The History of Charlbury through ....a tin trunk of treasures
Sue Rangeley for Charlbury Museum
In 2016, Adrian and Andrea Lack donated Henry Allen’s old tin trunk to the museum. Who could have guessed what a treasure trove of ephemera lay inside: a unique archive of ledgers, billheads, letters, trade catalogues. A fascinating insight into the world of a Charlbury draper in the Victorian and Edwardian eras; the trunk’s contents had remained undisturbed for over 100 years in the attic of The Old Drapery, Church Street where the Lacks had been living. These interesting documents inspired two exhibitions in: Charlbury Museum (2017) and The Oxfordshire Museum (2018).
Henry Allen’s association with the drapery trade first appears in the 1851 census, when he was 15. Three generations of his family had been tailors in Charlbury; during the 18th century, his great, grand-father, William worked as a tailor and stay-maker (corset-maker). Henry took over the draper’s shop in Church Street in 1871, after his father died. In 1888, there were major alterations to the premises; by 1894 it was a flourishing emporium on three floors selling garments, shoes, hosiery, hats, fancy trimmings, fabrics, offering bespoke tailoring and mourning attire.
The hundreds of traders’ bill heads reveal the lost world of the great textile warehouses of London, Manchester, the mills of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Derbyshire. Famous names appear on invoices: Dr.Jaeger (wool -jersey long johns): Horrockses (printed cotton fabrics); Gamages (motoring & cycling clothes); Cash’s of Coventry (ribbons). Henry Allen purchased his stock from all over the country, which arrived at Charlbury Station each week. Local suppliers provided other goods such as blankets (Crawley Mills); work wear: ‘navies vests’, ‘grooms cord trousers’ (Clarkes of Abingdon); fashions from Elliston & Cavell, Oxford.
Some of the most illuminating information is found in the ledgers (1880s), inscribed across the pages are detailed entries of Allen’s customers . Local names from Charlbury’s past : Albright, Gomm, Horniblow, Kench, Kibble, Lainchbury, Price, sit next to shopping lists for Lord and Lady Churchill of Cornbury Park. Local dressmakers bought haberdashery, fabrics and sewing machines. Henry Allen supplied Charlbury with every fashion and household item: from the latest ‘dermathistic corset made to order’ to a humble dish cloth!
To delve into the Henry Allen archive is pure pleasure for a textile enthusiast or historian. One enters a poetic language of long vanished fabrics and fashions: aigrettes, cretonne, dolmans,… plush, polonaise,…..sarsnet, swansdown,.. ulsters , zephyrs. An A –Z of intrigue to inspire!