Reference NumberB/CHA
Creator_NameJ. J. and S. W. Chalk [J. J. & S. W. Chalk]
TitleRecords of J. J. and S. W. Chalk, Timber Merchants and Importers, Limehouse and Whitechapel
DescriptionThese records relate to the firm of J. J. and S. W. Chalk, timber merchants and importers and the family members involved with running the business. The firm, based in Limehouse and Whitechapel, was active for much of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The collection has been arranged into the following 6 series' of records, which reflect the main activities of the firm and the way in which it operated.

B/CHA/1: Financial and Accounting Records (1858-1988)

B/CHA/2: Administration (1937-1975)

B/CHA/3: Employee Records (c. 1894-1974)

B/CHA/4: Property and Premises (1819-1974)

B/CHA/5: Personal Records relating to members of the Chalk family (1862-1988)

B/CHA/6: Awards (1960)

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Extent17 boxes, 19 volumes and 2 plans
AdminHistoryThe title of the firm refers to the brothers James Jabez Chalk (c.1836-1899) and Seymour William Chalk (c. 1838-1909), sons of James Chalk (c. 1801-1863) and Mary Ann Chalk (c. 1802-1879). In addition to their two sons, the Chalks also had two daughters, Sarah Priscilla (c. 1823-1896) and Susannah Eliza (c. 1825-1908) from James' earlier marriage to Priscilla Price. According to parish records from St. Dunstan's, Stepney, James Chalk and Priscilla Price married in 1821. Priscilla is listed as the mother of Sarah and Susannah on their baptism records from 1823 and 1825 respectively. It is likely that she died sometime between 1825 and 1834 at which point James Chalk remarried, however, it has not been possible to locate the records for Priscilla's death and James' marriage to Mary Ann in order to confirm these details.

Some examples of J. J. and S. W. Chalk stationery from the 19th century cite the date of establishment of the business as 1826, whereas, other records from the 20th century (including stationery and building signage), cite the establishment date as 1814, more than 10 years earlier. It is unclear where these establishment dates originated from as the firm J. J. and S. W. Chalk was not active until later in the 19th century. Nevertheless, there is evidence that the Chalk family was associated with the timber trade before the brothers, James Jabez and Seymour William, were born. For instance, their father, James Chalk, features in an 1827 London trade directory where he is listed as a lath, render and timber dealer based at No. 10. Cannon Street Road, St. George-in-the-East. He can also be found in subsequent trade directories from 1835-1863 (inclusive) in which he is listed as a timber merchant at various premises on the same road.

In the 1851 UK Census James and Mary Ann Chalk are recorded as living with their children, Susannah Eliza, James Jabez and Seymour William at No. 10 Cannon Street Road. Sarah Priscilla's absence is most likely due to the fact that she had married Thomas Angus Shaw (c. 1819-1905) in 1845 and had since left the parental home. The occupations of the two brothers are recorded as apprentice (James Jabez) and scholar (Seymour William). In a Memorandum of Agreement between a Mr. Henry Love and James Jabez Chalk, dated 5 July 1860 (ref: B/CHA/4/4), the latter is described as being a timber merchant.

During 1861-1862 the two Chalk brothers married two local sisters, Mary Ann and Emily Sarah, members of the Rumbold family (van builders and wheelwrights of Shadwell). Seymour William married Mary Ann on 15 August 1861 and James Jabez married Emily Sarah on 5 June 1862. A year later, within an 1863 London Post Office trade directory, the first listing can be found for James Jabez and Seymour William Chalk trading as timber merchants, based at 158 Cannon Street Road.

James Chalk died on 16 July 1863 and the loss of their father perhaps provided an impetus for the brothers to begin operating the business on a more official basis as the firm 'J. J. and S. W. Chalk'. Around about the same period (1865-1873) entries for 'Chalk Brothers and Shaw', timber merchants based at 60 Salmon Lane, Limehouse, feature in London trade directories. This suggests that James Jabez and Seymour William had another (separate or related) business operation for some time with their brother-in-law, and fellow timber merchant, Thomas Angus Shaw. Interestingly, from the 1860s, records in the achive provide evidence of another, different role undertaken by the timber merchants. Thus we find that James Jabez and subsequently his brother Seymour William, undertook work acting as executors - both as executors in charge of the estates of deceased family members and of the estates of others.

