“Live more like princes”: The Dalbiacs in Spital Square

In 1776 Susannah Dalbiac was not living in Spitalfields.  When she wrote her diary, her family were first living in Bookham in Surrey and then in Wanstead, north east of London.  They moved around with surprising frequency but it is exciting to realise that her family still had a strong connection to Spitalfields.

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Built in London: Beekman Family coach, ca. 1770. Wood, iron, paint. New-York Historical Society, Gift of Gerard Beekman, New York Historical Society Museum & Library

In Natalie Rothstein’s research,  The silk industry in London, 1702-1766, Thesis (MA), University of London 1961, a fantastic resource, and now available to read online, she quotes a discussion concerning the controversy over the depression in the weaving industry in the 1760s, where the master weavers’ immense wealth allowed them to own coaches, country seats and liveried servants. The general weaving industry may have been in depression, but this world of master weavers, who were said to “live more like princes” (more like princes than weavers, presumably) would have been Susannah’s corner of this world. Perhaps her Papa and Mama going out in the Phaeton – the Porsche of the day – illustrates their accumulated wealth.  See Susannah’s mention of this in the middle of the page here:

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(c) 2018 mcsnairne

And here is a picture of a Phaeton where you can see how elegant a vehicle it was:

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Two Ladies taking an airing in a phaeton – The Gallery of Fashion, August 1794. Wikimedia Commons

From their arrival as refugees in the late 17th century, three generations of Dalbiacs lived in Spitalfields for a span of approximately 100 years .  Through the 1700s they occupied No.s 7, 8, 9 and 20 Spital Square (all now demolished), in some of the grandest of the silk weavers’ houses which were built in the early 18th century.  lost_0001

In 1776, Susannah’s uncle, James Dalbiac, and her grandmother, Lucy Dalbiac, were certainly still there and she visited Spital Square a number of times, mentioning staying at her grandmother’s (at No.9) and visiting her uncle (at No. 20). Lucy Dalbiac must have lived in Spital Square for around 50 years by the time she died in April 1776 – one of the last members of an original master weaver refugee family to have lived there continuously – and her Will shows that she left sums of money to 3 local French Huguenot-based charities. On Thursday 29th April 1776, Susannah visits London and notes, “We slept at Grandmama’s & Papa & Mama at Mrs Jourdans.”

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(c) 2018 mcsnairne

The family’s Huguenot refugee story is that, after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, two small Protestant Dalbiac boys were smuggled into England hidden in a hamper.  From records it appears that one Scipion Dalbiac is the first Dalbiac mentioned as a member of the London weaving industry – in 1698 he is recorded as having “9 looms”.  I think Scipion was the father of the two little boys, one also named Scipion and the other named Jacques, and their names were then anglicised: Scipion to Simon and Jaques to James.

As Master Weavers, the Dalbiacs appear to have concentrated on ‘silk and velvet’ and the ‘Black Branch’ of the silk industry, flourishing through the mid-18th century and perhaps doing well when their colleagues languished as the Dalbiacs benefitted from the increase in public mournings and therefore the requirement for mourning dress but also because the black silks were simpler to weave but could still command high prices. Indeed, on Saturday 6th April, 2 days after her Grandmother died, Susannah noted, “Went to town with Papa, Uncle and Aunt Lamotte and Cousin Louise who was so good as to bespeak some mourning for us, Mama not being well enough. “

The Dalbiacs of Spitalfields

[The following is based on the text of family history research undertaken by the late Guy Hatfield, approximately 20 years ago, and kindly passed on to me by the Dalbiac family]

Susanna’s grandfather, James Dalbiac, was admitted to the Weavers Company as a Foreign Master in 1711 on the report of Simon Dalbiac – probably his brother.  His first premises were apparently in Brick Lane from which he moved in 1719-20.

We know that James was already living in Spital Square in 1720 for rioting journeymen weavers broke the windows of his house and, indeed, very nearly wrecked it during the great anti-calico campaign of 1719-21.  In a period of over seventy years only one other weaver aroused the journeymen to such fury! James Dalbiac was alleged by the journeymen to have said that they were an idle lot who did not want to work (for there was considerable unemployment at the time which was thought by the silk industry as a whole to be due to the increasing use and wear of printed calicoes, a rival cloth). He denied ever having said anything of the sort and, on the contrary, claimed he had subscribed to the costs of the bill to prohibit printed calicoes. Moreover, when everyone thought that the bill was going to become law in 1720, he had raised the wages of his windsters 2d in the £1 for winding silk (1).

