31s. Brown stated, in his defence, that Mr Johnson was drunk and driving very furiously at the time, which was the occasion of the accident.'((1)
On 24 September 1839 Henry marries Sophia Rogers at St Michael's in Stamford. The wedding announcement describes Sophia as 'Second daughter of Mr Rogers, Eyre Street, Sheffield and niece to John Lowe Esq of Stamford.'(1) John Lowe is a wealthy farmer living at Belmesthorpe Grange near Ryhall. Henry and Sophia both come from large families but are not destined to have children of their own.
The following year Henry's father dies at the age of 49 and in the 1841 census we find Henry and Sophia living in St Mary's Street with Henry's widowed mother, maternal grandmother and four younger siblings. Henry's occupation
is listed as 'bookseller' and he is the only wage-earner. It is possible his shop and the library he subsequently introduces are in the same premises occupied today by St Mary's Books.
In 1847 Henry is embroiled in a hoo-ha about copies of a portrait of the Marquess of Exeter he has published and is endeavouring to sell by subscription:
'PRINT of the MOST NOBLE the MARQUIS OF EXETER K G. TO THE EDITOR OF THE LINCOLNSHIRE CHRONICLE Sir -We shall feel much obliged by the favour of your inserting the following, in answer to a letter which appeared in the Stamford Mercury of last week, headed as above, for the purpose of refuting, in as few and as plain words as possible, a most vile and unwarrantable falsehood. The anonymous scribbler (Vindex) states that "judging by what occurred at Crowland at the Marquis's rent day last week, the print and subscription lists were laid on the table of the agent's audit room and pointed out to each tenant as he went in." To remove any wrong impression which such a statement may have caused towards the gentlemen conducting his Lordship's audit and ourselves, we beg most candidly and distinctly to assure you that a greater falsehood never was written and we defy the author of the slander to refute in propia persona what we now declare.
The portrait was never exhibited in the audit room at Crowland; no subscription list or lists were there, nor were either pointed at to each tenant as he came in or went out. We feel proud to say that nearly all the tenants of the Noble Marquis on the Crowland estate subscribed for copies of the portrait at least three years ago, when the publication of the engraving was first announced. With regard to the observations your correspondent has thought fit to offer respecting the likeness, as his language is by far too coarse for any respectable individual to answer, and confirmatory of his entire want of knowledge in at least the character of a critic, we leave him to enjoy his own opinions. We are, Sir, your servants HENRY JOHNSON, WILLIAM LANGLEY, Publishers of the Portrait. Stamford, Dec 23, 1847.'(1)
It is the following year we find our first reference to Henry's Waterfurlong garden, when the Stamford Mercury of 18 August reports a labourer by the name of John Harrison (no apparent relation to Sergt John Harrison) has been convicted of theft:
'At the Town Hall, Stamford, Saturday last – John Harrison, labourer, was convicted of robbing the garden (near Water Furlong) of Mr Henry Johnson, and adjudged to pay for the value of the articles stolen, penalty and costs, the sum of 20s. One month was allowed for payment, and for default 14 days’ imprisonment and hard labour awarded. John Toon, labourer, was proceeded against for a like offence, but the evidence (which was given by Harrison) failed to establish it. It was observed that the serious penalty for committing this kind of depradations could not be generally known, or they would be prevented, each offender being liable to six months’ imprisonment with hard labour, or to a fine of £20 above the value of the article stolen or damage done, and for a second offence to be tried for felony.'(1)
By 1849 Henry and Sophia seem to have set up a side-line as an early form of recruitment agency and for the next twenty years the Mercury periodically publishes advertisements similar to the following:
The Stamford Theatre
By 1851 Henry and Sophia are living in a home of their own in Stamford High Street with two servants and Henry's small business empire is about to expand further, this time into the world of entertainment. In May 1852 the Mercury announces:
'The Greatest MUSICAL NOVELTY ever offered to the Public. THE HUNGARIAN MUSICAL COMPANY, from St James' Theatre, London conducted by Capel Meister Kalözdy, the distinguished Composer, will give CONCERTS at Lincoln, on Monday, May 31; Boston, Tuesday, June 1; Peterboro', Wednesday, June 2; and Stamford, Thursday, June 3. HENRY JOHNSON, Bookseller, Stamford, begs respectfully to announce that he has effected an Engagement with the above Company of inimitable and unrivalled Artistes for CONCERTS at the above-mentioned Towns — full particulars of which will appear in next week's Paper, and in Programmes.'(1)
And in 1853 we learn Henry is lessee of the newly-refurbished Stamford Theatre in St Mary's Street, complete with 'magnificent glass chandelier'
'THEATRE, STAMFORD Mr H JOHNSON (Proprietor) respectfully announces that he has completed arrangements with Mr Rourke for a series of DRAMATIC REPRESENTATIONS for a limited Season.
