William Snowball Walker, 1807-1858
London's Early Maker of White Wedding Cakes
William Snowball Walker was born in June 1807 in Kirby Grindalythe, a village about eight miles south east of Malton, North Yorkshire. William's father, Matthew Walker was born in the nearby village of Wintringham where he was baptised on 4 December 1774. The Walkers were farmers/farm labourers.
Matthew's parents were Thomas Walker and Ann Hudson, both born in 1747. They married in Wintringham, Yorkshire on 10th February 1767 at which point Ann was probably 2 or 3 months pregnant.
Parish records describe Thomas as a servant in 1767, a shepherd in 1770 and a labourer in 1774.
I have found three other children from the marriage:
Eleanor Walker, baptised on 2nd August 1767
Mary Walker, baptised on 8th November 1768. She died in 1790 and was buried on 18th June.
Thomas Walker, baptised on 10th April 1770. In 1841 he was living in Elleburn, near Pickering in North Yorkshire. And in 1851, at the age of 81, he was described in the census as a farmer of 165 acres employing two labourers. He married a women called Elizabeth and had two sons: John, born in 1807 and Thomas born in 1811. Both were living with their father in 1841, and in 1851 John was still working the farm with his father.
Matthew married William's mother, Rachel Snowball, also of Wintringham, on 22 January 1798.
The Snowballs of Kirby
I have tried to piece together the Snowball family from parish records, hampered by the fact that there was more than one family with that surname in the area and many had similar first names. Some of this is therefore conjecture until I have time to do more research.
Robert Snowball, Rachel's father, was born in 1728 in Kirby Grindalythe. On 12th August 1760 he married Isabella Petch (1736 - 1802) from Rillington cum Scampston in her home village. There children were:
Robert Snowball, born in 1762. He married Elizabeth Milbourn in Kirby on 16th August 1797. They had a number of children many of whom died in infancy. Those I can trace are: Esther who died in January 1798; Robert born on 17th November 1798, died the following January; twins Samuel and Henry who were born and died the same day on 22 April 1804; Charlotte baptised on 11th October 1807; Esther baptised on 22 December 1808 and John baptised on 23rd December 1810.
Esther Snowball, born in 1764. She married Christoper Newlove of Wintringham on 25th November 1784 but tragically died on 15th April 1765, possibly in childbirth. Esther's gravestone in Kirby churchyard includes a particularly moving verse: Esther Snowball Newlove, wife of Christopher Newlove and daughter of Robert and Isabella Snowball, who departed this life April 15th 1785 Aged 21 Years. "O cruel death that would not be denied, But broke the bands of love so lately tied, None must suppose we can repent too soon, For Night came on before I thought it noon." The same stone goes on to commemorate: Ann Snowball Fox .... and daughter to the above, who departed this life May 12th 1786 Age 20 Years.
Ann Snowball, born in 1766, died 12th May 1786, From her gravestone, it would appear that Ann married a Mr Fox. She may also have died in childbirth.
Charity Snowball, born in 1769, died 29th October 1774. A photo of her gravestone is also below and that of her sister who died just a few days before .
Rachel Snowball, born in 1771, died 18th October 1774
John Snowball, baptised in February 1778. He married Hannah Elizabeth and had at least two children: Esther born in 1799 who became Esther Staveley, William Snowball Walker's mother-in law; and Michael Snowball born 10th September 1801 and baptised 2 days later.
Rachel Snowball, William Snowball Walker's mother, baptised on 11th October 1778
Given that John and Rachel were born so close together, there is a question in my mind about whether they really did share the same parents. Parish record confirm that both fathers were called Robert Snowball, but there could have been more than one Robert Snowball. However the fact that Rachel and Matthew Walker's first child was named Isabella strongly suggests that these are the right parents for Rachel. [NB: I have now obtained a copy of Robert Snowball's will, which includes bequests to his daughter Rachel Walker. I am in the process of transcribing this.]
The following photograph is of St Andrew's church at Kirby. The gravestones in the photo include those of a number of Snowballs and one for a Robert and Ann Walker.
St Andrew's Kirby Grindalythe
The gravestone photographed below commemorates the sad deaths in Oct 1774 of the two sisters - 3 year old Rachel and 5 year old Charity Snowball
The full inscription reads:
In memory of Rachel Snowball, Daughter of Robert Snowball and Isabella Snowball of Kirby, who departed this life Oct the 18th 1774 Aged 3 Years. Also Charity Snowball, Daughter of the said parents, who died Oct the 29th 1774 aged 5 Years.
Farewell dear Friends we must not have, The Great I AM calls us away [rest unreadable]
Matthew and Rachel's Children
I have now traced 10 children:
Isabella Walker, born in 1798 in East Lutton and baptised in Weavethorpe on 2nd September 1798. Isabella went on to run the confectioners shop at 22 Lowgate, Hull after her younger brother William moved to London. She ran it until she died, aged 80, on 25th December 1878.
Ann Walker, baptised in Weaverthorpe on 1st September 1799.
Mary Walker, born and baptised on the same day, 5th March 1801 in Kirby, which suggests that she was sickly and may have died in infancy.
Robert Walker, born on 15th August 1803 in Kirby and baptised on 18th August.
William Snowball Walker, born on 21st June 1807 in Kirby and baptised on 29th June.
John Walker, baptised in Kirby on 26th October 1809.