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England’s Great Joy and Gratitude, c 1720, reproduced as Frontispice in E.Lipson, The History of the Woollen and Worsted Industries (1921), The University of Manchester Library

The lessons we can deduce from this episode are firstly, that James had prospered greatly since his admission to the Company, for the move from Brick Lane to Spital Square was a distinct social advance. Moreover, he must have had a large and important business for the journeymen weavers to have singled him out and for the Court to have decided to investigate the “riot at Mr Dalbiac’s”. On the other hand, since no-one else provoked the journeymen and no-one else exercised his right to summon a Full Court in the period, let alone present a long justification of his behaviour, one suspects James Dalbiac was a quarrelsome man.

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20 Spital Square, London. Demolished c.1964.

He moved from No.7 to No.20 Spital Square by 1727 to an elegant house illustrated in the Survey of London volume on Spitalfields (2). His standing locally may be deduced from the fact that with the designer and weaver John Vansommer and the mercer Nicholas Jourdain he signed the declaration of Trust for the French Church of the Artillery Ground. He also became a Trustee for the Norton Folgate Court House in 1744. Of his public zeal there is no doubt for he offered one of the largest contingents of men in 1745 to serve against the Young Pretender – 80.

One suspects that the Weavers Company had mixed feelings about him. They did not try to recruit him for the Livery until 1740 and he was never invited to serve on the multifarious committees which dealt with the various economic matters affecting the weaving trades at the time – the import of foreign silks, the use of printed fabrics, the passing of the Manchester Act in 1736 etc. In 1740 the Company resolved that any freeman of the Company whether or not free of the City of London could be elected to the Livery, a device which recruited many not very willing Huguenots and saved the Company’s finances. James Dalbiac was thus recruited.

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Jaques (James) Dalbiac Snr with James and Charles Dalbiac, perhaps dressed in their own silk velvet  

James appeared before the Court of Assistants in January 1747 to complain bitterly about the drawbacks given on foreign wrought silks and velvets when they were re-exported to the West Indies and other colonies. The vehemence with which he presents his argument suggests that he either exported to the West Indies himself or sold silks for export to that market. To judge from the length of the report, the Court listened to him very carefully. They then asked him for some figures to support his case and for money to support the application to Parliament which he wanted made. As he offered neither, he was asked to go away and produce the figures at a private court as soon as he could do so but, oddly enough, there is nothing further in the Court Books. Perhaps the contribution they also expected deterred him. When he died in 1749, he was described as “an eminent black silk weaver reputed to have died very rich”. (3).

His two sons, James and Charles Dalbiac, advertised from their address in Spital Square from 1749-1778.  These two brothers married two sisters: the Gentleman’s Magazine reported the wedding of Mr James Dalbiac junior of Spital Square to a daughter of Mr Peter Devisme of Hamburg, merchant, “with £5000” (4) while in 1759 Charles Dalbiac of Spital Square “Esq” (a term used sparingly at this time) was reported to have married a Miss Devisme of Clapham (5). James and Charles Dalbiac advertised in Mortimer’s Directory of 1763 as weavers of silk and velvet but they must still have continued in their father’s speciality for they signed the earliest surviving trades union agreement (6) in the industry in 1769 in the Black Branch (there was a previous List of Prices agreed in 1763 but not a single copy has been traced). James was a trustee under the local act of 1759 (7). In 1779 the house in Spital Square passed to another owner, presumably signalling the moment when the Dalbiacs finally moved up and away from their original place of refuge.

Another branch of the family also settled in London was headed by Simon Dalbiac, who introduced James to the Weavers Company in 1711. Because of the somewhat conservative habits of the Huguenots when giving Christian names, this Simon was presumably the father of Simon Dalbiac who advertised with him from No.8 Spital Square from 1749-55 and later.

