What do the contents of your shopping basket (physical or digital) say about you? They are probably quite revealing about your tastes and your daily life. Just occasionally, we see a glimpse of day-to-day lives of previous generations thanks to the survival of a series of household bills, and one particularly interesting set held at Hampshire Record Office was preserved by Thomas J D Rawlins of Lymington, between 1905 and 1915 (73M81), each year’s bills being originally kept on a metal spike. In this post I will focus on a single year, 1907, to investigate what the Rawlins family was buying 110 years ago.
Thomas Rawlins, who was born around 1845, was a man of substance, who had an interest in numerous properties including 10, 14 and 22 High Street, 5 St Thomas’s Street, 8 South Street, Old Market House, The Sea Baths, 1 Nelson’s Place, The Anchorage in Bath Road, a house at Wellington Place, and St Mary’s Lodge.
The family lived at South Hayes, Grove Road, which had been built as a villa in 1878 by Edwin, son of the yacht-builder George Inman, and Mr Rawlins considerably enlarged it. He was the manager of the Lymington branch of the Wilts and Dorset Bank by the 1870s, and in the early years of the 20th century was treasurer to the Lymington Union (which ran the workhouse) and Lymington Rural District Council, and served a term as Mayor.
On New Year’s Day 1907 Mr Rawlins purchased a licence for the use of armorial bearings (one guinea), the employment of three menservants (£2 5s 0d), a dog (7s 6d) and a carriage (15s) – an indication of his upper-middle-class status. During January he also paid numerous bills which had been submitted around Christmas time. Suppliers might wait some months before sending in bills: the December 1906 account from the tailors and outfitters E Stone and Son of 49 High Street included four guineas for a cream alpaca coat with glace silk sleeve linings supplied for Mrs Rawlins in the previous July, and the bill from F W House of 33 St Thomas Street, upholsterer and blind-maker, dated back to work on hanging curtains in May, as well as more recent projects including work on the blinds in the drawing room, school room and conservatory.
As well as shedding light on the purchases of an Edwardian gentleman, the interesting billheads, many of them from tradesmen in Lymington and the surrounding area, give insights into local businesses. There were some commercial combinations that might surprise us: A E Gosling of 6 St Thomas Street, for instance, combined the roles of hairdresser and tobacconist (‘try our special 2d cigars, 7 for 1s’, suggested their billhead, but the actual bill suggests that Mr Rawlins was a man of habit, buying ¼ of ‘mixture’ each week).
They indicate the style of service that customers might expect: Bran Bros. who ran the Fish, Game and Poultry Stores at 30 High Street, advertised ‘Families waited on daily’. Billheads for local organisations such as the Lymington Town Prize Band (which received 6s from Mr Rawlins for two seats at a concert), and the Lymington and District Horticultural Society, may usefully give the names of committee members.
Many of these billheads feature decorative lettering, and sometimes illustrations of the products or the shop premises – such as the ‘art needlework, wool and fancy bazaar’ of drapers Bennett and Sons’ at 110-111 High Street.
John Buckle, who ran a ‘livery and posting establishment’ at the King’s Arms in St Thomas’ Street, offered landaus, broughams and donkey chaises, among other vehicles, and featured on his billhead a drawing of a customer enjoying a relaxing ride – although in this case the bill was in fact, more prosaically, for carting bricks, tiles and other building materials.
From June the family could go for a drive in their own ‘governess car’, bought second-hand from Walter Arnold’s South Hants Coach Works in the town for ten guineas.
Although most shops in Lymington were still independent in 1907, they sometimes took advantage of offers by national suppliers to supply illustrated billheads advertising their products: bills from F M King’s ‘Covent Garden Stores’ at 97 High Street were illustrated with Lipton’s tea-packing works, and Sillis and Sons’ boot shop at 71 High Street advertised John Cooper and Sons’ ‘celebrated Beehive boots’. One chain that had already arrived in Lymington was the International Tea Co’s Stores, whose billhead advertised cocoa at 7½d for a ¼lb tin.
It seems that the family was trying out the latest technology: they enjoyed the services of the Lymington Electric Light and Power Company, and 10½d was paid to the photographer F J Arnott of 120 High Street for developing six Brownie films for Master Rawlins. It was presumably also for his son’s benefit that the bookseller and stationer Charles King of 105-106 High Street supplied a football, for 7s 6d.
Some purchases came from further afield, including paint from Walter Carson and Sons of Battersea, seeds for vegetables and sweet peas from a nurseryman near Bracknell, and gloves from Peter Robinson in Oxford Street. A few bills were written on scrap paper rather than on printed billheads, and occasionally what is in the back of the bill can be interesting: what appears to a receipt for 1s 4d for laundry is written on the back of the printed rules of the Lymington and Pennington District Nurse Fund – an item which, like so much of the information in these bills might not have survived had it not been for Mr Rawlins’s habit of carefully preserving them.
David Rymill, Archivist.