Friday, 11 September 2015

Did He Ever Get His Money?

I was sorting out some old books and came across a letter. It has been written on a page ripped from a shopkeeper’s book of bills. The paper is only 5” by 8” – and the picture on the top left hand corner, barely 2” square, is quite fascinating in its detail.


Dressmakers Wholesale Supply Stores, Proprietor J S Wilkinson – Established half a century – and there is a horse drawn covered wagon, and a boy with a barrow. Here’s the right hand top corner. This letter was written less than three weeks before Queen Victoria died. [now that’s a topical subject this week, isn’t it?]


Thrifty Mr Wilkinson was using a book of bills printed for the 19th Century in 1901! Saffron Walden is a small town in Essex, very close to Bishop’s Stortford [where my father was Baptist Minister from 1956-1962] I think Mr Harris would have been Walter John Harris, a generous man, who had given my father a lot of his books. WJH was a church member, and Messrs Ackland & Son were the solicitors in the town. I just about remember Walter John – he was a very elderly man when I was a little girl. He was a Pillar of the Community- and had been a Trustee of the Almshouses just round the corner from the Manse where we lived. I don’t think WJH was actually one of the solicitors at Acklands, but I am not sure. The firm dates back to the 1830s, and is still in the town, now called Nockolds.

I was fascinated because he had a chair in his house which was the one he had sat on in Westminster Abbey when he was at the Coronation. [I never did know which coronation – there had been five in his lifetime – WJH got married the year of Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee]


Here’s the Almshouses, and below the Opening Ceremony in 1906 – I guess Walter John is one of the men on the platform. He was a bigwig in the town even when a relatively young man.


The content of the letter is absolutely intriguing


Dr Sir,

A customer of mine, Miss Thursford late of Beech House, B Stortford, has left the town and I am unable to find her address. As she owes me £3.16.0 I am anxious to trace her & should esteem it a great favor if you could help me in procuring her present address.

Thanking you in anticipation, I remain, Yours  faithfully,

J S Wilkinson esq.

I shall treasure the letter – it is a lovely little piece of dressmaker history. Do you think Walter John sent him her address? Did he ever get his money? I used an online calculator, and her debts would be around £200 today, so I think it was quite reasonable for Mr Wilkinson to try and track her down.


  1. A piece of real history with conections. I would have to keep it too.

  2. The spelling of 'favor' is interesting. What a piece of history! Like you , I wonder if he managed to trace the lady!

  3. Fascinating! Getting your money was a big problem for tradespeople years ago I think.
    A friend of my father was telling me the story of his uncle who was a tailor during WW1. He committed suicide because he was owed so much money by officers who collected expensive uniforms and never came back to pay for them. The war office refused to help and he was unable to pay his bills or feed his family so he took his own life rather than go to prison as a debtor.
    The shameful truth is that the wealthy often callously abused the services of tradespeople and delayed or refused to pay for goods even though they knew it meant hardship for their families.
    Nowadays it's the big supermarkets who are doing it to small traders.

    1. What an incredibly sad story. And I agree, many of the big stores do take advantage of smaller traders, and farmers [as the current milk issue has shown us]

  4. That is a wonderful piece of history to own!!!


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