T. (Thomas) Hamilton

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Tobacconist and pipe seller, Cambridge, England

Thomas Bonynge Hamilton (1863-1896) spent the first 25 years of his brief life peregrinating around the southeast of England. Born in Wantage, by the age of 18 he was working in Maidstone as an assistant in the draper trade. Two years later he married Margaret Ann Mercer in London, before heading back to Maidstone where he remained until 1889. In that year he found his calling, and after moving his family to Cambridge established a tobacconist shop there at 23, Petty Cury. As near as I can tell this was a first for the Hamiltons, with neither his father nor brothers remotely involved in the tobacco trade. The Petty Cury premises had previously housed pubs, dining establishments, and the like. For those interested in minutiae, an apprentice indenture survives from 1889 for what was presumably Hamilton's first assistant, Walter Thomas Littlechild. Hamilton met with gradual success in his new endeavor, and by 1895 was able to open a second branch in Cambridge at 18, Trinity Street. Here the story takes a grim turn. Less than a year later, on June 28, 1896 Hamilton died suddenly and somewhat mysteriously. One local report stated that "...[Hamilton] had not been in the best of health for some time past, and went to Scarborough for a rest. On a Sunday morning he went out for a row with a friend, and on leaving the boat was suddenly taken ill. He afterwards fell down in an unconscious condition, and expired without regaining consciousness."

It is here that a woman named Alice Howell moves to the fore. Alice can be found named in probate documents for Thomas's estate; a little digging made it clear that Alice Howell's maiden name was Hamilton and that she was in fact Thomas' older sister. A little more digging established that Alice had been living next to the original shop, at 24, Petty Cury, as Thomas's neighbor since at least 1891. Having lost her husband a few years before, it's a reasonable inference that Alice moved to Cambridge with her young daughter to be close to family. It's another reasonable guess (but only that) that since Alice was living next door she was familiar with, and perhaps occasionally worked at, Hamilton's store. In any case subsequent censuses and directories make it clear that while the shop continued to trade under the name T. Hamilton, it was owned and managed by Alice after Thomas died. The Trinity location, by the way, fell by the wayside pretty quickly after Hamilton was gone, leaving the original shop at 23, Petty Cury as the survivor. The business continued to appear in directories and advertisements over the twenty years between Thomas's death and Alice's own in 1918. After that point I have yet to find any record of the shop, suggesting that it may have been liquidated as part of the settlement of Alice's estate. Also potentially indicative is the fact that none of Tom's three sons, or Alice's daughter, pursued a career as a tobacconist.

Excerpts from a jguss post, forum member at PipesMagazine.com