(Written by Graham Crozier, 2020)
The Victorian period witnessed the commercial expansion of Crawley and one of the key figures in that process was Frederick Russell, the proprietor of Russell’s Emporium in the High Street.
Frederick Russell was born at White Hart Farm (later the Ancient Priors) around 1829, one of seven children, to John Russell (died 1840) and his wife Louisa (born c.1804, death unknown, although she lived until at least her 80s and possibly to nearer 100!).
According to Denman (1), Louisa was the illegitimate daughter of Ann Boswell and William Chart, who married when Louisa was 3 years old. This sequence of events was by no means unusual at this time, when marriage and procreation were governed as much by economics as by morals.
Louisa and John Russell married when she was 14 years old; she was a widow by age 34, when Russell was around 6 years of age.
Both John and Louisa were hairdressers, an occupation that their son would also follow. Louisa is recorded as having a hairdressing business in a room at White Hart Farm in 1845. Russell continued to operate his hairdressing business when it became the Old White Hart.
Russell married twice, in 1865 to Hannah Bletsoe, who at about 48 years of age was some 12 years older than him and, in 1881, to 43 year-old Julia Cawley, some nine years his junior. It is possible that he had been married before Hannah (although the average age men married was around 28). It does appear that his mother, Louisa, was a strong character and this may offer some explanation, plus the fact his father died when he was 6 years old.
Russell was an example of the small-scale entrepreneur that typified Victorian commercial life. His Emporium, opened by the mid-1860s, was known as a ‘fancy shop’ – an ‘Omnium Gatherum’ – and occupied one of three buildings in the middle of the High Street south of the George Annex and what was known as The Square. Russell also lived at this address.
He was making his way as a trader at a time when the town centred on Crawley and Ifield were beginning to re-establish itself following the demise of the mail coach business and as the new railway connection was beginning to make an impact (2).
The growth of the town can be measured by looking at listings in Kelly’s Directory for the period. The 1852 edition lists 33 people as what could be classed as ‘trade’ occupations (excluding farmers, publicans, finance, Dr. Thomas Smith and Walter Rayward the vet.). In 1862 this had risen to 46, although in 1867 seems to have dropped to 40, with the same exclusions. In 1874, it is up to 50 (again discounting the above occupations and, this time, Dr.TH Martin).
In Ifield, for the same spread of dates, the numbers were respectively 5, 11, 10 and 16; this excludes publicans but includes beer retailers, whose business had been stimulated by the 1830 Beer Act, which cut the malt tax and allowed the free trade of beer. The Post Office Directory for Ifield for 1878 gives 13 commercial concerns, with 20 in 1882. Throughout this period the majority of people in Ifield parish are listed as farmers.
The real change in the nature of commercial activity and prosperity in Crawley/Ifield began in the 1880s. This was associated with, among other things, progress in drainage and sewerage improvements after 1882; improvements carried out in the High Street by the Simmins family, the restoration of St. John the Baptist church by John Barrett-Lennard; and the impact of housing development by Longley’s in East Park.
It is against this background that Frederick Russell plied his business. The range of activity that Russell engaged in can be traced through entries in Kelly’s Directory. In the 1852 edition he listed as a hairdresser, but the entries for 1862 and 1867 are more illuminating: he is described as a barber, sports outfitter, tobacconist, stationer, bookseller, bookbinder, news agent (London ‘papers available from 7.30am), dealer in tea, advertising agent, life and fire insurance agent, ‘bird stuffer’, and loan negotiator. By 1874 his listing is restricted to stationer and news agent. The 1862 edition also lists his mother Louisa as a shopkeeper, undoubtedly helping her unmarried son to run his sprawling business.
As a representative of the Alliance Fire and Briton Life insurance companies in the 1860s, Russell was agent for two of the seven such firms operating in Crawley.
His listing as a ‘bird stuffer’ (or ‘Preserver of Specimens in Natural History’ as his advertising put it) is perhaps most interesting. The Victorians were enthusiasts for taxidermy and every small village had someone who preserved birds and animals in this way. Killing animals that overpopulated rural areas was common, and people kept all kinds of stuffed animals as decoration. The trend had been stimulated in part by the large stuffed creatures at the 1851 Great Exhibition, including an elephant. Charles Dickens kept a pet raven called Grip, which he had stuffed.
In Sussex, taxidermy was taken to the heights of Victorian ‘taste’ by the Bramber artist Walter Potter (1835-1918), who became famous for his tableaux: stuffed kittens taking afternoon tea, bunnies at their schoolwork, and squirrels drinking, smoking and playing cards. This sort of thing was hugely popular, so someone like Russell working on even a small scale, would have had a ready market. He also lists himself as agent to ‘G. Salter & Co., Dyers, Plumassiers’: a plumassier being a dealer in ornamental plumes and feathers.
