John Brown (1808-1878) and Margaret Stolker Pattison (1812-1864)
John and Margaret were from very different families and it is interesting to speculate as to how they met and whether their parents got on well together. Margaret’s parents were from Tynemouth in Northumberland, where her father, Thomas, was a master mariner. Shortly after their first child, John, was born there in 1808, they took the decision to move nearly three hundred miles down to Stepney in London, where Margaret and her younger brother Frances were born. Thomas continued as a mariner and there is nothing to show what prompted such a long journey, but he would have needed his boat to earn a living, so it seems possible that he sailed down the East coast with his young wife. That would have been a difficult with a young baby, so John may have died before they set off.
Economic necessity may have been the reason for Thomas Pattison’s move, but John Brown’s father, Thomas Leonard Brown, was doing well financially. He was a currier, a skilled trade which had probably involved serving an apprenticeship, possibly with his father, as it was a trade that often ran in families. Curriers formed the link between the tanners who scraped, limed and tanned the animal skins, and the craftsmen who made the final product. Their work involved softening the leather by washing and scrubbing it once it had been stretched on special racks. The skins, which might be from ox, cow, goat, sheep, pig, deer, or even squirrel and rabbit, would then be worked on with special knives that drew out the rest of the tanning fluid and made the surface smooth and even. The first part of the process was physically demanding, but the smoothing and shaving were more delicate, and if the cuts went too deep the whole hide would be ruined. Once trimmed to a suitable size and thickness, the currying process would start where dubbin, a mixture of beef tallow and fish oil, would be massaged into the leather to make it flexible, before the final staining and polishing brought out the grain.
Thomas may have been a good currier, but he made his money by setting up a business where others could do much of the work. He also produced goods with the leather, such as saddles, harnesses, buckets, pipes and hoses, and didn’t just prepare the skins. The business was based in the city – in the 1820s it was Bishopsgate, but it later moved to Cripplegate – but the family eventually lived a little further North which would have been more pleasant area for the three children to grow up in. As one might expect, Thomas’ son, John, became a currier too, and joined his father’s firm, which began trading under the name “Thomas L Brown and Son” once John had qualified. Surprisingly neither of them appears to have been members of the Worshipful Company of Curriers, as Thomas joined the Carpenters and, in 1830, John became a freeman at the Haberdashers.
A leather fire bucket similar to those made by John Brown
John Brown as Master of the Habedashers
In 1832 John married Margaret Pattison. She was only nineteen at the time, still a minor, so they married by license with her father’s consent. That consent came only weeks before her father died – perhaps the timing of the marriage was linked to an illness – so he did not live to see any of his grandchildren. Margaret’s mother and brother, Frances, lived nearby, and appear to have had enough money to live without either needing to work.
The currier business continued to grow and Thomas started to buy property with his money, whilst he, and increasingly John, were also involved in the local community. Thomas served on juries, was a Land Tax Commissioner and helped with local almshouses, and John was working his way up the hierarchy in the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers. John’s family life was more troubled: he and Margaret had three healthy daughters, but their second son had died when a baby and then their elder son, named Thomas Leonard after his grandfather, died when only eight. There would be no son to take over the business.
Although Thomas was now living in Stoke Newington, John and his family lived next to the business, which suggests that he was now playing a more important role in its running than his father was. The business may have been thriving, but the early part of the1860s were not a good time for the family. Margaret’s mother died in an almshouse in 1860; John’s father, Thomas, followed two years later; and two years after that Margaret herself died. Their three daughters were old enough to look after themselves, indeed all would be married by the end of the decade, but it cannot have been an easy time for them all. One piece of good news was that Jane, John’s youngest daughter married Charles Homewood, who agreed to take over the family business. Originally he had followed in his father’s footsteps and trained as a map engraver but, when he married, he became a currier. Presumably his role was principally managerial, but he was probably given a crash course in the skills of a currier by his father-in-law who would have been relieved that there was someone to take over the family business.
Margate in 1860 when the Browns moved there
When Thomas died in 1862 he owned land in Essex (Clapton Hall; Great Easton; Great Dunmow; Ilford), Kent (Maidstone), Hertfordshire (Ware) as well as various places in Middlesex (Hackney, Stepney, Dalston, Southgate, Bethnal Green) and the City of London. Unsurprisingly, he had described himself as a ‘House property and landed proprietor’ in 1861 and those interests seemed to have become more important than his work as a currier. His skills as businessman had borne fruit and John and Margaret were two of the beneficiaries of his will.
Shortly after Margaret died John moved to Margate, to live with his daughter Mary who had married an architect. Their house was called Briar House, the same name as that of Thomas Brown’s house in Stoke Newington. John had probably passed the day-to-day running of the company over to his son-in-law who, in 1871, was a currier employing seven men and a boy. John continued to take an interest in the city, was on the court of the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers and in November 1873 was elected Master. His year in office was not without problems as the beadle, one of the important cogs in the company, went bankrupt, but there was glamour and pageantry as well. The warden’s minute book records a court dinner where the dress was black frock or great coat, white waistcoat, black trowsers (sic), black necktie, black hat and lavender gloves. The cost for each person was 28 shillings, so they would have eaten well.
John died in 1878, having been a widower for fourteen years. He left the business to his son-in-law, Charles Homewood, and houses to each of his daughters, although his total wealth of about £3000, whilst still substantial, was considerably less than his father had left. He would have been pleased that the family business was thriving, although within ten years Charles Homewood had become a mill manager, which may not have made John quite as happy.