The Growing Family
On 22nd May 1846, Charlotte gave birth to their first child, a daughter who they named Charlotte Elizabeth. She was baptised a month later on 21st June at St Giles in the Fields, London. During 1847, two marriages took place, the first being on 27th March when William George’s niece, Eliza Nixey, the daughter of Edward and Eliza, married William Samuel Smith, a Yeoman and son of Thomas Smith, at St Mary’s, Southampton, in the presence of Eliza’s father, her uncle William George Nixey, and Elizabeth Phillips. Eliza gave her address as Orchard Terrace, and their father’s occupations were recorded as “Oil and Colour Merchant” and “Timber Merchant”. The second marriage was a month to the day later when Charlotte’s sister, Elizabeth Pitt, married Edward Williams at St. Paul’s, Covent Garden, London, in the presence of her brother-in-law and brother, William George Nixey and William Francis Pitt.
“William Parker, a lad in the employ of Edward Mixey, for stealing a piece of lead, was convicted and adjudged to (?) days hard labour, and once whipped.”–Hampshire Telegraph, Saturday 23rd October 1847
Early in 1848, William and Charlotte’s second child, another daughter who they named Eliza, was born on 22nd January. It’s evident that Edward and Eliza Nixey left the Southampton area around this time, as can be seen from an announcement that appeared in the Hampshire Advertiser of Saturday 15th April 1848:
To Builders, Plumbers, Painters, &c.
Heath and Munday
Successors to E. Nixey, Orchard-lane Southampton.
CHEAP OIL, PAINT, COLOUR, AND VARNISH WAREHOUSE.
Window Glass and Sheet Lead cut at wholesale prices.
N.B. – Navy and Aquatic Greens, and every other description of Mixed Paints, ready for use.
Pine Varnish, Pitch, Tar, Rosin, Glue, Whiting, &c. &c.
All kinds of Brushes supplied.
Messrs. Heath and Munday take this opportunity of informing their Friends and the Public that they have taken to the above concern, and at the same time to return thanks for the patronage they have received since their commencement in the above business, hoping, by the strictest attention, to merit a continuance of their favours.
In the Morning Advertiser of Saturday 6th May 1848, a case held at the COURT OF EXCHEQUER, Westminster on May 5th between William George Nixey (plaintiff) and John Secker (defendant) was reported on. This was an action for the recovery of the amount of an undertaker’s bill. The elderly lady referred to was Mary Field, her friend John Secker being the executor of her will. The undertaker referred to was the late Henry Luff, and, as Henry hadn’t written a will, his estate was administered by William George Nixey. The article stated:
Mr. Cockburn, with whom was Mr. Lush, conducted the case for the plaintiff, and Mr. Martin and Mr. Bramwell appeared for the defendant.
The plaintiff is the executor of an undertaker of the name of Luff, who in the year 1844 supplied the funeral of an old lady of the name of Field, who had for some time resided at Slough, or in its vicinity. The defendant is one of the executors of that lady. Upon the death of the lady two of her nieces, who lived in the same house, gave orders for her funeral to be conducted in so expensive a manner as to induce the defendant and his co-executor to call upon the undertaker to inform him that they would not be responsible for its cost. The undertaker, however, said that they had nothing to do with the affair, for the ladies had given him the order, and to them he should look for payment. It turned out, however, that after this interview, and before the funeral, the defendant called again, and ordered a hearse and mourning coach, hat-bands, and gloves; and upon this it was contended for the plaintiff, that even though the executors had, in the first instance, repudiated the expense, still the defendant had recognised the debt by his subsequent visit.
On the part of the defendant, it was proved that the plaintiff had made application to Mrs. Finch for payment, and that, not succeeding in obtaining the money from the lady, he had, two years afterwards, applied to the defendant, as one of the executors, who had referred him back to the lady. Not obtaining payment, the present action had been the result.
The Jury eventually gave a verdict for the plaintiff – Damages, 42l 1s. 2d. [£2,040].
William and Charlotte’s third child, another girl, Marie Anne, was born on 15th August 1849. Four days later, the following announcement appeared in the Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle of Sunday 19th August, which gave details of one of W. G. Nixey’s inventions and the address where the product was being manufactured:
Fly-Catchers. – W. G. Nixey informs the trade he is supplying the patent Fly-catchers at 2s, 2s 6d, 3s and 4s per gross. Warranted to catch from 200,000 to 300,000 flies or wasps, without poison, danger, or trouble. Merchants and captains supplied with the composition for exportation. One agent in every town wanted. – Manufactory, 46, Dudley-street, Seven Dials. N.B. Waste paper purchased in any quantity.
