Flashback Friday: The History of George Wickham

These brilliant photos and information are supplied by Richard Symonds, former (retired) Surrey Recorder for the Brewery History Society, who is the author of A Brewing Heritage, using the twin towns Reigate and Redhill as a case study and still researches all sorts of interesting things to do with beer…!

Described as bottler and general storekeeper circa 1871 to 1910, George Wickham owned Wickham’s Stores (which later became Cullens, The Wine Shop and then Fancier Dress and currently Avalanche Gallery).

He also built and lived in Stonewalls (aka Wickham’s Castle!), which was the site of the old Limpsfield workhouse, and, according to The Times ‘was the starting point for the sex scandal that stymied the Liberal party’s revival in the 1970s. It was here that the Liberal MP Jeremy Thorpe was later accused of consummating an affair with the male model Norman Scott in autumn 1961’.

But we digress! Back to George Wickham… Here is a potted history of the well known Limpsfield character, as researched and told by Richard Symonds…

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George Wickham was born 21st May 1841 to Philip (b 1806) and Ann Wickham (nee Pode, b. 1802). His is father’s occupation is given in the 1851 census for Southborough, Kent, as a mastic ball maker. His siblings were Mary Anne (b. 1843), and Philip William (b. 1846).

George was christened on 20th June 1841 at Tonbridge. He was shown in the 1861 census as apprenticed as an assistant Draper and grocer to one Stephen Sawyer of Headcorn, and first appears in Limpsfield in the 1871 census, where he is listed aged 29, with his wife Emily Chambers (aged 27, whom he had married in 1867 at Tonbridge and who was the daughter of James and Elizabeth Chambers of Headcorn (Holingbourne), Kent. At this time they had one son, Philip (aged 1).

 

In 1871 George is described as a draper and grocer, employing 2 men and 1 boy.

The 1881 census describes George Wickham as a draper, grocer and baker employing 6 men and 2 boys, and his children are listed as Emily (9), George (7), Elizabeth (4), Harold (2), and Maria (newly born), so it would appear that within the 10 interceding years his business had rapidly grown.

 

By 1891, the enterprise had expanded again to incorporate the business of wine and spirit merchant with his address given as “West Heath” (West Heath is the area of Limpsfield Common at the top of Wolfs Row by St Michael’s). George Wickham bottled Page & Overton’s Ales under his own name in both ½ pint and 1 pint sizes!

At this time the household consisted of himself, his wife Emily, and his children Emily (19), George (17), Elizabeth (14), Harold (12), and Maria (10).

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By 1901 his address had changed to “Stone Wall” (aka Wickham’s Castle) or Stonewalls, as it is now named, and most of the children had fled the nest, only having Emily (29), Harold (22) and Maria (20) still living there.

George Wickham must have retired by 1911 when he is listed (in Kellys Dir) as residing at Stonewalls, but the business is referred to as Wickham Brothers, his two sons Philip and Harold.

However, by 1918 (Kellys Dir) there is no further record of the Wickham business at Limpsfield, both the sons having enlisted in the Army, which may account for the closure of the business. Philip joined the East Surrey Regiment, and Harold joined the Queens.

Nothing further is heard of either of them except that examination of subsequent death registers gives 1950 Newton Abbot for Harold, aged 71, and 1953 Croydon for Philip, aged 84.

It is interesting to note also that their mother Emily died in 1916, and their father George Wickham died 2nd Feb 1919. Was George Wickham a victim of the Spanish influenza pandemic, I wonder?

His probate was granted on 27th June 1919 to his son George Wickham Jnr and showed his estate to have been worth £18,712 12s 3d.

The building in Limpsfield High Street is still called Wickham’s Stores.

Photos supplied by Richard Symonds.

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