This is the last Will and testament of me Eliza Atcherley of 164 Victoria Road Aston near Birmingham Spinster I give devise and bequeath unto my friend James Proffitt of 164 Victoria Road Aston aforesaid Commercial Traveller all my real and personal estate whatsoever and wheresoever of which I shall at the time of my decease be seized possessed or in any way entitled or over which I shall have any power of disposition To hold the same unto him his heirs executors administrators and assigns according to the respective natures and qualities thereof absolutely […] – Will of Eliza Atcherley, 1894.
Eliza Atcherley was the third child of Thomas Cureton Atcherley and his wife Mary, née Matthews. She was baptised, along with her two elder sisters Mary Cureton and Anne, on 18 May 1831 at Shrewsbury St Chad. Mary and Anne had previously been baptised at Astley Abbots, where they were born, but this was the first and only such ceremony for Eliza. According to St Chad’s baptism register, Eliza’s family was then resident at The Isle, an area situated to the west of Shrewsbury town within a loop of the River Severn, where Thomas Cureton Atcherley was a farmer.
By 1835 Eliza’s family had moved to The Hurst in the parish of Westbury. They were enumerated there on the 1841 census – but the three eldest children, including Eliza, were not with them. Mary Cureton Atcherley was staying in Shrewsbury with her grandfather and the aunt with whom she shared her name (and with whom she would spend many years of her life – see Constant companions? The Misses Mary Cureton Atcherley). Anne and Eliza Atcherley meanwhile were two of 19 girls, whose ages ranged from 4 to 20, living at Chilton Cottage in Atcham. This was the home of Martha Houlston, a governess, and it is presumably where Anne and Eliza Atcherley were educated.
Catching up with Eliza ten years later via the 1851 census, we find that she was once more living apart from her parents and siblings. A member of the household of Thomas Juckes, a farmer of 650 acres at Tern in the parish of Ercall Magna, 19-year-old Eliza (her age recorded as 24) was one of four house servants employed alongside a dairy maid, a groom, a waggoner, an errand boy and a waggoner’s boy. This isn’t quite the occupation I expected to see young Eliza engaged in, but it was perhaps a sign of the decline in her family’s financial fortunes: her father had been declared bankrupt in 1846.
In the early 1850s Thomas Cureton Atcherley, with his wife and most of their children, relocated to Chapel Ash in Wolverhampton. Whether Eliza moved with them at that time I do not know, but she had certainly rejoined them by the time the 1861 census was taken. The Atcherleys’ abode was by then in Wolverhampton’s Darlington Street, and at 29 years of age Eliza was by far the eldest of Thomas and Mary’s offspring who were still living with them. The other children were John Roger Atcherley, who was working for the Great Western Railway and would continue to do so for the rest of his life (see John Roger Atcherley and railway accountancy), Charles Cureton Atcherley, who would seek his fortune in America (see Paris, Texas: Charles Cureton Atcherley in the USA, and Stephen Atcherley, who would travel even further in his search for success (see An Atcherley in Australia).
Eliza too had to spread her wings and fly the nest. Her father Thomas was well established as a grocer by this time, and it was perhaps through his contacts in this trade that Eliza Atcherley found employment with James Proffitt.
James Humphrey Proffitt – his middle name seems to have been used almost exclusively in records at the beginning and end of his life – was the youngest son of John Proffitt and his wife Ann, née Smith, of Aldridge in Staffordshire. When James was baptised, on 28 January 1824, his father was said to be a farmer, but the baptismal records for James’s older siblings from 1813 onward show that prior to this John had been a butcher.
By June 1841, 17-year-old James was living in Birmingham High Street, where he worked as an assistant to Charles Flewitt, a chemist. He was still an assistant ten years later, but by that time he had entered the grocery trade. James had moved in with, and starting working for, his brother William Proffitt at 162 Hockley Hill in Birmingham. From there, James went on to set up in business on his account: Slater’s Directory of Birmingham for 1852 included, in its entries for “Grocers, &c”, William Proffitt at 161 & 162 Hockley [Hill], and James Proffitt at 55 Lichfield Street.
