25 High Street, Stockton

25 High Street, Stockton

Number 25, High Street, Stockton, is an unassuming Grade II listed brick building, which sits quietly on the corner of Bishop Street, and has done so since the mid to late 18th century (1).  At the time of writing (September 2016) the ground floor is used by estate agents, whose business is to match prospective buyers with residential and business premises.  Who, however, has occupied this building in the past? What other trades and businesses have been represented here?

In his Reminiscences of Stockton (2), Heavisides recalled that “in his earliest days”, Mr William Wren ran a grocer’s shop from this building and that “as an attraction, a real Chinaman, garbed in a many-coloured costume and pigtail, attended customers behind the counter”.  An Occupational History of Stockton (3), compiled from information from trade directories, confirms that a grocer and a tea dealer called William Wren did indeed trade from premises at 25 High Street, from the 1840s to around 1860. The census returns for 1861 listed William Wren, a retired grocer aged just 42 years, living at Bishopton Lane, with his wife Elizabeth, aged 40, and six of his children, all recorded as born in Stockton.  The eldest child, John Hansell, aged 17 years, was a shop assistant; Harry Horace, aged 16, was an engine fitter’s apprentice; three children, Charles, Frederick and Matilda, aged 11, 9 and 7 respectively, were scholars; the youngest, Thomas, was just one year old. A cook, Charlotte Spence, and a nurse, Annie Robertson, round off the household, with Jane Thackeray, a labourer’s wife visiting on the night of the census (4).

William, (believed to be the son of the corn miller and merchant, Thomas Wren) would have seen many changes in Stockton since his birth (circa 1819), and would have witnessed the impact that the railway had on the town and on his business as a grocer and tea seller.  While the surrounding area was still predominantly agricultural, the population of Stockton was expanding as incomers sought work in the shipyards and allied industries.  By the mid nineteenth century grocers were able to stock an increased range of processed foods in addition to locally produced fresh foods (6).

William Henderson Cossar traded from 25 High Street from about 1868 to 1871.  From the 1871 census returns (5) we learn that William H Cossar was a grocer and a wine and spirit merchant.  Cossar was born in the St. Pancras area of London around 1837.  He was working and residing at number 25, with his wife, Jane, aged 32, and their three children, Walter, Isabella and Pattie.  William Davison, assistant grocer, aged 17 years, from Wolviston, was living with the family, as were two domestic servants, Elizabeth Miller, aged 18 years, and Jane Batty, aged 26 years, both from Stockton.

As the rail network and transportation of goods continued to expand, larger, wholesale grocers became established in provincial towns (7).  Cooperative and chain stores could stock a restricted range of dairy and grocery products, which they purchased in bulk and sold cheaply.  A branch of Liptons traded from 25 High Street for twenty years from about 1896 to 1916.  Liptons stores were known for simple shop fronts, “lavish interiors” and deferential customer service (8).  This chain of stores was initially founded in Glasgow by Thomas Lipton (who later became Sir Thomas Lipton).  His family, described as “respectable” and “working class”, migrated from Ireland to settle in Scotland.  After working as a cabin boy and on plantations, Thomas learnt the grocery trade in New York, and was particularly impressed by sales and advertising techniques.  He set up his first store in Glasgow in 1876, and is said to have worked 18 hour days to make it a success. By 1900 Liptons was one of the largest grocery firms and successful tea sellers, with branches across the country (9).

Over the years the rooms, as the directories and census returns reveal, were sometimes used for residential purposes.  In addition to the family of William Cossar, it was, in 1863, listed as the residential address for a blacksmith called Jeremiah Gallon.  The trade directories indicate that a number of other trades and businesses carried out their transactions at 25 High Street, including the drapers Edward Henderson & Co. (c1876-1881) and Frank & Co., (c1885).  Other business occupants included accountants, builders, architects, dentists, and from around 1924 – 1927 the Overseers appear to have had their office at this address.


    1. www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk (accessed 22/9/2016)
    2. Heavisides M, Reminiscences of Stockton in Rambles by the River Tees
    3. Stockton-on-Tees Museum Service An occupational history of the High Street, Stockton-on-Tees, Vol. 1, 1-85 High Street 1981
    4. Census Returns for William Wren: 1861, RG09/3693/85; (Ancestry.com. 1861 England Census [database online] accessed 22/09/2016)
    5. Census Returns for William Henderson Cossar: 1871, RG10/4902/44/19 (Ancestry.com. 1871 England Census [database online] accessed 22/09/2016)
    6. Morrison, Kathryn A, English Shops and Shopping: an architectural history published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art by Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2003
    7. Ibid
    8. Ibid
    9. Liptons: www.mitchelllibrary.org.uk (accessed 25/9/2016)


Stories from the High Street participant: Anne Sharp.

The ‘Stories…’ project is part of the Council’s wider “Grants for Heritage Buildings’ programme, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Council, to help promote awareness and understanding of the town’s heritage.

Visit www.stockton.gov.uk/grantsforheritagebuildings for further information on the project.