THE PONÇONS

(Church Street, Epsom)
Victorian Studio Photos
Victorian Studio Photos


I knew that Nicolas Ponçon was a fruit importer from previous researches about businesses in the borough, but at the time I didn't think about exactly what he might have imported and its origin. When I looked in a newspaper archive it threw up many results about 'Lisbon apricots and peaches' and, in fact, we are talking about preserved fruits.

1868 advert for Ponçon's 'apricots for tarts'
1868 advert for Ponçon's 'apricots for tarts'
… J.A. has received a large consignment of PONÇONS
APRICOTS for Tarts, in Tins, 1s, each. …

For those who could afford the items, such adverts must have been very exciting. I don't know what you think of first when you hear the term Crosse & Blackwell - it might be soups, baked beans, piccalilli, Branston pickle -, but the firm was not always about stacks of tins and jars on supermarket shelves. The name dates back to about 1830 when young Edmund Crosse and Thomas Blackwell bought a company called West & Wyatt, who were oilmen and salters. Crosse & Blackwell would take whole-page adverts in the newspapers to tell you what enticing delicacies they had in stock and they soon acquired a Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria. One of the things they had in due course was Ponçon's preserved fruits.

Advert for Crosse and Blackwell's pickles, sauces & condiments
Advert for Crosse and Blackwell's pickles, sauces & condiments
Image source: Wikimedia

The London Evening Standard of 11 December 1871, in a long article entitled 'Preserved Fish, Fruit and Vegetables', said 'Various fruits are preserved in tins in this country, but the best as conserves for dessert have hitherto been considered those imported from France. M. Ponçon, who is justly considered one of the best fruit preservers in the world, is employed by Messrs Crosse and Blackwell and Ferré & Co to preserve apricots, peaches and other fruits for their houses; and for this purpose he goes to Lisbon every year. The fruit he sends home cannot be exceeded in quality …' The point of the article as a whole was to talk about the range and quantities of preserved foods that were being produced in America, with a prediction that they would be of excellent quality and cheaper because of mass production.

Advert for Crosse and Blackwell's pickles, sauces & condiments
Newspaper Advert for Crosse and Blackwell Celebrated Oilmen's Stores
… Poncons, Lisbon Apricots and Peaches. …

Nicolas Ponçon was born in Paris in about 1816, his father, Antoine, being a wine grower and merchant. I don't know when he came to England permanently, but Antoine seemed to flit about between here and France and apparently had premises in The Haymarket, Piccadilly.

Nicolas had been married and widowed before he popped up in Epsom to wed Adelaide Sophie Guerin (born c.1828 Paris) on 6 March 1851 at St Martin's: he gave his occupation as 'culinary artiste', which presumably meant he could cook up a fantastic tarte aux abricots at the drop of a chapeau. A few days later the newlyweds were resident in South Street at the home of Adelaide's parents, Augustin and Adelaide, who were both French by birth.

I have no idea what Augustin Hippolite Guerin did for a living, if anything, as he is always described as a fundholder or gentleman; he was born in Paris around 1800, so there is a fair chance that there was a business or social connection between him and the Ponçons. He had been in England for some time and was already in Epsom by the 1841 census. His wife was Adelaide Victoire Noyon, from Normandy (married 18 May 1824 at St Marylebone).

I will come back to the Guerins later, but let's continue with the Ponçons for now. There was only one child of the marriage, who was Alfred Augustin, born 1854 Epsom.

Alfred Augustin Ponçon
Alfred Augustin Ponçon
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Nicolas was not at home in the 1871 and 1881 censuses, but perhaps he was at his premises in Portugal, which were located at 244 Rua da Palma, Lisbon. Adelaide died in the autumn of 1882 and was buried in Epsom Cemetery (Grave B75A): her last address was in Laburnum Road. I wonder if they might have been separated, but we are unlikely to find out.

Nicolas remarried with some alacrity: on 18 December 1883 at St Mary, Lambeth; the bride was Elinor Gertrude Small, who was more than 40 years his junior. The marriage lasted for only three years, as Nicolas died on 27 December 1886, then living in Clapham Road, Lambeth. However, they had two sons in that period - Stanley Philip (1885) and Arnold Sidney Divoiry (1886).

Returning to Alfred Augustin, in 1882 he married Ellen Eldridge (born 1859 in Banstead/ Walton-on-the-Hill), who was a domestic servant in Epsom, and by 1891 he was farming at Epsom Common, probably as a tenant. Somehow I get the impression that, if Nicolas Ponçon was wealthy - and there is no indication of that from his probate record - then Alfred may not have got much of it. The senior Guerins were dead by then, so there was unlikely to be any help from that side of the family either. In any event, although Alfred and Ellen had several children, none of them had Nicolas as any part of their names. The children (who messed about with their forenames a lot, as did the Guerins) were as follows.

NameInformation
Adelaide Ellen KathleenBorn 1883 Epsom. Never married. Died Worthing Hospital 1936. Known as Kathleen.
Alfred Augustus LancelotBorn Dec. 1887 Epsom. Served in the Rifle Brigade during WW1.Married Clara E Rogers 1931. Died Petersfield, Hants 1976.
Lilian Gwendoline MayBorn Jan. 1890 Epsom. Known as May. Married Ernest J Taulbut 1917. Died 1973 Surrey south eastern.
Laurence Willie/WilliamBorn 1892 Epsom. Died 1976 Lewes district.
Harold TheodoreBorn Jan. 1895 Epsom. Died 1985 Horsham district.
Ada or MaryBorn c. 1897 Wiston, Sussex, but nothing else found apart from two census entries.
RoseBorn 1900 Botolphs*, Sussex; died 1901.