Charles Snowball Walker, born on 28th June 1810 in Aldbrough, Yorkshire and baptised there on 22 July 1810. Charles appears to have been the first in the family to move to London. He became a mariner and set up home in London's dockland. On 19 February 1833 he married Charlotte Hunter in St Ann Limehouse. Charlotte was born in 1815 and died in 1837. The couple had no children. The following year, Charles married Jane Elizabeth Turrant (originally from Chatham in Kent) who was a family friend - she was one of the witnesss at Charles and Charlotte's marriage. They married on 21st February 1838 at the Ebenezer Chapel, High Street, Shadwell (which suggests that Jane may have had a non conformist background). At the time of his marriage to Jane, Charles lived at 41 Jamaica Street, Mile End Old Town. In 1851, with Charles presumeably at sea, Jane and the children were living next door at 40 Jamaica Street and Jane was earning a living as a dressmaker. At some point, probably before 1861, Charles and his family moved to the town of Yass in New South Wales, Australia.
Charles and Jane had three children: Rachel Susannah Walker in 1841; Emma Jane Walker in 1844 and Charles Fredrick Walker in 1847. In 1867 Charles Frederick married a local women in Yass, Ann Ledger, and had several children. He died there on 22nd May 1929. It may be a coincidence, but there is a Walker Park and a Walker Place in Yass.
Charity Walker, baptised in Aldbrough on 20th September 1812. She got married in Hull on 27 December 1838 to Timothy Richardson, a business partner of William's as we shall see.
Rachel Walker, baptised in Aldbrough on 3rd May 1814.
Henry Walker, born about 1817 in the village of Hutton Cranswick about 16 miles south of Kirby. Henry's children, which included another Isabella and William Snowball, form another important branch of the Walker family. More about them later.
William Snowball Walker
The first record of William I have been able to find, after his baptism, is when he is 28 years old, running a grocers and confectioners shop in Lowgate, Hull with his sister Isabella.
In the 1830s, Hull (or Kingston upon Hull to give it its full name) was a boom town. Between 1801 and 1831 the population had doubled from 21,000 to 41,000. By 1841, it has risen to 57,000, rising to well over 200,000 by the end of the century. Until the mid 19th century, whaling played a major part in the town's fortunes. Fishing was also a major industry, as was shipbuilding.
Hull from the Humber, 1837
A search of contemporary newspaper articles and advertisements has allowed me to peice together some of the history of the Hull confectionery business run by William and Isabella.
William and Isabella took over an established grocers and confectioners at 19 Lowgate which had been owned by a Mr and Mrs Hornor (or Horner). On the evidence of a notice in the local newspaper, The Hull Packet, placed by Isabella Walker in 1843 (see below), the business was established at the end of the 18th century. It was certainly there on 25th December 1810 when Edward Hornor, 'grocer and tea dealer' of 19 Lowgate, advertised in The Hull Packet for an apprentice. The 1822 edition of Baines' Directory for the East Riding lists Jane Horner (presumeably Edward's widow) at 19 Lowgate, Hull as a grocer and confectioner.
By 1834, the business had changed hands and was being run under William's name, still at 19 Lowgate. More research is needed to establish the exact date. On the evidence of Isabella's press notice below (which appeared in The Hull Packet in September 1843 after William had moved to London and was repeated over several weeks) it was she who was in charge of the cake-making side of the business.
CONFECTIONER AND WEDDING CAKE MAKER
22 LOWGATE, HULL
Begs to inform the Nobility and Gentry of Hull and the surrounding District
that the original BRIDE CAKE ESTABLISHMENT, recently in the occupation
of Mr W. S. WALKER, is re-opened under her entire management; and
from the fact of the whole of the Cakes for the last Ten Years having
been made under her superintendence, she feels confident she will be
able to maintain the high character this Establishment has enjoyed for
upwards of Half a Century.
Parties sending orders from the Country, will please be particular in
addressing them ISABELLA WALKER, 22 LOWGATE, HULL
Back in the mid 1830s, The Hull Packet carried a series of adverts placed by William for Hall's Patent Starch, to be had at his shop at 19 Lowgate. The first advert I can find dates from 2nd August 1834, the last from 21st December 1838.
In December 1838, William and Isabella moved into 22 Lowgate, possibly keeping the two shops running together for a short time.
On 27th December 1838 at Holy Trinity church, Hull, William's sister, Charity Walker, married Timothy Richardson of 51 Pall Mall, London.
On 28th December 1838, The Hull Packet reported a shrewd bit of marketing by William, giving both the new address and announcing the expansion of the business to London - at 51 Pall Mall:
TWELFTH CAKE - The Twelfth Cake intended for Her Most Gracious Majesty
the Queen now exhibiting in Mr W.S.Walker's shop, No 22 Lowgate, we
understand will be sent off to Brighton tomorrow. Whether it is an order
or a presentation we know not; but in either case, we are quite certain it
will add much to his already established fame as a cake-maker. We
understand that Messrs Walker and Co will open their establishment at
51 Pall Mall, London, on the 1st of January
Note: A Twelfth Cake was traditionally made for the Twelfth Night celebrations, the highpoint of the Christmas festivities until the mid Victoria period, when Christmas Day and the Christmas Cake took over.There is no evidence that William's sending of a cake to Queen Victoria led to any actual Royal commissions. But nice try!