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The Fellow ‘Prentices at their Looms, 1747, by William Hogarth

Simon Dalbiac junior offered 25 men in 1745, a respectable offer even if outshone by that made by Captain James Dalbiac. Moreover, their firm bought £218 12s 6d of raw silk on their own account from the Bosanquets in 1759 (8). The smaller firms would have obtained their silk, possibly even ready thrown, through a silkman, while only the more substantial firms under-took all the capital risks themselves. One of the Dalbiac companies ultimately joined forces with a member of the Barbutt family for there is a bill dating from 1771 for bombazine bought by Thomas Fletcher of Stafford from Dalbiac, Barbutt & Co. Barbutt was, incidentally another family associated with the weaving of black silks from earlier in the century. (See Guy Hatfield’s notes below)

In fact, James and Charles dissolved their company in 1780 with James (Susannah’s uncle, now aged 60) continuing with his son, also called James, as there is a printed leaflet announcing:

The Partnership between James Dalbiac and Sons, of Spital-square, Merchants, being dissolved by mutual consent, Notice is hereby given, that the Business will in future be carried on by the said James Dalbiac and James Dalbiac, jun. who are to receive and discharge all Debts owing to and due from the said late Partnership.

Other Spitalfields properties associated with the family:

12 Fournier Street:

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12 Fournier Street, (c) mcsnairne 2018

Susannah’s older first cousin, Louise Lamotte, who features many times in the diary as CL (Cousin Louise) married the Reverend Benjamin Houssemaine Du Boulay.  British History Online records that: “In 1759 and 1766 the house was occupied by the ‘Rev. Mr. Dubeloy’, probably the Benjamin Du Boulay who was a minister of the French Church in Threadneedle Street, and probably Fournier Street, in 1752–65.” He died relatively young, leaving his widow to move back to Wanstead to live either with or near her parents, Mr and Mrs Jean Lagier Lamotte.

 

37 Spital Square

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37 Spital Square, (c) mcsnairne 2018

Susannah mentions Mr Gallie, a surgeon, who lived in 36 or 37 Spital Square, twice in her diary. He visits her stepmother after she has given birth. It is clear from Susannah’s short daily notes that her mother is not completely well after having her baby, and Sir John Silvester, an elderly but eminent doctor, connected to the French Protestant Hospital (La Providence), also visits her a number of times and they all pay a visit his house. It is possible that Susannah’s own mother died in childbirth (at the age of 35) and I imagine that her father was determined to get the best possible medical attention for his young, second wife, to ensure she was in no danger after childbirth.

 

58 Artillery Lane

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58 Artillery Lane, (c) mcsnairne 2018

This house, with its splendid 18th century shop front, was occupied by the Jourdain family until at least 1772.  British History Online relays the following: “Nicholas Jourdain, the lessee of both houses in 1756 and occupant of No. 58, was elected a Director of the French Protestant Hospital of ‘La Providence’ in 1749 and one of the Governors of the Spitalfields workhouse in 1754. In 1755 and 1763 he appears to have had a partner named De Gron, and in 1772 another named Rich. His connexion with No. 58 seems to have ended shortly after 1772, when he was perhaps in financial difficulty as his will, made on 1 September 1784 and proved on 18 July 1785, describes him as formerly of Spitalfields, mercer, but then of Morden College on Blackheath.”

 

BHL doesn’t mention that Bailey’s Northern Directory has “Dalbiac, Charles, Barbut, and Jourdan, weavers, Spital Square” listed for 1781. They were clearly close friends of Susannah’s father as the Jourdains are mentioned by her a couple of times, once when she says that her parents sleep at “Mrs Jourdain’s” for the night and once when Mr and Mrs Jourdain come for dinner.  Could Susannah’s parents have stayed the night at 58 Artillery Lane?  It’s a nice thought.

