Chapter 9

The Golden Jubilee and Onwards


As the year 1897 drew ever closer, excitement was no doubt running high throughout Britain with the upcoming Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. As far as the Nixey family was concerned, the year 1896 brought with it times of sadness as well as of pride and joy. Sadly the year hadn’t got off to a very good start, because on Thursday 27th February, William George Nixey’s sister, Jessie Mills, passed away at her home, Bennington Rectory, Stevenage, Hertfordshire, at the age of forty-four. This is how her death was reported on in the South Bucks Standard of Friday 6th March:

Death of Mrs. Mills – We deeply regret to have to record the death of Mrs. Mills, wife of Rev. William Mills, of Bennington Rectory, Stevenage, formerly curate of Slough, which took place on Thursday, after a long illness at the early age of 44. The deceased lady was the daughter of the late Mr. William Nixey, of “Springfield,” and sister to Mrs. Secker, of Denmark House, Slough.

A few months later, a wonderful announcement was made, the timing of which really couldn’t have been better given that it was the company’s Golden Jubilee. This is how it appeared in the Stamford Mercury of Friday 17th July:

Mr. W. G. Nixey, of black lead fame – who already holds a Royal warrant appointing him sole black lead manufacturer to the Queen – has just been the recipient of an award appointing him black lead manufacturer to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales.

In relation to the Golden Jubilee, the Friday 14th May issue of the Sheffield Independent printed the following:

Anent the Queen’s diamond jubilee, Mr. W. G. Nixey, of black lead fame, is, we learn, one of those pioneers of commerce who celebrates his jubilee this year – the business which he established, and which has grown to such vast proportions, having now been in existence over half a century. The event to Mr. Nixey is of more than ordinary interest, for he holds Royal warrants from both her Majesty and the Prince of Wales in respect of the household commodities which he manufactures.

Shortly before that article was published, The Manchester Evening News of 10th May advertised five products that were then readily available from W. G. Nixey:

For Spring Cleaning
Try the Following, Sold Everywhere
Nixey’s Black Lead
Best in World, ½d, 1d., 2d., 4d. and 1s. sizes.
Nixey’s Bag Blue
Ready for use in large Flannelette bags. ½d, and 1d. each. Purest-Best.
Nixey’s Knife Polish
Cutlery like Silver – without wearing, 6d. and 1d. tins.
Nixey’s “Nixelene”
Stove Paste in ½d., 1d., 2d., and 2 ½d., tins.
Nixey’s Berlin Black
Dries Dead – No Smell – for all Ironwork, in 1s., 1s. 6d., and 2s. 6d. Bottles.
Should your Shopkeeper not get them for you, write to
W. G. Nixey, 12 Soho Square, London, W.

In 1897, a photograph of the renowned Shakespearean actress Ellen Terry (right) was used to advertise Nixey’s Blue. She had earlier that year appeared on the London stage as the laundress Madame Sans-Gêne in the English premiere of Sardou’s play of the same name. On page 139 of “Ellen Terry, Spheres of Influence”, published in 2015, Katharine Cockin refers to advertisers exploiting images of the famous to sell their products, and Arthur Marwick in his 2007 book “A History of Human Beauty” acknowledged on page 169 that “A famous beautiful face, in a relevant context, was a great advertising coup.”

In 1898, John Henry Cardwell, the Rector of St Anne’s, Soho, in his book entitled “Two Centuries of Soho, Its Institutions, Firms, and Amusements,” reflected on the history of the Nixey firm (his comments on William George Nixey’s advertising enterprise appeared in Chapter 3).

Mr. Nixey had for some time before this carried on business as an oilman at the corner of Moor Street and Dudley Street as they were then called, near where Lockhart’s now is in Cambridge Circus. But when the sale of black lead in block form had vastly increased his business, six houses in Dudley Street were taken for the manufacture of his new invention, and on the same site, now in Shaftesbury Avenue, the factory still is, now, of course, greatly enlarged.
The plumbago used in the manufacture comes from Ceylon, and the blacklead from Austria. The manufacture itself, however, is all carried on in Soho, and not abroad. The firm holds the Royal Warrant for the sole manufacture of blacklead to H.M. the Queen and H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, and have obtained the highest awards and prize medals and special certificates at the following exhibitions: London, 1851 and 1862; Dunedin, 1890; Adelaide, 1887; Melbourne, 1888; Chicago, 1893. It is worth noting in connection with the last-named distinction that the First Order of Merit was obtained in a country where the sale of Nixey’s blacklead is debarred by the protective tariff.
The trade mark of the firm is a stag, and is to be found on many other useful and well-known inventions which they have brought out, such as knife polish, bag blue, emery cloth and stove polish. In fact it has been said that “Nixey’s can make us black, brown, or blue, expeditiously and cheaply.”
Mr. John Langsford, the general manager, is a member of the Society of Arts, and happens this year to be celebrating his silver jubilee. This is also Mr. Nixey’s golden jubilee.

