Brown & Co (Ely) Ltd shop frontage re-appears on Forehill

An old shop sign re-emmerges on Forehill, Ely, right nextdoor to the former bakery of my Cross relatives. But what’s the history?

On Sunday, I was enjoying strolling in the sunshine in Ely, when I stumbled across this piece of work-in-progress on Forehill. Intrigued, I couldn’t resist a rummage in the records…

IMAG0198
A close-up of the elaborate painted shopfront and proud historical signage.

Fortunately for me, immediately next door, is The Royal Standard pub, which was once two properties – the upper-hill part (and nearest to this shop, and shown in yellow below) was the bakery of Frederick Thompson Cross (my Great Grandmother’s second cousin, twice removed), and later his son Vernon Cross, both relatives of mine.

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The shopfront of Brown & Co. (Ely) Ltd uncovered on Forehill, with the elaborate door on the right. The yellow painted building was home to the Cross family bakery.

1901

The 1901 census reveals that Forehill was home to a range of businesses – including confectioner, publican, watchmaker, baker (my family), a boarding house, and a clothier.

The sole clothier on the street, and so likeliest candidate for this shop was Alfred Hammence, aged 51 in 1901, from Ely. With his wife Hannah, they were immediately before the Cross family on the census return.

Alfred and Hannah were joined by their daughters Lilian Mary (22) and Ellen Eugene (20), and Edward Spelman, a 25 year old assistant clothier.

1891

Ten years earlier in 1891, Alfred and Hannah are at the same address, and this time, the location is clearer, with the census naming ‘The Royal Standard’ pub on the other side of the Cross’ bakery. Alfred and Hannah are joined by six children, a boarder, and a servant.

1891 Census for Forehill, Ely
Alfred Hamence, and neighbours the Cross family, on Forehill, Ely, in 1891. Click to see census on Ancestry.co.uk.

1881

Ten years earlier still, Alfred, now aged 31, is living at the property with his wife Hannah and their three sons Bertram (5), Hubert (3), and Ernest (1), and two daughters Lillian (2), and Ellen (2 weeks old). Also with them is William Malthouse, a 21 year old ‘clothier’s assistant’ from Hull, Yorkshire, nurse Lucy Mann (55) from Exning, Suffolk, and servant Elizabeth Lofts (17) from Little Downham.

Next door, in what was yet to become the Cross’ bakery, lives John G Benson, a baker from Norfolk. Frederick Cross at this time was living at home a few streets away in Waterside, where he’s noted as a ‘baker’.

1871

Stepping further back, in 1871, a 21 year old Alfred Hamence is noted is now an Assistant at the same shop – the shop itself being managed by Benjamin Bagg (30), who is noted as ‘head’ of the household, and as a ‘Tailor’s foreman and manager’ from Bethnal Green, Middlesex. Along with Benjamin and Alfred are, Benjamin’s wife Caroline (30), their son Ernest (2), daughter Minnie (8 months), Benjamin’s sister Sarah (35), and William Dobson Carr (14), a ‘clothier’s apprentice’ from Whetherby, Yorkshire.

Again, what was to become the Cross’ bakery, was a bakery already, but it is now run by John Moore, a 41 year old ‘miller and baker’ from Mendham, Suffolk.

Sadly, the 1861 census for Ely was lost in a flood, so my view further back is obscured.

1911

Coming forward again to 1911, Alfred, now 61 years old, remained at the address, as an ‘outfitters manager’, but he is joined by his wife of four years, Agnes Ellen, who at 44 years old, is 17 years younger than her husband. The couple live only with another assistant, Russell George Jude – a 24 year old ‘outfitters shop assistant’ from Mildenhall, Suffolk.

Ornate Evidence

Whilst the ornately decorated sign claims that ‘this clothing shop was opened in 1810′, I don’t have evidence to support that, not least because I don’t have access to any trade directories, or deeds, and of course the useful censuses don’t stretch far enough back, but there seems to be some essence of truth to the business’ longevity here.

Quite who ‘Brown’ was, and going by the suggestion of the shop sign, where the rest of his shops were – that’s all currently beyond the records I can search right now.

I have photographs of my Cross’ bakery nextdoor from 1892, 1896, 1906 and 1960 (as published in Vernon Cross’ autobiography ‘Cross Words’, but all give only about a 1 brick width insight into the style of Mr Hamence’s shop front.

What next for Alfred Hamence’s shop?

I’m hoping that whoever is carrying out this restoration, isn’t about to apply a layer of gloss over this terrific, and historical, signage, and that it will once again be boarded over and preserved, in hiding, for another generation to stumble across on a sunny Sunday.

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Surname Saturday: CROSS

Information about the CROSS family from Ely, Cambridgeshire and their impact on the city, and travels to Australia.

Four centuries living in Ely, the Cross family is also one of the largest and most far-reaching.

