The House of Toomer

Newbury Branch meeting 14th March 2018

Speaker: Phil Wood

Toomer’s shop in Newbury always boasted that it was “est 1692” but confirmation of this has eluded Phil Wood’s research. He guesses that the claim relates to the Hawkins family, into which Samuel Toomer married in Newbury in 1759.

         Samuel (1736-1813) was the son of the twice-married Joseph Toomer, who came to Newbury having worked as an exciseman in Windsor and Wallingford, and as an innholder in East Ilsley. In Newbury he had taken over the White Hart by 1742. Samuel, his youngest son, was apprenticed in the ironmongery business, wherein he married the boss’ sister, Sarah, and eventually took over the business, in which he prospered. In due course he acquired property, became a burgess of the town, magistrate and served as mayor. In partnership with Brice Bunny, lawyer, and Samuel Slocock, brewer, he opened a Newbury bank.

         His son Joseph (1760-1853) was an artist of some distinction, having possibly studied under Sir Joshua Reynolds. West Berkshire Museum has several of his local watercolours, including studies of the Presbyterian Chapel, the ironmongery shop in the Market Place, the house on the wharf, and the old guildhall, all but the last owned by his father.

         Joseph married Jane Maskelyne, cousin to the Astronomer Royal Nevil (whose name entered the family) and also to the wife of Robert Clive. He went into partnership with his father Samuel in ironmongery but his brothers spread out of Newbury. Edward went to Southampton, where he became a property developer of renown, started a bank, and eventually served as mayor. Samuel junior went to Basingstoke and did well, before retiring to Kent.

         Joseph served as burgess and three-times mayor (1791, 1801 and 1814), like his father, and kept a mayoral diary of each year. Inter alia, it details his mayoral feasts and Newbury’s petitions against the slave trade. At the back he lists the occupants of King John’s almshouses, and the Blue school boys. In 1815, aged 55 and his father lately dead, Joseph embarked on a census of the borough, which has proved immensely valuable to social and family historians.

         In 1839 Joseph announced the dissolution of the partnership with his sons, and retired to join his brother in Kent, where he lived for another 14 years. The Newbury ironmongery business came into the control of his son Samuel Nevil Toomer, whose marriage to Elizabeth Hynson produced 10 children. Three sons got into trouble: Melbourne ended up in the workhouse, Septimus shot himself, and Nevil Maskelyne Toomer was convicted of rape and imprisoned, although later pardoned and discharged. He returned to Newbury to take up the business reins.

         Nevil’s daughter bore an illegitimate son to whom she gave the father’s name, Greet, and thus the business was handed on in another name. Frederick Greet was in charge when the shop downsized in response to heavyweight high-street competition, and moved to Bartholomew Street. Boots the Chemist bought the Northbrook St shop and demolished it in the course of expansion. Toomer’s ironmongery survives today as the locksmith department of Barry Forkin’s shop.

         Frederick Greet’s sister, Dinah, was a film set designer, responsible for Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines and The Italian Job. In 2004 she passed an archive of family papers to West Berkshire Museum.

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