London Life/Lives






Richard Higgs, 1811-1884 


China Dealer



Richard Higgs was born on 27th September 1811 to Edward and Ann of Long Lane, Holborn, London.   He was baptised on 27th September 1811 at the Church of St Sepulchre in Holborn.  Edward was a horsehair manufacturer.  Horsehair was used extensively in the upholstery trade



 View of St Bartholomew's Hospital with the Church of St Sepulchre in the background, 1840




Baptismal Record from St Sepulchre



I have been unable to find any further record of Richard until his marriage to Jane Hatch on 3rd August 1857 in St Mary's Church, Lambeth.



The lack of an earlier census record and the fact that Richard did not get married until his late 40s, suggests to me that his first career might have been in the army.  A tradition that Richard's son and grandson would follow.


In fact, army medal rolls show that there was a Corporal Richard Higgs in No 8 Company, 1st Battalion Royal Artillery at Sebastapol.  The Crimean War ended in 1856, which fits with marriage to Jane the following year.


Jane Hatch, Richard's wife, was born in 1820. She was therefore also quite advanced in age for the time for a first marraige. It is therefore not surprising that they had just two children - Richard William, born in 1859, and Mary Jane, born in 1864.


By the time of Richard William's birth, the family had moved from Lambeth to Stanhope Street, just north of The Strand.


The photograph below shows Stanhope Street in 1907, just before its demolition as part of the major redevelopment that created Kingsway and The Aldwych.




Richard was a china dealer.  This trade included buying and selling new or secondhand china and glass and hiring out china for weddings and other functions.


On 15th August 1864, Richard gave evidence at the Old Bailey against a young women, Eliza Willis (aged 15), who fraudulently obtained a quantity of china and glass from different dealers, without paying for it, and then sold it to Richard. One of the dealers eventually saw his goods in Richard's shop window.


Trial records, when they can be found provide a rare opportunity to 'hear' people from the past speaking for themselves.  Here's Richard's account:


I am a china and glass dealer at 18, Stanhope-street, Newcastle-street, Strand—on Saturday night, 16th July, the prisoner came to my shop alone, and asked me if I would buy some crockery-ware of her—I told her it would be inconvenient then, but I would on Monday morning—she said she had bought it of me, and she wished me to take it back again, and said, "Will you come and see it"—I said, "Where is it, "she said, "11, Craven-buildings"—I went with her; she tried for several minutes to get in at the front door; we did not succeed, and we went in the back way—she went to Mrs. Owen, the landlady, and got a light—we went up stairs into the first-floor front, and there were the goods lying on the floor—on entering the room I said, "Where is your furniture?" she said, "The brokers have bought that"—I said, "Why did not the brokers take these?" and she said they would not give her money enough for them—I looked at the things, and said, "If you purchased these of me it must have been some considerable time ago;" she said, "Oh, yes, we have been living here these two years, but I must part with it to-night, for me and my husband are going to Scotland by the first train on Monday morning"—I gave her ten shillings for the things—some of them appeared to be new, but by the small light we had at the time, I could not see them very well—I did not really want them at the time—I have since sold some, and some I have still.

The full transcript of the trail can be found here:


Unfortunately, William's fortunes took a turn for the worse, and by the time of the 1871 Census he is to be found living in Eastfield Street, Limehouse, in the East End of London.  His profession is given as a hawker, which probably means that he no longer has a shop and is selling from a cart on the street.  Nothing had changed by 1881.


The conditions in Eastfield Street can be imagined from a report of a Cholera outbreak in Limehouse in 1866:


Now, whatever dispute there may be about the origin of the cholera, and its relation to the water supply, there can be none as to the localities where it has found its victims.  In the parish of Limehouse there are 9 streets with 100 deaths...One character runs through the whole of them, as a rule, like Eastfield Street.....They are either built over slush and filth, or the flooring and joists rest on the earth itself or but a very few inches above it.  These are the places where there has always come fever, just as they have lately been in turn the fatal results of cholera. 


The 1871 Census desribes Jane Higgs as a shirtmaker.  Shirtmaking was hard work for very little money.  An account of East End shirt-makers from 1889 can be found at:


Richard died in 1884. I have not yet found a record of Jane's death.