With one of the earliest mentions of the family being a baptism in 1669 at Ely’s Holy Trinity Church, the Cross family went on to rapidly grow in to one of the largest families I have researched.

A growing family

My most recent Cross ancestor was my Great Great Grandmother, Mary Ann Cross who was born in ‘Buggs Hill’ (Cambridge Road), Ely in 1870, as the daughter of George Cross and his wife Sabina Steadman “Vine” Taylor. Following on with her parents’ business skills, she opened a shop on the corner of Barton Road and Cambridge Road in Ely which she traded from until her death in the 1950s. The shop closed in the 1980s and is now a private house.

Whilst Mary Ann was just the only one of George and “Vine”‘s two children to survive into adulthood, her father was one of 12 children. His father Jacob Cross, was in turn one of 11 children, and his father Philip Cross was one of around 15 children! As you can imagine, the potential for descendants from all of these children from the 3 generations is high and resulted in a large Cross population in and around Ely during the 1800s.

Finding a new life

For some though, Ely was perhaps too small with all these relatives around in the mid 1800s. Cross family groups like that of (another) George Cross and his wife Julia decided to start afresh in Australia. In 1855 they emigrated, following their older son Matthew who had already gone there to mine for gold. Julia was literate and a great letter writer, and a book of letters that she wrote to her mother back in England has been compiled and is now sold at Ely Museum.

Descendants of the Australian Cross families are many, but one – Pamela Phyllis McClymont – decided to set up the ‘Cross Family History Society’. Sadly Pam died several years ago, but she was pleased to pass a lot of information on about the family, including her own book ‘Who’s Who: Cross Family (Volume One, 1997)’ which details no less than 372 descendants from that 1669 baptism.

The Museum and the Tea Shop

One of the Ely’s Cross residents, Frederick Vernon Cross (known as just Vernon Cross) took on his father’s thriving bakery business on Forehill in the centre of the city. He transformed the business from being just a bakery into what is seen as Ely’s first tea shop, running regular advertisements in newspapers for delicious cakes and tea.

Part of the shop also became a space for Vernon to display the artefacts that he had found with his father at nearby Roswell Pits. These included many fossils and bones and his growing collection had begun to dominate the shop. On Vernon’s death in 1976, his private collection was saved by the then recently founded Ely Museum Trust. Today, the museum marks Vernon’s contribution to the collection with ‘The Vernon Cross Meeting Room’. Vernon also published an autobiography titled ‘Cross Words’, detailing his family, childhood, the bakery and his time at war.

The shop is now part of The Royal Standard public house, but if you go in, you’ll find that there are photographs on the wall of the old shop and even one of the shop signs is hanging on the wall as a nod to its history.

Check out the CROSS family at The Family Tree UK.

Crossing the Royal Standard

Taking a trip back in time to Mr Cross’ tea shop on Forehill.

Cross Advert 07-11-1930, originally uploaded by familytreeuk.

The other weekend, amidst the constant drizzle of a wet Sunday in Ely, I decided that it was about time that I went to The Royal Standard pub on Forehill.

I’m tee-total, but my reason for going in there was not so much to warm up over a nice cup of tea or their incredible sunday lunch (check it out)… it was actually to step back in time and visit the very location where my Cross relatives opened Ely’s first tea shop.

My mother has always wanted a tea shop herself, so when I discovered that the Cross family had kept one, she was excited by the news.

The shop, based in a 16th century building about halfway down Forehill (now the right hand side of The Royal Standard), was opened by Frederick Thompson Cross in about 1892. He originally intended the shop to be a picture framing business but after adding a side-business of a bakery, it was clear what Ely wanted most.

The bakery expanded, selling fine cakes and sweets and Mr Cross reaped the rewards.

In his spare time, with his son Frederick Vernon Cross (F. Vernon Cross), he would search places like Roswell Pits, in search of antiquities like fossils. His son, Vernon, was also a keen performer and he traveled the country performing magic tricks and ventriloquist acts (his father made the dummies – and they have been preserved in Ely Museum).

I went on to find a copy of F. Vernon Cross’ autobiography “Crosswords” on eBay (only to find further copies for sale at Ely Museum – but we’ll come to that bit in a moment)…

With the bakery taking off, and their collection of historic items growing too, Vernon began to blend the two together after his father’s death and combined a small museum and bakery.

Upon Vernon’s death, his collection was donated to the Ely Museum, where it forms an important part of their exhibitions. They have even named a function room after him.

I was pleased to recently find the above advert on the top right front page of the Ely Standard, dated 7th November 1930. It seems that Vernon ran several consecutive advertising campaigns on the newspaper header. The cake certainly sounds very appetising.

It was a nice feeling when I saw that The Royal Standard, although under new ownership, still had the “Frederick Thompson Cross” wooden shop sign and a framed photograph on the wall. I didn’t mention my connection but instead tucked into a huge Sunday roast on a plate that was almost too big for the table – another satisfied customer!

I have yet to establish where his Cambridge shop was located.