Monthly Archives: August 2011

At the Three Sugar Loaves and Crown

While researching the history of the Rose Hall Estate in Jamaica – not the Rose Hall at Montego Bay famed for the (totally fictional) White Witch, but the one in St Thomas in the Vale – I came across a little book called “At the Three Sugar Loaves and Crown“  by Owen Rutter (1889-1944).

It was published in 1938 and tells the near three hundred year history of Davison, Newman and Company, which became the West Indian Produce Association, and made a fortune for its owners.

In Creechurch Lane, off Leadenhall Street, stands an old shop with a sign such as the merchants of the City were wont to display two centuries ago; three golden sugar-loaves surmounted by a golden crown. . . . .Within the shop you may buy anything from sugar to cigars, from Trinidad chocolate to Jamaica rum, from tea to treacle. . .

If the shop did not disappear in the Blitz it must certainly have succumbed to the bulldozers long since, although the church of St Katherine Cree that gave its name to the lane survived both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz and still stands at the corner of Leadenhall Street. It boasts a fine rose window at the eastern end, supposedly modelled one in old St Pauls, and is now a Guild church without a parish ministering to the world of finance and commerce that surrounds it.

The eighteenth century was the great heyday of the company when it was joined by Monkhouse Davison from Cumberland, made free of the Grocers’ Company in 1738. By the time he became a partner sometime in the mid-eighteenth century, Rawlinson & Davison, were ‘Dealers in Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, Snuffs, Sago, Hartshorne, Virmicelly, Morells, Truffles, Starch & Blue, with the best of all Sorts of Grocery and Confectionery Wares at the lowest prices’.  Tea from the East was traded out to America and the Caribbean; rum, sugar, chocolate and coffee from Jamaica and tobacco from the southern American plantations were brought back to London.

The range of teas stocked by Davison and Newman was extensive and included Hyson, Singlo, Congou, Souchong, Pekoe, Padree and Bohea.

It was a consignment of tea from Davison and Newman that joined others scattered in the waters of Boston harbour at that most famous of tea parties in 1773.  But there appears to have been a second incident the following year which resulted in a number of English merchants petitioning the King in relation to further losses of tea. You can see their petition here .

Davison and Newman had sent sixteen chests of tea on a ship called the Fortune, consigned to Henry Lloyd a merchant in Boston.  Five of the men petitioning the King had underwritten the insurance on the tea for four hundred and eighty pounds.  On Monday the 6th of March 1774 in what seems to have been a repetition of the first tea party the previous December and the day after the ship arrived in Boston, a large number of men, many disguised as Indians and armed with axes and hatchets, dragged twenty-eight chests of tea including those belonging to Davison and Newman out of the ship’s hold, broke them open, and threw the tea into the water.  The insurers had paid out the equivalent of about £48,000 in today’s money and understandably were hoping for compensation.

In the language of the day, “Your Petitioners most humbly pray that your Majesty will be graciously pleased to give your petitioners such relief as their Case may require and such as to your Majesty may seem just.”

If tea had been the only or even a major part of the trade of Davison and Newman these losses would have been more serious, but they traded in a very wide range of goods and had a portfolio of property in London.  In 1789 they diversified even further and bought a 4/18 share of the Rose Hall Plantation in the Parish of St Thomas in the Vale in Jamaica.  The land was owned by Sir Charles Price who had acquired it from the Rose family and now leased it to Sir James Esdaile and Robert Cooper Lee, who each held a 7/18 share.  The Lee family continued to hold their share of Rose Hall into the mid-19th-century, but the Davison and Newman interest ended in 1834.

Davison and Newman held a copy of the slave muster book quoted by Owen Rutter.  In 1784 the slaves included 82 men, 72 women, 39 boys and 27 girls.  Two 6-year-old girls called Ebony and Lavinia were employed to weed among the sugarcane and were described as being ‘healthy’.  Eleven year old Flora was a field hand, which means she was expected to do the harder work of preparing the ground and planting canes,  “but now attends her mother who is blind”.

After the deaths of Monkhouse Davison and Abram Newman the company was taken over by William Thwaytes who had already worked for it for twenty-five years and would do so for another thirty-five.  Sadly however in the latter years of his life he seems not to have controlled the company very effectively and at his death the City properties had become dilapidated and he had even failed to have his will witnessed.  As a result all his estate went to a nephew, including his share in the Rose Hall Plantation, rather than to his wife, and when a buyer could not be found for the company four junior employees undertook what we would now call a management buyout.  They borrowed £8000, acquired the three houses in Fenchurch Street and carried on the business, turning it once more profitable.

The original premises from which the company had traded for two hundred years were demolished in 1890 and the company moved to 57 Fenchurch Street and eventually to 14 Creechurch Lane where in spite of the change of name to the West Indian Produce Association it still displayed the sign of the Three Sugar Loaves and Crown.


Marchant Tubb

This is a portrait of Marchant Tubb, sometime surgeon in Jamaica, and generally really nice man. Judging by his clothes and the grey hair, or lack of it, it was painted in England probably in the 1780’s and was in the possession of Robert Cooper Lee’s family who had labelled the back of the frame ‘Old Tubb’.

