Reminiscences of Frederick Binns

[NB There are two typed transcripts known to me, but I don't know who has the original. One version has opening and closing remarks by Sophie and George Albert Binns, which are shown in square brackets below.]


A description of some of the events in the life of Frederick Binns given to his son George Albert Binns.]

According to my birth certificate—I was ushered into this changeable world on the 8th of March 1825 in the presence of Dr Dobson & a witness named Ann Hills a member of the Society of Friends.

The number of the shop & house I think was 176 High St, Sunderland. My father was a draper, by trade, named George Binns. My mother's name was Margaret Binns, née Watson, a daughter I believe of a Dr Watson, of Staindrop in the county of Durham. My father came from Crawshabooth in the county of Lancashire. Some say that the family originally came from ireland.

I was late in coming into the world, for there had been about 8 or 9 Brothers & sisters before me. On both sides of the shop, we had members of the Society of Friends. On one side was Caleb Wilson, grocer, shipowner, tobacco manufacturer, tallow chandler, & pipe maker. He was a large man, with a broad brim hat turned up on each side. He would very well pass for a Bishop. He was the father of a still large firm of Joshua Wilson Bros. They have all gone to join the great majority. There were 4 Brothers of them. They were all rather peculiar. Joshua was the most sensible one, & a great public man on the huskins [sic] at Election times. He had a peculiar walk—putting out his right foreleg like a horse. Another Brother was remarkable for being hairless, not having a hair on his body from the top of his head to the soul [sic] of his foot.

On the other side of our shop was Joseph Andrews the father of John Andrews, who married my sister Margaret. Joseph was a very different looking man to Caleb Wilson. He kept a ship stores shop, & was a shipowner. He was rather a slovenly looking man & fond of a long pipe. He had 3 sons, viz. Joseph—John & Edward—& 2 daughters, Elizabeth & Emma Andrews. Elizabeth was married to a grocer at Wapping, London. Emma was married to John Grimshaw & after J.G's death, she became Henry Binns 2nd wife. How my sister Margaret came to fancy a man like John Andrews I don't know, for she was a tall lady-like & handsome looking woman. John took after his father—one of the go & easy sort. However, after all is said—it was a good job they have joined together—or—we should never have had a Frederic Andrews—a credit to the family. My father brought into the world a huge family—15 or 16 I believe. They were named, Eliza, Ann, Henry, John, George, William, Watson, Margaret, Rachael—Frederic, Sarah, Edward, Sophie & Lucy. My father was a strict Quaker & I believe he was fond of corporal punishment for when I was a boy he did not receive much love from me. At the back of the shop—there were some very large drawers—used for keeping carpets in. I can't remember what my crime was—but I was shut up in one of these drawers for some time. I must have done something very wicked. I had much more love for my Mother—altho' I have been told that she did not bring me up on her breast—but by the bottle. Perhaps that has made all the difference in the making of me. I was born shy—like Joe Chamberlain & without any push or energy—to carry me thro' the ups & downs of this busy world.

I was apprenticed to a grocer of the name of Edward Bromley, of Barnsley, Yorkshire. I was never fitted to be behind the counter. Every situation I took—I was found fault with for not having enough to say to customers. When I had served about 1/2 of my time, Henry being the Executor—after my fathers death—had my indentures cancelled—as we could not agree. Whilst there I had a rather severe accident. We had a trap door into the cellar with a short moveable ladder—into the cellar—Having to go into the cellar for something—& somebody having moved the ladder—& having to go down backwards—I fell down on to some stone steps—at the bottom & hit the back of my head. I don't know how long I laid unconscious at the bottom—but when I came to my senses I found myself in bed—attended by a Doctor. The act for compensation for accidents had not come into operation then or else perhaps I might have made him pay up. I was sent to Ackworth School when I was between 9 & 10 & never saw my father & mother after that. I travelled by the mail coach from the "Golden Lion", nearly opposite our house. I don't remember who went with me—but after travelling all day—we only got as far as Leeds. I was lodged for the night with a friend of my father's of the name of James Hotham. He was a draper—his shop was at one end of Brigget. The next morning we started on the rest of the journey to Moor Top Ackworth. I went to Ackworth in 1834 & left in 1839. So I must have been a very dull boy, not to have had a better education in that time. Thomas Pumphery [sic] was Superintendent. i remember 3 of the master's names, viz. Thomas Brown—a favourite with the boys—John Newby—nicknamed Peter who was not liked—& another of the name of Hunter.

