I've no idea what possessed me after so many years living in this area, but this afternoon, on pure whim, I dived into the alley next to 74 Grand Parade; you know, the one next to the double-fronted grocery with all the fruit outside, not far from the bridge.
Having seen nothing particularly interesting, I had turned around to leave when I spotted this sign on the wall.
Now, Frith is a name I know for their adverts in the Kelly's Directory from the Edwardian era, up until the second world war. They placed a full page ad which never changed.
The firm set up shop just after Grand Parade was built. To begin with they shared their premises with the National Phone Company. Below is their listing from 1902.
By 1909, they had started their full page ad, showing a lovely shop-front. Below is the ad from the 1937 directory, along with their listing. The ad was exactly the same in 1909, except in 1937, the 20 years legend read 50 years, a mention of a branch at 609 Green Lanes (where Medlocks are now based) had gone and a phone number had been added. Everything else was a carbon copy.
The 20 year claim in the 1909 ad suggests that the business was founded in 1889. I can find no trace of them in North London three years later. So, perhaps they started out elsewhere or under a different name.
Their last directory listing was in the phone book of 1950. I assume they closed down after that.
So, I think we can safely conclude that the private thoroughfare sign still fixed to the wall was put up in the 1940s or 1930s, perhaps even earlier. Amazing that it's survived untouched.
Can you date it?
Thanks, Christine. I didn't think you would, but just asked on the off-chance.
Hello again Hugh,
it’s amazing what filters into your brain when you least expect it : there were three Donaldson bothers with Rolls Royce cars:
Victor, Douglas and Lionel - all with personalised plates.
Christine, I couldn’t help myself from being prompted by your most recent comment to dig a little further into the Donaldsons. I had to stop myself from getting carried away. But I think I have a good outline now.
The family can be traced back to East London (beyond the traditional East End) in the mid-nineteenth century. The ancestor of the brothers running the business in Harringay was Thomas Donaldson, a biscuit baker living in New Mile End town. In 1849, when he was 63, his wife gave birth to their second son, Henry. It was this child who was to go on to found the property business.
According to a 1960s article in the Estate Agents Gazette (of which I’ve only been able to see a snippet of no more than fifty words), Thomas died when Henry was only 12 years old. According to the article, Henry started work at that point in the auctioneer and estate agent firm A & & Field. (I’ve only found one reference to this firm; that was in 1924, trading at 95 Whitechapel Road).
The family’s own narrative of their business is that it started in 1869. The earliest record I’ve been able to find of an adult Henry is in the census of 1871, at which point he is living in a half house at 24 Matilda Street in the city. He is married and has two young children. His occupation is given as estate agent. The document does not state that he is working on his own account, as you might expect it would if he was self-employed. (The person above him on the census return is a butcher and on his record, it is specified that he employs seven men.) No doubt the family have some reason for having chosen 1869. But I have been unable to corroborate it from the records available to me.
Henry appears to have made his real start in Islington, on the borders of Stoke Newington. The earliest we can place him there is in 1878, when, aged 29, he appears in the electoral register living at 28 Mildmay Park. By 1881, the family have moved to 56 Mildmay Park. By 1881, the family have moved to number 56. By this point there were three sons and one daughter (Henry J*, Mary Louise, Benjamin, Frederick and Herbert).
The earliest record I’ve been able to find of Henry’s business is in 1882. In that year he placed the following advertisement in the Hackney and Kingsland Gazette.
Hackney and Kingsland Gazette, 15 December 1882
In 1884 he is listed in the post office directory for Islington at this same address, as an auctioneer. 93 Mildmay Park was at the north end of the road, just near where it joins Newington Green. Although the building no longer exists, those that are still standing on the opposite side of the road are shop-houses, suggesting that 93 may have been a shop-house building.
The last record of him at that address is in the directory for 1894, but by this time he’s listed as the Mildmay park building society and not as an auctioneer.
