STILES & STYLES of Thrandeston Suffolk & Islington London England
150 Years in Islington
An address given by WILLIAM KENSETT STYLES on 16th April 1934 to the Islington Art Society
I have been asked to read a short paper on the history of our Family at Islington, and I propose to take the lives of four men and one boy in turn, five consecutive generations The first one was John Styles, the second son William Jeyes Styles, the third his great grandson William Kensett Styles, and the fifth his great-great grandson William De Tongres Styles. All of whom lived in Islington at some time in their lives.
To begin with, John in the year 1773 at a remote hamlet in Suffolk called Thrandeston, but pronounced in that district ‘Thrawnson’, a young man named married a young woman named Mary Wharton. Things in Suffolk were pretty bad at that time, as generally seem to have been, and some friend told him that if he wanted to make his fortune he should set up for himself as a carpenter in a in a village which was to the North of London, some way out, called Islington, and which was growing because of the number of persons retired there, and who were having big houses built there, and who died
and would require costly coffins.
As John Styles was celebrated coffin maker this last fact appears to have appealed to him as much and accordingly, in the year 1783, John Styles and his wife Mary, accompanied by a little maid who refused to leave them, took their places in the carrier’s cart after waiting on a convenient grassy patch (which still exists on the Norwich road) set forth for London.
Let us for moment, while they are travelling down the London road consider the affairs, politically at that time. Things were generally (except perhaps in Suffolk). We had just made peace with America, peace had been made between France and Spain and even while they were riding in the coach, a curious document was being drawn up, entitled ‘The Definitive Treaty of "Peace and Friendship, between His Britannic, Majesty The most Christian King, signed at Versailles on the 3rd September 1763, which recited that the two George the Third by the Grace of God, King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, Duke of Brunswick, and Luxembourg and Treasurer, and Elector of the Holy Roman etc., and the most Serene and most Potent Prince Louis the 16th, By the Grace of God the most Christian King, being mutually desirous of putting an end to the war, proceeded to do so. It is a curious document, because George, having called himself King of France, could not refer Louis as the King of France, but merely as ‘the most Christian King’, which apparently covered everything else he could possibly be.
John and Mary in due time, by slow degrees, arrived in Islington. and set up housekeeping in one of the small houses still standing In the courtyard opposite Tyndale Terrace, as it then was (now Tyndale between 191 & 192 Upper Street and this house the site of as authentic a ghost story as one can have It appears that, a few years after they settled there, one evening between 9.0 and 10.0 o'clock the having gone to bed early, as they did in those days, John Styles was awakened by a knocking or raping at the front door, and putting his head out of the window he saw that the person knocking was a woman dressed a bonnet and shawl, could make out in the dim light.
As she took no notice of his questions as to who she was and what she wanted, and persisted in continuing to knock, he called to the ‘Charlie’ or watchman, whom he heard going by in the Upper street is to come and see what the woman wanted, and, as he the carrying his lantern coming up the little passage (which anyone can see for themselves to this day is so narrow that you can touch it with your elbows as you walk up it), he went downstairs and unbolted the front door, to find, to his astonishment that there was nobody there. He asked the watchman to stand in the passage to anyone escaping, and borrowing his lantern went through the courtyard and the shed where he kept his ladders, paints and suchlike, but could find no one. Three or four days afterwards he learnt, by post, that his mother had come in from a walk, had sat down in her armchair still -with her bonnet and shawl on, and had died (as is the fashion in our family. with some rapidity') at or about the time when the figure had appeared rapping on his front door. John and Mary soon found themselves surrounded with a family of small children, and it is curious, in these days of theatres, cinemas and suchlike, to look back and see how poor folk used to amuse themselves in the evenings. Apparently they were still comparatively struggling, and could only afford one rush light candle, which of course, gave a very dim light, not enough to read by; and their amusement was for John and Mary to tell tales of old Suffolk, or to play alternately on the old fiddle, which was kept hanging in a baize bag at the back of the kitchen door, and to join in singing old Suffolk songs, such as ‘Gee up, Dobbin’. This fiddle was made on Old London Bridge and it is a tradition in the family that it has belonged to us ever since it was so made. One of these (John the second) was ultimately destined to become Dr John Styles the well-known parson and pamphleteer of Brighton who was thought worthy of mention in Nelson’s ‘Islington’ (Second Edition). Nelson also very kindly and patronizingly refers to John and Mary Styles as being "worthy people" in a footnote in the book. I have one rather amusing story of Dr Styles and our Society. At one of our shows I was pleased to be informed that amongst the exhibits would be a print of, Dr John. When I examined it at the show I found it was a picture of a strikingly handsome young man with black curly hair. Now Dr John at the time of the print was not so young, nor hand-some, nor was his hair black or curly. I asked for an explanation. The serial number was all right and no one could throw any light on the mystery. Months afterwards I heard the explanation. Wall space was short, and the pictures were framed with two in each frame back to back. Had I only turned it back to front all would have been well. Dr John was sup-posed to be a very clever man, but when I tell you he married three times you will join with me in doubting the statement.