The 1855 Post Office Directory of Birmingham showed that James’s business was expanding. He was described as a “wholesale & retail teadealer, grocer & provision factor” and was trading not only at 55 Lichfield Street but also close by at 43 Stafford Street. From 1857, he started placing notices in the Birmingham Journal, seeking first, a porter and an assistant, and then an assistant and an apprentice. Unfortunately, he also appeared in the Journal of 11 November 1857 as one of several persons who “were convicted […] in 10s. and 6d. each, including costs […] for unjust scales”. These convictions were based on the information of a man with a name which sounded quite appropriate given his job title: “Mr. Way, Inspector of Weights, &c.”
The Journal’s report of the court case gave James’s address as Lichfield Street, but the advertisements James placed asking for new recruits all directed those interested to apply to him at Stafford Street. The latter address – 41 and 42 Stafford Street to be precise – was where James was enumerated on the 1861 census. He described himself as a grocer, aged 37 and single. Living with him were four servants: three grocer’s assistants and a general servant.
Junction of Lichfield Street and Stafford Street, Birmingham.
The 1860s saw James maintain his business rather than expand it further. In 1864 he advertised, in Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, for “an ASSISTANT [who] must have a good knowledge of the Provision Trade. Also, a JUNIOR”, with applicants once more to apply to him at Stafford Street. Kelly’s Directory of Birmingham for 1868 confirmed that he was still numbered amongst the grocers and tea dealers, with premises at 42 & 43 Stafford Street and 65 Lichfield Street.
The latter part of the 1860s also saw James getting involved in local government in Birmingham. In 1866 an election of Borough Auditors and Assessors resulted in “James Proffitt, Lichfield Street, grocer” being appointed as an Assessor for St Mary’s Ward. In 1869, he was one of 21 of his Ward’s Burgesses who signed a public letter addressed to their Councillor Edward Tailby. The following notice then appeared in Aris’s Birmingham Gazette of 2 Apr 1870:
On Wednesday morning, at the Parish Offices, Paradise Street, the result of the polling for the election of 108 Guardians for the parish of Birmingham, was announced by the returning officer, Mr. John Gough. No interest whatever seemed to be taken in the proceedings except by those who were nominated, and out of about 15,000 persons qualified to vote only about 250 did so. […]
Included in the list of those elected was “James Proffitt, 65, Lichfield Street, grocer”, who received 188 votes.
Eliza Atcherley was probably living with James by this time – as an employee. The 1871 census shows him living in Stafford Street as in 1861, but now at number 85. Sharing his household were two grocer’s assistants and Eliza, his housekeeper. Nothing to see here, just a busy working single man who was also doing his bit for his local community, and an employee keeping his house in order.
Although the census of 1871 clearly shows James living at number 85, directories such as White’s Directory of Birmingham for 1873 continued to show him conducting business from number 43 – and 65 Lichfield Street too of course. It was as “James Proffitt, provision dealer, Lichfield Street” that he appeared before the Birmingham Police Court, and in the local press, having been charged with “selling butter certified by the borough analyst to be adulterated” in 1874. James entered a plea of Guilty, the case was adjourned, and later resumed for the decision of the Magistrates, Messrs. S. Buckley, T. Lane, and Alderman Biggs. The arguments made around the facts of the case were reported on in some detail by the Birmingham Daily Post of 4 June, from which the following extract is taken:
It was pointed out that there was no law to say how much salt there should be in butter, a fact which caused great difficulties for magistrates in cases like this. Mr Buckley, on the bench, said that a fine of 5 shillings plus costs would be sufficient, but shortly afterwards made this statement, which closed the Post’s report: “If they could not define what was genuine and pure, they could not define what was adulterated.” I still haven’t worked out whether James Proffitt was fined or not!
