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39 High Street

39 High Street

No. 39 High Street Stockton is in a solidly built terrace of shops whose trading modes and proprietors can be traced to 1790.

Situated between Silver Street and Finkle Street, 39 High Street was, in the 19th century, in the main shopping area of the town.  It started as a grocery shop and continued as such throughout the 19th century but under many different proprietors. From 1867 this double-fronted shop appears to have been divided, as there are records of other and more diverse trades being carried on from these premises.  Groceries and tea would be a staple of the population of Stockton and many dry goods would be brought in via the river and unloaded at wharves just behind the shop.

A report written by Joseph Laing in 1851, reporting for the Admiralty on the river, notes that in Stockton "there are several grocery establishments carrying on extensive trade with the populous district immediately behind the town".  In his next paragraph he notes that "The wine and spirit merchants establishments are not only large, but numerous and have extensive bonding places.  There are also large bonding warehouses situated near to the river for the bonding of tea, sugar, tobacco etc etc".

Shops changed proprietors and trades frequently, reflecting the current trends and changes in shopping patterns and there are references to no. 39a which is possibly when the shop was divided. Next to no.39 is an alley way leading to the Georgian Theatre.

Combining the research in the books "Occupancy and History of the High Street (1981)” and "ECM Heritage Consulting (2012)” with an investigation of census returns helps to build up a picture and a pattern of the occupancy and confirms that this property, and other adjacent properties, were heavily populated by both proprietors and employees, which was a common practice in the 19th century.

The earliest reference shows that in 1790 the shop was run by Mr Bennington probably as a grocery and tea dealer. The back of the shop would be rather commodious, with store rooms having facilities for weighing and packing dry goods such as sugar and tea. Census returns show that no. 39 and adjacent properties had living accommodation for proprietor and staff but later census returns indicate how prosperous the businesses were, as various proprietors moved out to more spacious and luxurious accommodation.

Studying the census reveals the occupancy of the premises.

1841 census reveals that William Bennington (35), probably the son of the proprietor in 1790, a grocer, together with his wife (30) and three sons, Robert, 15, William 5, and George lived in the property.

1851 census  Listed at this address are Henry Hobbs, a wholesale grocer’s warehouseman, his wife Hannah, 53,  their fifteen year old son, Joseph John,  a confectioner, and daughter Mary Ann, single, 28.     Henry's birth place is not decipherable but Hannah is from Witney in Oxfordshire and their children were born in Reading, Berkshire, suggesting that the family were quite mobile. Also living at that address are Anthony Knock, a warehouseman, Ed Burns and Henry Brady, grocery apprentices and a 22 year old house servant.

Next door, 40, High Street has nine residents headed by Thomas Miller who employs 18 men and 32 women in his "Sail Cloth Manufacturing business".  It also includes two apprentice grocers, perhaps a spill over from no. 39.

Also shown as living at no 39 but having a different householder’s schedule number suggesting that perhaps this is 39a, are Dorothy Lyon, 30, a hatter and her brother John, 19, a grocer’s apprentice, together with two servants.  The schedule ends by noting one house as unoccupied.

1861 census  The sequence of this census schedule links 37, 39, 40 & 41 High Street and shows a change of residents in the properties.  No. 39 has five residents comprising Alexander Holmes, a 38 yr old grocer from Derbyshire, employing  one man and one boy, his wife Mary Elizabeth from Edinburgh, Mary Bellis, his 53 yr old mother in law.   Also living there are William Bage, a 23 yr old grocer’s assistant and Elizabeth Wilkinson, a 14 yr old house servant. Alexander runs the shop to 1897 but from 1867 the shop appears to be divided as various other businesses are listed at this address.

1871 census  This census shows that 36, High Street has five residents and is probably a draper’s shop. 37, 38 and 39 High Street are shown as unoccupied.  Alexander Holmes and his wife live at no. 40 with their son Arthur, (9 yrs), four daughters, Mary (8yrs), Elizabeth (4yrs), Emily (2yrs) and Agnes (6 months) and his mother-in-law, Mary Bellis.   Also resident are seven employees or grocer’s assistants, ranging in age from 18 yrs to 26 yrs, who hail from variously Northumberland, Kent, Whitby, Ackworth in Yorkshire and Darlington, making a total of thirteen residents.

