Chronicles: A Tale of Two Shops 1 – Trueman, Tailor and Hatter

For much of the nineteenth century there was no such thing as ‘ready-made’ or ‘off the peg’ clothing.  Unless you could make your own clothes you needed someone to make them for you, and the census records for Ventnor in the 1800s are full of dressmakers and tailors.

One of these tailors was Francis Trueman, who was born in 1822 in Marlborough in Wiltshire, the youngest of five brothers.  When he died in 1911 his obituary in the local paper described him as probably Ventnor’s oldest Tradesman, and much respected. He came to the town in 1840 when it was little more than a fishing village.  . . .  and seeing the possibilities of the place, our late townsman started in business as a clothier and outfitter in 1843. When Francis set up his business he can only have been aged 21, but he was, according to the paper,  a shrewd man of business – when he died in 1911, aged 89,  he left £9000 – a small fortune in those days.

Francis married Sarah Westwood in January 1851 in the Independent Chapel in Ventnor High Street, and they set up home in Union Cottage in Spring Hill with Sarah’s sister Caroline, a governess.  His business was well established and he had taken on another tailor to help him. Ventnor was growing rapidly, with a population approaching 3000 people, and the town was booming.

In 1861, Francis was employing four men and one boy; his older brothers Henry (a tailor) and Thomas (a bonnet maker) had joined him in Ventnor, and he had opened a shop in the High Street, tucked in next to the one festooned with poultry in the photograph here – you can see part of the sign reading TAILOR TRUEMAN HATTER. Francis and his growing family (Sarah and children Lucy, Frank and Clifford, and Sarah’s sister Caroline) were living above the shop, which was roughly where Knights Court now stands. By 1871 the Trueman shop (and family) had moved to larger premises at 7 Church Street, remaining there for the next 50 years. Sadly, I can find no picture of that shop.

Ventnor in Victorian times was a very desirable place to live, and many of the new visitors and residents were looking for London fashions. Advertisements for the Trueman shop in Church Street describe “A Large Selection of Materials Always in Stock” including Suitings for Shooting, Fishing, Golfing, and Travelling . . . in the Latest Patterns and best makes” as well as “Saddle Tweeds . . . suitable for Hunting Riding Shooting and Walking Breeches . . . Knickerbocker Breeches, Driving Coats, Hunting Coats and  The Famous Harris Tweeds for Shooting and Golf Capes.  For women there were Ladies’ Jackets & Riding Habits and for the coachmen and domestic staff Liveries.  All these were, of course, tailored to order.  Ventnor had indeed risen from its lowly origins as a fishing village.

In the late 1870s, Francis handed the shop over to his elder son Frank who, in 1878, had married Ellen Newman, a young day-school teacher, and the daughter of a local builder. Francis’ other children both married the following year – Clifford married a music teacher and moved to Shanklin where he opened his own Trueman Outfitters shop, while Lucy married William Upton, an ironmonger with a business in the High Street.  Francis retired and moved with Sarah and Caroline to Katrine Villas in Madeira Road.  Sarah may have been ailing – she died in October 1881.

Francis was only in his late fifties and in 1888, seven years after Sarah’s death, he married Charlotte Lush, 38 year old daughter of a Ventnor hairdresser, and they moved to Beulah Cottage in the High Street.  He was a pillar of Ventnor society, and continued to be very active in public life. In 1859 he had been Secretary of the Ventnor Literary and Scientific Institute (Ventnor Library as it is now), and later he was involved in the Ventnor Gas and Water Company, and was a prominent member of the Ventnor Local Board, serving as Chairman during what the local paper described as very stormy times adding that Francis held decided views throughout his long public service. He sounds to have been a formidable man.

The bill below is from the Church Street shop in 1913, and dates from two years after Francis died. Customer Mr Morris paid £2 for a Blue Morning Coat Suit to order – the price including 1s 6d extra for the lining.  However, times were changing, and although the billhead still boasts All Garments Made on the Premises by Competent Workmen, the shop now also supplied Ready to wear Clothing in the best Styles at lowest Prices.

Lesley Telford, Ventnor & District Local History Society. Sources: the Society Collection including Fay Brown’s local history indexes.  Additional material from UK Census records