Did the publicity around this case have an impact far greater than any fine? James had been trading successfully for 22 years, but his life as a grocer was soon at an end. The 1876 edition of Kelly’s Directory of Birmingham was probably one of the last publications to include the entry “Proffitt James, grocer, 65 Lichfield street & 42 Stafford street”. An entry in another publication, The London Gazette, on 14 March that year, spelled out the sorry circumstances: “James Proffitt of No. 42, Stafford-street, and No. 65, Lichfield-street, Birmingham, in the county of Warwick, Grocer, Tea, and Provision Dealer, and Dealer in Wines, Spirits, and Cigars” had instituted proceedings for liquidation. Could it be that in the end, despite his name, James failed to turn a sufficient … profit?
James continued to appear in directories covering Birmingham, but as a private resident only. The Post Office Directory of Birmingham for 1879 showed him living at 164 Victoria Road, Aston Park, and it was at this address that he was enumerated on the 1881 census. He was now a commercial traveller, with a lodger – and a “visitor”, Eliza Atcherley, of no occupation. It might well be that Eliza was captured by the census as a short-term guest of her former employer, but somehow I doubt it. Ten years later James Proffitt was still ensconced at 164 Victoria Road, with a domestic servant and a boarder, and Eliza Atcherley, living on her own means, was still there. Her relationship to the head of the household was given as “Friend”.
Eliza Atcherley died on 2 September 1896, not in Birmingham but at the home of her sister, the widowed Priscilla Matthews, at New Milverton, Leamington, in Warwickshire. The grant of probate on her will however recorded that Eliza’s permanent address was 164 Victoria Street. As we have seen, Eliza left everything she had to James Proffitt, her friend. James was also made an executor and trustee of her will. Eliza’s effects were valued at £694 16s.
James died 4 years later, almost to the day, on 30 August 1900. The main beneficiaries of his will were three relatives, but amongst various legacies to a range of other people one stands out: a gift of £200 to Priscilla Matthews, who most likely took care of Eliza Atcherley during her final days. Not a sister-in-law but perhaps the next best thing.
Eliza Atcherley and James Proffitt – were they ‘just good friends’? Call me an old romantic, but despite the fact that I’ll never be able to prove it I think they were much more than that. Their relationship may well have been purely platonic, but I believe there was a love between Eliza and James as strong as that between any married couple.
Picture credits. Map showing The Isle, near Shrewsbury: Composite image using extracts from Ordnance Survey one-inch maps 138 and 152 published 1899, Crown Copyright expired; reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. View of Junction of Lichfield St and Stafford St, Birmingham: Watercolour painting by George Warren Blackham; public domain image taken from Birmingham Museums website (asset 1934V428). Notice from the London Gazette of 17 Aug 1880: Image used under the Open Government Licence v2.0.
 Will of Eliza Atcherley dated 14 Mar 1876 with grant of probate dated 3 Oct 1896. Digital copy obtained from Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service.
 Shrewsbury St Chad, Shropshire, baptism register covering 1831. Entries dated 18 May 1831 for Mary Cureton, Anne, and Eliza Atcherley. Copies viewed at Shropshire Archives and Findmypast – Shropshire Baptisms. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch C01575-4, Film 503526, 503527, 503528 (Mary Cureton Atcherley, Anne Atcherley, Eliza Atcherley).
 Astley Abbots, Shropshire, baptism register covering 1828. Entry dated 25 May 1828 for Mary Atcherley. Copies viewed at Shropshire Archives and Findmypast – Shropshire Baptisms. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch C13109-2, Film 991959.
 Astley Abbots, Shropshire, baptism register covering 1829. Entry dated 14 Jun 1829 for Ann Atcherley. Copies viewed at Shropshire Archives and Findmypast – Shropshire Baptisms. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch C13109-2, Film 991959.
 Salopian Journal, 11 Feb 1835, page 3. “Sales by Auction. […] HURST. Valuable Dairy Cows, choice Young Stock, Draught Horses, Colts, Pigs, Implements, Hay, & Turnips, The Property of Mr. Thomas Atcherley […]”. Copy viewed at Findmypast.
 1841 census of England and Wales. Piece 911, book 9, folio 25, page 10. Hurst, Westbury, Shropshire.
