Thomas Richardson was a prominent Abingdon townsman. He built up a grocery business serving the town and the surrounding area and, as a leading member of the Wesleyan community, he had a prominent role in building Abingdon’s first Methodist chapel. He was born in Bicester in 1801, and seems to have been living in Abingdon by 1829 when he married Mary Warren, born in Stony Stratford in 1806. They had two children, Elizabeth, born about 1834, and Charles, about 1836. By 1831 he was occupying premises in Ock Street, just east of where the Post Office Sorting Office is now (2015).
These premises were among the more valuable properties in the street, with an estimated rental value – although he owned them – of over £32. Of the 136 properties on the south side of the street, only seven had a higher valuation. The building provided space for his family, a couple of servants, and at least some of his employees. Richardson would remain there for the rest of his life.
In religion, Richardson was a nonconformist. In 1846, it was he who received the Town Council’s permission to ‘pull down two tenements in the Ock Street and build a Wesleyan chapel on the site thereof’. The site was immediately to the west of Richardson’s house. The 1851 census shows a Wesleyan minister among his household.
In his politics, Richardson was a Liberal. In 1832, he spoke at a public meeting, seconding a petition to be sent to Westminster in support of the local MP, John Maberly, and parliamentary reform. In the parliamentary election of 1854 he was named in the newspapers as a supporter of J T Norris, who favoured ending discrimination against nonconformists. In the same year his fellow-Liberals nominated him for a vacant place on the borough council, but he declined to stand, citing pressure of business.
Richardson’s grocery business was solid and stable. In 1861, he described himself to the census enumerator as employing twelve people. There were branches in Marcham, Blewbury and Steventon. Advertisements show that he shared agency contracts for branded goods with another prominent local businessman, E J Trendell. He was seen as sufficiently reliable to be charged on several occasions with winding up the affairs of fellow-grocers who had become bankrupt. There may have been a period of unease when, in 1854, a Faringdon grocer accused of selling coffee adulterated with 30% of chicory declared that he had bought it in good faith from Richardson. The local magistrates evidently believed him, but such chicanery was commonplace enough at the time, and there is no record of further action being taken.
Thomas Richardson died in January 1874. His son and heir Charles had ambitions to live as a gentleman, and the business was immediately sold to George Rant for £5000. The site at 56 Ock Street would be the main shop of Rant & Tombs till it was demolished in 1965. Charles left Abingdon about 1881, became bankrupt in 1893, and died in 1911. Charles’s third daughter Dorothy (1873-1957) achieved fame as a feminist writer and a sometime lover of H G Wells.
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