A modern recreation of a Twelfth Cake, which may not look too different from William's shop window crowd puller, can be seen at this website http://www.historicfood.com/John%20Mollard's%20Twelfth%20Cake.html
The article above is the first reference to Messrs Walker and Co. This tells us that, by 1838, William had secured investors/partners to help his business expand. Timothy Richardson, William's brother-in-law was evidently one of these, but there may have been others in the Richardson family. Sadly, the keeping of public records of companies only began in 1844.
The arrangement presumeably was that William would continue to manage the business in Hull and that Timothy and Charity would take the business to London to exploit the huge potential market there for exp
Interestingly, when William is sued for bankruptcy in 1843, his creditors are named as Timothy Richardson and George Gibson Richardson, hop merchants from Wellington Street, Southwark, London. I therefore expected to find that this Timothy Richardson and William's brother-in-law, would turn out to be the same person. But they were not.
The hop merchant Richardsons (who William owed money to) did come orginally from East Yorkshire. Timothy senior was born in 1780 in Mappleton, just four miles north of Aldborough where Charity Walker was born. He married Jane Gibson in 1814 and moved to Southwark in London. Southwark was a major centre for the hop trade. Timothy's first two sons - George Gibson Richardson (born 1816) and Timothy Richardson were both born in London and spent their lives in the capital. Timothy junior married in 1851 when he was recorded as a bachelor.
So, the Timothy Richardson that William went into the business with, and the Timothy Richarson who William owed money to, were dfferent people. But, unless this is a total coincidence, they were probably related and were all investors in the business.
For whatever reason, good relations between William and his brother-in-law did not last. In December 1839 and January 1840, the following notice appeared in London newspapers The Morning Chronicle, The Morning Post and The London Standard:
YORKSHIRE WEDDING CAKE ESTABLISHMENT,
51 Pall Mall - T.RICHARDSON informs the Nobilty and Gentry
that he intends in future to carry on, in his own name only,
the Business hitherto conducted by him under the firm
W.S.Walker and Co (successors to the later Mrs Horner,
Hull), and begs to call attention to his extensive stock of
CAKES, suitable to the present season. Wedding cakes of a
proper age always on hand.
On 4th January 1841, the following appeared in The Morning Post -
YORKSHIRE BRIDE CAKE ESTABLISHMENT,
51 Pall Mall - T.RICHARDSON'S stock of cakes for the
approaching season are now ready in every size, from
ten shillings to ten pounds each, which he can with
confidence recommend, they being precisely the same
quality as his celebrated Wedding Cakes. The above
being the only exclusive cake establishment in London,
the proprietor flatters himself that he can produce an
article superior to any in the trade.
A £10 cake in 1841 is the equivalent of around £700 today. Bearing in mind that a skilled labourer might earn just £40 a year, a clerk £250 a year and an engineer £370 a year, it's easy to see why these adverts were directed to "the nobility and gentry".
In early 1842, a series of adverts appeared in The Cheltenham Looker On:
Yorkshire Wedding Cake Manufacturer
51 PALL MALL, LONDON
CAKES OF ALL SIZES, BOTH FOR
Weddings, Desserts, and Evening Parties, at
40 WINCHCOMBE STREET, CHELTENHAM
Sole Agent for Gloucestershire
An earlier version of the advert advised that: "In consequence of the great demand for Cake, Mr Howard will feel obliged if Ladies and Gentlemen requiring cakes for the 6th of January 1842 [ie Twelfth Night] will send their orders by the 1st of that month, that he may regulate his supply from the manufactory".
The last of these advertisements appeared on 24 Dec 1842.
Meanwhile, back in Hull....
On 24th June 1839, William (now 32 years old) married his cousin, the 16 year old Hannah Staveley.
Hannah's parents, Samuel Staveley and Esther Snowball, were also Yorkshire farmers. As Esther Staveley features prominantly in William's life, I am going to pause for a moment to tell the Mother-in-Law's story.
Esther was born in Kirby Grindalythe in 1801. Esther's parents were John Snowball (possibly William's uncle) and Hannah Elizabeth. Esther married Samuel Staveley on 1st August 1820 in the village of Weaverthorpe. Samuel died on 1st October 1835 age 47, leaving Esther with six young children: Hannah 13, Jane 12, Penelope 10, Michael 8, Samuel 5 and Issac 2. Hannah, as the eldest, was probably already very involved in looking after her younger brothers and sisters. Now she would have been expected to grow up very fast.
The York Herald, on 17th October 1835, carried a short notice of Samuel's death "On Thursday the 1st inst, much respected, aged 47, Mr Samuel Staveley of Harpham".
Esther was not capable of maintaining the farm at Harpham where she and Samuel had been tenants. She was therefore quickly evicted by the agent of landowner, William St Quintin:
To the Personal Representative of the late Samuel Staveley - I hereby give you notice to quit and deliver up at Lady Day next, or at such other time or times as the current year of the Tenancy shall expire, the quiet and peacable possession of the Farm House, Outbuildings, Lands, Tenements, Heriditaments and Premises whatsover which the late Samuel Staveley held of William St Quintin Esquire, situate at Harpham in the county of York. Dated this eighth day of October 1835. [credit for this information goes to www.staveley-genealogy.com. See links page.]
A note on the reverse of the eviction notice states that it was delivered on 9th October to Eliza Snowball, who may be Esther's mother or sister. Eliza was also a witness at William and Hannah's wedding.