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Trade card for Nicholas Jourdain’s neighbour, Francis Rybot. ©Trustees of the British Museum.
[Guy Hatfield’s notes]
1. Guildhall Weavers Company MSS A.1.3. No.64. This is the printed affidavit of James Dalbiac and his additional declaration – but it also gives a lot of information about him. The Court Books of the Weavers Company are also in the Guildhall Library.
2. LCC Survey of London edited by Ison and Bezodis Vol.XXVII Spitalfields and Mile End New Town pp.62-63. In this excellent volume the editors have given much information about the people who lived in the houses they described but in this case they did not realise that Captain James died in 1749 and have assigned all the civic offices to him.
3. BM, Burney collection Penny London Post or Morning Advertiser March 22-24 1749. He did not apparently leave a will and his widow “Lucy” = Louise, was granted the Administration of his property.
4. Gentleman’s Magazine Vol.XVI p.38 July 24 – the wedding took place at Lee in Kent according to the London Evening Post.
5. G.M. XXIX p.145 March 12 1759 The G.M. p.606 reported the death of a Mr Devisme on December 15, but he was John Devisme, brother of Peter Devisme.
6. Patent Office Library photocopy in V&A. The List of Prices were the piece-rates agreed for the different kinds of material in each Branch.
7. Survey of London, p.61.
8. Account Book 1758-64. Bills and Promissory Notes for bales of silk. The property of Lady Bosanquet of Dingestow Court.
9. National Records Office; PCC (Prerogative Court of Canterbury)

What did Susannah do all day?: PART I – Tea and Sustenance

In François de La Rochefoucauld’s travel memoir, Mélanges sur l’Angleterre, originally written in 1784, de La Rochefoucauld says that

“The drinking of tea is general throughout England…It gives the rich an opportunity to show off their fine possessions: cups, tea-pots, etc., all made to the most elegant designs, all copies of the Etruscan and the antique. It is also the custom for the youngest daughter or the lady of the house to make the tea.”  (The Boydell Press. Translated by Norman Scarfe. 1988)

Here, then, is Susannah, the younger daughter, on 1st January, 1776, writing:

(c) M. Nairne

“Mama & Lucy drank tea at Mrs Martin’s. I stayed at home to make tea for Papa and Cousin James”.

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Susannah’s diary tells us that her family ate Breakfast, Dinner and Supper plus they followed a daily ritual of drinking tea. Susannah never once refers to anything that they ate. At her age and in her social situation, the provision of food was clearly organised by someone else or she might have mentioned it, but it also leads me to think that perhaps their food was repetitive and un-noteworthy. Or might it have been bad manners to mention food? However, Susannah’s constant mention of dinner and tea, and the reliable rhythm created by these, must have leant stability to her daily life.

A Regency family at breakfast

Breakfast: is mentioned twice as a specific meal first thing in the morning. The contents of breakfast seems to have varied between town and country but would probably have consisted of bread and butter and perhaps jams and marmalade. Eggs and cold meat are another common theme for breakfast.

Dinner: the main meal of the day – was eaten sometime between 3 and 5pm. The meal might consist of 3 courses, the first chiefly meat, the second a combination of meats and puddings, followed by fruit and sweetmeats. In 1781, James Woodforde in his Diary of a Country Parson gave a dinner which, although he lived in the country, may give an idea of what the Dalbiac family ate, consisting of:

“A Couple of  Chicken boiled and a Tongue, a Leg of Mutton boiled and Capers and Batter Pudding for the first Course, Second, a couple of Ducks roasted and green Peas, some Artichokes, Tarts and Blancmange. After dinner, Almonds and Raisins, Oranges and Strawberries, Mountain and Port Wines.”

Susannah refers to “Dinner” or where they or someone else “Din’d” 57 times but only once refers to the actual time when on 9th March she noted

 Papa and Mama came home to dinner at 5 o’clock”

Perhaps this was rather late in the day for dinner and therefore noteworthy.

Tea: came after Dinner : see below

Supper: which was much smaller and eaten later in the evening.

TEA

Unknown 18th-Century British Artist, A Tea Party

Susannah mentioned “tea” 77 times in the days between 1st January and 6th July and the drinking of tea was obviously a key moment on every day of the week.

Here is a week when she mentioned tea every day:

(c) M. Nairne

 

Tea at home:

Writing her diary at the age of 14, there is an implied significance to the fact that Susannah has stayed behind specifically to make the tea for her father and cousin.

Still Life, Tea Set by Jean Etienne Leotard. lido.getty.edu-gm-obj854

A certain amount of equipment had to be acquired for the proper taking of tea including a tea table, a tea kettle, a tea caddy, a tea pot, a tea strainer, tea cups, a slops bowl and probably a milk jug and sugar bowl, and I feel sure that Susannah must have enjoyed the responsibility of presiding over the tea table.

