Answers to Questions


FISK the drapers, St Albans, 19th century

October, 2009



St Albans

Mike Roberts (mrobertsbcn @t of Barcelona writes: I was delighted to stumble across your site and find so much information and wonderful images of W. Fisk and J. Fisk and Son, the drapery in St Albans High Street. This drapery was originally set up by my great, great, great grandfather William Fisk and his wife Louisa Lake, when they moved to St Albans from Thorpe-le-Soken in Suffolk in 1834.

William Fisk (1807-1881) came from a Fisk family with a long and proud tradition that can be traced all the way back to the 13th century. Many of them were members of the Protestant clergy, and many emigrated to America in the times of the persecution of Protestants under Bloody Mary. William himself was deacon of the Baptist church in St Albans for forty years.

He and his wife had ten children, two of which died in infancy. Three of the sons, Thomas, William and my own great great grandfather Ebenezer Edward Fisk went on to become Baptist ministers in different parts of the country, and two of the daughters also married Baptist ministers.


Picture from the Fisk Family Papers, an extensive study made by a Hugh Ffyske in the late 19th century. Information on the St Albans family was provided by Thomas Fisk, James' brother, who was a Baptist minister in Kidderminster.

The only son that didn't turn to the cloth was James, who helped his father William run the drapery. When William died in 1881, the drapery was left in the capable hands of his son James and his own son, William (i.e. it now became J. Fisk & Son, and James had married a lady called Anne Alice Trollope). Other than running the drapery, James was elected Mayor of St Albans in 1878, an office he occupied three times. In February 1887, he was made an Alderman, and in 1894 was placed on the Commission of Peace. He was also director of the St Albans Coffee Tavern Company, and the St Albans Permanent Benefit Building Society. He was a governor of the St Albans Grammar School, and a member of the House Committee of the Hospital. Mr Fisk was one of the original members of the Public Library, and took part in the work of raising funds to build that institution. He was a member of the Committee of the School of Science and Art from its establishment in the early 1870s, and was vice president of the Chamber of Commerce when it was formed.

 He died in 1899, and his wife Anne ran the drapery for a while, but by the time of the 1911 census, she had retired and the third generation of Fisks, William was now the manager.

With William Fisk's connection with the Baptists he would have known my Gibbs relatives (who published the local newspaper, the Herts Advertiser). I had a look in the index of the little known book by the Rev William Urwick "Bible Truths and Church Errors" which unexpectedly includes a large section on "Day School Education in St Albans"  This reveals that on 2nd March 1846 a meeting was held in the Baptist Chapel  to consider the opening of a British School. One of the trustees was William Fisk, who subscribed 20 to the building fund. My relative Richard Gibbs subscribed 10 to a total collection of just over 261. The school opened on 7th January 1847 and the first teacher was James Townend. In 1884 James Fisk (as Mayor) signed a letter protesting against the closing of this non-conformist school by the Anglican dominated St Albans School Board, but without success.

Some years ago I made a collection of photocopies of the Herts Advertiser mainly between 1860 and 1900 - mainly relating to Bernards Heath and brickmaking - but (because they were on the same page) many other aspects of St Albans life were "accidentally" included. I have a partial index and James Fisk occurs frequently - but almost always as councillor, mayor or alderman, or as a subscriber or supporter of a fund or organisation which, as a leading local politician, he would be likely to support. However I found one relevant press cutting from the Herts Advertiser of 15th March 1890 which refers to the shop: Toulmin Smith William Gazeley drunk and disorderly Maddox

I also found one report which showed that James Fisk would have known my great grandfather, Jacob Reynolds. Jacob had diametrically opposing political leanings, having been made an Alderman on the County Council for his work on promoting the Anglican Church with the creation of the parish of St Saviours. Jacob had Heath Farm, adjacent to Bernards Heath Common, which was the local cricket field before Clarence Park was opened. Every summer  the St Albans Club put on a grand Athletics Meeting on Jacob Reynolds' home meadow, and people came from far and wide (including excursion trains from London). There are lengthy reports in the paper every year and in 1895 James Fisk attended as President of the Cricket Club. (It may be that there were contacts through the Cricket Club over many years.)

You asked about the drawing of the shop. Over the last few years a family collection of books and ephemera, obviously started over 100 years ago is being broken up and sold on eBay. The starting prices are high - but how do you value, for instance, the one sheet program of a church event held in 1890, where it may be the only surviving copy! The picture was on a press cutting in a lot which included a small brown paper bag (the equivalent of the plastic bags now handed out in millions at supermarkets) printed with the name and trade details of another St Albans shop. Unfortunately I haven't been able to identify the paper or the date of the cutting.

For the dates James Fisk was on the council see The St Albans Council 1835-1912.

I have significantly increased the information about the Fisk shop in the High Street.

St Albans Museum has a number of photographs of James Fisk, his son William Fisk, and the shop.


THE LATE MR. WILLIAM FISK. - On Sunday evening last a funeral sermon for the late Mr. W. Fisk was preached in the Baptist Chapel to a very large congregation by the Rev. W. G. Lewis, who chose, as his text part of the 21st verse of the Epistle of Jude, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. At the close of the sermon, the preacher gave some particulars of the life of the deceased gentleman. The respect in which Mr. Fisk was held was shown by the fact that a considerable number of the congregation were clothed in mourning. During the service the choir sang the anthem "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord."


Herts Advertiser
26th November 1881

July, 2010

Mike has recently added to his blog ( some very large files of information about his Fisk relatives (see files 4 and 5) which is an essential read if you are related, and very interesting if your ancestor worked in, or even shopped in, his store. Even if you have no link with the Fisk family or St Albans the large files (which take time to download) are worth looking through to give you some ideas as to what information you may be able to find about your shopkeeper ancestor.

Page created October 2009
November 2009 - William Fisk Obit added
December 2009 - Link to St Albans Museum for pictures