The first outbreak of Cholera in Britain was in 1831, one of its victims being Thomas Nixey, William George’s second cousin. The next large outbreak occurred in 1848, and, as with the first outbreak, the areas most at risk were the new industrial towns and large cities, although nowhere was completely exempt. As part of the process of dealing with Cholera outbreaks, chloride of lime was used extensively as a preventive. The Morning Advertiser of Thursday 13th September 1849 published the following notice regarding the purchasing of chloride of lime:
Chloride of Lime, so strongly recommended by the Faculty as preventive against Cholera, can be had at W. G. Nixey’s, Colourman and Drysalter, 22, Moor-street, Soho, at 4d. per lb., 7lb. 2s., 14lb. 3s. 10d., 28lb. 7s. 6d., 112lb. 28s.; 7lb. delivered to any Wharf, Railway, or any part of London, on receipts of amount in postage stamps, or otherwise.
Even more items available at “W. G. Nixey’s old established warehouse” in Moor Street are found under the heading “Oils, Camphine, &c” in Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper in its issue of Sunday 7th October the same year:
Nixey’s Finest Sperm 6s 9d, Patent do. 6s, Cocoa-nut 4s, Vegetable 4s, Refined Argand 4s, Solar 3s, Sweet Oil 5s, 5s 6d, 6s, and 6s 6d, Camphine 4s, Naptha 2s 6d, 4s, and 8s per gallon. Best Candles 5s per dozen, Moulds 5s. Soap 40s, 45s, 50s, and 55s per 112 lbs. The cheapest house in London for Wax, Sperm, and Composition Candles.
No doubt William and Charlotte were heartbroken when their second daughter Eliza died shortly before her second birthday. She was buried at St Lawrence’s on 8th January 1850. Sadly, her’s was the first of three deaths of their children they would have to face over the next ten years. On 17th January, just nine days after burying their daughter Eliza, their daughter Marie Anne was baptised at the church of St Giles in the Fields, London.
Another advertisement about the fly-catchers appeared in the Birmingham Journal in the issue dated Saturday 22nd June 1850:
Nixey’s Egyptian Fly Catchers, so much celebrated in the metropolis of London, Edinburgh, Dublin, and the Provinces, and the Continent, destroy every Wasp and Fly without poison or inconvenience.
Wholesale Agents: Enock and Hardy, merchants and drysalters, 211 and 212 Stratford Road, Birmingham.
NIXEY’S PATENT FLY-CATCHERS, Wholesale and Retail, at George Hutchison’s, Grocer, 120, Pilgrim Street, Agent for Newcastle.
N. B. – None are genuine but those stamped with Nixey’s address.”–Newcastle Guardian and Tyne Mercury, Saturday 23rd August 1851
When the 1851 census was taken on the night of 30th March, William George Nixey’s brother and sister-in-law, Edward and Eliza née Silver, had joined him and his family at Moor Street, William George and Edward’s occupations being recorded as “Oil and Colourman” and “Flower Factor” respectively. Also with them was a servant, Anne Hutchins, and a seventeen year old visitor, Richard Muir, who would later marry into the family. Their brother John and Mary Ann had evidently separated at some point, because in this census, although John is recorded as married, he is at Regent’s Place, Slough with his widowed mother Elizabeth, while Mary, under the surname Guerrier, and said to be a butcher’s wife, is living at 6 Stevenson Street, West Ham with their son John and his family. At Regents Place, Slough are Thomas and Louisa Lucy with their children Thomas Hart, Elizabeth, George, Emily Emma, Walter John, Louisa Lucy, and Edward, while at George Green, Langley Marish is Master Tailor Joseph with his wife Martha and their two youngest children William and Mary Ann, while their eldest child, Betsy, who was just 8 years old, was recorded as a Servant working as an errand girl for Charlotte Abrahams, a Governess living at Hope Cottages, Slough.
The London Daily News of Monday 21st April 1851 printed a list of exhibitors who would be found at the upcoming exhibition at the specially constructed Crystal Palace. This included: “Nixey, William George, 22, Moor-street, Soho, 1 foot of counter.” Ten days later, on 1st May, the “Great Show” was opened by Her Majesty Queen Victoria. Exactly one week later, their family continued to grow with the birth of their third daughter Jessie on 8th May.
If you’ve been wondering how Nixey’s Fly-Catchers worked, the answer can be found in the South Eastern Gazette of Tuesday 9 September 1851:
Directions. – Lay the paper in a flat position (not in the sun); when full, fold together and press it, to kill those recently caught. The old papers are excellent for lighting fires. The composition can be had suitable for any climate (with full directions for use), in jars at 6d., 1s., and 2s. 6d. each.
Over the past few years, William George Nixey had successfully invented a new form of black lead. Up until that point, it was sold in a powdered form, which proved to be messy and wasteful. His chemical preparation of black lead in the form of tablets was about to revolutionise the use of this product for decades to come.
The ornamental design which was to be stamped into the blocks of lead was patented in 1851, (see image right), and it was on 8th November the same year that William George Nixey registered his product, as can be seen in the Windsor & Eton Express of Saturday 24th January 1852:
A New Discovery, valuable to Housekeepers
W. G. Nixey’s Chemical Preparation of Black Lead, produces a polish instantly, equal to burnished steel, without dust or waste; consequently a great saving of material and destruction to furniture.
