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Tea Dealers and Scotch Drapers

At the time when farms did not warrant a large work force and were unable to support the large families common in the early part of the nineteenth century. It was also a time of religious intolerance. Our MILROY family picked up the chapman’s packs and left Wigtownshire to cross the boarder south. In this case they could hardly have come further south as the brothers settled in Barnstaple, Devon. How they travelled is unknown but it is most likely they used a coastal trader from Stranrear to Barnstaple.

Other MILROYs have been found trading in similar wares in Glasgow, Liverpool and one group even in Belfast but as yet these have not been linked to the Barnstaple boys.

The Chapman’s trade, which became known as the Scotch Drapers, was welcome at a time when a new set of clothes or the price of cloth to make them would have stretched the ordinary folk to the limit of their purse . The Chapman sold these goods from cottage to cottage allowing the client to pay in weekly instalments using a tally men to do the weekly collection like the men from the Pru of memory.

(Provident Cheque Co. the cheques were for one Pound each and they cost one shilling plus a shilling a week for twenty weeks, the cheques could be spent in town at shops displaying the Provident sign.)

The Scotch Drapers started trading cloth but soon added all the sewing requirements and eventually cheap ready made garments.

The MILROYs also traded tea. In the early nineteenth century tea drinking became extremely popular in Britain. Coffee was thought to be the chosen beverage of business men. Lloyds coffee house developed into Lloyd’s insurance house and the many coffee houses where business men had gathered to read newspapers and discuss business developed into the gentlemen’s clubs. But among women tea was favourite. It had been introduced to court by Catherine the Portuguese wife of Charles 2nd and the upper class ladies followed the court and held afternoon tea parties their servants found that the leaves could be used a second time if they were steeped a little longer and the resulting drink was refreshing and as it was made with boiling water was the safer than drinking the contaminated water available at that time. In some of the large houses an afternoon tea break was introduced for the servants and it was noted that the break with a refreshing cup of tea perked the staff up so the practice spread. Coffee on the other hand could only produced one drink. As the temperance movement got underway tea drinking was encouraged to counter the gin and spirits that had become the favoured beverage of the “lower classes”

(This was somewhat ironic as John Wesley had preached abstinence from tea as he thought it injurious to health and the women were neglecting their weaving and household duties by taking tea in the middle of the day.)

Once the taxes had been removed from the import of tea (to counter large scale smuggling) the price fell making the product more affordable and when tea was grown in the British colonies it became a patriotic beverage. When the Milroy brothers travelled south they not only traded in drapery but also in the ever more fashionable tea which was still pricey and the tally system of paying for it was attractive to the outlying cottages and farms visited by the Scotch drapers. The main dealers took on young fellow Scots to act as tally men collecting the weekly payments on agreement that after three years of loyal service the “apprentice” would either be taken into partnership or set up on his own. The agreement was that tea would be supplied by the master on a favourable rate and the new round would not be in a certain distance of the original man’s round.

MILROY chapmen on our tree.

Patrick MILROY [21062] and Agnes nee HAMILTON [21077] had eight children born in Kirkmaiden, Wigtownshire. Five of them went south. It is not known exactly when they travelled or indeed if together or maybe one first ventured south and sent for the others to join him.

The first record of them in Devon was in 1829 when James MILROY and John MILROY dissolved their partnership by mutual agreement and James married.

James MILROY [11013] married a local girl, Mary FOLLAND [5988] in Dolton, maybe she was one of his customers?

James married in Dolton

James MILROY otp

Mary FOLLAND otp

23 March 1829

Witnessed by Emanuel FOLLAND and John HANCOCK

by Kerslake rector by licence

note all sign John Hancock was Parish clerk

Their marriage was by licence probably because they were dissenters and did not want to go to the Church the required three weeks for banns. Two of their children are recorded in the Congregational Church records.

He died in 1843 and was buried in the “Burying ground of the Congregation of Independent Dissenters of the Parish of Barnstaple”. The burial ground was closed in 1851 and eventually cleared and built over the bodies being taken to Torquay for cremation. John’s widow Mary continued to trade in tea and drapery up to 1871. She died in 1873 and was buried in the family grave in the non conformist area of Barnstaple cemetery.

Margaret [21063] and John  [21065] never married and lived together in Boutport Street in Barnstaple. Margaret was housekeeper to John on census returns up to 1871 and she died in 1872. John traded as a tea merchant and sometimes as a drapery merchant. John was elected a trustee of the Congregational Church in Cross Street. John and Margaret are also in the family grave

Peter [21081] like James married in Dolton, He married Ann BAKER [21135] in 1838 and by 1841 had moved across the Bristol Channel to Swansea where he was a tea dealer. Peter died in 1848 and his wife was a draper in 1851. Another Scot, Anthony WARWICK [21129] a widower travelling draper, was living with Ann. They married in 1858 but he died later that year. Ann continued to work as a draper. In 1861 John J CLARKE a travelling draper from the Isle of Man was living with her. At the time of the 1871 census Ann was with her daughter Ann, then ADKINS, in Kensington but was back in the same house in Swansea on the 1881 census. She was a lodging house keeper and had Donald NOBLE, a draper from Scotland and his wife, at the house.

Alexander [21064] first traded in Bodmin but later moved to Barnstaple where at one time he was in partnership with his son in law sadly this partnership ended in bankruptcy. He too is in the family grave in Barnstaple, his wife died many years before in Bodmin.

Alexander first traded in Bodmin but later moved to Barnstaple where at one time he was in partnership with his son in law sadly this partnership ended in bankruptcy He too is in the family grave in Barnstaple his wife died many years before in Bodmin.

There are several notices in the London Gazette where a partnership has been mutually dissolved and at least one court case between a master and former employee who has encroached on the first area or not purchased his stock from the agreed source.

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