Charles Frederick Warman (1794 – 1866) & Jane Winder (1802 – 1869)
Essex Street was not architecturally impressive ‘with its unsightly square-headed archway at the lower end, leading by a flight of stone steps to the Embankment’. One of the houses, though – Essex Head – was where Sam Greaves lived. In 1783, around the time that the Warmans moved into the street, Dr Johnson founded ‘Sam’s’, just before he, Johnson, died. It appeared to be a poor man’s version of the Literary Club, but survived for a few years after the great man’s death and was frequented by Boswell, Johnson’s biographer, who said of it that ‘there are few societies where there is better conversation or more decorum’ . On 19 February 1794 he wrote ‘Staid from the Literary Club this day as I did last meeting merely to save expence but went to Essex Head’ In its emphasis on conviviality rather than the celebration of influence and fame, which often came to characterize the Club, the Essex Head Club perhaps came closest to meeting Johnson's ideal of a club.
At about the same time Charles Dibdin turned some rooms in the street into a theatre, and a Unitarian church was opened on the West side shortly afterwards, and flourished until well after William had moved out. One of the houses in the street was reputed to have the initials ICUSX&ER (I see you Essex and Elizabeth Regina) scratched into a window as a reminder of earlier times, and several members of the literary world lived there, but it’s best days were behind it. The Strand, despite complaints that it was too narrow for the amount of traffic, remained a place where boys could play football, though whether the young Warmans would have been allowed to remains unknown
The architecture of Norfolk Street was less prosaic with at least one house grand enough to have allowed William III to visit Peter the Great of Russia at the end of the seventeenth century; but now one was more likely to find insurance companies and nursing centres. However, when the family moved from rented accommodation in Essex St into a mortgaged property on Norfolk St, they were definitely living amongst the middle class, most of whom were keen to show themselves as firmly part of the gentry. Boyles' Court Guide, which was first published in the 1790s, sold itself as the directory of 'all the ladies and gentlemen of fashion' in London, and was used by the middle classes to decide whether a neighbour was worth getting to know. The 1821 edition shows William living amongst attorneys, surgeons and army officers; he had clearly arrived, although his wife, Mary, had died several years earlier in 1806 and all his children may have left home. Having established themselves, though, the family's fortunes appeared to have taken a turn for the worse. This may be connected with the fact that, shortly after 1821, William suddenly left London to go and live in Cambridge. Why he did so may never be known, but when he died in Cambridge in 1826, he left all his money to his housekeeper (who may have been rather more than that, of course), and none to any of his children.
From later correspondence it seems that very shortly after Charles married Martha, he became a clerk to Thomas Starkie, a barrister who had entered Lincoln’s Inn as a pupil and been called to the bar in 1810. Charles may well have worked in Lincoln’s Inn before 1819, but from that time he hitched his success to that of Thomas. In 1823 Thomas became a professor at Cambridge  but there, and later at Temple Inn, he proved to be a poor speaker and attracted few pupils; but he wrote well, and from 1833 onwards was asked to serve on a number of Royal Commissions looking at aspects of the law.
Being Thomas Starkie’s clerk does not appear to have been a full-time occupation for Charles – Thomas’ other interests must have prevented his appearing in as many cases as he might have done – so in about 1826 Charles and Martha opened a china and glass shop in Islington. The shop was in the High Street and was probably targeted at the higher end of the market. A robbery in 1828, after which the sixteen year-old thief was sentenced to two years imprisonment, involved the theft of five glass dishes worth 40 shillings (about £160 on today’s money), which couldn’t have been afforded by many. Martha’s brother helped in the shop, but William appears to have been fully involved, not just an absent manager.
Jane had been brought up with law around her all her life. Her father was an attorney, who had died when Jane was only nine, and two brothers followed in his footsteps, becoming solicitors. In an 1828 directory her mother was listed under the gentry, and her sister married a ‘gentleman’ who owned property, so Jane was used to a comfortable life. She did not seem to be a natural shopkeeper.
One of Charles’ closest friends was George Knott, another barrister’s clerk who lived nearby in Islington. When Charles and Jane’s first child was born they named her Alice Knott Coleman Warman in honour of their friendship (although when she later married one of George’s sons, and so became Alice Knott Knott, he may have regretted doing so!). Throughout this time Charles still referred to himself as a glass or china dealer, rather than barrister’s clerk, but when George Knott became an Inspector of Weights in the City, Charles became determined to better his position.
Part of that process involved becoming a Freeman of the City of London. Many of the Worshipful Companies were facing difficult times, with fewer men becoming apprentices. To make ends meet they had started to elect people who were of sufficient standing in the community, and were prepared to pay the fee, even if they had no connection ot the earlier raison d'etre of the company. One such group was the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers which, in 1843, elected Charles as a freeman through 'redemption'; in other words, he bought himself his freedom for £2 6s 8d (£2.33p). That automatically made him a freeman of London, something which Charles presumably thought was important. One of the signatures on his application was 'Merewether', George Knott's barrister, who had signed George's own freedom application the previous year, so it may that George had an indirect hand in making his friend a freeman.
Charles was also chasing respectability through other channels. In 1842 he wrote a letter to Lord Brougham, whom he had met on the circuit, and who had, as Lord Chancellor in 1833, appointed Thomas Starkie to be one of the five on the Royal Commission on Criminal Law.
The letter starts: ‘Pardon my presumption in this trespassing on your valuable time – I will not increase it by attempting an apology…’ and continues in overly polite, even sycophantic terms. He says that ‘more than once’ he had hoped that his twenty-three years service to Mr Starkie was to be rewarded with Starkie’s promotion, but he had been disappointed. Charles wanted a position in the local courts and is asking Lord Brougham to use his influence.
Lord Brougham appears to have replied, but nothing can have come of the letter because, the following year, Charles wrote again. This time he is hoping to be appointed as Treasurer in the Local Courts and talks of his twenty-three years with Mr Starkie, and that he has ‘almost in my old age four young children to provide for, the eldest 7 years, the youngest 6 months old.’ He also talks of being in the retail trade for ‘upwards of 16 years and the last eight months a large wholesale concern thrown on my hands by the bankruptcy of a manufacturer through whom I fear I shall be a considerable loser’.
The letter had no immediate effect, but Charles’ worries about his business were right. In 1846 he was declared bankrupt by the Court of Review in Bankruptcy, but his luck was about to change. The following year Thomas Starkie became a judge in the Clerkenwell small debts court and he, perhaps with help from Lord Brougham, was able to obtain Charles the position he wanted: High Bailiff of Clerkenwell Court. The High Bailiffs were officers appointed by County Court judges to assist them, to serve summonses and execute warrants of the court. Charles’ administrative efficiency would have been well suited to the role and he served in that capacity for the rest of his life.
Charles died in 1866, leaving money to his wife, sons, daughters and ‘friend John Hammett Knott’, a solicitor and one of his friend George’s sons. Undoubtedly he had achieved the respectability he sought and his family were now firmly established where he wanted them. He wasn’t to know that one of his grandsons would become a bishop, but the news would probably have delighted him.
- Both ends of William's married life are unusual. He appears to have married in Halifax - the maiden name of the bride (Dennis) is the same as two of their children, and the signature on the marriage entry is close to that of a known signature for William - before having all their children in London. No reason has been found for his being in Halifax. And when he died, he left all his money to his housekeeper and none to any surviving children. The assumption must be that she was more than a housekeeper.
- Boswell, Life, 4.254 n. 2
- I think two references to Cambridge in as many lines is just a co-incidence; but there may be a connection