As the Styles grew up they intermarried with various Islington families, notably the Tidmarsh’s, the Millard’s and, in the next generation, with the Dunhill’s, and I often wonder how much my cousin the celebrated Thomas Dunhill, the composer. Owes to ‘pre-natal influence’ and the old family fiddle. John Styles did not do very much good for himself financially, never having very much capital, until in a fortunate moment he was visited by a patron of his son William Styles, who had been working in Ireland as a journeyman carpenter at the castle of some well-known Lord (whose name unfortunately is not preserved'). Part of the work consisted of building a circular wooden case, and before this could be completed the architect died. Somebody told the noble Lord that young Styles was quite competent to finish the job by himself as he had Fade a scale model of the staircase in his spare time to amuse himself and on my grandfather being asked if he, could finish it he replied quite confidently that he could, and did. To his surprise, some time later they were visited at Islington by the noble Lord in question, who asked why they had not gone in for building houses themselves to which my great-grandfather replied that he had not got even the money for buying the ladders necessary for the work. Whereas his lordship said, ‘I will fit you out everything you want,' which he did, with the consequence that in a very' short time they were enabled to repay the loan and to move into the much larger double fronted houses’ backing on their own, in the Upper Street, which was, Wadden’s the hairdressers. One of my great grandfathers tales was that he was once held up between the Angel,' Islington and Sadler's Wells Theatre. He was a little man, but he had in his pocket a cherished meerschaum pipe in a case, which he promptly pulled out and snapped at the man's head as though it were a pistol. The man thinking it was a flintlock, which had mis-fired and might be snapped successfully a second time, promptly ran for his life. My great-grandfather died somewhere about the year 1832, in much the same manner as his mother had done before him, curling himself up for his last nap on, a sofa which my grandfather had made for him, and which I still have. He is buried in St Mary’s, Islington, and curious may see his tombstone to-day on the back the church, the inscription on which begins lies the body of John Styles, Carpenter, of this Parish," etc., etc.
Thus came grandfather William Styles on the scene to take possession of the larger business and the house. He was always (thanks perhaps to his early upbringing) very keen on music, but he shared my dislike for ‘the fiddle’ as he called it, preferring the 'cello and the double bass. He was a member of what was known, I believe, as ‘The Islington Harmonic Society', together with one ‘Birdseye’ a hairdresser who lived near him and other village worthies. My father told me that grandfather was very fond of Bach (which he would pronounce Batch to rhyme with Hatch) and he used to practice his part on the double-bass, whistling the treble air to himself (which only he could hear), while the whole house could hear the doleful strains of his accompaniment, and my Father has told me that he has sat on the stairs and cried for the very dolefulness of the noise. In 1840 my grandfather married for the second time, one Mary Anne Jeyes, the daughter of John Jeyes, once a prominent City merchant in oil and salt mostly who lived in Upper Thames Street of all places, where my grandmother was born. He was a person of some importance, resident magistrate for the Tower Hamlet, and it is told of him that he had the task of receiving all the French refugees who escaped and got to London by boat at the time of the French Revolution. The order was that all those unfortunate persons should be landed as, the Tower Steps and taken straight to his house in custody, where they were lined up for identification by their friends and relations who had reached here previously. There were sore very distressing scenes witnessed as they were all of them in rags and disguises arid most of then quite penniless. It was a difficult thing to know what to do with them, as they were not the sort of people to whom one could give money. The women set up as washerwomen mostly, to do the delicate work of laundering the elaborate frilled shirts the men of that period wore; but as regards the men it was much more difficult to find some excuse for giving then money. The City merchant did not want to learn fencing, and so one had to go through the form of asking the Frenchmen to teach the young ladies of the City deportment: how to come into a room, how to sit down on a chair, how to curtsey, how to bow and leave the room, and then two or three guineas were slipped into their hands coupled with the, warmest thanks for their valuable services, some of them drew for a living. My Father had an album with very erode drawings of ships and suchlike, signed by some of the noblest names of France, in his possession. John Jeyes had two children; and his son, John Jeyes the second, went into the service of the East India Company and died in India at a comparatively early age. When my great-grandfather Jeyes retired he went to live at Ilford, which was then, of course, a most salubrious country village, and his house was situated where The Ilford Photographic Plate Works now stand. The Islington family used to visit him, driving from Islington in a little pony chaise, which