May be had of Mr. Brown, Windsor; Mr. Hetherington, Eton, and by order of all respectable Warehouses in the Kingdom. Sold in solid squares, 2d., 4d., and 1s. per box, with an improved method of use. – Registered November 8th, 1851
Manufactory – 22, Moor Street, Soho, London
Sold by Mr. Hatton, Slough; Mr. Fielder, Newbury; Mr. John Withers, Reading; Mr. Heatherington, Uxbridge; and Mr. Andrews, Colnbrook.
The South Eastern Gazette of Tuesday 2nd March 1852 gave its readers a clear indication as to why Nixey’s solid black lead was so much better than its powdered predecessors:
This new article of domestic use, being in solid blocks, is necessarily “unadulterated”, and has the following advantages over all Black Leads in the form of powder.
1st. It produces a more brilliant and permanent lustre, with half the usual labour.
2nd. It is more economical, being free from “dust” or “waste”.
3rd. Its solid form renders any “admixture” with other powders impracticable.
It wasn’t long before the name William George Nixey had become known for another of his inventions, Nixey’s Patent Revolving Till. The patent was registered on 1st October 1852, and it appeared at the International industrial exhibition of 1853 in Ireland which opened on 12th May. The 26th July 1856 issue of the Leeds Mercury stated that the till was available with 6, 8, 10, or 12 compartments. The following article was first published in newspapers in England and Ireland early in 1853, before appearing on the other side of the world in The Courier, Hobart, Tasmania, in the issue dated 5th July:
An invention of considerable importance to tradesmen and their customers has been patented by Mr. W. G. Nixey, of 22, Moor-street, Soho-square. It consists of an instrument extremely simple in point of construction, and very elegant in appearance, which is a temporary receptacle for money paid over, before it reaches the till, and becomes undistinguishable from other moneys. In this place it is alike removed from the immediate control of both parties. It is, in fact, impounded there, and in the heaviest press of business a coin paid in does not reach the till before a sufficient interval has elapsed for the passing of any remark concerning it. The instrument consists of a cylindrical box of brass or white metal, about six inches in diameter, which is either flush with the counter, or stands slightly above its surface. Inside, and near the top, is a shallow circular tray, mounted upon an upright axle in the centre of the box, and divided into six equal sectors by suitable partitions. Each of these is destined to receive money paid in the adjustment of distinct transactions. The tray is covered over with a thick plate of plate glass, in which an aperture is cut coinciding in position with that of one of the sectors of the tray when the instrument is not in use. In this sector the pieces of money paid over by the customer are deposited, and the tradesman immediately applying his hand to a little ivory handle, which impels an escapement action in connection with the tray, the tray revolves smartly through the sixth part of one revolution, and the money, though visible through the glass by both parties, is accessible to neither. The next payment in its turn is advanced through one sector, and there are now two sections with money in them visible through the glass. As many as five consecutive payments may thus remain in view simultaneously; each being for the time an evidence, which must be conclusive on any question of identity of coin. When the instrument is moved through one sector more, the bottom of the first sector loses the support which it has so far had, and the money is dropped through an orifice in the counter into the till below. This arrangement is at once simple and effective, not subject to damage, and incapable of error, and in every dispute between tradesmen and customer it seems to leave nothing to desire.
Unfortunately, William George Nixey soon found himself on the receiving end of an unscrupulous employee, as reported on in the Morning Post of Tuesday 2nd August 1853:
William Reid, 29, was indicted for having embezzled the sums of 5l. 1s. 3d. [£296.31], and 19s. [£55.60], which he had received for and on account of William George Nixey, his master. He pleaded Guilty. The prosecutor was an oil and colourman in Moor-street, St Giles’s, and the prisoner, who had been his clerk, had, without his authority, gone out and collected money from customers, which he never paid over or accounted for. The Assistant-Judge sentenced him to nine months’ hard labour.
William and Charlotte must have been absolutely delighted when their fifth child was born the following month, on 23rd September, their first son, who they named William Edward. It was just two days after his birth that William George’s mother Elizabeth née Randell passed away at the age of eighty-one, and was buried with her husband at St Lawrence’s on 3rd October. Their inscriptions read:
Sacred to the memory of John Nixey, wheelwright of this parish
died February 18th 1842 aged 70 years
Also of Elizabeth Nixey, wife of the above, who died September 25th 1853 aged 80 years
William Edward along with his sister Jessie were baptised shortly afterwards on 20th October at St Giles in the Fields, London, but his death several months later at the age of just eight months would no doubt have deeply affected his family. He was buried at St Lawrence’s on 23rd May 1854.
