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…

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.

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.


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.


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


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’.


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.


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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Author: Andrew Martin

Andrew Martin is a British author, family historian, tech nerd, AFOL, and host of The Family Histories Podcast.

5 thoughts on “Brown & Co (Ely) Ltd shop frontage re-appears on Forehill”

  1. Hi Andrew
    I live behind the elaborate door on Forehill!!
    Please do contact us, we would love for you to see what is behind the door and put you in touch with the owners who know so much about the history


  2. I used to rent the office at the back (and above) in the 1980’s.. Fascinating stuff. I think this was an extremely old building. I did a quick lookup on the trade directories but couldn’t find a Brown here either.


  3. Hi , My Uncle Veron Cross had the bakers in Ely. He Married Eleanor I knew her as Auntie Nell. My Grandfather was Herbert A Roythorne, my father Percy F Roythorne. Any information greatly received thank you Jane


  4. Hi Andrew,
    I was really intrigued to read your article on the shop front in Fore Hill, Ely. I have been researching my own family history, which had led me to Ely to see where one of my family members lived/worked. A man by the name of John George Benson, whom you mention in your article here. He was my 3rd Great Uncle. From my research so far, having originated from Norfolk, after meeting his Wife, who came from Ely, they resided and worked on the opposite side of Fore Hill to the Royal Standard pub, at numbers 25, then 29, then 23 (he clearly liked the street!) if todays numbering is anything to go by, where it appears he remained until his death. 23 is now the Samovar Tea Rooms, which seems quite befitting of a baker/confectioner! The person listed on the census before John Benson moved to 23 was Mr Moore.

    There was a Mr Brown listed at number 20 Fore Hill on the 1881 census, who by that point was 68 years old. He doesn’t appear in the 1891 census.

    I am happy for you to contact me should you wish to!


  5. Alfred Hammence was employed by successive generations of Joshua Taylors (though the first one, in 1810, may in fact have been Robert Taylor rather than Joshua) for his entire career. The firm expanded to open the well-known Cambridge Joshua Taylor shops (latterly on Sidney Street and Bridge Street until the firm was sold in, I think, 1988) but your findings suggest that they kept on the old shop in Ely until at least 1911. I am one of the granddaughters of the last Joshua Taylor in the line. The family has some papers concerning the business and its employment of Alfred Hammence.
    By the way, a local historian in Ely has conducted research into Joshua Taylor’s by studying the firm’s accounts. You could probably find her through Ely Museum.
    I hope this is useful. Thank you for posting the photographs, as I might easily otherwise have missed the historic frontage’s temporary reappearance.


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