“Woman’s World.
Social Gossip.
Mr. and Mrs. Nixey, who are making a tour round the world, and have been staying at the Imperial Hotel, left by the mail train for Sydney on Sunday.”–Brisbane Courier, Tuesday 19th April 1898

“The Union Company’s favorite steamer Mararoa left yesterday for Auckland, with the following passengers: ... Mr. and Mrs. Nixey, Mr. and Mrs R. S. McKinstry and three children...”–Evening News (Sydney), Friday 22nd April 1898

The Weston-Super-Mare Gazette and General Advertiser of Saturday 4th June 1898 published the following with regards a Trade Exhibition that was being held at Weston-Super-Mare that month. In part it stated:

An exhibition which should attract the patronage of all who are able to manage to visit it, is this week being held at the Victoria hall, and will be continued over next week. The exhibition is promoted by the “Trades and Commerce Exhibition Syndicate,” and is under the management of Mr. C. F. Bilson and Mr. Goodchap, by whom the arrangements have been carefully made, with the results that the exhibition is a thoroughly interesting one, and promises to be a great success. ...

Nixey’s blacklead, Cervus bag blue, Cervus cycle chain lubricant, Cervus knife polish, and Cervus Nixelene polishing paste. Punch has said of this old firm, “That Nixey Cervus well.”

A few months later, the Gloucestershire Chronicle of Saturday 10th September 1898 made mention of the Trades Exhibition that had recently been opened at Gloucester, which included the following:

At the Northgate Assembly Rooms, Gloucester, on Tuesday, was opened a Trades Exhibition of an interesting character ... the object of the promoters being to demonstrate in the most practical manner the advantages of the use of up-to-date food preparations, domestic and sanitary appliances, and labour saving inventions. ... Mr. W. G. Nixey, of London, has an interesting display of his premier manufactures of world wide renown, first and foremost being Nixey’s refined black lead. His other specialities include “Cervus” bag blue, knife polish, and “Egg-shell” enamel, Berlin black for ornamental castings, stoves and ironwork.

The first British telephone directory was published on 15th January 1880 by The Telephone Company, and contained 248 names and addresses of individuals and businesses in London. Telephone numbers were not used at the time as subscribers were asked for by name at the exchange. To date, the earliest entry for W. G. Nixey at 12 Soho Square is found in the directory for 1899. Afterwards, listings for the company could be regularly found until 1923, not only at the Soho Square address, but also at 125 Shaftesbury Avenue.

In the Sheffield Independent of Wednesday 31st May 1899, the following was printed in an article regarding the Trades Exhibition that was held there:

Then where there is a gas stove or a fire-grate one article is essential – black lead. Nixey’s Black Lead finds a prominent place in the exhibition, and the same manufacturer’s refined lead, which is a distinct speciality, is shown along with “Nixelene,” a paste, made from graphite, which requires no polishing, and which, it is claimed by the vendors, is the only paste which will clean a greasy or rusty grate. But black lead will not adhere to a brown bar, and Nixey’s enamel is a preparation which will give a foundation on which a polish may be put afterwards. It is a high compliment to this firm that their black lead is solely supplied to the Queen’s household. “Blue,” to whiten linen, is a long way removed from black lead, but there is no incongruity in the two appearing in the same stall, and there is no need to emphasise their respective merits when they come from the house of Nixey. The “cervus” knife polish is another production which can claim a high place in the market.

The Bucks Herald of Saturday 4th November 1899 printed the following under the heading “Reviews”:

Messrs. S. W. Partridge and Co.’s Periodicals. – The leading article in the British Workman is from the pen of an Australian, and discusses “The Men we want in the Colonies.” A full account is given, with illustrations, of the processes employed in the manufacture of Nixey’s Black Lead.