What happened during my scholarship I have no distinct recollection—except that I was confined in the "Light & air rooms"—a good many times—so I must have been a very bad boy. The Queen's Coronation took place whilst I was there—also the great comet made its appearance—the same one—as the astronomers are looking for at the present time.

They say "a rolling stone gathers no moss" which accounts for me always having an empty pocket. How I have rolled about you will see by the number of towns where I have had situations—viz, Barnsley, South Shields, North Shields, Sunderland, Scarboro', York, Mansfield, Chesterfield & Belfast—also Leicester.

The event I remember best before leaving home—was the Election after the Reform Bill was passed. They were very different to what they are now. They used to take 3 days for a Borough election—the nomination day—the polling day—& the clearing day. Every time the bands of each party met, there was sure to be a battle—once they met opposite our house & being short of weapons they pulled the wooden spout down from the side of our house. At night after dark—they used to roll lighted tar barrels down the High St—which had a steep decline. it was a grand sight for us children—for we were perched up at the top windows to see the sight. Sallie was the only one born in the old house High St. Lucy Sophia was born—after I left Edward in a house at the corner of Durhm St. & Coronation St—Bishop Wearmouth. only 3 of the Brothers remained in the Society—George sent in his resignation—John I expect did the same. I was disowned for marrying out of the Society. I don't know whether Edward was disowned, or whether he resigned.

When I was at South Shields—R.A. Wilson was there part of the time. Henry Briggs was his Uncle. I dare say we carried on some rare games together. I remember we made pretty free with the biscuits & jam. Those were the courting days for your Aunt Sarah & R.A.W. She may thank me—for inflaming their love for each other. I was a sort of go-between them—carrying messages backwards & forwards.

One incident I forgot to mention when I was writing about Joshua Wilson Bros.—Caleb Stansfield Wilson was the youngest Brother & lived to see the other 3 Brothers out, & came into possession of about £50,000. Whilst we were living in Hartington Rd.—he paid us a visit one morning before breakfast. He came in a high top hat—so that I did not know him—as before he used always to wear the broad brim hat like his forefathers. I went to the door to let him in—& soon found out who he was so asked him in & he had breakfast with us. The funniest part was Emmie was only half dressed in the breakfast room. She did not know what to do—however she got under the table as quick as she could & remained there until he had gone. We had a good laugh after he had gone. The wonder was how we kept from laughing whilst he was in.

John Bowron's shop was at the high end of the Town Hall, & W. & W. Binns' at the lower end—& the shop I opened after leaving Edward was on the opposite side to them at the corner of the Theatre Lane. Our partnership did not last long—perhaps I should have done better if I had started for myself in the first. After I left the High St.—we moved to a shop in Charles St. Monkwearmouth opposite Dundas St. where Maggie—Clara & Fred were born. We sold the business in Monkwearmouth to one of Henry Briggs' son[s], but he did not have it long before he made a smash of it. I think Mackie or Mackay was the maiden name of your Grandma on your mother's side. Your Grandfather's name was James Stephenson—he belonged to Hawthorn Hive, nr Seaham Harbour. They had 2 sons & about 8 daughters—so I think on both sides they were good stock breeders. The names of the married daughters were, Mrs Barry, Mrs Brough, Mrs Lawson, Mrs Harrison, Mrs Hart, Mrs Ridley, & one that went to America Mrs Bullines. I married the youngest daughter. The oldest son was a Sea-Captain. The last voyage he made—the ship must have gone down with all hands—as he was never heard of any more.

I have never regretted marrying the one I did. She has always been a good wife to me & a good mother to her children. She was always at home & never idle—she never learnt a trade in her life—yet she could do anything & everything as well as any other woman who had spent money & time in learning a trade. I was always glad i drew such a prize in the marriage lottery. What I was deficient of she made up for any deficiency.