On 27th December 1813, the United Grand Lodge of England was formed when the Ancient Grand Lodge of England and the Premier Grand Lodge of England were united. This was followed by a great expansion of Freemasonry throughout the 19th century. Within Freemasonry, there are three degrees, the first being Initiate, the second is Fellow Rattens, and the third is Master Mason, each of which has its own ceremony. On 13th December 1853, William George Nixey joined the United Grand Lodge of England when he was initiated into the Etonian Lodge at Windsor, where he paid his yearly membership dues up to 1862. Available records online appear to show this was the first Lodge he had joined, which would therefore have been known as his “Mother Lodge”. He next passed to the second degree on 17th January 1854, and was raised to the third degree on 13th February of the same year. Within Freemasonry, it’s possible to join multiple Lodges, which William George Nixey evidently did on at least two occasions. On 16th March 1859, he was initiated into The Castle Lodge at Windsor, where he paid his dues up to 1869, and finally on 24th May 1864 he was also initiated into the St John’s Lodge at Maidenhead, but he only seems to have stayed a member of that Lodge until October 1865.
The wonderful results achieved by polishing with Nixey’s Black Lead were very much appreciated even for non-domestic uses. This can be seen from the following letter which was originally printed in the United Service Journal of 24th November 1854, and which was reproduced in the Dublin Evening Mail in its issue of Wednesday 27th December of the same year:
One of the crew of the Amphion steam-frigate writing from the Baltic, says: “We are daily reminded of the inactivity of our guns, and become the more and more eager to put them into action, from the affection we bear them, induced by the constant attention bestowed upon their exterior. Every morning finds the men at work vieing with each other, and aided by Nixey’s blacklead to give their favourite gun the most resplendent appearance. If the effect of the interior should be as brilliant as the outsides, our dear lassies sitting comfortably at home before their cosy hearths, polished by the same means, will have nothing to complain of.”
In 1855, Arthur Hill Hassall, M. D., published “Food and its Adulterations”, which was comprised of the reports of the Analytical Sanitary Commission of The Lancet for the years 1851 to 1854 inclusive. One of the reports was on the subject of “Pickles, and Their Adulterations.” It appears that even in Victorian times there were concerns being raised over food standards, very similar to those shown over processed foods today. The introduction to this report stated:
To persons unacquainted with the subject, the title of this report, “Pickles and their Adulterations,” may appear somewhat singular; and they may be disposed to ask – Are not the girkins, cabbages, beans, &c., which we see in the bottles, what they appear to be? And are other vegetables than those commonly known to us mixed with the ordinary kinds? To these questions we thus reply: – “Girkins,” on close examination, often turn out to be but shrivelled or sliced cucumbers; the “young tender beans” to be old and tough; the “cauliflowers” to have run to seed; and the “red cabbage” to be nothing more than white cabbage turned into red by colouring matters, as a dyer would change the colour of a dress; further, that amongst the vegetables not unfrequently employed for the purpose of pickle-making are some which do not enter into the calculation of the epicure, as vegetable marrows, – which, when cut into pieces, form a very respectable imitation of cucumbers, – and sliced turnips, the identification of which would be apt to puzzle even a botanist, as well as certainly all those who are uninitiated in the secrets of a pickle-manufactory.
But the adulterations to which we more especially allude, and to the consideration of which our attention will be particularly directed in the following remarks, are those which refer to the quality and composition of the vinegar used for pickling, as well as to the means employed for preserving and heightening the colour of green pickles.
This was followed by a discussion of common pickling methods of the time, and a description of tests developed for analysing the acid content of the vinegar was also given. Attention was then turned to the amount of copper that was detected in the pickles:
Lastly, for the detection of the copper the following processes were adopted: – About 3 oz. of the green vegetables of each of the pickles, after having been sliced with a glass knife, were incinerated, care being taken to avoid every source of contamination: the ash, having been pulverised, was treated with 20 drops of pure nitric acid; 1 oz. of distilled water, after the lapse of a short time, was added, the solution filtered, and treated with excess of ammonia; if copper was present, the solution became more or less blue, according to the amount of the metal present. The results obtained by the above method were also, in all cases, confirmed by a second process.
You’re probably reading this and wondering why on earth this has been mentioned. Well if we look at the next part of this report, which had the lengthy title of “Results of the Chemical Analysis of Twenty Samples of Pickles of Different Kinds Purchased of Various Pickle-Makers and Other Tradesmen in London”, we find that the ninth out of ten samples of mixed pickles tested was “purchased of W. G. Nixey, Oilman, 22, Moor-street, Soho”:
Analysis. – 1000 grains of the vinegar contain 14.65 parts of acetic acid, or 1.46 per cent., and .38 of sulphuric acid; pickles contaminated with a very small quantity of copper, as shown by the slight deposition of the metal on the bar of iron.”–Excerpts from “Food and its Adulterations,” by A. H. Hassall, London, 1855, pages 383-386.
