At the back of the shelf was a black tin box, it was old, locked and very intriguing… what was inside?….Luckily we have the key and I was excited to see sixteen old title deeds handwritten on parchment/vellum dating between 1853 and 1944.
They relate to our old headquarters property in Dawson Place, London known as Rosalind Carlisle House and date back to when the property was first built, although the association didn’t occupy it until later, between 1952 and 2006.
Some of these title deeds have several sheets attached and are penned in meticulous calligraphy. My mind went back to the person who penned the word “Indenture” with its fancy scroll work and decorative flourishes. How many hours of work must it have taken to produce these documents, especially the early ones, probably toiling away in candlelight? Wax seals are also evident on the deeds and often belonged to the lawyer or one of the contracting parties.
Historically, an indenture is a written legal contract between parties often dealing with land transactions or indentured labour. It was written in duplicate on the same sheet, with the two or more parts separated by cutting a jagged toothed line between each, so that the parts could later be refitted to confirm the authenticity of the document. This is where the term “indenture” comes from. Each party of the deed would retain one part. Before the introduction of compulsory Land Registration the whole conveyancing process was carried out using deeds to convey the property from the seller to the buyer. Following the Law of Property Act 1925, conveyancing was simplified and documents were typed instead of handwritten.
It isn’t easy to actually read the deeds in our possession. Not only is some of the meticulous calligraphy very small but there is an awful lot of it (!) and it is written in legal terms but I really wanted to research them a bit further, so I focused on some of the names on the deeds.
One of the earliest names that appears in 1854 was Mr William Radford – ‘Builder’. I discovered that brothers, Francis and William Radford were the builders who began the development of the Hall estate (this included what became Dawson Place) in 1849, when the executors of the estate agreed to lease one acre of land on the north side of Dawson Place to William Radford. During the next fifteen years they built sewers, roads and some 125 houses on the Hall estate, mostly large detached properties, many in Dawson Place including ours at No. 23. Ninety-nine-year leases were granted by Robert Hall’s executors to either Francis or William Radford. They became one of the most successful of the many groups of builders who developed North Kensington during the nineteenth century.
More interesting names appear including Mr George Lock – ‘Hatter’ named on another 1854 mortgage deed. The fact that Mr Lock’s profession was stated as ‘Hatter’ sparked my interest. The Radfords’ building work in this area was financed by a series of private mortgages and George Lock appears to have been one of these mortgagees. When I looked into the Lock name and ‘Hatter’, I found that he was probably of the famous firm Lock and Co Hatters of St. James’s Street in London, which still exists today and is quoted as being the oldest hat shop in the world.
Diamond connection……Moving onto 1880, a conveyance deed for the now freehold property, shows the name Harry Mosenthal ‘Merchant’. Further investigation into this surname found reference to The Mosenthal company, which existed in South Africa from 1839 and which also had a UK business. Adolph Mosenthal had six sons, including Harry (c. 1850 – 1915), who all played active roles in the family business. In the 1914 Who’s Who in Business (UK edition), Mosenthal, Sons & Co., are listed as South African Merchants, with premises at 72 Basinghall Street, London. which matched the address listed for Harry Mosenthal on the deed we hold. The company had branches in South Africa, and were diamond producers being a member of the De Beers Diamond Syndicate. Harry Mosenthal was a director of De Beers Consolidated Mines and was considered one of South Africa’s mining magnates, when South Africa was still part of the British Empire.
So our house at Dawson Place appears to have had some interesting connections back in its history. We wanted to ensure that these documents were preserved in the best condition and obviously that wouldn’t be the old metal tin box, so we managed to secure some very good professional advice on the best way to store the deeds. We know that to maintain their condition they should be kept in a stable storage environment which is free of excess fluctuation in temperature and humidity as this can cause deterioration. The deeds have been recorded and are now housed appropriately for the future, in preservation grade storage in our purpose built archive store which is monitored regularly.
It has been another interesting journey of discovery into some more of the records we hold here, albeit not directly about our organisation’s temperance history or our fantastic present day work! It’s great to be able to share more from our archive and if you would like any more information about this or the services we provide please contact us at email@example.com or for Archive enquires firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively our telephone number is (0121) 744 3214.