The youngest son was in the Marquis of Londonderry's office at Seaham Harbour. He took consumption, & died in his teens. After leaving Monkwearmouth _ I came up to London & have been here ever since. We broke up our nice little business at Monkwearmouth at the instigation of R.A.W. to go into the tea colouring. He made out I was going to make a fortune in no time. It did not last long—before the Govt put a stop to it by passing the Adulteration Bill. When the tea colouring was over R.A.W. proposed going into the coffee roasting business: He said he had got a nice partner for me to do the outside work & I was to look after the inside. The name of the Firm was Huckvale & Binns. We took premises in Anchor Yard, Old St. & had it fitted up with new gas engine from Manchester—boiler—& coffee roasters. Huckvale did not bring in much business. How he spent his time I often used to wonder. At last the crisis came. One day he did not return as usual. The next day we heard that he had decamped. He had bought 5 tons of chicory on the Firm's credit—sold it again & pocketed the money. That very soon put a stop to the coffee roasting business. The premises were taken by a tobacco manufacturer—along with the engine & boiler. After that came a blank—was out of a situation for some time. At last I got one at Hughes Bros. in Idol Lane. After that I got to Ashby's where I terminated my career, after being with them for about 20 years. After R.A.W. left Ashby's he started for himself in Gt. Tower St. & he wanted me to go & engage with him. I don't remember what wage he offered—but when I told Mr. Ashby, he mad an advance on R.A.W's offer so I stopped on. Money-making was R.A.W's idol. Make money honestly if you can—but get it.

Whilst in the coffee roasting business, I used sometimes deliver the coffee. Whether it was the fault of the driver, or the fault of the pony, I don't know. However, I was thrown out 2 or 3 times, once in crossing, by the Mansion House—rather a dangerous place. There were no bones broke—so got into the cart again & drove away.

Henry Binns was very religious but narrow minded to my idea. The 2 best intellects in the family to my idea were George & John. The family seemed to look down upon George—because he joined the Chartist agitation—one of the family (I don't know which) went so far as to say the he deserved transporting. And what after all was the Charter—only another name for Liberty, Equality, & Fraternity. With flour 4/- a stone, & agricultural wages 1/- per day, still Henry could not see any justice in the demands of the Chartists. Whilst I was at Belfast—he wrote me a ltter in which he said—"I ought to see what Chartism has not done for my Brother George". The Fenians were all alive at that time & perhaps he was frightened I should join them. I dare say I used to write him some warm letters. In comparison to the agitation for the Charter—the conduct of the Lords & Dukes at the instigation of Balfour, Lansdown & Co.—amounts to Treason against the Constitution, & ought to be prosecuted for High Treason. The Chartists only asked for justice & the right to vote for Members of Parliament. The Dukes defy the Commons, altho they have got the biggest majority ever known.

I had a nice voyage whilst John Andrews was alive. He gave me leave to go a voyage to Southampton—with coal. From there we went to Swansea—loaded up again—& then went to Portsmouth to unload & then back to Sunderland. I think it took about 5 or 6 weeks for the voyage. In the Bristol Channel we had a very rough time, & I was very sick. The name of the ship was "Elizabeth". The next time voyage after we came back—she went down with all hands.

In looking back upon my life—I should not incline to live it over again—supposing I had the chance. To be born again for this world—I should want more brains—better memory—more push, & energy—more cheek, etc. I might then be able to give a better account of it in the end—than the one—which is drawing fast to its close.

            May the end be peace.

                                            Frederic Binns.

                                                    Nov. 1909.

P.S. Dr Brady of Gateshead was some relation to our family—but I can't say what or how he was related. Henry was his name & I believe he had a Brother who opened a draper's shop at Barnsley whilst I was there. I think his name was Charles. I don't know how long my Brother John was with him—but after he left there he went to London to walk Guy's Hospital. There was also another relation at Newcastle—Uncle Rowntree—but I can't say how,—perhaps he married a sister of my mother's. He had a son John who was in business as a Grocer at Scarboro'—when I was there. I don't know whether Joseph Rowntree of York was his Brother or not—but it is very likely. One or the other was generally a visitor at Monthly or Quarterly Meeting times. We used to look forward to at those time—for the sake of the monthly meeting puddings—they were just like Xmas puddings. Dr Brady's wife was a very nice lady. I think her maiden name was Bowman, belonging to Derbyshire or thereabouts.

I Remember my father carrying me up the High St. to the Doctor's—about breakfast time. I had got my forefinger jammed with the parlour door. It was a bad crush only hanging by the skin. It shows the mark yet.


[Extract from post-card to me (Sophie) in 1909. "If my memory was only good I expect there are lots of things I have omitted. One thing has just struck me—]when Edward & I were in Co. some limb of the law walked round the counter, & stole the money out of the till for church rates. Our glorious Constitution".

[Note: Frederick Binns omits the "k" from his signature, this letter is included in his name on his memorial card.

G.L. Binns]

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This transcript is © Benjamin S. Beck, 2011–2023.