With no husband, no home and a young family to feed, these must have been desperate times for Esther. Her solution was to become an innkeeper or licensed victualler, a trade that had been open to women for centuries. She therefore moved to Hull, 26 miles away, where there would have been more opportunity to practice the trade.
Sadly, Esther was not a successful innkeeper, and by 1841 she was in debtor's prison in Hull. On 1st October 1841, the London Gazette carried the following annoucement:
THE COURT FOR RELIEF OF INSOLVENT DEBTORS.
Wednesday the 29th day of September 1841.
ORDERS have been made, vesting in the Provisional
Assignee the Estate and Effects of the
Esther Staveley, late of Roos in Holderness, Yorkshire,
Licenced Victualler, out of business. In the Gaol of
Esther was probably in prison in June 1841 when the Census was taken. The Census shows that William's family at 22 Lowgate had expanded to include Esther's children Jane, Penelope and Michael, all helping to run the business.
Insolvent debtors such as Esther often spent the rest of their lives in prison. However, the periodic passing of Acts for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors allowed for their release if they applied to a Justice of Peace and submitted a schedule of assets. This is what seems to have happened in Esther's case. It is also possible that William stood surety for Esther's debts.
What is certain is that a week later Esther is out of jail and living with William and the rest of his extended family. The London Gazette of 8th October 1841 also gives an account of Esther's chequered career as an innkeeper:
Esther Staveley. formerly of the De La Pole Tavern, in Winer Lane, afterwards of the Flower Pot, Whitefriarsgate, afterwards of the Tiger Inn, in Waterworks Street, all in Hull, Victualler, afterwards out of business, and residing at Fore Gate, York, and late of Roos in Holderness,Yorkshire, out of business, and residing then at the house of Mr William Snowball Walker, of Hull, Grocer, Confectioner.
Two Other Newspaper Reports
The Hull Packet of 16th April 1841, reported on the successes of a bazaar in aid of the Port of Hull Society and Orphan Institution held in the Public Rooms, Jarrett Street, Hull, under the patronage of Her Majesty, the Queen Dowager (Queen Adelaide, the wife of William IV). The article noted that:
The card room was appropriated for refreshments; and it was not the least attractive place of resort during the three days. Many delicacies were set out to tempt the palate and most of them, we believe, were desposed of. One of the principal ornaments of the tables was a large and handsome iced cake sent by Mr Walker, confectioner, Lowgate.
On 25th November 1842, the Hull Packet reported the following incident:
Tasteful Hunger - John Holland, a stout but destiute looking young fellow, was charged with stealing a piece of plumb cake from the shop window of Mr W.S Walker, confectioner, Lowgate. Serjeant Clayton said he heard a smash of glass in the prosecutor's window and, going towards it, he saw the prisioner take the cake out and begin eating it. The prisioner, on being asked if he wishes to make any defence, replied, "I have nothing to say - I have done it - I'd been out of work some time and I was tired, and I thought I would try something else". Convicted in the amount of value and damage done, and in default of payment committed for a month.
Pillar of the Community
In February 1841, William was elected to the Hull Board of Guardians, responsible for administering the workhouse and administration of the Poor Law in Hull.
The Move to London
By the summer of 1843 the whole family, with the exception of William's sister Isabella, had arrived in London. I am assuming that William did this to wrest his business out of the hands of Timothy Richardson. So far, I have been unable to trace Timothy Richardson or Charity, his wife, after the self confident newspaper adverts of 1841 vand 1842. Isabella, as we have seen, continued to run the business in Hull.
William's family settled in 21 Sutherland Street, Walworth, while William continued to operate the business at 51 Pall Mall.
Pall Mall, 1842
Walking up Pall Mall heading into the distance above, William would have arrived at the newly constructed Trafalgar Square. In 1843 work began on Nelson's Column, as shown in the early photograph below from 1844:
Another London event in 1843 was the premiere of Michael Balfe's opera The Bohemian Girl, on 27th November at the Drury Lane Theatre. One song from that production - I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls - hit the town by storm, and was therefore part of the backdrop to William's early months in London.
The London Standard, reporting the first night, desribed it as:
"....a melody of wild and tender sweetness, which Miss Rainforth sang with such exquisite beauty and expression as to transport the audience. She sang it a second time; and even then the acclamations were so prolonged that a third repitition would have been evidently welcome."
A modern version of the song is here:
The on 19 December 1843, Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol and, with it, invented the modern Christmas. Not good for the sale of Twelth Cakes perhaps!
When William arrived in London he was already bankrupt. The London Gazette of 18 August 1843 records:
WHEREAS a Fiat in Bankruptcy is awarded and issued forth against William Snowball Walker, late of Hull, in the county of York, Grocer and Cake Maker, but now or late of No. 51, Pall Mall East, in the county of Middlesex, Cake Maker and Pastry Cook, Dealer and Chapman, and he being declared a bankrupt is hereby required to surrender himself to John Samuel Martin Fonblanque, Esq. one of Her Majesty's Commissioners of the Court of Bankruptcy, on the 25th of August instant, at half past ten o'clock in the forenoon precisely, and on the 28th day of September next, at half past one o'clock in the afternoon precisely; at the Court of Bankruptcy, in Basinghall Street, in the city of London, and make a full discovery and disclosure of his estate and effects....