Currently, I don’t have a copy of this article, but as soon as I do, it will be added to this chapter.

At the turn of the twentieth century, “I Always Use Nixey’s Refined Black Lead” was the title found on a four page novelty advertisement for Nixey’s Black Lead:

In this advertisement measuring 13.5cm by 10cm, a circle is cut out of the first page, to reveal the upper-body of a well-dressed lady holding a packet of Nixey’s black lead. When opened, a pop-up scene appears, in which the lady is now depicted kneeling to polish her grate, with a servant’s apron and cap flung over her green dress, and a proud smile on her face. There was an impressive list of eight products advertised on the back:

Nixey’s Refined Black Lead, In ½d., 1d., 2d., 4d. blocks and 1s. boxes. Fifty years world-wide reputation. As used in all the Royal Palaces. The deep, lasting, Best Polish in the World.
Nixey’s “Cervus” Bag Blue, Ready for use. Large ½d. and 1d. Flannelette bags. Thousands of Testimonials.
Nixey’s “Cervus” Knife Polish, In 6d. and 1s. tins. Does not wear the Cutlery.
Nixey’s “Nixelene” Stove Paste. If you prefer a Paste Polish, this is the Best. In 1d. and 2½d. tins. Black, brilliant. Scores of Testimonials.
Nixey’s “Silver Moonlight” Stove Polish, If you prefer a light, silvery polish. In ½d., 1d., 2d. blocks and 6d. Boxes. Much admired.
Nixey’s Egg-Shell Enamel Berlin Black. In 6d., 9d., 1s., 1s. 6d., and 2s. Bottles. A dead Black Varnish for all Ornamental Wrought-iron Castings and Stoves and Fenders. Dries hard in a few minutes. No smell. The Oldest and Best.
Nixey’s Fine Black Varnish, In 6d. and 1s. Bottles. A bright glossy Black for Stoves and all Ironwork. Dries hard in few minutes. No smell.
Nixey’s Cycle Lubricant, In 6d. tubes. Selling freely. Testimonials from Prize Winners and others from all parts.
Failing to obtain these Specialities of your tradesman, kindly write with postal Order to W. G. Nixey, 12 Soho Square, London, W.

A catchy two-line verse also appeared on the front of the advert, which said:

When you enter the shop to buy Nixey’s Black Lead,
Don’t be tempted to purchase some other instead.

The Royal Cornwall Gazette of Thursday 1st February 1900 listed many donors and contributors from Britain and its colonies to the Boer War effort. With regards Mr W. G. Nixey, of Soho-square, it said that he has “presented about 130 combined knife and fork implements to the Bucks Yeomanry, and has received the thanks of the colonel commanding. The gift is a useful one.”

Entry number 565 in the Westminster Rate Books for 1900 shows that the occupiers of 12 Soho Square were William G. Nixey, Ed. Onslow Secker, Thomas Collingwood Chown, Mrs. Harrison, and Mrs. Stevens. The property was described as being a “House and warehouse”, its Rateable value was 150, with the payable rate being 1/8 in the pound, giving a total of £12 10s. to pay. The entry shows that the amount was collected in full and that there were no arrears outstanding.

William George Nixey was evidently as keen as his father was in turning his hand to something new, as can be seen from this brief notice printed in the South London Chronicle in its issue dated Saturday 26th January 1901:

We have received a copy of “Pictorial London,” price 1d., published by W. G. Nixey, 12, Soho Square, London, W. This is the latest and cheapest illustrated guide published, giving thirty-one high-class views and descriptions of the leading places of historic interest in the metropolis.

William George and Lucy Nixey are found in the 1901 census at 66 Piccadilly, Westminster, the census having been taken on the night of 31st March. With them are three servants, Margaret Davies, Ada Browning, and Hettie Chuteley. Meanwhile, John Langsford was living at 49 Chapter Road, Willesden, Middlesex, his occupation being recorded as “Nixeys Black Lead Manager.” With him was his wife, Ann, their two daughters, Annie and Beatrice, and a servant, Alice Blanthorne. Meanwhile, living at “Glenmore”, Silverhill Park, in Hastings, is Thomas Collingwood Chown, whose occupation is given as “Blacklead Manufacturer”. With him is his wife, Eugenia and her daughter Ethel, their son Cuthbert, and three servants, Ada Emily French, Annie Giles and Edith Ann Rowse.