So, the burning question has to be, how did his sample of mixed pickles rate against the other nine tested? All the other samples had more copper than his, and most were described in terms such as “a very considerable quantity,” “a considerable quantity,” “a very well-marked coating,” “rather much copper,” “a small quantity,” and so on. As his were said to have had “a very small quantity,” he undoubtedly did better than everyone else tested. Soon after that report was originally published, a letter appeared in the February 28th 1852 issue of the Lancet, which was reproduced as a full-page advertisement on page 59 of Hassall’s 1855 publication:
To the Editor of The Lancet.
Sir, – My attention has been drawn to an article in your valuable journal, under the head of “Pickles and their Adulterations,” in which my name with others in the trade are mentioned.
The public owe you a deep debt of gratitude for your unwearied labour in detecting and exposing the adulterations practised in the various articles of food. In so doing you are not rendering a greater service to society at large than to the manufacturer and tradesman of integrity and honesty.
I observe with much gratification that of the twenty samples of pickles recently analyzed by you, mine are the most favourably distinguished in your report, as “contaminated with a very small quantity of copper, as shown by a very slight deposition of metal on the bar of iron.”
My object, Sir, in troubling you is, first, to inquire whether my pickles were at all inferior in quality to the other samples, since, if that is not the case, it confirms my conviction that the use of copper you allude to is not necessary to produce the fine green colour; and secondly, I beg leave to state that I never employ copper or any other agent beside that of fire and vinegar in the process of “greening pickles.” I am utterly at a loss to account for the presence even of the very small quantity of copper which you have discovered, unless it has arisen from the vessel used in heating the vinegar, which is always kept clean and perfectly bright, and if so, the slight contamination of copper would be the result of accident, and not that of adulteration. I shall esteem it a great favour if you will give me your opinion on these points, having always understood hot vinegar would not act upon copper. With apologies for Intruding upon your valuable time,
I am. Sir, your obedient servant, Moor-street, Soho, February, 1852. W. G. Nixey.
*** Vinegar, whether hot or cold, and especially when hot, acts energetically on copper, however clean and bright it may be kept; and in proportion to the length of time during which the metal is allowed to remain in contact with the vinegar, so will the extent of impregnation be greater. The use of the copper vessel, as described by Mr. Nixey, conclusively accounts for the presence of the small quantity of copper detected in the pickles purchased at his establishment. In other respects the pickles seem of good quality. – Analytical Commissioner.
William George and Charlotte Nixey’s second son, William George, was born on 4th March 1855, and baptised at St Giles in the Fields shortly afterwards on 2nd April. Completely unbeknownst to him, he would be destined to take on his father’s business in years to come. In the Portsmouth Times and Naval Gazette of Saturday 7th April 1855, the now familiar Black Lead advert appeared, but this time with the addition of another product:
Nixey’s Black Lead Blocks
Cleanliness, Economy, great Saving of Time and Labour, Preservation of Furniture, &c. A Stove brilliantly polished in two minutes for less than One Farthing. These high domestic advantages are now established throughout the United Kingdom by the use of NIXEY’S CELEBRATED REGISTERED BLACK LEAD, in Solid Blocks, at 1d., 2d., and 4d. Each.
Agent for Supplying the Trade – Mr. Levi, 6, St George’s Square, Portsea. Delivered Free, with Liberal Discount.
N.B. – At the above Agency the Trade is also supplied with Nixey’s Famed Washing Crystal, by which much LABOR, SOAP, and FUEL are spared, and the usual Rubbing, so Destructive to the Fabric, is thereby avoided.
*** Beware of Base Imitations ***
William George Nixey was quite prepared to advertise his blacklead in a variety of ways. Reynolds’s Newspaper of Sunday 6th May 1855 printed details of a case that was brought up in the WESTMINSTER COUNTY COURT, where things hadn’t quite gone to plan. The article was entitled “Not Doing the ‘Trick’”:
Nixey v. Smith
This was an action brought in the Westminster County Court by Mr. W. G. Nixey, Moor-street, Seven Dials, patentee of a chemical preparation of black lead, against the defendant, Mr. E. T. Smith, lessee of Drury Lane Theatre, to recover the sum of 7l 10s. [£438.98], on an alleged breach of agreement. Mr Duncombe, solicitor, Red Lion-square, attended for Mr. Smith, who, through illness, was incapacitated from appearing, and was represented by Mr. G. Wyld, his acting-manager. From plaintiff’s statement, it appeared that in the late pantomime entitled “Jack and Jill come down the Hill”, he gave 7l. 10s. to a person who was agent to defendant to represent in a scene his shop, name, and business, on the door of the shop, to announce in the bills that such was to be seen, and afterward to exhibit a drop-scene, to be turned from the words of “Nixey’s Black Lead” by the magic wand into “Gone to Blazes” (Laughter.) That trick was not performed, and hence the present proceedings. Mr. W. Warren, London agent for Mr. Soyer, at present engaged at the Crimea ladling out soup for the soldiery, corroborated plaintiff’s charge as to the non-performance of the “trick”. Mr Duncombe said he would call before his honour a gentleman well versed in such matters, viz., Mr. George Wild, the celebrated comedian, who perhaps would throw a different light on the case. Mr. Wild said that neither Mr. Smith, Mr. Stirling, stage manager, or himself had been cognizant of such a trick being required to be done. He could positively say the plaintiff’s shop was fully represented, with the door fixed in the centre of the flooring of the stage, on which a large poster was placed, bearing the plaintiff’s name, business, and address. For as much as that a City confectioner paid 60l. [£3,511.80], considering, as he likewise did, the advertisement, especially at such a theatre as Drury Lane, to be better than one inserted in any newspaper. Mr. Warren: Yes, but there the trick of eating pastry was performed (Laughter.) Mr. Wild: You are wrong, for the party was no pastrycook, but only a maker of twelfth and wedding-cakes, which the Clown and Pantaloon having eaten of, to their heart’s content, they pocketed the remainder (Loud laughter.) His Honour observed that he was of opinion that there had been a breach of contract, for which defendant was liable, in not doing the “tricks”, and his decision would be accordingly. Judgment for 5l. [£292.65].