The Theatre has undergone great alterations and improvements, and no effort has been spared which can add to the convenience of all classes of Visitors.
A magnificent Glass Chandelier has been suspended from the Dome in the centre of the Ceiling.
Season Tickets, One Guinea.
Mr ROURKE has had the honor to announce he has made arrangements, in conjunction with Mr Johnson (the lessee), to Open the THEATRE commencing Monday July 18th 1853. Mr R pledges himself that every exertion shall be used to render the Entertainments worthy of the patronage which the Management respectfully solicits. For full particulars see bills of the day.'(1)
In 1857 Henry exhibits Thomas Barker Jones's painting 'The Late Field Marshals of England; Wellington & Lord Raglan, Crossing the Pyrenees.'
'MR. HENRY JOHNSON, Printseller, Stamford, has great pleasure in intimating that he has the honour of being entrusted with the exhibition in Stamford for a few days of BARKER'S sublime HISTORICAL PAINTING of ENGLAND'S GREATEST GENERALS (WELLINGTON and LORD RAGLAN) CROSSING the PYRENEES!! Painted from Sketches made expressly for the Work by the Artist in the Pyrenees. "This truly grand Work of Art, depicting the finest scenery in the world, will take a high rank amongst the best modern Pictures, not only in England, but in Europe." — Chronicle. " Barker's Picture of the Pyrenees is a work of an age."'(1)
The following year we find Sophia competing unsuccessfully for Lady Exeter's Prize for the best bouquet at July's Stamford and Neighbourhood Floral and Horticultural Society Show. The Mercury reports much excitement about the large new marquee, which was 'besieged long before the judges had started their inspection.' (1) Sophia is an increasingly regular exhibitor of fruit and flowers grown in the Johnsons' Waterfurlong garden; whilst it was perfectly acceptable for men to exhibit flowers, there was believed to be something a little vulgar about women exhibiting vegetables.
Around this period we gain insights into the more prosaic aspects of Henry's business through his numerous advertisements for goods, ranging from Jackson's Albata pens to Dr Kiesow's Elixir of Life, to wallpaper.
In the 1861 census we discover Henry and Sophia have moved back to St Mary's Hill and have now acquired three servants. Henry is advertising on behalf of the publisher for subscribers to the Domesday Book of Lincolnshire and Sophia has grown greener fingers, for in the July Floral and Horticultural Show she wins two second prizes - one for six Sweet Williams and one for a dish of cherries.
In 1864 Henry is mentioned a second time in connection with his Waterfurlong garden, when William Cox is charged with pistol-whipping Police Sergeant Harrison, who was on duty in the vicinity. The same year Henry donates the generous sum of £21 to the Stamford, Rutland and General Infirmary.
It is probably that same year Henry and Sophia move to the smart new address of No 10 Rutland Terrace, where they are to remain for the rest of their lives. It had previously been owned by the well-known Baptist preacher Joseph Charles Philpot, whose younger son, Joseph Henry, provides us with some interesting descriptions of the Johnsons' new home:
William Morris's 'Strawberry Thief' - a popular wallpaper of the day.
'A long row of neat, new houses, separated from the paved sidewalk by little gardens, and faced with a light, fawn-coloured free-stone, almost fresh from the stone-cutter's saw. [For my father] I believe it was almost a case of love at first sight! It was called Rutland Terrace because it is almost within sight of that diminutive county ... Rutland Terrace faced the sun, was open to the winds, and standing as it did on a highway, saw farmers' gigs by the dozen, and horses, sheep and cattle by the score, driven past it to Friday market, while on Sunday mornings the town-dwellers chose its sidewalk for their favourite after-church promenade. On other days it could be as quiet as anyone could wish... Rutland Terrace stands high above the Welland Valley and enjoys an unimpeded view. Leaning over the balcony of the large first-floor room known as the Library at No 10 one could imagine that one was in the royal box of an enormous green amphitheatre.