A Trades Exhibition was opened at Burnley on Tuesday 12th May 1901, where the Burnley Express of Wednesday 13th May printed the following:

Yesterday an exhibition of varied trades, which is to be continued until Friday week, was opened in the Burnley Mechanics’ Institution. Practically every inch of the large hall has been taken by the exhibitors, who include some of the leading firms in the country ... there are some really interesting exhibits which are not only conducive to the comfort of the home, but which are absolutely essential for its good government. As the visitor enters the hall he is confronted with a long line of stoves ... the burners and enamel linings can be removed and cleanliness thus ensured. Close by Mr. G. Nixey is showing his celebrated refined black lead, which long ago became famous as the richest, easiest, blackest, and most economical and lasting polish for grates and stoves.

Soon afterwards, the Kent & Sussex Courier on Friday 21st June printed an article regarding a much appreciated annual outing for the employees of W G Nixey:

Employees’ Outing. – On Saturday the employees of the firm of Mr G. Nixey, the well-known black lead manufacturers of London, had their annual outing in Barden Park, when the weather was delightfully fine, and the day was a most enjoyable one. The catering of Messrs. Taylor and Sons was greatly appreciated, and at the dinner, which was presided over by Mr John Langsford, the manager, several toasts were duly honoured, including “Success to the Firm.” Some indulged in athletic sports, while others went in for boating, excursions by road, &c., and everyone returned home well pleased with the outing.

For almost a decade, a product manufactured by M. M. Lawson at Bootle, Liverpool named “Lawson’s Black” looked as though it could well give some stiff competition to Nixey’s Black Lead. Their advertisements in the Manchester Times stated that “there is no place like home, and nothing in it looks more comfortable than a Bright and Clean Fireside”, a view undoubtedly shared by William George Nixey. It also claimed: “no more Blackleading required.” You can just imagine the delight felt when the following “unsolicited Testimonial” was selected out of a number they had received, which they duly included in their newspaper advertisements:

From Rev. Charles Lester, M.A.
St John’s Vicarage, Bootle, Liverpool.
Mr. M. M. Lawson – Dear Sir, I beg to congratulate you upon the excellent compound “Lawson’s Black” which you have introduced. Applied in the form of paint, it is by far the best article I have had used for fire-grates and similar purposes. It is likely the supersede the tedious and old-fashioned process of black-leading, and only needs to be known to be appreciated. Your very handy Brush and Holder combined is a capital idea which renders the application of the compound easy and cleanly in the extreme. Householders will be much indebted to you.

Despite this apparent competition however, “Lawson’s Black” was evidently no match for the world renowned and highly respected Nixey’s Refined Black Lead. This is made evident by an announcement that appeared in The Times of Saturday 20th July 1901:

The firm of William George Nixey, of 12, Soho-square, London, who held the Royal warrant of appointment to her late Majesty Queen Victoria, have the honour to announce that they have now received the Royal appointment of sole black lead manufacturers to his Majesty the King of the British Empire.

The London Daily News in its issue dated Friday 7th March 1902 briefly reported on a fire that broke out at one of W. G. Nixey’s properties:

Early yesterday morning a fire broke out at 125, Shaftesbury-avenue, premises used by Messrs. W. G. Nixey, black-lead manufacturers. The basement, used as a paste milling room, and its contents were damaged by fire and water, and the rest of the building of five floors was slightly damaged by smoke.

“Mr. W. G. Nixey, added to his familiar specialities, Nixey’s Black Lead, Nixelene, etc., a new blue – "Bobby blue" – in halfpenny, and even farthing, packets.”–The Epicure, 1901

“Nixey’s Bobby Blue, in picture boxes containing six blocks and a flannel bag to hold the blocks ; and Nixey’s Egg-Shell Enamel Berlin Black, which gives a fine dead black to all ornamental iron and art castings, preserving them from rust.”–Womanhood, 1904