*Botolphs is a linear village on the road from Shoreham to Lancing, and Annington is a hamlet on that same road. In the 1901 census the Ponçons were described as being near Annington and Alfred was a fishmonger. It's all very rural and he obviously didn't go in for city life or big business, but money could have been a problem, as Ellen was working as a laundress and Adelaide (known as Kathleen) was a domestic servant in another household.

Sadly, Alfred died in 1903 in Brighton registration district, aged only 49. I doubt he died at home, since the family was still in Annington/Botolphs (Steyning registration district at the time). And when you look at the 1911 census, Ellen and four of the children were living in three rooms, which would have included the kitchen. Alfred Junior, 24, was a nursery gardener, Laurence (19) and Harold (15) were farm labourers and Mary (13) was at school. Mrs Ellen Ponçon died on 25 January 1940, then living in Newhaven.

As for the second Mrs Nicolas Ponçon, Elinor Gertrude died on 15 February 1941. Stanley Philip died at St Helier, Jersey in 1961 and Arnold Sidney Divoiry, an engineer and latterly Ponson rather than Ponçon, died in 1970.

The Guerins


I have already mentioned Augustin Hippolite and Adelaide Victoire Guerin; the latter died on 15 January 1871, followed by Augustin on 17 March 1874. Both are buried in St Martin's Churchyard.

Augustin Hippolite and Adelaide Victoire Guerin's grave
Augustin Hippolite and Adelaide Victoire Guerin's grave
St Martin's Churchyard, Epsom.

Apart from Adelaide Sophia, who married Nicolas Ponçon, the children were Augustine Adelaide (born c.1825 Paris) and Augustus Adolphus (c.1828). I shall come back to Augustine, since she remained an Epsom resident. Augustus seems to have picked a strange career for gentry, as in the 1851 census he was 'Second Cook' at a very large establishment in Piccadilly, London. In 1855 he married Mary Simmonds from Shrawley, Worcestershire and they were next to be found in Staindrop, Durham, where he was a domestic cook. By 1881 he was a confectioner in Dagnall Park, Croydon, with many children, and then he died early in 1874. Mary was next recorded as a widowed dressmaker and it looks as if she died in 1894. Unusually for a bare probate record, there is mention that she was her husband's legatee for life provided that she did not remarry, although he left very little in the way of effects and the family certainly didn't look well-off at any point. This seems to have echoes of Alfred Ponçon, who left a large family with, it seems, scarce resources.

Lastly, we turn to Augustine Adelaide, known as Clara, who married chemist and druggist Frederic Oxley at St Martin's on 23 March 1848. At the time Frederic (born 1824 Norwich) was still in Norwich and shortly after the wedding he acquired existing chemist's premises there, but by 1851 he was in Epsom, perhaps perceiving a better business opportunity. The shop was between Chuter Brothers, the builders (on the corner of the High Street and Church Street) and Ede's bakery and grocery.

Probable Location of Frederic Oxley's Chemist shop
Probable Location of Frederic Oxley's Chemist shop
at the junction of Church Street and High Street
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Frederic remained in Epsom for the rest of his life but, like many shopkeepers and tradesmen, he had sidelines. For example he would pull a troublesome tooth and was an agent for Horniman's tea in packets (this was really good stuff back in the day and in our house we drank their Black Label loose-leaf brand for many years), as was the Andrews family at the Post Office - Mrs Lucy Andrews was also an agent for Howqua's Mixture and other China Teas. The history of tea in packets is interesting, because, when Horniman's first introduced it, grocers were sceptical, so it was sold through chemists with a medical type of description. For example, PG Tips used to be known as Digestive Tea and the PG is an abbreviation of Pre-Gestee. Apologies for that digression, but, as we began with Mr Ponçon's preserved fruits, things have lapsed into grocery mode.

1865 advert for Howqua's Mixture
1865 advert for Howqua's Mixture

Sorry again, but one of the Victorian Studio Images glass negatives was wrapped in such an advert and we believe that James Andrews had been involved with these items at some point, so he probably did the wrapping in mother's advert, which, no doubt, they had printed themselves.

To move on, Frederic Oxley was christened as an adult at St Martin's in 1863, but all the children had been christened there previously and were born in Epsom: they were as shown below.

NameInformation
Adele Louisa GuerinBorn 26.7.1850.
Clara Maria GuerinBorn 27.3.1852.
Horace GuerinBorn 23.5.1853; died July 1854.
Frederic Augustus GuerinBorn 10.4.1855.
Edith JuliaBorn 2.12.1857; died May 1860.

Clara Senior died on 12 April 1894 and Frederic Senior on 28 February 1904. Clara and Adele never married and lived together in a house called Garth in Burgh Heath Road, which had probably been the family home in later years: they died in 1928 and 1931 respectively. Frederic Junior, a licensed victualler, only just outlived his father, dying in 1906, then living in Surbiton. His widow, Louise, whom he had married in 1895, was still quite young and he left a very young daughter, Doris Augusta, born in 1904.

Linda Jackson 2018