was kept in the stables still standing at the bottom of Purley Place a side turning off Park Street, and my Father has told me that after they left the bottom of Canonbury Lane and crossed the Essex Road, there were no more houses (that is to say rows of houses) until they got to Ilford. This was some where in the late ‘forties. My great-grandfather Jeyes was a most severe martinet On one occasion my Father, who was only about 4 or 5 years of age at the time, pulled down a backgammon board and spilt the draughtsmen on the floor. Great-grandfather at once rang the bell and ordered that his mother should take my father home, and I remember the shouts of laughter with which we greeted the story as my Father said he was wearing a white leghorn hat with an amber bow under the left ear, and when we looked at my Father with his long grey hair and grizzled moustache and beard, and tried imagine what he looked like with such a hat on, the results were absolutely disastrous. History repeated itself 30 years afterwards when I recounted to my family one of Rackshaw’s first customers, my Mother having carried me in there to buy a piece of red velvet to make me a bonnet. My irreverent youngsters greeted the information with shouts of laughter also.
I have always understood that my grandfather was at one time what we now speak of as a 'big noise the old Islington Vestry. It was due to him, so I have always understood, that the curious spectacle is presented in the Upper Street off four public buildings all in a row came to pass. If you will remember. The Old Vestry Hall (which now The Lido Picture Palace). The Police Station, Unity Church and the Fire Station all come in a row together side by side and the explanation that I was given was this:- It appears that, the ground - originally belonged to a man who went to Australia and subsequently vanished and was never heard of again. The ground lay derelict many years until my grandfather could bear it no longer, suggested that it should be 'borrowed' on behalf of the Parish until such time as the owner returned to claim it saying, that no private individual could possibly face the results of such an action, but that the Vestry had got no soul to be saved and no backside to be kicked' I remember also hearing his account of the finish of the old Toll Gates which stood at the junction of the High Street and Upper Street. When the appointed hour struck or was on the point of striking, a hansom cab came dashing up to be the last one to pay, as the hour actually struck the crowd rushed at the gates and fences and tore them to pieces. He also said he remembered that, before the City Road was made, numbers of people used collect at the Angel until there were 12 or 15 in number, and they walked down to the City in a solid body over the Finsbury fields, making as much noise as they could, to persuade any possible footpads that they were a really larger party than they actually were. A very interesting character, who was a friend of my grandfather, was one F.J.Minasi. He was, at that time, a schoolmaster, his school being situated in the road running up by the side of the Agricultural Hall, the school house itself standing at the back of what was recently Huntsman's shop. He was a most amusing old chap, and told me, with great glee that when he ran for Islington Vestry as a young man against my grandfather, my grandfather said he admired his 'something' cheek, but that he would not get the seat until he had finished with it, and then he was welcome to it. I remember the awe with which I regarded Mr Minasi when I was a small boy. He was a little man with a very big nose, and all his life was known as 'Old Beak'. I could never have believed then that in future years I would come to regard him with affection. He had a strong bump of humour, and I remember on one occasion when as a very small boy they had given me the only possible remaining prize they could at prize-giving, which was the good conduct prize, and I came up plus a most glorious black eye to take it, the Vicar of Islington, who was presenting the prizes, looked at me in dismay and said In a very audible aside "Is his conduct really good?" and I heard 'Old Beak ’ say in an equally loud aside, ‘His Father is a Baptist Minister, but I fear he favours his Grandfather, who was anything but one.’ There is a story told of Minasi that he forbade any of his scholars to patronise any of the ‘penny gaffs’, which flourished at the time of the World’s Fair on the opposite side of the Upper Street, ‘fat women’, and the like. One day he called up certain of the boys by name, accused then of patronizing the shows and soundly flogged them. He told me afterwards that he caught them out (he being an ardent astronomer) by going on to the, roof of the schoolhouse with his big celestial telescope directed on to the booths right across the Upper Street and taking the names of the boys as they entered, and came out. One of Mr Minasi’s enterprises was to found the Islington Gazette. My grandfather must have done very well for himself because he practically retired from business in 1840 Then he married my grandmother, and he went to live at what is now 28, College Street, Islington, which backed on the Old Church Missionary College, which was originally a famous house marked on the maps as 'Esquire Harvey’s’. There in the year 1842 my Father was born, and perhaps for a moment we may digress and consider the political state of affairs in that year as we did before.