1881 census  There are no residents recorded at no. 39 but no. 40 has 10 boarders ranging from a grocer’s clerk, grocers apprentice and assistants. No. 41 houses a wine merchant, his wife, one year old son and a domestic servant.

1891 census  Numbers 39, 43,44 are included under one heading and show one servant or domestic housekeeper assisted by a cook and two housemaids plus 18  boarders, all single men, spread across occupations to include grocery clerk, traveller, assistants and apprentices.   Stockton must have proved a magnet for workers to both the emerging engineering industries and as well as the expanding retail market  as in both the 1881 and 1891 census the birthplaces of the boarders range countrywide  from  Bristol, Portsmouth, Bedford, Peterborough, and Surrey in addition to more local places such as Darlington, York and Rosedale Abbey.  In 1891 none were from Stockton.

To contrast the lives and abodes of the workers (above) and proprietors (under) I include from the 1891 census an analysis of the improved status for two of the proprietors of 39, High Street.

Wm. Bennington, son of the founder mentioned in the 1841 census, now resides at 3, Paradise Row, (now Church Street) with his wife, Rachael, three sons and two daughters together with a governess, housemaid, cook and a nurse. Aged 47, he lists his employment as ‘Wholesale Grocer & Paper manufacture in the former supplier and in the latter 41 [undecipherable]… ‘. The transcription is unclear but mentions a Borough magistrate and councillor.   His son William, 16, is wholesale grocer’s clerk; the younger children are scholars, the oldest, Helen, 17, having no specified occupation.  The children were all born in Stockton, indicating a settled family.   Next door at 4, Paradise Row lives a 71 year old solicitor, William Newby, a name to become well known in Stockton's legal circle, with his family and servants.

Extract from ECM Heritage Consulting, Page 14, "William Bennington, Grocer was living at the property in 1841. Bennington & Sons were established in 1790 by the grandfather of Wm Bennington who retired in 1880.The business passed to his son William, and grandsons W.H & G.  In the 1868 borough and county elections William Bennington voted Norton. He was chairman of the campaign for the first Stockton MP (Joseph Dodds) William Henry Bennington voted in both 1868 elections from Wellington Terrace.  In 1851 Henry Hobbs lived in the property and in 1861 it was occupied by Alexander Holmes, both men were grocers.  This indicates that that the Bennington family employed others to run the business".

Alexander Holmes lives at Wykholme Villa in Kirkleatham near Redcar and describes himself as a grocer employing 50 men. He was born in Derbyshire and his wife Mary born in Edinburgh.  They have a son Arthur, a clerk, and three daughters, all scholars.  The household is made up of a governess, two housemaids and a general servant.  Alexander Holmes had several businesses in the High Street and Norton Road marketing a wide range of goods.

1901 census  This lists 27 residents, living in no. 39 including five housekeeping staff and 22 grocery clerks, assistants and apprentices.

1911 census  The same pattern repeats itself with no. 39 having a housekeeper, two domestic servants and eight boarders all employed in the grocery trade.

No further details of residency are to hand.  I suspect that, due to the varying and inconsistent census schedules which do not show continuous habitation in one place, census enumerators may well have linked some adjoining residences together under one address.

The current occupant of the ground floor is Costa Coffee and the upper two floors are let as rented accommodation with access from the alley leading to the Georgian Theatre.

In 1986 Stockton Borough Council  commissioned a survey of the High Street  for the their Town Centre Local  Plan and buildings that were assessed as good in terms of preservation, and be protected against unsympathetic alteration or demolition, included no. 39 whose occupier at the time was Rumbelows, the TV specialist.

The reason for the interest in this particular property goes back to the time when we researched my wife's family tree.   One of her great grandfathers, Charles Squire, was the proprietor of a grocer’s shop in Cannon Street Middlesbrough and on giving up the business following his wife's death, worked in this building as a 'grocer’s warehouse man'.   He died in August 1899, aged 67, in the building, from a heart attack and his death was reported by Alfred J Hill who worked and lived at no. 39 and who can be found in the 1901 census employed as a commercial clerk.

Sources: Occupancy and History of the High Street (1981).  ECM Heritage Consulting (2012).  Stockton Town Centre Local Plan 1986.   Census returns 1941 - 1911.

Thanks are accorded to Stockton Reference Library, to Ken Oliver for census searches and the convenors of the High Street project.

Stories from the High Street participant: Albert Roxborough 

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.