Later in 1902, Richard Ripley, the inventor of Ripley’s Oval Blue, accused a retailer, Martha Griffiths, of selling Nixey’s Bobby Blue to customers who asked for his Oval Blue. To test out his theory, Richard Ripley sent some of his employees into other shops in Lancashire and Yorkshire to place trap orders for Oval Blue, to see if they were given Ripley’s Oval Blue or Nixey’s Bobby Blue. The judge was having none of it, and He determined that there was no intent to deceive customers. Martha Griffiths was exonerated, and Richard Ripley had to pay the legal costs. A summary of the case appears below, as found in the “Reports of Patent, Design, and Trade Mark Cases” dated 17th December 1902:

In the High Court of Justice
Chancery Division
Before Mr. Justice Farwell
October 31st, November 1st, 3rd, and 4th, 1902.
Ripley v. Griffiths
Action for passing-off “Oval Blue.” Claim in respect of words describing shape but not in respect of the shape itself. Actual Deception. Insufficient discharge of burden of proof. Catching or “trap” orders. Injunction refused.

The Plaintiff, Richard Ripley, had for many years carried on, at Liverpool, a business in which the principal article of manufacture was blue of a special quality for laundry purposes. By his Statement of Claim he alleged that he had sold such laundry blue made up in small cakes or blocks as “Oval Blue”; that in connection with such sales he had used two Trade Marks, viz., the words “Oval Blue,” registered in 1876, and the representation of an oval cake or block, registered in 1884, and had extensively advertised the article both as “Ripley’s Oval Blue” and as “Oval Blue”; and that his blue had come to be known as “Oval Blue,” with a high reputation for excellent and even quality under that name, and to be recognised in the wholesale and retail markets as denoting the blue of his manufacture. The Plaintiff’s blue had long commanded a large and ready sale throughout the United Kingdom, being sold by retail grocers and chandlers at one halfpenny per cake or block. The evidence showed that the customers for it were almost entirely women, servants, and children.
The Defendant, Martha Griffiths, widow, was a retail dealer at Liverpool, who had for many years dealt with the Plaintiff as a purchaser from him of his “Oval Blue.” In February 1902, some time after she had ceased to purchase the Plaintiff’s blue, she sold laundry blue in similar cakes or blocks, but not of the Plaintiff’s manufacture, in response, as the Plaintiff alleged, to orders for “Oval Blue.” On the 6th of March 1902, the Plaintiff accordingly commenced this action, claiming “a perpetual injunction to restrain the Defendant, her servants, employees, and agents, from selling, or supplying, or offering for sale, or passing off, any laundry blue not of the Plaintiff’s manufacture as or for ‘Oval Blue’ an account of profits or damages,” and other relief. The Defence denied the alleged passing-off, and alleged that the name “Oval Blue” is not distinctive of the Plaintiff’s goods, which are described and sold by the Plaintiff under the name of “Ripley’s Oval Blue.”
After hearing all the evidence, the judge declared: “Having regard to the fact that [Griffiths] had no interest in selling ‘Bobby Blue’ rather than Ripley’s Blue, that she was to my mind obviously honest and straightforward, that there is no sort of ground for the imputations which were made of personal fraud or intentional deception against her, and having regard to the way in which the Plaintiff’s witnesses gave their evidence in cross-examination, I accept Miss Griffiths’ testimony, and I reject the testimony of the Plaintiff’s witnesses. The result is that the action wholly fails and must be dismissed with costs.”

In 1904, The Grocery Exhibition was held at the Agricultural Hall, Islington, London. The Lichfield Mercury of Friday 23rd September printed the following article, entitled, “They Are Simply Marvellous!!”:

One of the most effective features of the Grocery Exhibition this year is Nixey’s Stand, showing in connection with Nixey’s Refined Black Lead, that reaches this year its Sixty Years’ world-wide reputation, their Stove Paste and Blues, &c. the firm are announcing by various advertisements their Grand Picture Presentation; for 50 wrappers from their specialities, they send post free to any address a most pleasing copy of One of Asti’s Splendid Paintings, “Helena,” produced in 23 colours, size 22 by 17. The picture before us is worthy of the house, and only wants to be seen to set every housewife collecting wrappers from Nixey’s Black Lead, &c., to secure a copy. Specimens can be seen at Nixey’s Stand. Nixey’s Waterproof Boot Polish for Box Calf and Glace Kid Boots, put up in convenient tubes, should prove a great success – they already have hundreds of testimonials.