Under the law as it stood in 1843, only traders could become bankrupt, meaning that William did not qualify. The legal definition of 'trader' embraced all those who made a living by buying and selling including all those who bought materials, worked on them and then re-sold them: in other words, most skilled craftsmen. A retailer such as William would be classified as an insolvent debtor, as Esther had been. Insolvent debtors remained subject to common law proceedings and indefinite imprisonment if their creditors so wished. People who wished to qualify as bankrupts, and thus avoid the fate of an insolvent debtor, sometimes gave a false or misleadingly general description of their occupations: dealer and chapman was very common. This is exactly what William did. Chapman is an old fashioned term meaning a peddler or a merchant.
William's bankruptcy proceedings continued to the end of 1843, but he was successful in having himself declared bankrupt:
WHEREAS the Commissioner acting in the prosecution of a Fiat in Bankruptcy awarded and issued forth against William Snowball Walker, late of Hull, in the county of York, Grocer and Cake Maker, but now or late of No. 51, Pall Mall East, in the county of Middlesex, Cake Maker and Pastry Cook, Dealer and Chapman, hath certified to the Right Honourable the Judge of the Court of Review in Bankruptcy, that the said William Snowball Walker hath in all things conformed himself according to the directions of the Acts of Parliament made and now in force concerning bankrupts; this is to give notice, that, by virtue of an Act, passed in the fifth and sixth years of the reign of Her present Majesty Queen Victoria intitled " An Act for the amendment of the law in bankruptcy," the Certificate of the said William Snowball Walker will be allowed and confirmed by the Court of Review in Bankruptcy, unless cause be shewn to the said Court to the contrary, on or before the 19th day of December 1843.
Wedding Cake Maker
Kelly's London Directory of 1844 lists William's business in Pall Mall as 'wedding cake maker'. The Directory gives the busines name as Snowball Walker. William clearly hit on the idea of using his unusual second name as part of his marketing of white wedding cakes.
Fortunately, we have evidence of William's success and celebrity. In 1861, after William's death, the famous Victoria writer Leigh Hunt published A Saunter Through the West End. In the section on Pall Mall, he wrote:
....number 51, once the shop of Mr Snowball Walker, Wedding-cake Maker, sole artist (as far as we are aware) who confined himself to that denomination. He generally exhibited one sole cake in his window, knowing well enough what sweet worlds of associated crowed around it. His otherwise contradictory Christian name, Snowball, typified of course nothing other than the sugar on top of the cake, and the white innocence of the purchasers.
William had moved out of Pall Mall by 1848, so these words written 13 years later say something about the impact that William and his wedding cakes had on London society. Leigh Hunt's statement about the contradictory Christian name, Snowball, also suggest a man who was dark in appearance.
This photograph is said to be of William (seated) and confirms what can be inferred from Leigh Hunt's description (ie a dark haired man). It looks to me (although I don't know much about it) as if these are hussar dress uniforms, so it may be that William joined a regiment of hussars in his younger days and stayed in the reserve.
White icing could only be made using the finest refined sugar. This was very expensive, making a pure white wedding cake something of a status symbol. At Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's wedding in 1840, white icing was used to decorate the cake earning it the name "royal icing".
Even for the nobility, the first multi-tiered wedding cakes were real in appearance only. Their upper layers were mock-ups of spun sugar. It was this type of wedding cake that William set out to make and sell to affluent Londoners. It was only much later in the 19th century, when the problem of preventing the upper layers collapsing into the lower layers was solved, that the modern multi-tiered wedding cake first made its appearance.
William's success and celebrity did not put an end to his financial problems. He was also too well known this time to make the false dealer and chapman claim to keep himself out of prison. The London Gazette of 10th July 1849 records:
William Snowball Walker, late of 2 Bennett Street, Piccadilly, Middlesex, Pastrycook - in the Queen's Prison.
The Queen's Prison in Southwark had been known as the King's Bench prison until 1842. It had been a prison since the middle ages, although the building William found himself in dated from 1758. The King's Bench prison was much larger and better appointed than some other London prisons, but it soon gained a reputation for being dirty, overcrowded and prone to outbreaks of typhus. Debtors had to provide their own bedding, food and drink. The madness of debtors prisons is the main theme of Dickens' novel Little Dorrit, published between 1855 and 1857. If William read it, it must have brought back painful memories.
This illustration of the front of King's Bench prison in 1832 shows the huge wall that surrounded the courtyard where prisioners would spend much of the day.
A further entry in the London Gazette in July 1849 lists William's various London addresses- the fashionable and the less fashionable:
On Saturday the 4th August 1849, at Eleven o'Clock precisely, before the Chief Commissioner, William Snowball Walker, formerly of No.31, Pall Mall, Middlesex, at the same time residing at No. 21, Sutherland Square, Walworth, Surrey, then of No. 49, Pall Mall, and at same time of No. 10, Paddington Green, Middlesex, then of No. 66, Saint James Street, Piccadilly, then of No. 2, Bennett Street, Hanover Square, both in Middlesex, and at same time of No. 28, Upton Place, West Ham, Essex, Pastry Cook and Confectioner.