Jonathan Tyers and his family by Francis Hayman, 1740 National Portrait Gallery UK Accession Number NPG5588
Jonathan Tyers and his family by Francis Hayman, 1740 National Portrait Gallery UK Accession Number NPG5588

By the 1770s they would mostly likely have been drinking black tea (such as Bohea, Congou, Pekoe or Souchong), all imported from China by the British East India Company, who by the 1760s, along with the Dutch East India Company, were importing 720 tonnes into Europe each year. Tea was still an expensive commodity but the diary leaves you in no doubt as to its social and domestic importance for Susannah’s family and friends. Was it the best time of the day for Susannah and Lucy? After the formality of Dinner, was it a chance for them to sit round chatting with their cousins without any obligation to read difficult sermons or do their sewing? I am a great tea drinker and I wonder if they were all a bit dependent on the caffeine too!

Susannah noted either who she or her parents were with and/or where she or her parents were – often different places with different people – but she notes it anyway, thereby giving some emphasis to the occasion each day. For her father, tea time may have been either an important part of his business day or a chance to socialise with friends. He has tea with a whole list of different people and I don’t know how typical this was, but Susannah’s father often appears to socialise with his business partners. He was in business as a “Silk Weaver” with his brother James Dalbiac, referred to by Susannah as “Uncle Dalbiac”, as well as a Mr Barbut and Mr Jourdan, as referenced in Bailey’s Northern Directory, published in 1781, both of whom he takes tea with (and on other occasions even stays the night with).

Out for tea:

On Tuesday 28th May, Susannah wrote:

In the Evening Uncle, Aunt CK, CM, Papa, Mama, Lucy & Me went to see Luxborough House. Drank Tea there.

Luxborough House, Chigwell, Essex. Inscribed: ”J.Prattent delt. et Sculp”. Essex Record Office, via Wikimedia Commons

Luxborough House was the seat of Admiral Sir Edward Hughes and was a local stately home at Chigwell, very close to Wanstead. As in Pride and Prejudice, on Elizabeth Bennett’s Derbyshire tour when she visits Pemberley with her aunt and uncle, visiting stately homes was a popular pastime for the wealthier classes who expected to be allowed to tour the grounds and, if the owner was away, to be shown round the house by the housekeeper. Susannah makes a note of the fact that they “Drank tea there”, perhaps as they were well-to-do local residents, they were invited for more than just a tour of the house that day, or perhaps Admiral Sir Edward was at home, and he and Susannah’s father found a mutual acquaintance in Admiral Sir Francis Geary from Polesden Lacey.

The Boston Tea Party:

Boston Tea Party re-enactment. Boston, March 2017 (c) M. Nairne

I happen to have visited Boston earlier this year and was fascinated to read about the colonialists and some of the history of the colonies in the 18th century. Only 3 years earlier than Susannah’s diary, in 1773, the “Sons of Liberty” in Boston, under cover of darkness and disguised as native americans, got on to three ships in Boston harbour and destroyed and threw overboard 340 chests of tea. The harbour apparently smelt for weeks. An estimate suggests that this was the equivalent of approximately 18,523,000 cups of tea and a loss to the British East India Company of $1,700,000 in today’s money. The colonialists were protesting against taxes imposed by Britain and the destruction of the tea was both a symbolic act and the cause of great financial damage, and was a key instigator of the beginning of the American War of Independence.

Having researched tea-drinking in the mid-late 18th century and got a feeling for both its social and political significance, my conclusion about Susannah’s obsession with tea is, that although I wish Susannah had made even the smallest reference to food, it would have been much more surprising if she had never mentioned the word “tea”.

Susannah and her sister’s tea times are highly sociable: on most days they meet up with their extended family but also often with friends. The Dalbiacs were originally city dwellers but even in their suburban homes in Surrey and Essex, they had friends and family living close by and the daily time for drinking tea allowed them to fulfil their other obligations earlier in the day (which I will look at in a further Post) whilst entertaining themselves, their families and friends, and leading amazingly busy and active lives.

Child’s miniature tea set