Clarendon Park is such a mixed area, both in terms of housing and occupants. The same was definitely true in Victorian times. Take Clarendon Park Road for instance – at one end the houses were so smart that they only had names, not numbers (at least until the Post Office reorganised Leicester street numbers c1908) – and at the other end were one-roomed almshouses and five-roomed ‘villas’. I find it fascinating, so when I found this in The Times 4th Aug 1890…
“On the 31st July (suddenly), at Fairford House, Clarendon-park, Leicester WILLIAM JOHN WALLACE, many years with Messrs. J. Simmons and Co., Upper Thames Street, aged 55 years.”
…I had to find out more. Fairford isn’t a house name I have seen whilst trudging up and down Clarendon Park Road on the school run, so I looked at a variety of sources and so far have come to the conclusion that Fairford House is the same as Fairfield House, i.e. number 2 Clarendon Park Road.
And it turns out that William John Wallace did die suddenly and in very unpleasant circumstances.
Born c1835 in Lambeth, William married and had a properly Victorian number of children (at least 9). He was a commercial traveller, working for the firm J Simmons and Co. He was obviously successful, because after the death of his wife Mary he left London and started up in business in Leicester. He purchased the booksellers and stationers business at 14 Granby Street from Francis Hewitt in 1886-7. His first advertisement appeared in The Chronicle in 1888, for “The Best Writing Inks Made” (Hollidge’s Blue Black Writing Fluid, in case you are in the market for writing ink). At the same time as purchasing the business, William and his children moved into Fairford House on Clarendon Park Road.
All was well for a time. William was a sidesman at St John the Baptist Church and, according to The Chronicle, was a Freemason and a member of the Caledonian Society in Leicester. He was also interested in the Leicester Dramatic Club, and had given lantern slide shows. In January 1889 he wrote a will making provision for his children, most of whom were still quite young. Then, in August 1890 something terrible happened. Intending to take his patent medicine for biliousness in the middle of the night and presumably in the dark, he instead took a dose of poison that he had bought to kill a dog and stupidly left on his nightstand. He was not found until the following morning, by which time nothing could be done for him and he died a couple of days later, after having explained his mistake. I can’t help feeling that there is something fishy about all this, but can’t put my finger on why.
William’s will left his eldest daughter Helena Ada Wallace in charge of all his money (about £3,ooo) and asked her to maintain a home for and raise her younger siblings until the last one reached twenty one. William left it up to Helena and her brother Edward to decide whether to sell the business or keep it going – she obviously wanted to carry on, because from 1892 the directories advertise “Misses Eleanor and Ada Wallace, trading as W Wallace.” She had a rough time of it - just before Christmas 1891 the shop was burgled. Helena moved the family to 5 Severn Street (Highfields) for a time, but then around 1895 returned to their native Lambeth. The business at Granby Street was kept going until after 1900, but was then sold to The Irish Linen Co. This was under the terms of the will, as all the children had reached adulthood. The money was split between William’s children and they went their separate ways.
The money didn’t go very far. Helena ended up as a “lady housekeeper” to a clerk at the stock exchange in Streatham Common. She didn’t stand much of a chance of getting married, being saddled with all her brothers and sisters to bring up. Perhaps she never intended to. She died quite young, in 1917, leaving £667. It’s funny how far a few lines in the newspaper can take you! Regards, Elizabeth.