William and Hannah's Children
William and Hannah had the following children
William Staveley Walker, born in June 1840 in Hull, died 9 September 1840
Henry Staveley Walker, born in 1841 in Hull
Madeline, born 31 July 1842 in Hull
George Frederick, born Jan 1844 in Walworth, London
Isabella, born 9 Nov 1846 in Pall Mall, London
Charles Edward, born 8 April 1848 in St James Street, London
William Samuel (my great grandfather) born 1852 in Pall Mall, London
Mary Alice, born 1855 in Chelsea, London
Walter James, born 1857 in Chelsea, London
Emma Julia, born Dec 1858 in Chelsea, London
William Staveley Walker
William and Hannah's first child sadly died at only 3 months old on 9 September 1840.
Henry Staveley Walker
Henry's early life is a bit of a mystery. He wasn't living with his parents in 1851 so maybe he was sent off to school or was living with other relatives. In 1861, he was working in the Hull confectionery shop with his aunt Isabella and sister Madeline. But he must have moved to London not long after because on 21st April 1864 he married Elizabeth Emma Purssord, the 19 year old daugher of a cheesmonger from Bermondsey. For reasons that are unclear the marriage took place in Croydon, Surrey.
In 1871, Henry was making a living as a provisions merchant, which is probably the trade he came to London to practice and how he met Elizabeth's father. Unfortunately he died on 8th May 1873 aged 32. The probate record shows that at the time of his death he was a cheesmonger at 385 High Street, Stratford, Essex and left effects to a value of less than £1000.
Henry and Elizabeth had three children in their short marriage:
- Harry Purssord Walker, born in July 1868, he became a provisions merchant like his father and step father. He married Ellen Amy Sadler Rowton in Hackney on 16th July 1898. In 1900 they had twin daughters Phyllis and Doris. Harry died in Kensington in December 1938.
- Sydney Walker, born in 1870. He married Florance Emily Grey in Hackney on 8th June 1901.
- George Walker, born in 1873, the year of his father's death. George also became a provisions merchant and married Maud Newman on 14th July 1902 in Stepney.
Elizabeth eventually remarried in 1880 to Alfred George Masters, another provisions merchant, with whom she had four more children.
Madeline went to London with her parents but was back in Hull by 1861 helping out in her aunt's shop. I haven't found any trace of her after that, so she either married or died young.
George Frederick Walker
As far as I can tell, George supported his mother in running the confectonery business. He had not married by the time of the 1881 census, and I can't find any record of him after that.
Isabella is described as "deaf and dumb", which was a pretty much universal term in the 19th century for children born deaf. It doesn't mean that she was incapable of speech. The other term often used was "deaf mute". In the 19th century, it was generally assumed that "deaf and dumb" children were mentally impaired and they were often packed off to asylums. The Walkers clearly had a more enlighted attitude, and Isabella worked as a confectioners' assistant in the family business. After the confectionery business folded and her mother died, Isabella worked as a shirt needlewoman. The 1891 census describes her as head of the household, living with sisters Mary and Emma and niece Violet Elizabeth Walker. The last record I have of her is the 1901 census when she is living with William Samuel and family in Wood Green.
The following quote from the Illustrated London News of January 1869 wonderfully illustrates Victorian attitudes to deaf and dumb people. Describing the work of the Association in Aid of the Deaf and Dumb, it says:
The chief work of the association is among the 2000 deaf mutes of London. Without its aid there is no doubt many would fall into habits of depravity and become dangerous to society, while others would be deprived of all the advantages of religious instruction, sympathy, and assistance which this society affords.
Charles Edward Walker
The last record I can find of Charles is the 1871 census when he is living the family at 87 Picadilly. His occupation is given as "shopman - stationer".
William Samuel Walker
I will cover William and family on a separate page. He and Henry seem to have been the only one of the siblings to have married.
Mary Alice Walker
Mary is listed in the 1871 census as a dressmaker. The last record I have of her is in 1891 (age 36) when she is living with Isabella and Emma and working as a dressmaker's assistant. It is fair to assume she didn't marry.
Walter James Walker
Walter was also born deaf and dumb. The last record I have for Walter is the 1861 census when he was four years old. He either died as a child or was sent to a deaf and dumb asylum.
Emma Julia Walker
The last record I have of Emma is the 1891 census, when she is living with sisters Isabella and Mary. Emma was still working as a confectioners' assistant so must have found a job with another confectioner afer the family business folded.
The Rise & Fall of the Walker Confectionery Business
After debtors' prison, William gives every appearance of financial success. It's hard to kept track of where he was living and which are business and family addresses. For example, at one stage William owned a house at 2 Bennett Street, off Piccadilly near the current site of the Ritz Hotel. The London Gazette of 10th July 1849 says "late of 2 Bennett Street" but William and his family are recorded as living there on 30/31 March 1851 when the census was taken. Their neighbours included a member of the peerage, a colonel in the army and a naval surgeon. The Walker houshold consisted of William and Hannah, their 5 children, Esther Staveley, Jane Staveley (Hannah's sister), a governess for the children and a servant.
The answer seems to be that William rented out 2 Bennett Street, and maybe other properties. Michael Staveley (William's brother in law) gave evidence in a court case about dodgy financial dealings in which the plaintiff, a Mr Casey, is himself revealed to be less than honest:
Michael Staveley: "Mr Walker of Piccadilly is the owner of 2 Bennett Street, St Jame's. It was let to Casey, the plaintiff in March 1851, for a cigar shop. He gave a bill for the "coming in" which was not paid by the acceptor, who said he had been swindled out of it. There was a charge against Casey, at Marlborough Street, about some £5 notes which were said to be not over genuine. He then described himself as keeping a whip shop....This No 2 Bennett Street was a betting office. It was kept by Casey. [By the Court - The shop was open about 12 months, but it is now shut. The house, however, is still carried on as a gambling house upstairs.]"