The family business of the Russells in Crawley was clearly hairdressing/barbering. Following a long, poetic list of his services and items for sale, an advertisement for the Emporium stated:
‘I also shave men (not the ladies) and lather um … I cut the hair of ladies and gentlemen, little boys and girls, schools and families of more than twenty by contract, and not by the new fangled machinery … Make up ladies own hair, titivate gentlemen’s wigs, like my great prototype FIGARO, the original ‘largo al factotum!’ (3).
It is in his capacity as a hairdresser/barber that the best-known story about Russell arose. The exact date of the incident is uncertain, but it involved a local dignitary named Major Pipon. It appears that Russell was working at the Old White Hart (Ancient Priors) when he had an argument with Maj. Pipon, who objected to something Russell said and verbally attacked him, whereupon, Russell packed up his things and left Pipon sitting half-shaved!
It is most likely that this was Maj. Arthur Thomas Manaton Pipon, J.P., who had married into the family of Admiral Lord Rodney, owner of the Deerwood estate and Lord of Manor of Ifield in the 1880s.
Manaton Pipon was known to be a martinet – a strict disciplinarian – who was also chair of Ifield vestry meetings and was notorious for ignoring democratic process to get his own way in matters of local government.
The story sheds light on Russell’s character and views. He seems to have been a supporter of reform in the 1880s, especially when in came to land ownership, condemning the way in which both the wealthy and public corporations such as the railways, allowed land to lay unproductive. This suggests that Russell may have looked politically toward Gladstone’s Liberal Party, which proposed land reform in the 1880s and 1890s, and was the favoured party of the skilled craftsman and small shopkeeper in this period (4).
Crawley was part of the normally Conservative-voting Horsham Parliamentary Constituency, which had voted Liberal in both the Reform elections of 1865 and 1868, and in 1875 and 1876(5). Russell’s antipathy to inherited wealth, especially when combined with personal arrogance, may be seen in the Pipon incident, or perhaps they just didn’t like each other!
Russell was also very much a part of the organisational growth of Crawley in the early to mid-Victorian period. He served was Secretary and Collector for Crawley Fire Brigade for 20 years from its foundation; was Chairman of the Crawley Building Society; was a founding member of the Volunteer movement in the town (a forerunner to the Territorial Army); he served on the parish vestry committee; and was active in writing for at least two local newspapers. Around 1886, Russell published some stories by Mark Lemon as ‘Tales of Serena Woritts’.
Furthermore, when the Crawley Gas Company was registered in 1858, Russell invested in a £10 share. In Kelly’s Directory of 1874, he is listed as a managing director of the company, along with Richard Caffyn the butcher, and Dr.TH Martin the local physician.
Frederick Russell died on 11 January 1888, an important if not particularly wealthy or socially prestigious member of Crawley society. His business was carried on for a time by Isabella Russell, wife of his brother Thomas. He is buried in the churchyard of St. John the Baptist, his headstone now resting against the south wall of the church – ‘Until the day break and the shadows flee away.’
(1) Hygate records Russell as telling this to William Denman in 1882.
(2) The faster connections between towns such as Crawley and Horsham with London, meant that there was increased competition from cheaper goods, although a comparison of trades listed in Kelly’s between 1852 and 1874 does not suggest this made a big initial impact on Crawley businesses.
(3) for the full advert see Hygate/Denman p.28.
(4) Liberal policy in the 1880s and 1890s was to revive the parish, rather than the Poor Law Union, as the main unit of local government. This was intended to swing power in the countryside away from the squire and clergy toward working villagers and labourers. This didn’t happen until the mid-1890s, and even then, the old power-brokers took control of the new parish councils.
(5) Before the passing of the 1872 Ballot Act, the constituency of Horsham was notorious for electoral corruption, bribery and drunkenness. The Liberals took the seat in 1875, and regained it in a by-election in 1876 after the first election was declared void following a petition which had reduced the winning margin of the Liberal candidate from 5 to 2. It returned to the Conservatives in 1880, a year of Liberal victory nationally.
It seems that Frederick Russell was affluent enough to have had the vote under the 1867 Reform Act, giving the franchise to householders worth £12 in the counties. Many of his neighbours would have remained without this right until the 1884 Act extended the franchise to the majority of adult men.
Haines, S (2005). Horsham. A History. Phillimore.
Hygate N. (1993) Wayfarer Denman’s Crawley Revisited. Performance Publications.
Lowerson J (ed) (1980). Crawley. Victorian New Town. CCE, University of Sussex.
Porter, V (1994). The Village Parliaments. Phillimore.
Thompson FML. (1988). The Rise of Respectable Society. Fontana Press.
Information from Kelly’s Directory from transcripts in Crawley Museum research library.