ROBERT DEARLE - tallow chandler

Robert Dearle
Robert Dearle
Photo from James Andrews's 'Reminiscences of Epsom'

Robert Dearle was one of the longest-serving tradespersons in Epsom, his career spanning over seventy years. He was born into the business. James Andrews wrote in 1903 (see 'Reminiscences of Epsom', published in 1904) that 'he has lived in the same house for seventy-four years and been in business in the same premises for sixty-seven years, the Dearle family having occupied the same house over 150 years.' The house in question stood beside the old town pond in Epsom High Street.

There were Dearles all over the place in London, Middlesex (particularly Hampton and Staines) and Surrey in the 18th and 19th centuries, several of them tallow chandlers. The Epsom branch was descended from the Hampton contingent.

Robert's father, John Willeter Dearle, was born in Epsom in 1792, son of Robert Dearle of Hampton and Mary Croucher of Epsom. John died at the age of only 30 in 1822 and his wife, Jane Wood Dearle (née Redford) took over. Along the way she married widower Henry Harvey, and at one stage was in Chichester, but he predeceased her, probably quite soon after their marriage, and by 1841 she was running the High Street business with her surviving children, Robert (born about 1817), Jane Willeter (5 July 1820 - 16 December 1860) and her youngest, Walter Dearle Harvey (born in Chichester 1826 and died 1884 in Lambeth district). Jane's eldest child, Mary Willeter Dearle, who was born in 1815, had died on 12 February 1836.

Robert  Dearle in his shop about 1903.
Robert Dearle in his shop about 1903.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Tallow chandlers made and/or sold candles derived from rendered animal fat and Robert was both a manufacturer and retailer, but he sold much more, as this advertisement of 1895 shows.

Dearle Advertisement
Dearle Advertisement

(I am not too sure that I should admit to being familiar with Sunlight soap, which you can see in the photo of the shop, but I can remember it around our house when I was young and I seem to recall that it made my mother's hands red and sore - perhaps she was allergic to the ingredients. It was invented in 1884 and used for laundry purposes in the days before detergents and consisted of glycerine and vegetable oils. Hudson's Extract of Soap, also seen on Robert's shelves, was multi-purpose. One could use it for the washing up - 'makes grease fly/never clogs/never smells' and it would make anything washed with it 'scrupulously clean and sweet' -and one could even use it for washing clothes.)

Robert married butcher's daughter, Louisa Elliott, from East Grinstead, Sussex on 27 August 1846 at St George the Martyr, Southwark. They had four children, all born in Epsom, who were Robert ( born 24 May 1847), George Elliott (born 5 January 1849 and died 13 March 1850), Arthur Baker (born 21 January 1852) and Frank Woodruff (born 2 February 1855 and died 1894 Guildford district).

Mrs Louisa Dearle died on 1 September 1862 and on 11 August 1864 at St James, Westminster Robert married Sarah Amelia Rich from Paddington and had four more children, who were Fanny Amelia (1865-1954), Charles Willeter (born 1867), Walter George (1869 - 1947) and Alfred (1871-1960)

To return to Robert's chandlery, a local newspaper cutting (provided by Bourne Hall Museum) starts as follows:-
'It has been the practice of the Urban Council to disinfect the streets of Epsom after Derby Week. There was a time when the wide part of the High Street was fumigated and though at no expense to the rates was far from appreciated by those who lived near the shop occupied by the Dearle family - a shop that stood on part of the site now used by George Perrin Ltd. Mr Robert Dearle, father, and Mr Robert Dearle, son, included in the business they did the making of tallow candles, and everyone living in the wide part of the High Street or passing along it knew when the process was in operation, for the odour was both pungent and unpleasant'
(Note: As explained earlier, Robert was actually the son of John Willeter Dearle and 'Robert Senior' was his grandfather, so the article is not correct on that score. For Robert Senior, who died in 1810, to have fathered Robert Junior in about 1818 would have been a posthumous miracle.)

'Robert Junior' was well-respected in the town, as the newspaper article (written after his death) goes on to say.
'There are still a number of Epsom inhabitants who can remember Mr Robert Dearle Jun, though "junior" has rather an amusing sound in view of the fact that the son lived to a very great age, and saw the Derby more times than any other person in the world had done, though he never had a bet in his life. Mr Dearle was a fine character, and his great friends included the late Lord Rosebery, who called in at the shop at times to have a chat with Mr Dearle, who during his last illness received much kindness from his lordship.'
Robert Dearle and unknown companion returning from his 80th and last Derby attendance.
Robert Dearle and unknown companion returning from his 80th and last Derby attendance.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Robert died on 24 March 1908 and was interred at St Mary, Hampton, where his grandfather, Robert Senior, had been buried in 1810.

That was the end of the Dearle shop (which would have been a relief to Epsom residents if Robert was still manufacturing his tallow candles, although I understand that refinements to the process over the years had rendered them far less obnoxious). All of the surviving children except Fanny had long since flown the nest and Robert's widow, Sarah Amelia, together with Fanny, moved to Deal in Kent. Sarah died in Kent towards the end of 1912 and then resurfaced on 30 July 1913 to be re-interred in St Mary, Hampton 'by faculty of his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury'. Her whereabouts in the meantime are unknown.

There is, however, a postscript to the apparent demise of the Dearle candle dynasty and they were not yet quite finished with the trade. Robert's eldest son, Robert Henry, was also in the candle business, but, for some mysterious reason, by 1871 he had decamped to Sudbury, Suffolk to become an assistant and apprentice to a tallow candle maker. Since his father could no doubt have taught him everything he needed to know on that score, perhaps there was a falling-out, but in any event Robert Henry opened his own establishment in Sudbury. However, by 1891 he had disappeared. There is a brief reference on the internet to a Robert Dearle, tallow chandler of Jersey, but no dates are given. If this was our man, he did not stay long in the Channel Islands and by 1886 he had popped up in Fremantle, Western Australia. By 1897 he was a Justice of the Peace and a Councillor and Acting Mayor in North Fremantle. He also made soap and managed the 'Swan River Candle Company', which still used tallow.

News of Old Robert's fame and longevity spread even to Australia. The following article appeared in the Western Mail (Perth) on 27 July 1907.

Newspaper Cutting from The Western Mail (Perth)  27 July 1907.
Newspaper Cutting from The Western Mail (Perth) 27 July 1907.
Source: National Library of Australia http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page3846225

Fremantle Robert died in 1916 and his fireman son, also Robert, in 1930. There are still descendants of old Epsom Robert in Fremantle today.

One of old Robert's other sons, Charles Willeter (born 1867), emigrated to Australia and worked for the railways. He died in Brisbane in 1953. Arthur Baker Dearle (born 1852) emigrated to Canada with some or all of his family, having run an oil and colour merchant's business, firstly in Battersea and subsequently in Bridge Street, Leatherhead. He died in Foxwarren, Manitoba on 21 March 1923 and there are still Dearle descendants in the Winnipeg area.

Linda Jackson © October 2011




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