By the mid 1850s, the family had moved to 122 Sloane Street, Chelsea. Unfortunately, William died in 1858 at the relatively young age of 51, leaving Hannah a 36 year old widow with several young children, one not yet born.
William died on 13 November 1858 while visiting his sister Isabella and daughter Madeline at 22 Lowgate, Hull. The cause of death is given as "apoplexy", which normally meant some kind of stroke, caused by "disease of the heart". The informant is given as Isabella's next door neighbour William Balk.
The shock to the family must have been immense and what should have been the joyful occasion of Emma's birth only one month later overtaken by sadness.
After William's death. Hannah carried on the wedding cake business with the assistance of her mother, sister and the older children.
In 1861, the household at 122 Sloane Street consisted of Hannah, seven children (aged between 17 and 2 years old), Esther and Jane Staveley, a servant and a nurse.
I can find only one description in print of a Walker wedding cake, and it comes from this period. On 23rd October 1866, The Pall Mall Gazette carried an article pouring scorn on some of the highly materialistic descriptions appearing of high society weddings, in this case the wedding in Ispwich of Sir Edward Sherlock Gooch, complete with plenty of gushing prose ("the youthful bride whose lovely face was the admiration of all present" etc) and plugs for the various suppliers. It quotes this from The Court Journal:
"The wedding dejuener was set out in the dining room, covers being laid for sixty guests. The appartment was very handsomely and tastefully arranged under the direction of Mr Harrison of the firm of Harrison and Gislingham, Museum Arcade, Ispwich. The walls were hung with silk flags, and the tables decorated with silver and glass epergnes bearing the choicest flowers, arranged by Mr Turner of Ispwich. In the centre of the table was the bridal cake, placed upon a silver salver, beautifully ornamented with orange blossoms and other sweet flowers. In the centre was a miniature fountain from the top of which dropped pendent wreaths made to represent sparkling water. The effect of these was very beautiful. The weight was 70lb, and was supplied by Mrs Walker of Piccadilly."
At some point in the 1860s, Hannah and the family went to live above the shop at 87 Piccadilly (opposite Green Park). The Walker's were no longer sole artists in the wedding cake business and were beginning to struggle financially.
Their biggest, and increasingly very fashionable, rival was Buszard's. Messrs Buszard were located at the West End of Oxford Street. They became famous by setting up at the 1851 Exhibition in Hyde Park where they had tables and chairs on the pavement serving drinks and cakes just like on the Continent. On Oxford Street, Buszard's didn't just have a shop window, they has an emporium.
Charles Eyre Pasco describes Buszards in his 1887 book London, an Illustrated Guide to the Season, and in doing so remembers Snowball Walker:
In another and widely different though no less interesting line of business Messrs. Buszard's (197, Oxford Street) is a shop in special favour with ladies. Messrs. Buszard are the famous London manufacturers of wedding-cakes. In this delightful branch of trade they have no equal. Some years ago, at No. 51, Pall Mall, was the shop of Mr. Snowball Walker, who was the wedding-cake maker of his day," sole artist" (so wrote Leigh Hunt) "who confined himself to that denomination." He generally exhibited one sole cake in his window, knowing well enough (we quote the genial essayist) what sweet worlds of association crowded around it. His otherwise contradictory Christian name, "Snowball," typified, of course, nothing but the sugar on top of the cake and the white innocence of the purchasers. The "sole cake" of Walker was afterwards for a long time exhibited in the window of his successor, who moved to Piccadilly. Buszard's establishment is literally an emporium of wedding-cakes and of the delectable meats of which they are composed. One's eye there rests upon rows of these precious emblems of affection, ranging from the wedding-cake designed for a princess to the less expensive cake manufactured to meet the tastes of one to middle fortune born. There is no other shop in London, as far as we are aware, devoted so exclusively to one speciality. The wedding-cakes of Messrs. Buszard are sent to all parts of the world. It is no uncommon thing for an order to come from Paris, the city of all others where one might suppose the confectioner's art had attained the highest state of perfection. "Buszard's" is a favourite resort of ladies during the season. They go there to eat ices, the while, no doubt, they ponder the (let us hope) pleasant recollections which crowd around wedding cakes already eaten, and anticipate with joy a wedding-cake or two yet to be cut.
By 1869, Hannah was already facing bankruptcy:
Notice is hereby given, that Hannah Walker, of No 67, Piccadilly, in the county of Middlesex, Widow and Confectioner, has left in the office of the Chief Registrar of the Court of Bankruptcy, Quality Court, Chancery Lane, London, a list of her debts and liabilities, and a statement of her property and credits, as required by the Bankruptcy Amendment Act, 1868.—Dated this 18th day of January, 1869.
But in 1871, the business was still going. The household consisted of Hannah, children George, William, Charles, Isabel, Mary and Emma, Esther Staveley (now 70), sister Jane and brother Issac Staveley (both shop assistants), an elderly lady boarder and a domestic servant.
Up to this point, Issac Staveley had been living and working independently in London, although probably in close touch with his sister and family. In 1851, he was working as an assistant to a pawnbroker on The Strand. In 1861, he was lodging in Symons Street, Chelsea, a short walk from Hannah's house in Sloane Street, and working as a commission agent.
