Saturday 29 February 2020


Just because you can never have too many pictures of beautiful Dinan. 

This town in Brittany, built on a hillside above the Rance river, has buildings from every period back to the middle ages. They offer an endlessly enchanting combination of stone, ironwork, and half-timbering.

Saturday 22 February 2020

London scales, York merchants

In York's Merchant Adventurers' Hall is a fine pair of scales, dated 1790. As well as the year, they also have the maker's details: De Grave London fecit [De Grave London made]. 

The scales were essential to the Merchant Adventurers, traders who [ad]ventured their money investing in overseas trade; many were mercers (cloth traders). As a guild company, they used their hall to transcact business from their founding in the fourteenth century. They also performed a regulatory function, regularly checking the city's scales and goods against standard weights and measures to ensure fairness. 

Charles De Grave had gone into business making scales in about 1767 and was still running the company when these scales went to York. 1790 was also the year he married his second wife Mary; she must have been younger than him, because she took over the business after his death in 1799 and remained in charge until her death in about 1840. The couple's son had joined as an apprentice in 1806, and in 1817 the business became known as Mary De Grave and Son; it was based at 59 St Martin's le Grand. That location was fortuitous: the General Post Office headquarters were established on the same street in 1829, and their proximity perhaps helped De Grave become the suppliers of post office scales. Other notable customers included the Exchequer, the Assay Office, and the Royal Mint; De Grave also manufactured scales to weigh everything from diamonds to jockeys. The company remained in the family - although the year after Mary's death, the firm became De Grave, Short and Co, and later De Grave, Short and Fanner - until it was taken over by Avery in 1922.

Saturday 1 February 2020

Ghost signs (140): Portsea ghost

Above Demon Dave's barber in Bishop Street, Portsmouth are the faded remnants of a ghost sign. Having been painted over, it's difficult to decipher. However, there are some important clues: 
It's tempting to take that first word and assume that this sign advertised a general stores. However, a search for the most likely proper name revealed a rather different business - and one with a long history. 

W Treadgold and Co Ltd of Bishop Street were iron merchants, in business from the nineteenth century until 1988. In 1816, William Treadgold had been left the property by his uncle, blacksmith John Jones. Three years later he died and his brother John had taken over the ironmongery business. John's son William was responsible for much of the business's development from the 1860s. It expanded from a general inronmongers' store to include forges and a warehouse along with the shop, stables, and house. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Treadgolds described themselves as 'iron and steel merchants' as well as ironmongers.

Although they were not a naval business, the Treadgolds were affected by the Navy's presence in the city. The population grew significantly during the nineteenth century - there were five times as many residents in 1901 as in 1801 - increasing demand for their products. Located in Portsea, near the naval dockyard, the Treadgolds were at the heart of the city's economy. Many of their customers were businesses including the main local builders. They also supplied government contractors and sold agricultural equipment. By the 1870s, they were supplying pipework and steam fittings to major buildings including the Royal Naval Club and the Royal Portsmouth, Portsea and Gosport Hospital.

From the 1920s, declines in naval dockyard employment saw corresponding decline in the local eonomy, which also affected the Treadgolds. There was also increasing competition from other areas of the city, such as Southsea and Landport. After the Second World War, new housing was also located further out from Portsea. The Treadgold family ceased to own the business after the death of Miss Beatrice Treadgold in 1947, and it declined as it became increasingly old-fashioned. Nonetheless, it contined for another forty years until it was sold to Portsmouth County Council in 1988. The sign - battered, faded, and obscured - has endured longer still.