This “Grand Picture Presentation” ran for several years. An advertisement in the Buckinghamshire Advertiser and Free Press showed that by 1905 a companion picture “Julia” had been added. In its issue of Saturday 18th November 1905 the paper spared no praise for Nixey’s products:

The fame of Nixey’s Black Lead is world wide, and for quality unsurpassed, while their Nixey’s Stove Enamel Polishing Paste has for years been a “brilliant” success. For Nixey’s Boot Polishes and Creams no praise would be excessive; they are simply superb, with the additional merit of being waterproof. With regard to the pictures, we can only say that they are so absolutely artistic that they are adornments for any home, and it is not surprising to learn that these free gifts have been applied for from some of the leading families in the United Kingdom. Particulars in every packet, or on receipt of postcard to 12, Soho Square, London.

There were plans to offer a third picture in 1908, “Her Eyes” by Maurice Randall, as shown in an illustrated advertisement published in the Aberystwyth Observer on 16th January 1908 (right). Readers were advised “Be sure and State which Picture you want and mention this paper”.

The company was obviously doing exceptionally well, and there was no doubt that its worldwide reputation had been strengthened. In its issue of Thursday 6th July 1905, The Cornishman reported:

The staff of W. G. Nixey of blacklead fame had the unique experience on the occasion of their “wayzgoose” this year of travelling down to Rye House in the same train as H.R.H. the Prince of Wales. They were fortunate in a glorious day for their trip to St. Margaret’s, Ware, and the district. During the dinner which followed, Mr John Langsford, the manager, in proposing continued prosperity to the firm, stated that they had to record a very prosperous year in that which had just closed.

It’s evident that as the company reached its Diamond Jubilee in 1906, things appeared to be reaching an all-time high as far as the success of its products were concerned. The Windsor and Eton Express of Saturday 22nd September 1906 published the following article which concisely showed the progress that had been achieved since those early days at Moor Street:

AN INTERESTING JUBILEE. – An interesting trade diamond jubilee is being celebrated this year. Sixty years ago a very small manufacturer occupied a little shop in Soho. As a means to draw attention to his goods, he conceived the idea of sending out a knight in full armour, mounted on a coal-black horse. The armour shone with a black lustre unusual enough to attract enormous attention, and advertisement in this form was speedily prohibited by the authorities. The knight became known as “Nixey’s Knight.” The little shop where refined blacklead was first sold in blocks has long since given way to a handsome factory in Shaftbury-avenue, and this year it is Messrs. Nixey’s Diamond Jubilee. Slough is very closely associated with this celebrated “Black” man.

A little more than a week after that article appeared, the company suffered a severe blow with the death of the manager, John Langsford, on 1st October, aged fifty-two. Although his residence was given as 82 Dartmouth Road, Brondesbury in Middlesex, he died at Ardrossan, Walm-Lane in Cricklewood, the address of Russian born Dr. Hermann Peter Ziemann, who was a Physician and Surgeon. Probate was granted on 26th October to his widow, Ann Langsford née Caiger, with effects of £4276 10s. 8d.

In The Western Gazette dated Friday 25th October 1907, William George Nixey’s brother-in-law Edward Onslow Secker was reported on in an item entitled “More Motor Prosecutions”:

Edward Onslow Secker, of Upton, Rosemount-road, Bournemouth, was summoned for driving a motor-car at a dangerous speed at Iford, “the same being his second offence.” Mr. A. Moresby White, barrister (instructed by Messrs. Mooring, Aldridge & Haydon, on behalf of the Motor Union), who said he had a complete answer to the charge on its merits, raised the technical objection that it was wholly illegal and wrong to mention in the charge that there had been a previous conviction. The Bench considered the objection a valid one, and dismissed the case.

The seventh Motor Show was held at Olympia from 13th to 20th November 1908, and the Motor Magazine of 3rd November printed the following:

W. Geo. Nixey, 12, Soho Square, London, exhibit their special graphite and graphite preparations for motor work. The high quality of the firm’s preparations are so well known as to need no reiteration.

In his 1910 publication, “The Grocery Trade, Its History and Romance”, Joseph Aubrey Rees acknowledged on page 172 the innovative advertising methods adopted by W. G. Nixey to promote his products:

Mention must also be made ... of sixteen firms or individuals who made emery and glass paper, and dealt in blacklead. Among these should be reckoned Mr. W. G. Nixey, who a few years later invented the process and art of compressing the hitherto powdered lead into solid blocks, and proved himself to have a very full share of advertising genius for that early period, by booming his invention in a remarkable and indeed, to our forefathers, a startling way.