Things had altered very much since the year 1783. In the year 1842 the King of Prussia came to England was Godfather to the 'Prince of Wales; Sir Robert Peel was pressing the repeal of duties, on articles of consumption, and wanted to institute the income tax, an idea for which he has been soundly cursed by many thousands of people ever since. An attempt was made to shoot the Queen in that year; the Serfs in Russia were emancipated in that year, and Arnold of Rugby and the Marquis of Wellesley (better known as the 'Iron Duke)died. My Father had no vocation 'or either carpentry or building, and. I imagine, to my grandfather's horror, became a schoolmaster, and ultimately a Baptist Minister. My first memories of him as such are at Providence Chapel, in Upper Street (which is now I believe occupied by the British Legion, but the courtway or alley up which it is situated is called Providence Place'). It was attended largely by the local shopkeepers and suchlike and his Principal Deacon was John Andrews Haslop, whose name one is glad to see preserved over his shop in the Upper Street, although he has been dead, unfortunately, for many years. He was the 'Harmoniumist' of the Chapel also. My Father continued to live in the old house at 28 College Street after my grandfather's death, who died a few months before I was born, in 1874. My Father was the only one of us to go outside London for a wife, my Mother having come from High Wycombe. So not only are we now five generations of Londoners, but we are, with the exception of my Mother, Cockneys on both sides, and in defiance of the tradition that the third generation of Cockneys inevitably dies out I must say that every one us has been at least 2 inches taller than his Father, my great-grandfather having been a little man of about 5 feet 6 inches in height, my grandfather having been 2 inches taller than that, my, Father having been 5 feet 10 inches, and I stand 6 feet. One, at least, of my sons bids fair to be taller than I am.
To revert again for a moment to F J Minasi I was somewhat amused when I joined The Islington Historical Society to find that he had almost become a legend or myth. They were very proud of the fact that they had some letters of his in his own handwriting about and asked me if I had ever heard of him. When I told them that I attended his school when I was such a little chap that I was hardly as tall as his table, and had years afterwards subsequently gone there for a year when I became Head Boy, and sat the identical table for special tuition, they appeared somewhat amazed. Of the five generations of us three have actually been born in Islington, one in the Upper Street and two in College Street in the same house. I remember one soft night in June when the wind was in the South West and rain about, my Father carrying me up to the top room of our home at 1 College Street (this was about the year 1881) and telling me to look over towards the Agricultural Hall and listen. (In those days there was only one storey to the old Islington High School in Barrisbury Street and one could see for miles South)' from the top storey from the houses. Presently the bells of the City began to chime, and Father said, ‘No, not that, not that one. NOW! Those are Bow Bells, and always remember you were born a Cockney within the sound of Bow Bells. I will conclude by relating the remark of a friend of mine who knew me well enough to be rude, who when I told him last year that it was our, 150th year in Islington remarked, 'I don't see that proves anything, except perhaps that the tradesmen in Islington must be singularly complaisant.
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