 1841 census of England and Wales. Piece 904, book 1, folio 8, page 9. Chilton Cottage, Atcham, Shropshire.
 1851 census of England and Wales. Piece 1997, folio 71, page 16. Tern, Ercall Magna, Shropshire.
 London Gazette, issue 20580, 3 Mar 1846, page 848.
 Slater’s Classified Directory of the Extensive and Important Manufacturing District 15 Miles Round Birmingham, page 306 (Wolverhampton &c.: Grocers & Tea Dealers). See Directories Part 1.
 1861 census of England and Wales. Piece 1990, folio 75, page 4. Darlington Street, Wolverhampton, Staffordshire.
 Wolverhampton St Peter, Staffordshire, marriage register covering 1805. Entry dated 19 Aug 1805 for “John Proffitt of this Parish Bachelor and Ann Smith of the same Spinster”. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Staffordshire Marriages.
 Aldridge, Staffordshire, baptism register covering 1824. Entry dated 28 Jan 1824 for James Humphrey Son of John (a farmer) and Ann Proffitt of Aldridge. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Staffordshire Baptisms.
 Aldridge, Staffordshire, baptism register covering 1813. Entry dated 9 Aug 1813 for Eliza Proffitt. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Staffordshire Baptisms.
 Aldridge, Staffordshire, baptism register covering 1814. Entry dated 6 Jun 1814 for Mary Proffitt. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Staffordshire Baptisms.
 Aldridge, Staffordshire, baptism register covering 1815. Entry dated 14 Dec 1815 for Elizath [= Elizabeth] Proffitt. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Staffordshire Baptisms.
 Aldridge, Staffordshire, baptism register covering 1818. Entries dated 5 Feb 1818 for Mary, Elizabeth and William Proffitt. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Staffordshire Baptisms. Note: The baptisms for Mary and Elizabeth, judging by the dates of birth given, were most likely repeat baptisms for the Mary and Elizabeth in the references above.
 Aldridge, Staffordshire, baptism register covering 1819. Entry dated 29 Sep 1819 for Humphry Proffitt. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Staffordshire Baptisms.
 1841 census of England and Wales. High Street, Birmingham, Warwickshire. Piece 1145, book 1, folio 16, page 25. Head: Charles Flewitt, 25, Chemist, born in county. Wife, 2 children. James Proffitt, 15, Assistant, not born in county. Plus 2 others including a female servant.
 1851 census of England and Wales. Piece 2058, folio 654, page 23. 162 Hockley Hill, Birmingham, Warwickshire. Head: William Proffitt, single, 32, Corn Dealer & Grocer, born Aldridge, Staffordshire. Visitor: Anne Proffitt, single, 44, Landed Proprietor, born Aldridge, Staffordshire. Assistant: James Proffitt, single, 28, Assistant Grocer, born Aldridge, Staffordshire. Plus 2 Apprentice Grocers, a House Servant and a Porter.
 Slater’s Directory of Birmingham, 1852, page 92. Copy viewed at Ancestry – UK, City and County Directories, 1766 – 1946.
 Post Office Directory of Birmingham, 1855, page 204. Copy viewed at Ancestry – UK, Midlands and Various UK Trade Directories, 1770-1941.
 Birmingham Journal, 12 Sep 1857, page 4. “WANTED, a PORTER, to the Grocery Trade. Also, ASSISTANT.—AppIy to James Proffitt, Stafford Street, Birmingham.” Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
 Birmingham Journal, 26 Sep 1857, page 4. “WANTED, an ASSISTANT, to the Grocery and Provision Trade. Also, an APPRENTICE.—Apply to James Proffitt, Stafford Street, Birmingham.” Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
 Birmingham Daily Post, 11 Oct 1858, page 3. “GROCERY and PROVISION TRADES.—WANTED, a JUNIOR ASSISTANT. Also a respectable Youth, as an APPRENTICE.—Apply to James Proffitt, Stafford Street, Birmingham.” Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
 Birmingham Journal, 18 Feb 1860, page 4. “APPRENTICE. — WANTED, a respectable Youth, as an APPRENTICE to the Grocery and Provision Trades.—Apply personally, or by letter, to James Proffitt, Stafford Street, Birmingham.” Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
 Birmingham Journal, 11 Nov 1857, page 4. “Unjust Scales.” Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
 1861 census of England and Wales. Piece 2153, folio 41, page 20. 41 & 42 Stafford Street, Birmingham, Warwickshire. Head: James Proffitt, single, 37, Grocer, born Aldridge, Staffordshire. Plus 4 servants (3 Grocers Assistants and a General Servant).
 Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, 28 May 1864, page 4. “GROCERY AND PROVISION TRADES.—WANTED, an ASSISTANT; must have a good knowledge of the Provision Trade. Also, a JUNIOR—Apply, Mr. James Proffitt, Stafford Street.” Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
 Kelly’s Directory of Birmingham, 1868, page 364. Copy viewed at Ancestry – UK, City and County Directories, 1766 – 1946.
 Birmingham Daily Gazette, 2 Mar 1866, page 3. “Election of Borough Auditors and Assessors.” Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive. Note: Also in Aris’s Birmingham Gazette of 3 Mar 1866, page 7; copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
 Birmingham Daily Gazette, 29 Oct 1869, page 3. “TO MR. COUNCILLOR EDWARD TAILBY.” Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
 Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, 2 Apr 1870, page 6. “ELECTION OF GUARDIANS FOR THE PARISH OF BIRMINGHAM.” Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
 1871 census of England and Wales. Piece 3115, folio 47, page 31. 85 Stafford Street, Birmingham, Warwickshire.
 White’s Directory of Birmingham, 1873, page 513. Copy viewed at Ancestry – UK, Midlands and Various UK Trade Directories, 1770-1941.
 Birmingham Daily Post, 4 Jun 1874, page 6. “ALLEGED ADULTERATED BUTTER”. Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
 Kelly’s Directory of Birmingham, 1876, page 353. Copy viewed at Ancestry – UK, Midlands and Various UK Trade Directories, 1770-1941.
 London Gazette, issue 24305, 14 Mar 1876, page 1945.
 Post Office Directory of Birmingham, 1879, page 250. Copy viewed at Ancestry – UK, City and County Directories, 1766 – 1946.
 1881 census of England and Wales. Piece 3043, folio 54, page 9. 164 Victoria Road, Aston, Warwickshire.
 Post Office Directory of Birmingham, 1890, page 296. Copy viewed at Ancestry – UK, City and County Directories, 1766 – 1946.
 1891 census of England and Wales. Piece 2434, folio 25, page 5. 164 Victoria Road, Aston, Warwickshire.
 Death of Eliza Atcherly registered at Warwick, September quarter 1896; volume 6d, page 413; age given as 65. Copy of entry in register of deaths downloaded from the GRO website.
 Leamington Spa Courier, 5 Sep 1896, page 5. “DEATHS. ATCHERLEY.—On the 2nd inst., at “The Hurst,” Milverton, the residence of her sister (Mrs Matthews) Eliza Atcherley, third daughter of the late T. C. Atcherley, Esq., of Milford, Shropshire. Friends kindly accept this, the only intimation. Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
 National Probate Calendar (1896) shows: ATCHERLEY Eliza of 164 Victoria-road Aston near Birmingham spinster died 2 September 1896 at the Hurst 75 Rugby-road Leamington Probate Birmingham 3 October to James Proffitt commercial traveller Effects £694 16s. Copy viewed at Ancestry.
 Death of James Humphrey Proffitt registered at Aston, September quarter 1900; volume 6d, page 284; age given as 77.
 National Probate Calendar (1900) shows: PROFFITT James Humphrey of 164 Victoria-road Aston Birmingham commission-agent died 30 August 1900 Probate Birmingham 22 October to John Thomas Burrows retired grocer and Joseph Alfred Proffitt corn-merchant Effects £903 13s. 6d. Copy viewed at Ancestry.
 Will of James Humphrey Proffitt dated 5 May 1899 with grant of probate dated 22 Oct 1900. Digital copy obtained from Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service.