During the second half of 1910, advertisements began appearing for two of Nixey’s products, along with something else that could be freely obtained by simply sending in wrappers. The earliest advert I've found so far appeared in the Lancashire Evening Post of Saturday 4th June:

Best Results obtained by using Nixey’s “Bobby” Blue
It does not streak the clothes, is economical in use, and gives the best results . . . . . . In Bags Ready For Use. Or In Blocks.
Nixey’s Boot Polish
Black or brown, preserves the leather, is waterproof, and gives a quick brilliant shine without any trouble.
Remember! – Band labels or wrappers from above count for presentation pictures and over aprons.

More details regarding the over apron are found in another advertisement which appeared in the same newspaper in its issue dated Monday 8th August 1910:

Nixey’s Black Lead
You can get a serviceable over-apron worth one and sixpence, in dark navy blue print, with white spots, or a plain brown holland one, with a new high circular bib for nothing! They are 39 inches long, 36 inches wide, with smart bib-straps, pocket and skirt frill. Send 100 outside wrappers from Nixey's Penny Black Lead blocks.
50 Wrappers will secure you a Beautiful Picture.

“Stevens.–On the 8th inst., at 8, Essex Villas, Kensington, Charles Bridges Stevens, 63.”–Reading Mercury, Saturday 14th January 1911

At the time of the 1911 Census, which was taken on the night of 2nd April, William George and Lucy Nixey were Boarding at Marine Parade, Budleigh Salterton, Devon, his occupation being recorded as “Blacklead Manufacturer”. Edward Howard Secker is found living at “Northfield”, Slough Road, Datchet, Buckinghamshire, his occupation being recorded as “Blacklead Merchant and Manufacturer”. With him are his wife Clara née Benson, and two servants, Florence Neale and Florence Smith. Meanwhile, living at 12 Soho Square is a Bricklayer by the name of John Davis, with his wife Eliza Emma née Rolph, and two of their daughters, Edith Lucy and Ivy Alice.

It’s evident that by 1911 an in-principle decision must have been made to sell the family business, and W. G. Nixey Ltd was registered as a limited company on 11th May of that year, (certificate no. 115780). The following extracts from the Objects of the Company (as set out in the published Memorandum and Articles of Association) give an idea of its extent and the vast range of products associated with it:

The objects for which the Company is established are:
(A) To buy, sell, manufacture, refine, prepare and deal in blue, blacklead, metal polish, boot polish, furniture polish, whitening, bath brick, starch, ultramarine, plumbago, emery, emery cloth, knife powder, plate powder, and all other kinds of powders, paints, pigments, varnishes, polishes, revivers, dyes, colours, perfumes, soaps, oils, and oleaginous and saponaceous substances, and all kinds of proprietary articles, unguents, and ingredients, and any other article, substance or composition which it may seem desirable in the Company’s interest so to deal with.
(B) To carry on business as industrial, manufacturing and general chemists and manufacturers of and dealers in all kinds of toilet requisites, boxes, cases wholly of card, wood, metal or otherwise, and as printers, colour printers, lithographers, publishers, stationers, book-binders, advertising agents, manufacturers of every description of advertising novelties, and as tinners, printers on tin, and brushmakers.
(C) To buy, sell, manufacture, refine, manipulate and deal in (both wholesale and retail) all kinds of plant, machinery, appliances, apparatus, utensils, commodities, articles and things useful and necessary for carrying on any of the businesses of the Company or usually dealt in by persons engaged therein, or which may be required by the Company’s customers ...

The original shareholders were William George Nixey, Edward Howard Secker, Augusta Stevens and Clara Bernell Harrison. On 2nd March 1912, the formal Agreement was signed for the sale of the family business to the newly formed company. Extracts from the Agreement (below) show that at the date of the sale, the company was valued at £29,309 16s. 4d (equivalent to about £1.67 million in today’s values).