The following article from the Reading Mercury dated Saturday 28th July 1855 shows the origin of "Nixey’s Patent Washing Crystals", the forerunner of Nixey’s Bag Blue. It appeared under the heading “Infantile Fretfulness”:
A great inductive philosopher, who is equally ready to trace apparently trifling results to their origin as the grandest effects of nature, gives as one of the principal reasons of the fretfulness of infants, the fact that their diapers are washed in soda, and from the re-moistening of this caustic alkali that cruel irritation of the delicate tissue of the skin arises termed “scalding” by nurses, and attributed by them to any other reason than the right one. To obviate this serious infliction he recommends the washing of the clothes in an extract of Fuller’s Earth in crystals, the exact preparation of which he has generously given to the public through Mr. Nixey, of Moor-street, Soho, which, besides the boon thus accorded to babes, will cleanse and render of a pure white all description of linen, and leave the hands of the operator with a peculiar soft and silky feeling. “Standard,” Thursday, July 19th, 1855.
Also in 1855, William George Nixey found a very enterprising way of advertising his products by taking out full-page ads in George Foggo’s “National Gallery: A Catalogue of the Pictures with Critical
Notes”, and also in the preliminary pages of the British Museum catalogue. Even though this would most likely have been a very costly way to advertise, there would have been a large circulation and huge exposure of his products to
the visitors to the gallery and museum. The advertisement was divided into three sections as shown below:
Patent Money Tills
Caution. – “Gittins v. Symes.”
– I, WILLIAM GEORGE NIXEY, of 22,
Moor-street, Soho, original inventor and patentee of “Improvement in tills and other receptacles for money,” hereby give notice, that certain money tills heretofore made and sold by various persons are an infringement of my patent, and that the same was so decided in the Court of Common Pleas on the 12th inst., in an action “Gittins v. Symes;” and I hereby caution all persons against infringing my said patent by making, selling, or using such money tills, as upon every infringement I shall (for my own protection) be compelled to resort to legal proceedings.
Nixey’s Patent Money Tills. Price, 21s., 25s., and 31s. 6d., each. May be fixed to any Counter in a few minutes.
W. G. Nixey, 22, Moor Street, Soho.
A Stove most brilliantly Polished in two minutes, for less than One Farthing. – W. G. Nixey’s registered BLACK LEAD, a new domestic discovery, cannot be wasted, and is a preservative of furniture from the injurious effects of the common article now in use, as it creates no dust, and requires comparatively no labour. Sold throughout the United Kingdom, 1s., 2d., and 1s. boxes.
W. G. Nixey’s Extract of Fuller’s Earth, in Crystals, for Softening Water, Clearing and Beautifying Linen, Lawn, Woollen, &c. The want of such an article as the above has long been felt by Families who know the trouble of mending, that more destruction to the Clothes is caused in the wash-tub than the wear and tear of actual use. “The Extract of Fuller’s Earth is the quickest and most effective article ever introduced, incapable of injury to the hands, or the finest fabric, and requires only to be tried to be appreciated.”–Times, August 11th 1854.
Sold by Oilmen, Grocers, and Chemists, in sample packets, 6d., or 48s. per cwt.
Manufactory, 22, Moor Street, Soho Square, Warehouse, 83, Upper Thames Street.
Beautiful Clean Linen
The purest, best, and only unadulterated PICKLES discovered in London by the Analytical Commission, and fully reported in the Lancet of the 31st January, and again in page 210, 21st February, 1855 – see also the last page in Dr. Hassell’s recent Work on Food and its Adulteration – were manufactured and purchased at the warehouse of W. G. Nixey, 22, Moor Street Soho.
