Fading of the Light

The trail has gone cold; there is no light at the end of the tunnel. It certainly seems as though Frederick Hamilton senior continued the business but frustratingly I can’t find his son or daughter-in-law (Frances Caroline) after 1875. In 1881 they are not at Gladstone Street (an Austrian widow lives there) or Salisbury Street (strangely no number 15 in the census return…).

Yet trade directories continue the trajectory of Hamilton & Co. with the 1882 Post Office directory for London listing a ‘Hamilton & Co. engineers & metal merchants’ at 17, Fenchurch St, EC and Morris’s 1884 Business Directory listing ‘Hamilton & co. pavement light mnfrs’ at 101, Leadenhall St, EC.

The thing to draw from all this is the fact that William Martin was again experimenting with new technology in his buildings. The sort of glazed lighting used in these systems really only dates back to the late 1850s with rough glass or 1871 for a patented prismatic glass system from the Hayward brothers. Were Hamiltons trying to muscle in or even steal Haywards’ ideas or did the latter use their longer history to repel the new kids on the block? Haywards seems to have done fine as they existed into the 1970s… [source]

I have found Frederick Hamilton senior in the lists of wills and probates though. He died on 14th September 1901 leaving a modest £5 in effects to his widow Mary Ann. The couple were living at Stockman Road, Hackney and his modest will suggests that things weren’t so rosy for Hamilton & Co.


Enlightening II – The Hamiltons

A.D. 1878, 1st October. Nº3859.

Transmitting Light into Apartments

PROVISIONAL SPECIFICATION left by Frederick Hamilton and Frederick Alma Hamilton at the Office of the Commissioners of Patents on the 1st October 1878.


The object of our Invention is to provide a more useful means and ornamental appearance of transmitting day light into apartments as occasion may require by the application of glass “cast” or “moulded” to ornamental designs, and shapes of one or more colors with parts “ground” or “cut” set in on metal or other framing with bolts, screws, rivets, or other simple mechanical means for holding the said glasses in the required position; the said glasses to be set on cement or other suitable material so as to soundly bed. [Source]

Hamilton & Co. weren’t the only name in pavement lights – it seems that Hayward Brothers were the pioneers in this area yet others were catching up fast and by the late 1870s overtaking them. In 1879 Hamilton & Co. seem to have won a court case brought against them by Haywards for patent infringement with Hamilton’s ‘Prismoidal Pavement and Floor Lights’. For further info see here.

Hamilton & Co. were a father and son outfit. Frederick senior was born in about 1835 although it is a little confusing as to whether he was born in England or Ireland. Early census returns record ‘Dublin, Ireland’ as his birthplace yet later on he declares his birthplace as Islington.

Certainly in 1851 there is an Irish-born Frederick Hamilton living with, and apprentice to, his Civil Engineer uncle, George Frase, at 1 Compton Road. Frederick’s brother [?] is also there as an apprentice. The family have two servants and one of them is to become Frederick’s wife. She is Mary Ann Salter, and in the spring of 1854 Frederick Hamilton and Mary Ann Salter marry in the St Pancras area of London.

Later in the year the Hamilton’s first child, Frederick Alma, is born in Islington. By 1861 Frederick junior has two younger sisters (Helen/Ellen b. 1858 and Florence b.1860) and the family are living at 55 Golden Lane, Finsbury, London. FH describes himself as a ‘civil engineer’.

By 1871 there are three more Hamilton children (Minnie b.1864; Charles b.1867; and Alice b.1869) and the family are still in Golden Lane (now no. 60) where FH describes himself as an ‘Ironfounder’. The Golden Lane area was badly bombed in WW2 and is today at the edge of The Barbican estate, in the 1870s the street was an industrial one with several iron foundries and other manufactories and minor trades.

The Hamilton children are now leaving home. On 25th September 1875 Frederick Alma marries Frances Caroline Slaymaker at the parish church of St John the Baptist in Hoxton. The couple are residing at 15, Salisbury Street. On the marriage certificate both Fredericks describe themselves as ‘engineers’ and Frances is the daughter of a clerk called John.

But by 1881 something has happened – Frederick and Mary Ann are living at 34, Harrowgate Road (the name on our lights) with daughters Minnie and Alice but Frederick has become Frank and describes himself as a gardener. Very confusing. And there is no obvious sign of Frederick Alma in the records.

We rediscover engineer Frederick in the 1891 census. Still at 34, Harrowgate Road with Mary Ann, ‘Fred’ is an ‘engineer (general)’. Only one daughter remains with the parents and this is Alice Clat who describes herself as an ‘artist needlewoman’. Things continue in a similar vein in 1901 when the three are found at 8, Stockmar Road, Hackney. Frederick is a civil engineer and Alice a tailoress. It seems as though Frederick Hamilton died at some point in the first decade of the twentieth century. But where did Frederick Alma go?

The prime of the family business seems to have been through the 1870s and 80s. Frederick Alma probably joined his dad’s company as an apprentice in around 1871 – by the end of that decade they were registering their ‘invention’. In between we find a couple of ‘petitions’ in the London Gazette from 5th and 23rd October 1877:

To Frederick Hamilton, Engineer, and Frederick Alma Hamilton, both of 25, Poole Road, in the parish of St. John, Hackney, in the county of Middlesex, for the invention of “improvements in reflectors of day light.”

And Frederick Alma Hamilton, of 19, Gladstone Street, in the parish of St. George, Southwark, in the county of Surrey, and Frederick Hamilton, of 25, Poole Road, in the parish of St. John, Hackney, in the county of Middlesex, Engineer, have given the like notice in respect of the invention of ” improvements in reflectors, diffusors, and concentrators of day light, and motions or actions for moving or regulating the whole or part of the same.”

It seems the pair were gambling in the patents game leaving us to guess how things played out. Certainly there were quite a few different addresses that they were to be found at through this period:

1871: 60, Golden Lane, Finsbury London (FH and FAH);1875: 15, Salisbury Street, Hoxton[?] (FAH);
1877: 25, Poole Road, Hackney (FH and FAH);
1877: 19, Gladstone Street, Southwark (FAH);
1878: 25, Poole Road, Hackney (FH and FAH – probably the business address); and
1881: 34, Harrowgate Road, Hackney (FH).

It seems then that our ‘lights’ date from post 1878 and that the address on them is the business address rather than the manufactory, but there are several unanswered questions… why did FH become a gardener – Census takers error? Career break? Where did FAH and his wife go after 1878 – Errors in census transcription? Tragic chain of events? Poor researching?

To be continued (again)…