Four years later, in 1898, an advertisement in the East London press records both Henry’s restyling of the business name and his new premises, in the road that was to the base of his operations for decades to come. He also gave Mildmay Park as an additional business address. Though it is not clear if he was still actually trading from there by this point.
East Ham Express May 7, 1898
By the time he placed the advert below in1900 , the only address he gave was 242, Queens Road, Dalston (now Queensbridge Road).
Hackney and Kingsland Gazette, 29 August 1900
By 1904, Henry had moved again, to just up the road a few doors. This would be the premises that the firm would retain for the next half-century.
It appears that before long, he wasn’t living on the premises. By 1896 , he gave his address as Cecil House, Parkholme Road, Dalston. Then, at some point around the turn of the century, Henry started living in block of West Hampstead mansion flats at 129 Broadhurst Gardens. At the age of 50, Henry had come a long way from his beginnings as an East London biscuit baker’s son. However, he was not to live long enough to retire to enjoy the fruits of his success. By 1909, he had died.
In 1904, the Donaldsons had an early encounter with Harringay when they sold a house in Fairfax Road.
London Mercury October 15, 1904
By 1912, the firm had been rebranded as just Donaldson & sons.
Middlesex Gazette - 26 October 1912
Not all of Henry’s children followed him in to the property business. Oldest son, Henry James set up in business as an oriental goods dealer. In 1901, he was trading at 145 Stroud Green Road. By 1911, he was living nearby at 29 Heathville Road, perhaps still trading from the same premises round the corner.
Henry's three younger sons joined Henry’s property business. However, it was second son Edwin (christened Benjamin Edwin) whose children ran the business when it expanded in the middle of the twentieth century.
According to the Estate Agents Gazette article, three brothers ran the business. Their names are given as Victor, Douglas and Trevor. Douglas was probably the Douglas Lionel who I mentioned above, here. There seems to have been quite a history of mutability of first names in the family. So goodness knows how he styled himself day-to-day. But, the three names don’t match absolutely with the three you gave, Christine.
A notice of 1946 in the London Gazette suggests that Victor and his Uncle Herbert jhad been leading the business, probably since Edwin's death. I’m assuming that Herbert has no active role in the business after this date
London Gazette 3 May, 1946
This date seems to coincide with the company's expansion. So, one wonders if Uncle Herbert had been holding things back.
Eldest son Victor seems to have distinguished himself in life. This biscuit baker’s grandson became a Lieutenant Colonel and portraits of him are held (but not digitally reproduced) by the National Portrait Gallery.
In 1973, the Victor Donaldson Fund was established to offer loans to annuitants of the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution Care Company (RMBICC) to allow them to carry out essential repairs to their property.
I hope this fills in some of the gaps to the later part of the story I gave in my earlier comment. (And, by the way, another Estates Gazette article snippet gave the information that the company also had a single branch outside London, in Bradford). For me it’s a fascinating tale of late 19th and early 20th century social mobility.
*Henry's seems to alternate in censuses between being recorded as Henry J. and Henry M. M.
Wow Hugh - you’ve been really busy…thank you for all this information that I never knew. When I went to work there on Grand Parade, the staff were still talking about the centenary party of 1969!
Yes names do seem to have been transferable - the two brothers I mostly saw were Douglas and Victor, Lionel wasn’t such a frequent visitor. The branch practices were firmly locked in the past, and I always felt (young as I was) that they weren’t as ‘open’ as they should be.
Overall they seemed to do well and provided employment for many people. Please post anything else you might happen to find.
What a splendid piece of research and memories - all derived from that photo.
The photo itself is a snapshot of our time. The ‘old’ sign is preserved, the chalked ‘liberate Tibet’. The empty plastic bottle, not discarded but thoughtfully parked behind the repaired plastic (PVCu) pipe-work which seems casually attached to the wall.
The fine brick wall is of interest, being repaired, re-pointed and having had bricks and pipe-work inserted. The original mortar might have been lime mortar but modern cement seems to have been used. History in a picture.