In 1856, William George Nixey purchased the Old Vicarage at Slough, and built Springfield House on the site. The lodge house at the end of Springfield House’s drive has a stone plaque in the gable with the stylised inscription “WGN 1857”. It was also around this time that a property known as 12 Soho Square, London, became the focal point of the company, an address which was to become famously linked to his products, and known the world over for decades to come. With regards this latter property, the British History Online website quoted from the Survey of London, Volumes 33 and 34, pages 64-65, St Anne Soho, published by London County Council in 1966, which stated in part:
All the six houses (Nos. 12-17) which comprised the eastern range of the north side of the square ... were probably built by Richard Frith and William Pym in the years immediately after 1677. In 1754 the leases of Nos. 12 and 13 were in the possession of John Homer of St. James’s, surgeon, to whom in October of that year the second Duke of Portland granted two leases extending the existing terms to 1799. Each lease contained a proviso that if Homer rebuilt the house before 1770 his term would be extended to 1853. Both No. 12 and No. 13 were rebuilt in 1768-9 by Henry Homer of St. James’s, gentleman, to whom the third Duke granted two new leases in February 1770. ... At some date later in the century, probably after 1857, when the house passed into the possession of Messrs. Nixey, a firm of black-lead manufacturers, the two street fronts were altered and embellished in the present manner, so that they now appear to be of mid nineteenth-century date. The house is of three storeys with another in a mansard roof and has the usual frontage of three windows to the square and a long return to Soho Street, the disused central entrance here having a two-storeyed bay window above it, supported on Doric columns. The stucco facing of the elevation to the square is typical mid nineteenth-century work with a rusticated and arcaded ground storey and pedimented first-floor windows. It is returned for a width of two windows into Soho Street, beyond which the bay window has been crudely reconstructed and the north end of this front much altered.
The distance from Moor Street to Soho Square is about a five minutes’ walk, along the whole length of Greek Street. Number 12 was on the north side of the square, just off Oxford Street, and was by far the more superior address, Moor Street being more down-market. It seems logical that he acquired 12 Soho Square as additional premises when the business began to flourish. It’s also fair to say he would have reached a much better class of customer there than in Moor Street.
However, before Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road opened in 1886, Soho Square was a relatively quiet area in which to operate a business. According to Margaret Goldsmith’s historical study “Soho Square” (published in 1947, pages 165 and 167):
the isolation of Soho Square from wide streets was a distinct disadvantage to businessmen. Oxford Street was the only main road conveniently near for vehicles transporting goods from and to the Square. Dean Street, Frith Street, and Greek Street were too narrow to be of much use to the increasing trade of the Square and as early as 1828 the Paving Committee of the Parish of St. Anne reported the need for better road communications direct north and south of the Parish.
At that time, it should be remembered, the only direct communications between Pall Mall and Oxford Street were by Whitcomb Street, Princes Street, and Wardour Street. Between Charing Cross and Oxford Street, the only direct route was by St. Martin’s Lane, Great Andrew’s Street, and Broad Street, St Giles ...
One of the men who moved to Soho Square ... showed an unusual tenacity in making his place of business known throughout London. This was Mr. W. G. Nixey of No. 12. Mr. Nixey had originally had an oil shop at the corner of Moor Street and Dudley Street – as they were then called – near Cambridge Circus. His invention of black lead in block form increased his business and he came to the square as a Black Lead Manufacturer. Mr. Nixey regretted the isolation of the Square at that time. There were so few casual passers-by who would see his name plate on the house and be tempted to try out his black lead. He decided to advertise: his products and the Square enjoyed a brief period of notoriety.
William George Nixey’s advertising enterprise was to be described in detail 50 years later by John Henry Cardwell, the Rector of St Anne’s Soho, who looked back to the earlier days of Soho Square in his book “Two Centuries of Soho, Its Institutions, Firms, and Amusements” (published in 1898):
Advertising in these days has become a fine art, and original indeed must he be who contrives something really novel. Pictures in fire, and balloons scattering bank notes and handbills, are amongst the newest developments of this adjunct of trade. But seldom have modern advertisements surpassed in boldness of idea and success in its result the famous device which may be said to have founded the fame of Mr. W. G. Nixey’s Black Lead fifty years ago.
We have before us a sketch of this early Living Picture, whose progress through the streets of London in those days caused such excitement and obstruction that Parliament was petitioned to prohibit such unheard-of novelties. This representative of Mr. Nixey was dressed in complete armour, well polished with the new black lead. He was mounted on a magnificent black charger, also in a coat of mail, and carried a banner, on which was the then strange device, “W. G. Nixey’s Refined Black Lead.” His stately progress through the streets of London was attended by enormous crowds, and though his career was at length summarily stopped, yet by this time Mr. Nixey’s name was so well known that his new venture was fairly launched, and an enormous impetus was given to the demand for his black lead.
The first of William George’s surviving siblings to pass away was John who died of Phthisis at Castle Terrace, Stratford, Essex on 16th June 1857. He was buried at St Lawrence’s on 22nd June aged sixty-two.