An Agreement made the Second day of March One thousand nine hundred and twelve BETWEEN WILLIAM GEORGE NIXEY of 66 Piccadilly in the County of London Gentleman EDWARD HOWARD SECKER of Northfields Datchet in the County of Buckingham Gentleman AUGUSTA STEVENS of 8 Essex Villas Kensington in the said County of London the widow of the late Charles Bridges Stevens and CLARA BERNELL HARRISON of Evesham House Cheltenham in the County of Gloucester the Wife of Major Bernard Harrison (hereinafter called “the Vendors”) of the one part and W. G. NIXEY LIMITED a Company having its registered office situate at Number 12 Soho Square in the County of London (hereinafter called “the Company”) of the other part WHEREAS the Vendors have for some time past carried on business as manufacturers of blue blacklead and sundry other articles of the like and similar nature under the style or firm of W. G. Nixey AND WHEREAS the Company has been formed under the Companies (Consolidation) Act 1908 with a nominal capital of Sixty thousand pounds divided into Twenty thousand preference shares of One pound each and Forty thousand Ordinary shares of One pound each with the object of acquiring the said business NOW IT IS HEREBY AGREED as follows:

1. The Vendors shall sell and the Company shall purchase:
(a) The goodwill of the said business with the exclusive right to use the said name of W. G. Nixey or William George Nixey [...] and all trade marks trade names recipes secret processes and inventions connected therewith
(b) All the plant machinery office furniture patents patent rights licenses brevets d’invention stock in trade implements utensils and fire insurance policies to which the Vendors are entitled ...
(c) The benefit of all pending contracts and engagements ...
(d) All the unexpired portion of the lease of the premises Number 12 Soho Square in the said County of London ...

2. The consideration for the said sale shall be the sum of Twenty nine thousand three hundred and nine pounds sixteen shillings and fourpence which shall be paid and satisfied [...] by the allotment and issue to the Vendors [...] of Eleven thousand nine hundred and thirty four fully paid up Preference shares of One pound each ... [and] Seventeen thousand three hundred and sixty three Ordinary Shares of One pound each ...

In addition to the four family members named above, the shareholders included George Powell Hargreaves of Hessle in East Yorkshire, and Ernest William Buckley of Hull. Six months later, in September 1912, the Company Directors were listed as Edward Howard Secker (Manufacturer), Ernest William Buckley (Chartered Accountant), George Powell Hargreaves (Manufacturer) and John Guy Hewett (Company Secretary), all of whom were based in Hull with the exception of Edward Howard Secker. It is clear that the Nixey family, although still the majority shareholders, had effectively handed over the management of the company to Hargreaves Bros.


1901 Census:
William George Nixey and Lucy née Fletcher, St George Hanover Square: RG13 piece 81 folio 75 page 14. Thomas Collingwood Chown and Eugenia Coles née Churchyard, Hastings: RG13 Piece 872 Folio 70 Page 2.

1911 Census:
William George Nixey and Lucy née Fletcher, Budleigh Salterton: RG14 piece 12584 schedule 83.
Edward Howard Secker and Clara née Benson, Datchet: RG14 piece 7824 schedule 29.
John Davis and Eliza Emma née Rolph, London: RG14 piece 511 schedule 7.

Two Centuries of Soho, Its Institutions, Firms, and Amusements, by John Henry Cardwell, pages 168-170, published 1898 by Truslove and Hanson, London.

[Ripley v. Griffiths: Reports of Patent, Design, and Trade Mark Cases (Vol. XIX, No. 29, 17th December 1902, p. 590).

National Archives, BT 31/20009/115780. Board of Trade: Companies Registration Office: W. G. Nixey, Ltd. Incorporated 1911.

Unless otherwise stated, all newspaper articles can be found at the British Newspaper Archive.


The photograph of the horse drawn tram outside India House, Gloucester, appears by kind permission of Gloucestershire Archives; reference no. SR38/29157/8.

The three images of the novelty advert "I Always Use Nixey’s Refined Black Lead" are Copyright and appear by kind permission of The Bodleian Library / University of Oxford / John Johnson Collection; shelf reference John Johnson: Oil and Candles 1 (36).

The advertisement for Nixey’s Boot Polishes appeared in the London Daily News of 5th July 1904.

The image of the advertisement from the Aberystwyth Observer can be found at Welsh Newspapers Online.

The photographs of the Certificate of Incorporation of W. G. Nixey Ltd. and the Signatories to the Agreement are by Judy Lester, and appear with the permission of The National Archives; Ref: BT 31/20009/115780.