No account ... would be complete without some mention of the Tinwell Road, which formerly led past Rutland Terrace straight into open country. Now it is lined with modern villas and its ancient peace has fled. But on nine days out of ten, as soon as his long morning's task was done, my father would put on his cloak and tall hat, issue from his front gate, turn to the right, and within less than a hundred yards would find the quiet that his soul required for silent meditation... The broad pathway on the right was raised some five feet above the dusty white road and commanded a wide view over the valley. There were four or five posts at one point to keep stray sheep and cattle off it, when driven in by the score to fair or market.
'WANTED, by a Lady of considerable experience in Tuition, an Engagement as Resident Governess in a Gentleman's or Clergyman's Family: she is fully competent to impart a superior English Education, with Music, French, and Drawing. Unexceptionable references can be given —Address S M G, Johnson's Library, St Mary's Hill, Stamford.'(1)
'A Widow Lady, residing in one of the most agreeable situations in Stamford, wishes to receive a Lady or 2 Sisters as Inmates desirous of a social and domestic home. Address (free) Mrs HENRY JOHNSON, High-street, Stamford.'(1)
'NEW PAPER HANGINGS. HENRY JOHNSON. Stamford, has just unpacked his immense NEW STOCK, which for variety and quality is decidedly the cheapest and best be has ever offered, price commencing One Farthing. The Stock is quite new, and comprises the choicest and most elegant Patterns of the Season, selected frsm the first manufactories in the Kingdom, the Farthing, Halfpenny, Three Farthings, and Penny PAPERS far surpassing all before seen in Stamford at the price. — Papers hung from Sixpence per Piece by practical and respectable workmen. A large Discount allowed for Cash to all purchasers.'(1)
When my father came into possession of No 10, his first care was to build a wash-house in the back garden, and a little lean-to greenhouse with a large tank to collect the rainwater beneath it... [My mother] installed her own little propagating frame, kept at the right temperature by cheap, ingenious devices, and she grudged no trouble to make her seedlings thrive. The seven foot hollyhocks in the little front garden which one year were the envy of all our neighbours had cost her nothing but the price of a gallon or two of Colza oil. But the wash-house, with its ample supply of rain-water, brought still greater comfort to her thrifty soul, for with washing at home, both house and body linen seemed never to wear out. Every other Monday ... the washerwoman came and kept the maids busy carrying off the clothes to dry. Across the Backway, between a cornfield and a brickyard and chicken-run, was that oblong strip of land enclosed by loose stone walls, and entered by a heavy creaking gate, known as the 'drying ground'. Except on washing days we children had it to ourselves, to tend our little gardens, devise new little games and rifle the strawberry bed.'(3)
The twenty houses in a row were built on the site of a former bowling green and adjacent paddock, which were bought in 1827 by J C Wallis, a local veterinary surgeon. Building began in 1829 and the first seven houses are easily identified by their stuccoed fronts, the later houses being ashlared. By 1831 Wallis had mortgaged the houses for a total of £6,000; his finances were so stretched that he probably became bankrupt, and the freeholds were subsequently sold. The elegant and impressive façades contrasted with tiny back yards containing the 'usual offices' - sheds for storing wood and coal and in a few instances a stable with a trap door. These also provided space to dry washing and served as a tradesman's entrance to the back door. A caustic townsman described the terrace as 'That row of houses with Queen Anne fronts and Mary Ann backs'.
Although popular with the upper middle classes, the development did nothing to alleviate Stamford's severe overcrowding. In 1851 more people were living in the four tiny Freeman's Cottages, just a stone's throw away, than in the whole of Rutland Terrace.
Henry and Sophia's beautiful home is now run as a bed & breakfast by Lucy Roe and has been featured on TV.
By 1871 Henry is recorded in the census both as a bookseller and a magistrate. In fact he is about to become both the town's youngest chief magistrate within living memory and mayor for two terms.
During the 1870s Henry seems to be winding down towards retirement, although in 1872 we find him taking on the role of honourable secretary to the Stamford races. In 1878 he advertises for an assistant book-seller and we gradually hear less and less about Henry and Sophia's activities. The 1881 census shows them both still living at Rutland Terrace with a cook and a general servant and reveals that Henry has now retired as a bookseller.
Henry dies on 8 May 1889 leaving his estate of £8,184 to Sophia, who herself dies three years later. Henry's grant of probate records his occupation as 'gentleman' - a hard-earned and well-deserved status.
SOURCES AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
(1) The British Newspaper Archive © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. All Rights Reserved.
(2) With grateful thanks to Lucy Roe ©
(3) The Seceders 1829 - 1869 , volumes I and II by J H Philpot, London, Farncombe, 1932.
Copyright © Karen Meadows 2018