William George and Charlotte’s final three children were born at Slough. The first of these, a girl named Augusta, was born there on 7th October 1857, evidently being named in memory of the sister that Charlotte lost when she was just ten years old.
There’s an old saying, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” That certainly wasn’t the case as far as William George Nixey was concerned, as can be seen in an article that was published in Reynolds’s Newspaper on 1st and 8th November 1857:
“John Leeson and George Charlton were, on Tuesday, remanded on a charge of stealing a quantity of lead, the property of Mr. W. G. Nixey.”–The Reading Mercury, Saturday 4th September 1858
“W.G. Nixey’s Black Lead for polishing stoves.
W. G. Nixey’s Crystals for making hard water soft.
Sold everywhere.–Office, 12, Soho square.”–London Evening Standard, Friday 13th January 1860
“Beautiful Clean Linen. -W. G. Nixey’s Cleansing Crystals consist only of the active chemical properties of Fuller’s Earth, rendering the hardest water perfectly soft. Saves time and labour, and greatly improves the colour of linens. Sold in packets, 6d. Sample of 1d. to be had of any respectable chemist or oilman. To Linen Bleachers and large consumers, 48s. per cwt. Manufactured by W. G. Nixey, 12, Soho-square, London.”–London City Press, Saturday 26th May 1860
The Success of Nixey’s Invention of Blacklead – for polishing stoves, &c., equal to burnished steel, with ease and cleanliness – has tempted numerous imitations to be manufactured, and which some unscrupulous tradesmen are knowingly vending, with a view of deriving greater profit. Against such impositions the public are cautioned by the inventor and patentee, W. G. Nixey,12, Soho-square, London. Retail by all respectable tradesmen in town and country.
Then on 15th and 22nd November, again in Reynolds’s Newspaper, the following advertisement appeared:
Cleanliness. – A stove most brilliantly polished in two minutes, for less than one farthing. W. G. Nixey’s patent black lead cannot be wasted, and is a preservative of furniture from the injurious effects of the common article now in use, as it creates no dust, and requires comparatively no labour. Sold throughout the United Kingdom, in 1d., 2d., 4d., and 1s. boxes. – W. G. Nixey, patentee, 12, Soho-square.
Early the next year, the Illustrated Times of Saturday 23rd January 1858 gave more specific details on how W. G. Nixey’s product was being copied:
Cleanliness. – W. G. Nixey’s Chemical Preparation of Black Lead, for polishing stoves without waste or dust. The Proprietor begs to caution the public against being imposed upon by unprincipled tradesmen, who, with a view of deriving greater profit, are knowingly vending spurious imitations of the above article. The form and style of the package, as well as the colour and wording of the labels (except the name “W. G. Nixey” and the Government stamp), are, in some of the instances referred to, minutely copied from the original. By asking for Nixey’s Blacklead, it may be had of all respectable shopkeepers. W. G. Nixey, Inventor and patentee, 12, Soho Square, and 83 Upper Thames Street, London.
For Exportation – The above can be obtained through British Merchants, Shippers, and Colonial Agents.
William George and Charlotte’s third son, John Edward, was baptised at St Lawrence’s on 2nd March 1859, but, once more, a dark cloud fell on the Nixey household when he died soon afterwards. He was buried at St Lawrence’s on 12th March 1859. Their final child, a girl who they named Clara Burnell, was born on 10th March 1860, Burnell being the maiden name of William George Nixey’s maternal grandmother.
Elizabeth Nixey née Randell and John Nixey, Upton-cum-Chalvey: HO107 piece 1718 folio 361 page 51.
Edward Nixey and Eliza née Silver; William George Nixey and Charlotte née Pitt, St Giles in the Field: HO107 piece 1509 folio 333 page 4.
Thomas Nixey and Louisa Lucy née Hart, Upton-cum-Chalvey: HO107 piece no. 1718 folio 361 page 50
John Deverill and Mary Ann née Nixey, Upton-cum-Chalvey: HO107 piece 1718 folio 361 page 51.
Joseph Nixey and Martha née Blincoe, Langley Marish: HO107 piece 1718 folio 180 page 1.
Edward Williams and Elizabeth née Pitt, Upton-cum-Chalvey: HO107 piece 1718 folio 380 page 11.
The Lancet, February 28th 1852, volume 1 page 210.
Unless otherwise stated, all newspaper articles can be found at the British Newspaper Archive.
The photograph of Nixey’s Black Lead shop sign is by Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History.
The photograph of the patent for the ornamental design for use on tablets of W G Nixey’s black lead is by Judy Lester, it was enhanced by Nivard Ovington, and appears with the permission of The National Archives.
The photograph of Nixey’s Patent Revolving Till appears by kind permission of Wotton Auction Rooms Ltd.
The photograph of 12 Soho Square appeared in the book "Two centuries of Soho, its institutions, firms, and amusements" by John Henry Cardwell, published 1898 by Truslove and Hanson, London