Yeovil people

Thomas Thorne

Draper of London House


Thomas Thorne was born in 1859 at Fremington, Devon (close to Barnstaple), the youngest of seven (at least) children of Drainer & Tile Maker John Thorne (b1801) and his laundress wife Ann née Nankivel (b1814). The 1861 census recorded the family at Fremington but by 1871 12-year old Thomas was living in Barnstaple and working as one of four Draper's Assistants in Thomas Fry's draper's shop in Boutport Street, Barnstaple.

By 1881 Thomas had moved yet again and in the census was recorded working and living in the large draper's shop (photographed below) at 18 High West Street, Dorchester, Dorset, run by Joshua T Soundy.

On 2 March 1886 Thomas married Julia Mary Fudge at Holy Trinity church, Weymouth. They were to have a total of six children but only three survived childhood. Almost immediately they moved to Yeovil where their first son, Thomas, was born the following year. Thomas set up his own draper's business at London House, in the Borough, on the corner of Middle Street and Silver Street.


In the 1891 edition of 'Where to Buy' Thomas Thorne's business was given the following description -

Mr Thomas Thorne
Draper, Milliner, Dress and Mantle Maker and Gents' Outfitters,
1 and 2, Middle Street.

The year 1645 was an eventful one in the history of England, and the forces of the Crown and of the Parliament were then engaged in debating the question of ship money across the battlements of castles and walled towns in many parts of Somerset. It appears that in these controversies the vicinity of Yeovil formed a portion of the scene of action, and we learn that in 1646 Colonel Phelips, the Lord of the Manor, suffered confiscation of his estates, including "rents of the Borough of Yeovil, amounting to £13 6s. 8d., all of which, except thirty-eight shillings, were payable out of certain houses in the borough, which houses were lately burnt, and so the rent is lost. Possibly it may have been, on the whole, a fortunate accident for the town, and that the old houses were replaced by better and more commodious ones.

About this time, however, we learn that a draper's shop was opened in Pitt Lane, and at the present day the same business is carried on on the same site, under the energetic proprietorship of Mr Thomas Thorne, draper and milliner, of 1 and 2, Middle Street, and 1, Silver Street.

Whatever the business may have been like in the middle of the 17th century it is now impossible to say, but at the present time it is an extensive and thoroughly representative trade, carried on on the most approved modern lines. In recent years the premises have been enlarged, rearranged, and in every way adapted to the requirements of a large business; and although the present proprietor has only been about one year connected with it, he has, through his energy and enterprise, added fresh life to this historic business, and introduced many desirable improvements.

The site of the premises is, perhaps, one of the best and most commanding in the town, being under the shadow, as it were, of St John's Parish Church, in the centre of the borough, and at the head of the main thoroughfare to and from the railway station. Every advantage of site, position and internal arrangement has been utilized for facilitating the despatch of business with the least possible trouble or inconvenience to customers. Mr Thorne has a long experience, and both in the purchase of his stock and the general organisation of the house shows that he is resolved to maintain the best traditions of the house and to keep well abreast of the requirements of the times. The stock is very comprehensive, including several special departments, and in every case the very best qualities of goods are offered at the lowest market prices. The adoption of, and rigid
adherence to, the cash system makes this possible, as, by purchasing on the most advantageous terms, and selling for ready money, the smallest possible margin of profit only is sought for, and the purchaser is enabled to share with the trader the benefits of the system, both in quality and price. A very large stock of drapery and dress materials is always on hand in the newest patterns, while a choice and varied selection of millinery, laces, feathers, flowers, ribbons, hats and bonnets forms a very attractive display. Hosiery of a superior class is to be obtained in every variety of material and design for ladies, gentlemen and children, and the display of gloves of every description, representing the choicest productions of the best makers, is of a specially high character. The costumes and mantles on show are remarkable alike for elegance of design and superior finish. Indeed, the house has a wide reputation for millinery, mantle and dressmaking.

The work-rooms are commodious, a large staff of experienced milliners and dressmakers, under able supervision, are constantly employed, and the work executed can be relied on for style, fit and finish. The gentlemen's outfitting department is replete with all modern requirements, and Mr Thorne is constant in his supervision of each branch.

It would be impossible in a brief outline to give details of this very unique business, but it may be taken that the stock is complete throughout, the staff of assistants and skilled workers are most experienced, and customers can always rely on prompt and courteous attention.


London House was built around 1838 and, for most of its existence, was a draper's shop occupied in turn by George Wadman, then John Wiltshire. In the 1891 census London house was occupied by 32-year-old draper Thomas with Julia and three young sons all aged under 4. Also resident were four drapers' assistants, a cook, a nurse and a housemaid. Similarly, in the 1901 census 42-year-old draper Thomas Thorne was still in residence with his wife Julia and son Reginald. Additionally, living on the premises, were nine young ladies aged between 17 and 29, including five drapers assistants, two milliners, a cook and a housemaid. Later that year, however, Thomas Thorne and his family moved from London House which was then occupied by linen drapers, Hartree & Son. London House was demolished in 1913 and the present building built for the Midland Bank opened in 1914. It is now occupied by the HSBC.

Thomas, however, had a complete career change. A draper since he was a 12-year old boy, he bought the Bull Hotel in High Street, Sittingbourne, Kent. In the 1911 census he was listed as a Hotel Proprietor and was living at the Bull with Julia and their two sons Harold and Reginald. In addition to his immediate family Thomas' niece was living with them as well as three visitors, a cook, barmaid, waiter, waitress and three domestic servants.

Thomas Thorne died in Sittingbourne in the spring of 1915. He was aged 56.




From my collection. This colourised photograph features in my book "Lost Yeovil"

This photograph of the Borough dates to about 1865. At centre is Middle Street with the Medical Hall to the right and London House, at this time occupied by draper John Wiltshire, to the left.


This photograph is of Middle Street seen from the Borough and dates to about 1885. At left is London House. At right is the side of the Medical Hall which, at this time was occupied by wholesale and retail chemists Gatward & Wright. Next door to the Medical Hall was the International Stores.


Thomas Thorne's advertisement in the 1895 edition of Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser.


This postcard was produced around 1900 from the Borough, looking towards the junction of Silver Street at left and Middle Street at right. The large building on the corner was London House which was built in the 1830s and occupied mostly by a succession of drapers (at this time by Thomas Thorne). Going down Silver Street was Singleton's boot stores, a greengrocer and then the Half Moon Hotel


Thomas Thorne's London House drapery and the Medical Hall enlarged from the following postcard of 1911.


A postcard of the Borough dated 1911 showing London House at centre, on the corner of Silver Street and Middle Street. At this time it had just been occupied by linen drapers, Hartree & Son.