Three Generations of the Stainer Family

April 11, 2005
33 Mill Street

Three Generations of the Stainer Family

Arthur Stainer
Arthur Stainer

This is the intriguing story of the three tailors who between them provided a service to the village for about 140 years. It is a story of endeavour, fortitude, misfortune, compassion, and determination. Until the First World War, Fontmell Magna had largely been a self-supporting community in which villagers could find more or less everything they needed from village shops, local craftsmen and essential services. It was into this community that in about 1851 Arthur Stainer was summarily deposited at the age of eleven to live with his uncle Robert Baker, a tailor (who was born in Fontmell in about 1817) and his uncle’s mother. Robert was unmarried and had two brothers who were also local tailors, in Iwerne Minster and Sixpenny Handley.
Arthur was from Whiteparish in Wiltshire, about 20 miles

33 Mill Street
33 Mill Street

east of Fontmell. He served as an unpaid apprentice, although with free bed and board. They lived in an old cottage in Mill Street which, a few years later, was pulled down and replaced with the brick-built house that we see today. In the 1861 census Arthur was entered as living with Robert Baker, a Master Tailor, employing one man and three boys. Soon afterwards, however, Arthur went to London seeking paid employment. He found work in central London and in Blackheath during the next two years, but when Robert Baker suddenly died, he returned to Fontmell. The house had been sold to the Glyn estate (Sir Richard George Glyn) but Arthur was able to rent the property. In 1865 he married a local girl called Martha Edwards and they set up a home and business in Mill Street. Martha was the Fontmell-born daughter of Jeremiah Edwards, a carpenter and wheelwright belonging to the fifth generation of this Fontmell family.
Arthur and Martha had six children of which four survived: Ellen (called Ella), Charles, William and Walter. Their youngest child, Walter, was only three months old when Martha suddenly died, and he was brought up mostly by Martha’s sister and her father Jeremiah Edwards in a cottage in Lurmer Street. Arthur’s second wife, Mary Hart, gave birth to Bessie in 1881, the last of Arthur’s children. Bessie was later to become a dressmaker and when she married in 1904 it was back into the Edwards family. The Stainer, Edwards and Hart families were all part of the close-knit Fontmell Methodists who feature in other articles on this web-site (see The Clothing Club, Methodist Churches, and the Parish Council 1894).

William Stainer
William Stainer

It was William who continued the tailoring business. Born in Fontmell in 1876, he had become a tailor’s apprentice before he was 14, and was ready to take over completely when his father died in 1903 after an illness lasting some three years.
As we can see from the advert he

Advert for W. Stainer
Advert for W. Stainer

placed on the back page of the Parish Magazine of that year, he was determined to maintain an already successful business: ‘Latest Style and Perfect Fit Guaranteed – Best possible value for lowest possible price’.

William Stainer and family
William Stainer and Family

He married Annie Louisa Hunt in 1907 and they had three children: Ida Gertrude (1908-2003), Harold William (1911-1997) and Walter Arthur (1913-1994). They continued to live and work in the same house in Mill Street and pay rent to the Glyn estate which in 1926 amounted to £13 per annum. It was in this year that the Glyn estate was broken up and William and Annie decided to buy the freehold. The auction sale brochure described the property as ‘well built of brick and tile, and containing four bedrooms, sitting room with modern hearthgrate; shop about 10ft by 10ft, living room with range, workroom, storeroom, scullery with glazed earthenware sink, copper and large oven. [Outside] Coalhouse, woodhouse with EC and cesstank.’
William died in 1943 leaving the business to Harold who was at that time serving in the army overseas and especially in Egypt and the Middle East.

Harold Stainer in Egypt
Harold Stainer in Egypt

He often modestly gave the impression of never having travelled further than Shaftesbury, some 5 miles north of the village, but his wartime experiences apparently dissuaded him from further explorations.

 

Harold Stainer's medals

Harold Stainer's medals

On his return to Fontmell Harold quickly resumed his tailoring career and continued providing a service to local customers in much the same way as his father and grandfather had done since the 1860s, with an order book that remained full until 1995.
He usually worked sitting cross-legged in the middle of his table. This, he explained, allowed him to keep control of the cloth he was working on, while having all his tools and cottons laid out around him within easy reach. He was still able to jump up onto his table in his late 70s. Harold played a very active part in the village community, especially in connection with the Methodist Chapel and the Village

Harold Stainer at the opening of the new Village Hall

Harold Stainer at the opening of the new Village Hall

Hall. He did not marry, but lived with his sister Ida until his death in 1997.
We have in our archive collection several order- and account-books from March 1900 onwards. These carefully written pages identify the customers, their choice of garments and their individual measurements. In 1902, for example, the orders included a black Melton coat, vest (waistcoat) and trousers for Mr E Bealing,; a brown tweed coat to be made loose with inside pockets and brown cord breeches for Mr Frank Rideout; a grey tweed suit for Mr Arthur Andrews; two pairs of Drabbette trousers with a watch pocket for Mr Thomas Beck; knickers (short trousers) and a coat with no collar for Master Stanley Still; tweed gaiters for Mr Thomas Parham; fancy tweed trousers for Mr Tom Still; a blue serge suit for Mr William Rideout; a coat and skirt for Mrs George Edwards; black worsted trousers for Mr Henry Shute; check trousers for Mr Thomas Still; a cap for Master Raymond Edwards; and a Norfolk jacket for the Rev. Goodrick. There were 125 orders in the year, mostly for men, but several for boys and a few for ladies. There were also orders for caps or hats, and a certain amount of alterations. The workload for one man (which was probably William’s situation in 1902) works out at an average completion time of two and a half days, given that, as strict Methodists, the Stainers would not have worked on Sundays.
It would be possible to trace the changes in customers’ requests as experienced in a small village community right through the twentieth century. But this is not the occasion in which to do so. We can however glimpse at the sales accounts. In 1920 for example the income was about £850 (or roughly £12,750 in today’s figures). With this amount William had to buy his materials, look after his wife and three children, and pay his rent, rates and taxes. Clearly, not a gold mine.

Display of tailor's equipment
Display of tailor’s equipment

The workshop in the house in Mill Street became something of a living museum, containing tools of the tailoring trade used by all three generations. By the 1980s there were scissors, sewing machines, flat irons, work benches, cloth samples, cottons, buttons, patterns, trade catalogues, order books and many, many more items that only an expert in the history of tailoring could identify. The picture shows samples of these which were displayed in a small exhibition to commemorate the Stainer legacy.

Author: Durotriges