Charles Higgins: The Grocer who purchased Turvey

Indenture of Charles Higgins to Joseph Kilpin. Reproduced with the permission of the London Metropolitan Archives.
London Metropolitan Archives

Charles, the son of John Higgins (1690 – 1764) and Ann Kilpin (1702 – 1746) was born in Weston Underwood in 1725 and baptised at the parish church of St Lawrence on 25 April 1727. On 12 June 1741, at the age of 16, he was apprenticed to his uncle Joseph Kilpin, a Grocer of Moorgate, for a period of 7 years with no fee.

The Apprenticeship

On completing his apprenticeship in 1748 Charles was able to establish his own Grocery business which must have been very successful for in 1754, now of Coleman Street in the parish of St Stephens, he went into a joint venture with Thomas Garrett and William Heathfield to establish a wholesale grocery business with an investment of £24000 (£5.13m in 2018) of which Charles invested £9000 (£1.12m in 2018).

On 14th February 1758 Charles took on his own apprentice, his nephew Thomas Higgins (1741- 1794) son of Bartholomew Higgins (1712-1778), and Elizabeth Kilpin (1722- 1746) for a period of 7 years for the sum of £190. A few years after the completion of his apprenticeship Thomas joined the company through “further instructions regarding the co-partnership” of £ 30,000 (£6.41m in 2018) with Charles Higgins and Thomas Garrett having £10000 each in stock and William Heathfield and Thomas Higgins each having stock of £ 5000.

The Purchase of Turvey

The company continued to prosper with Charles moving in ever higher trading circles in the city of London, becoming a warden of the Worshipful Company of Grocers and in 1786 appointed High Sheriff of London. In 1786, Charles together with his half cousin once removed John Higgins (1740-1813) of Weston Underwood and William Fuller a banker of Lombard Street and renowned to be the “richest man in England” purchased the Turvey Estate in six lots from Charles Henry Mordaunt, 5th Earl of Peterborough for a sum in the region of £37,750 (£ £8.1m in 2018)

In 1790 Charles installed a gallery in All Saints Church, Turvey (no longer in place) and installed new pews. Charles died a bachelor in 1792 and is buried in the family vault at St Laurence Church in Weston Underwood.

The Will

Charles’ made his will on 15th May 1792 and it was proved in London on 10th January 1793. Key elements of the will include his bequest to his cousin Bartholomew Higgins the Pixhill and Elderswell Farms (comprising Lot 5 of the sale of Turvey) and to his niece Sarah Higgins the tithes of Turvey.

The main beneficiary was John Higgins, his nephew, son of his brother Thomas who, in addition to the tithes following the death of Sarah, was bequeathed the provisions and estates of Turvey representing the lots 3 and 4 of the sale of Turvey. This is the John Higgins of Turvey Abbey. Lands on the other side of the River Great Ouse in Buckinghamshire were bequeathed to his cousin Thomas Higgins.

Charles also provided £ 1000 to the Minister and Churchwardens of the parish of Turvey to be invested and from which the interest derived was to provide clothing for 20 poor women of the Parish of Turvey forever in the month of December. £300 was also provided to the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Parish of Turvey, the interest from which to be paid to any person who ‘diligently’ instructs the children belonging to the Sunday School to read provided others make up the £20 per annum salary paid to the Sunday School teacher.

The Wealth

One might ask how a grocer might accumulate such wealth. In the 18th and 19th century the term “grocer” is a corruption of “grosser” which usually meant someone engaged in the wholesale trading of spices and other exotic goods. By the time of Charles’ death in 1792, Thomas Higgins had taken charge of the company creating Thomas Higgins and Co, wholesale Grocers of 36 London Wall in the City of London. The size of the wholesale business may be judged by a document in the London Metropolitan Archives that shows that Thomas Higgins took out an insurance policy with the Royal and Sun Alliance on 7th August 1794 to cover 194 casks of raisins stored in the Brick Market of Cox’s Quay in Lower Thames Street. The goods were valued at £4700 (£644000 in 2018) and the premium was £5 17s 6d.

Charles Higgins laid the foundation for the very beneficial involvement of the Higgins family in Turvey, not though gains involved in any military conquest or through marriage to landed gentry but through commerce and trade. Within the gentry of Bedfordshire, he was probably regarded with some suspicion as part of the growing nouveau riche.

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