In 1877, Esther Stavely died age 76. Hannah and Jane continued to run the business. In 1881, the household consisted of Hannah, children George, Isabel, Mary and Emma, Jane Staveley, a lodger and a housemaid.
Hannah died in 1887.
The Hull Confectionery Business
Isabella continued to run the shop in Hull, which she did until her death on 25th December 1878.
Probate records for 8 January 1879 show:
The Will of Isabella Walker, late of the Borough of Kingston-upon Hull, Spinster, who died 25 December 1878, was proved at York by Henry Walker of 22 Lowgate in the said Borough, Confectioner, the Brother, the sole Executor.
Personal Estate under £200.
The business was then taken over by Henry Walker before it passed to his daughter Isabella (maybe aunt and niece shared a special affinity along with their Christian name). The last record of Isabella Walker's confectionery shop that I can find is in Bulmer's East Yorkshire Gazateer of 1892. More information about Henry and his children will follow when I tell the story of the other William Snowball Walker.
In the 1870s/1880s, The Hull Packet ran an annual Christmas guide to shopping in Hull ("Christmastide in Hull by the Wandering Jew") always featuring in Lowgate:
"the establishment of the celebrated bride cake manufacturers, Messrs Walker, and of them it is sufficient to say that those on marital thoughts intent cannot do better than pay this noted house a visit before taking that final step which leads to the altar of Hymen" (20 December 1878)
"Just opposite the Town Hall, Mrs Isabella Walker has a very fine show of bride cakes and Christmas delicacies. For these, Messers Walker have been famed time out of mind. Persons about to marry usually get a good deal of advice of one sort and another; but we have little hesitation in recommending Messrs Walker in the matter of bride cakes. You may marry at haste and repent at leisure, but there is one thing that will not be repented of - a visit to the bride cake establishment of Lowgate." (23 December 1880)
"How any bride can be happy without a bride cake from Mrs Walker's the W.J cannot conceive. Some of the cakes weigh as much as 40lbs. Finer cakes in England there are not. (22 December 1882)
Postcript - Buszards
As a postscript, there is an amusing account of buying mince pies from Buszard The Clink of the Ice by the American humorist Eugene Field (1850-1895)
"And I know where mince pies can be bought," said Harry Dam. "I understand that there is but one caterers in town where satisfaction is guaranteed. That is Buszard s in Oxford Street."
"I do not know that I particularly fancy that name," remarked Colonel Reid. "Buszard is a significant, not to say an ominous, name; as one who has always been loyal to the eagle, I object to Buszard."
"But really, colonel," expostulated Tom Fielders, "Buszard is the swell caterer of London; for years he has pandered to the royal household and to the nobility, and his shop is regarded hereabouts as the Mecca for all in quest of sapid, succulent, and savory viands. If anybody can make a mince pie, Buszard can. The result of the talk was that we all became highly enthusiastic on the subject of Buszard's mince pies, and when Cowen and I left the cheerful bachelor chambers we proceeded forthwith to Buszard's shop, a somewhat pretentious shop in Oxford Street just off Regent. The show-windows were filled with divers-colored confections, the tables were covered with truculent-looking puddings and cakes, and the atmosphere was laden with a perfume as of boiling maple sap.
It was our misfortune to fall into the clutches of a sallow-faced young man wearing a checkered suit of clothes, a dark-red neck tie, and a head of coarse black hair larded down with odoriferous bears grease, one of those garrulous young chappies who know it all and tell more. He assured us that "we" could make a mince pie he called it "poy"; he knew what a genuine American mince pie was, had often made them for Americans, and would guarantee entire satisfaction.
Miserable dupes that we were, we trusted the loquacious cockney. How much would a pie, a genuine American mince pie, with real apples and real meat in it, cost us? We were some what startled when he answered half a guinea. We told him that this was simple extortion nay, the equivalent of $2.65 for a mince pie was unadulterated robbery! Why, in Potter Palmer's conscienceless restaurant in Chicago the finest native mince pie cost only $1, and that included melted cheese on top, and a genuine Senegambian prince at the side to serve it on hot plates. We rebelled against half a guinea as a man would take up arms against the iron heel of oppression. The garrulous young cockney then said that "we" would consult with the manager, and he disappeared through a swinging door, only to return presently to announce sententiously that seven and six was the very, very lowest price for which the pie could be provided. Fancying that we could do no better, we paid the low-browed robber that amount of money and bade him send the pie to our lodgings upon Thanksgiving afternoon, not later than three o clock, Greenwich time.
At the appointed hour, surely enough, the goods (you see I speak cautiously) were delivered in an oblong box, which, upon examination, was found to contain a dish, and in the dish was the pie, or rather a pie, still warm. The dish was oval in shape, ten inches long and four inches in depth. I asked the servant if she knew what it was. "Yes, sir; it s a Yorkshire pudding," said she. "Put it away," said I.
Billy Knox and J. L. Sclanders, old news paper co-workers from Chicago, dined with us. "Now, boys," said I, at last, "I've got a surprise for you"; and the servant produced the Buszard's mince "poy." I thought we were going to have mince pie?" said Cowen. "So we are," said I. "Ah, it s to come later?" "No, this is it." "That isn't a mince pie," expostulated Cowen; "that's a pudding. Nobody ever saw a mince pie served in a bowl!" "But it is a mince pie," I insisted. "The leading London caterer made it; and it must be good."