Marchant was born in Bath about 1732, one of a large family of at least eleven children. Although his brother Decimus is the eighth child of John Tubb listed in the baptisms at Bath Abbey his name strongly suggests that he should  have been the tenth child!

How Marchant obtained his training as a surgeon I don’t know, but as a young man he went to Jamaica – perhaps as a plantation doctor, perhaps to serve the white colonists.

He married Ann Morant widow of Stephen Morant of Jamaica who was some years older than him, and together with her daughter Mary Powell Morant they returned to England  before the autumn of 1771 when both Marchant and Ann Tubb were witnesses at the wedding of Robert Cooper Lee. Ann Tubb died in 1777 and was buried at Ringwould, Kent, near to Deal where they spent many happy holidays with the Lee family.

When Ann died Marchant erected a touching monument in her memory.

In the Vault beneath are deposited the Remains of Mrs Ann TUBB, wife of Marchant Tubb, Esqr. late of the Island of Jamaica. She died 26th of June 1777, Aged 55 Years. In Testimony of whose Virtues, As an affectionate Wife, A Tender Parent and a faithful Friend, This Memorial is erected By her surviving Husband Who too severely feels The Loss he records.

Marchant and his step daughter moved into number thirteen Bedford Square in London, close to the Lee family and several other ex-Jamaica inhabitants. In August 1782 Mary made a hasty, and hastily regretted, marriage to Joseph Royall a widowed planter many years older than her. As was usual a marriage settlement was drawn up protecting Mary’s interests, but under the right of ‘coverture’ making her property over to Joseph and any children they might have. Within months she had left him and gone back to her step father necessitating the creation of a second document protecting her rights under her separated state.

When Marchant Tubb died in December 1791 he left all his property to Mary Powell Royall who also inherited a share in the Wheelerfield Plantation in Jamaica. He was buried with his wife Ann at Ringwould and in 1816 Mary joined them there.

You can read their Wills in the Will Collection on this site.

More about the Parcel of Ribbons



So what do we know about that parcel of ribbons that Robert Cooper Lee sold in Jamaica?

Well there may have been more than one, for a start, since Bob arrived in Jamaica in May 1749 and this receipt is dated the 9th of February which oddly enough may mean it was actually written in 1750, for until 1752 England operated on the old calendar when the New Year began after Lady Day on March 25th. This is why you will often see a date written as 1749/50.

However, it seems likely that Alice Haycock sent the bill on later – the red circle and the tear opposite indicate it was sealed, hence perhaps part of a letter and not simply handed over along with the ribbons which were probably being bought on credit.

Some of the ribbons were brightly coloured and decorative – Dice & Flower, Shaded, Flower de Luce (fleur de lys) and Narrow Silk figure with a pattern woven in are all for tying hats, trimming dresses and ringing the changes when an old garment needed reviving to carry it through another season. Jubilee Gause sounds delicate and pretty, although I have not found a description of it (Google searching tends to bring up references to first aid!), while ‘potes de brin’, striped ticking or hemp, was a more everyday product, as was the square lacing which at twenty-three shillings a gross was much the cheapest item on the list.

Bob and his father Joseph Lee hoped there would be a ready market in Jamaica for ribbons and laces, and not simply as ornament.  At a time before zip fastenings and Velcro tape, clothes had to be tied, pinned, buttoned, buckled or laced. Sleeves would be gathered with a ribbon through a narrow hem, forming ruffles. Dress bodices and stays were laced to fit tightly, with the laces threaded through numerous small round eyelet holes at the back, each sewn around the edge with neat buttonhole stitch.  Stays were worn by children of both sexes and sometimes by men as well as women.  Made from two layers of stiffened linen or woollen cloth into which narrow strips of whalebone or other stiffening were sewn with rows of tiny backstitching, sometimes they had sleeves attached.  In many respects stays were more like a jacket than an undergarment and could even be made of leather[1]. They were usually worn over a knee-length chemise of fine linen or cotton, gathered with a ribbon drawstring to follow the neckline of the stays.

The colonial population of Jamaica liked to dress after the fashion of their home country. For women in the mid-eighteenth century this meant that skirts were spread over huge hoops known as ‘false hips’ which had to be fastened with laces or ribbons, and in their most extreme form they extended over two feet either side of the wearer providing a six foot wide ‘canvas’ of embroidered or ornamented fabric to display her status. The overall impression was rather like a steam-rollered crinoline, flat at front and back and projecting hugely to the sides.

Getting through doorways or travelling in a coach could provide a real challenge for the more extreme dresses, and the hoops were hinged to allow them to move upwards at the wearer’s sides.  The various parts of this structure were tied with tapes around the waist from where they were suspended with more tapes. Repeated use rapidly frayed the tapes and wore them out.  Even shoes were often tied with tapes, when not fastened or decorated with buckles.The climate of Jamaica was very hard on cloth and leather which often perished in the damp heat necessitating new supplies to be sent out from England.

Young Bob was right to be optimistic that he would find a ready market for his parcel of ribbons, which at current retail prices cost him £1,770.00[2]. Later correspondence shows that he paid Alice Haycock promptly. He may have been only fourteen but already he was learning to be careful with money.


[1] Lisa Picard, Dr Johnson’s London, St Martin’s Press, New York, 2001, p.217