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John Thomas Adkins

Rouen, France
3 Castle Street, Castle Place, Canterbury
172 Lower Street
18 Lower Street
Leamington, Warwickshire
2 Aberdeen Villas, Ramsgate 

Occupation: Carpenter, Stationer, Bookseller & Newsagent

John Thomas Adkins was born in Rouen, France, on 7 January 1835 and baptised there by the Pastor of the Reformed Church. His baptism was also entered in the register of the Holy Cross Church, Goodnestone Next Wingham on 19 March 1836 along with his brother Benjamin who was also born in Rouen in 1831. 

Benjamin, their father, was a Millwright by trade which gave him the basic skills to become an Engineer. He was born in 1796 and was living and working in Sandwich in 1820. By 1830 he had joined James Barker and William Sudds in Rouen.  

Many countries wanted to use the technology that Britain had developed, and continued to do so, throughout the Industrial Revolution. Buying machinery alone was not sufficient. Countries like France needed skilled workers and engineers and for a while the British Government was against this. Industrialists though disagreed recognising that there was a market they could tap into and a future for competitors. 

In 1835 they took out a licence to adopt Samuel Hall’s patent improvements to steam engines and so by the late 1840s the trio were building and supplying steam engines for steam powered vessels. In 1836 they were granted patents for an oil press and a water turbine. Sadly Benjamin died in 1845 his wife, Harriet, then returned to England with her two young sons, Benjamin and John Thomas. 

In 1851 they were all living in Canterbury where Harriet seems to have invested in houses that she rented out giving her an income. Benjamin and John Thomas, at this time, were both Carpenters. However both were soon to change occupations. Benjamin was to become a very successful Architect living and working in the Faversham area until he retired to Brighton where he died in 1908. John Thomas was to become a Stationer and Bookseller.  

Quite why and when he became a stationer we don’t know but he was trading as a Stationer in Ash in 1855  and the following year he established his business in Deal. That year a young employee named Bass was charged for stealing and selling papers that he had collected from the train station. 

Faversham Gazette, and Whitstable, Sittingbourne, & Milton Journal – Saturday 25 October 1856

A year later in 1857 he married Harriet Crambrook in St. George’s Church. They continued to live and run the stationery business at 172 Lower Street. Their two daughters Ellen and Harriet were both born here.  

By 1862 the family had moved to a prime position at 18 Lower Street, right on the corner of Park Street. Both John Thomas and Harriet are listed in Kelly’s Directory for that year, he as a Bookseller, Stationer and Newsagent and she as a Milliner. By the time the 1871 census was taken, they were employing two live-in servants and a son John Benjamin, who was born in 1868, completed the family.  

John Thomas was again subject to theft in 1863 when Harriet Thompson stole 2s 11d from his till. He, though, felt concern for the child and decided not to prosecute one so young. Then again, in 1866, a tramp named Alfred Bushell, who had received books stolen from John Thomas’ shop, was sentenced to two months hard labour.   

For a short time, at least from 1876, John Thomas was in Leamington, Warwickshire. Kelly’s Directory for that year lists 13 York Terrace where he was a Stationer and Depot for the British & Foreign Bible and Religious Tract Society. 18 Lower Street was leased to Thomas Elgar Gedge from Christmas 1878 for a term of fourteen years at a rate of £60 per annum which was to be paid quarterly.  

By 1881 John Thomas had retired, and his family were again back in Kent in Ramsgate. His retirement was to be a short one as he died on 9 May 1882. He left a personal estate worth £340 and 18 Lower Street.  

Harriet died in 1888 in Ramsgate and their daughters continued to live in the town. By 1939 they had moved to Horam Waldron near Eastbourne. They died within months of each other in 1941 both leaving a substantial fortune.  

As for John Benjamin after 1881, he disappeared from UK records. He seems to have found employment in Ceylon possibly as, or for, a tea planter there. In 1896 he left the Port of London travelling on the ‘Rome’ to Colombo. Then in 1909 he appeared in Ireland where he married Mable Frances Hudson. Where the couple might have met is not known. They go on to have two daughters, both possibly born in Ceylon. Mabel and her daughters travel several times to and from Britain then in 1928 she files for divorce. Eventually John Benjamin remarries, a Sophie McKenzie, and continues to live in Ceylon. He died in 1838 in Switzerland leaving a grand fortune of £16, 216 or in today‘s money £638,041.22. 

At the Kent Archives are the ‘Particulars of the Debts’ left by John Thomas. These include, dresses, umbrellas, taxes. the poor rate as well as his funeral expenses. Also mentioned is an outstanding account for JJ Wise Builder of Deal for repairs he had made to 170, 171 and 172 Lower Street. So it seems that he also owned these properties as well as 18 Lower Street. 

In 1888 Benjamin Adkins, as the surviving trustee of his brother’s will, gave permission for Thomas Elgar Gedge to assign the remaining nine years of the lease to Augustus William Giraud.  

Giraud would continue to trade as a Stationer and Bookseller as well as a lending library until his death in 1911, though, whether he purchased the freehold from the Adkins estate is not known. 

Girauds Stationers on the corner of Park Street & High (formerly Lower) Street

The Children of John Thomas Adkins & Harriet Crambrook

Name Born Baptised Married Died Buried
Ellen 18 September 1858
Lower Street
15 October 1858
St. George’s
8 October 1941
Eastville, Horam Waldron, Sussex
Harriet 23 July 1860 19 August 1860
St. Leonard’s
31 December 1941
Eastville, Horam Waldron, Sussex
John Benjamin 1869 27 September 1869
St. George’s
1) Mabel Frances Hudson
Dungarvan, Ireland
2) Sophie McKenzie ??
15 November 1938
Clarens Montreux, Switzerland


Year Address Name Relationship Occupation
1851 3 Castle Street, Clastle Place, Canterbury Harriet Adkins Head Proprietor of Houses
Benjamin Son Carpenter
John Thomas Son Carpenter


Year Address Name Relationship Occupation
1861 172 Lower Street John Thomas Head Stationer
Harriet Wife
Ellen Daughter
Harriet Daughter


Year Address Name Relationship Occupation
1871 18 Lower Street John Thomas Head Stationer
Harriet Wife
Ellen Daughter
Harriet Daughter
John Benjamin Son
Sarah Caistor Servant General Servant
Eliza Chapman Servant General Servant


Year Address Name Relationship Occupation
1881 2 Aberdeen Villas, Ramsgate John Thomas Head Retired Stationer
Harriet Wife
Ellen Daughter
Harriet Daughter
John Benjamin Son Scholar

Trade and Street Directory

Directory and Year Trade or Occupation Address
Post Office- Home Counties 1855 Stationer Ash
Melville’s Directory  1858 &
Post Office- Home Counties 1867
Stationer & Bookseller
Bookseller & Newsagent
Lower Street
18 Lower Street
Kelly’s  Directory 1876 Stationer & depot of the British & Foreign Bible & Religious Tract Society 13 York Terrace, Leamington, Warwickshire
Kelly’s  Directory 1882 Granville Villa, East Cliffe, St. Lawrence, Thanet
Sources and further reading:
Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History
Documents held at Kent History & Library Centre
Copy lease of messuage and shop at 18 Lower Street, Deal U4009/T1
Particulars of debts of the late John Thomas Adkins U4009/E2
Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved.
With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (