11 September 2012

A Little Piece of Georgian New Street

Advert for Charles Hancock's premises (right), a jeweller and silversmith.
Produced by Hollins (probably Thomas Hollins). Circa 1810. 























The advert above is for the shop on the right, which belongs to Charles Hancock, a jeweller and silversmith, but the image also includes Sarah Bedford's cut glass manufactory (centre) and Thomas Hensman's furniture and upholstery shop (left). All the shops are quite typical small late Georgian shops; Sarah's has bayed shop fronts with squared glass panes that would often act as individual frames for each item for sale, and her central door, as well as Hancock's, is topped with a modish fanlight (another advert for Sarah's shop is here). Mr. Hensman's, to the left, has his funiture items displayed in windows draped with curtains to set them off in a domestic setting. Utilising his genteel neighbours and other visual imagery Hancock depicts the area around his shop as very refined and elegant. A smart carriage has just pulled up outside his shop, and while the servants look after the horses, we must presume that its owners are perusing Hancock's wares inside, cheerfully greeted by Hancock himself or an assistant. Another smart couple are walking in front of Sarah Bedford's shop, possibly with the pedigree dog that stands waiting. This all asserts the idea that this is a place, if not the place for the wealthier middle classes to be seen.

Above all three of the shops are allusions to each of the trades; above Hensman's shop is written the phrase Le Miroir de la Mode, which was a fashionable magazine published for a short time between 1803 and 1804 and included a selection of colour fashion plates. What connection this had with cabinets and soft furnishings is uncertain, but we can assume that Hensman was promoting how fashionable his establishment was. The sign above the door of Sarah Bedford's shop states that it is 'The Original Cut Glass Manufactory', delining Sarah's family roots in the trade; her father, Isaac Hawker, was possibly the first person to produce finished glass products in Birmingham, and Sarah had inherited the business in New Street from her brother John in 1805.

The Hawker's were a Quaker family and Sarah had married the (also Quaker) Isaac Bedford in 1792 when she was 23; Isaac Bedford was a glass cutter, perhaps working with the Hawker's. Isaac Hawker, Sarah's father, had produced glassware in Spiceal Street from before 1772,** and by 1785 had built a glasshouse behind his shop on Edgbaston Street.* The business had passed on Isaac's death in 1791 to his son John who ran Park Glass House on Birmingham Heath (near the Birmingham canal on Springhill) and presumably ran the shop in New Street as a salesroom.* On John's early death in 1805 he bequeathed the shop in New Street to his widowed sister Sarah (Isaac Bedford had died in 1798), and the Park Glass House was run by Biddle and Lloyd.*
During the 1820s the scene above changed, as can be seen in the circa 1825 image below. Hensman's was knocked down and replaced with a new, larger premises, the shops fronted with a colonnade of ionic columns (just visible). Bedford's, next door, was either rebuit or altered; it can be seen below on the right with the large portico with corinthian columns protruding onto the pavement. Hancock's, nearly far right, remained with only the addition of a decorative metal balcony for a few more years, but had been demolished by 1850 (probably in the late 1830s/early 1840s). Other buildings in the scene are, far left, Spooner and Attwood's Bank, and then the Hen and Chicken's hotel with the large portico; in the distance the church is Christ Church, and the elegant shop a bit further up on the right with the statues balanced on pillars is the Pantechnetheca built in 1823.

New Street, circa 1825. Drawn on stone by Henry Harris and printed by
C. Hullmandel. 

















Sarah Bedford's would have been a pretty spectacular shop to enter. From the ground floor shop rose a geometrical staircase that led to the upstairs showroom, but the balusters were made from cut glass, so would have twinkled and shone in the light; one commentator stated that it might 'serve as the access to Aladdin's Hall of Diamonds'.* The upstairs showroom was long, and supported by rows of ionic columns, and filled with all the cut glass made by Sarah as well as china and earthenware.* Sarah would have spent a great deal of money turning her relatively modest Georgian shop into a Regency temple to her trade, so she must have felt that it was worth it to promote her business.

* References on request.
** www.british-history.ac.uk

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