In an 1875 London trade directory a significant entry can be found relating to the J. J. and S. W. Chalk firm. This directory contains the first instance of the business' premises being located at Riga Yard, 32 Commercial Road, Whitechapel, in addition to the address at Salmon Lane. Evidence among the firm's records, including ledgers, confirm that the business was also operating out of Finland Wharf, 18 Church Row [later renamed Newell Street], Limehouse, from July 1882. Finland Wharf was based on the Limehouse Cut, a location which would have no doubt been attractive to the timber merchants as it provided them with access to timber being imported from Regent's Canal Dock. An 1882 London trade directory also confirms that the business was at that point operating out of two premises; at Commercial Road (Riga Yard), Limehouse and Church Row (Finland Wharf), Whitechapel.

James Jabez and Seymour William both had children who were later involved with the family business, for instance, Seymour James Chalk (1863-1929), who was one of Seymour William Chalk's sons, and James Jabez' son, Frederick Seymour Chalk (1870-1961). However, in the main it fell to Frederick Seymour Chalk and his son, Robert Marzetti Seymour Chalk (1913-1990), to carry on the family business in the 20th century.

Records from the firm in the 1950s, including Pension Scheme Trust deeds (ref: B/CHA/3/2/1/1) confirm that father and son were working together as joint owners of the business at that time 'carrying on business as Timber Merchants under the style of J. J. and S. W. Chalk'. It was also in this decade, in December 1956, that Robert Marzetti Seymour Chalk married Inge De Holstein (1916-1999). Shortly after, it is interesting to find that the firm was still using horses to help carry out its business operations. For instance, artefacts in the J. J. and S. W. Chalk archive include an R. S. P. C. A. Merit Badge and London Van Horse Parade Medal (ref: B/CHA/6/1-B/CHA/6/2), both awarded in 1960.

Following the death of his father on 5 October 1961, Robert carried on the J. J. and S. W. Chalk business alone. The firm subsequently hit hard times in the 1970s, not least due to a compulsory purchase order from the Greater London Council (GLC) and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets (LBTH) which required Mr Chalk to sell the J. J. and S. W. Chalk Limehouse wharves located at Newell Street. In June 1973 Robert's correspondence with his solicitors (ref: B/CHA/4/19/1/2) reveals information about the GLC's threat of proceedings against the firm if they were not given possession of the Chalk property by 31 July, although the correspondence also confirms that this issue was resolved with the business vacating the property in time for the deadline.

The firm's records also reveal other significant and related losses in the second half of 1973, when, following the completion of the compulsory purchase order, Mr. Chalk found it necessary to make employee redundancies. By contrast, administrative records from that period, such as correspondence from the mid 1960s - mid 1970s (ref: B/CHA/2/1), provide evidence of the extent of the J. J. and S. W. Chalk business empire and the good reputation of the firm throughout the timber trade industry at that time. For example, the volume of material itself is substantial and includes correspondents based in London as well as from locations much further afield, including England, Scotland and Wales. Internally, it is evident that those Chalk family members running J. J. and S. W. Chalk had respect for some of the business decisions made by their predecessors and they acknowledged that a substantial part of the firm's success was due to its reputation, routed in the longevity of the business. A striking example of this can be found by comparing J. J. and S. W. Chalk order forms from 1887 with those from 1972. Such a comparison serves to demonstrate just how little the branding of the firm had changed in the 75 years which had elapsed since the time when James Jabez and Seymour William were in charge of the business.

The compulsory purchase order spelled the beginning of the end for the firm. In an 1973 London trade directory an entry can be found for the J. J. and S. W. Chalk business at 32 Commercial Road and Finland Wharf, Lea Wharf and Lime Wharf, 12/18 Newell Street, however by 1974 the entry lists the firm at 32 Commercial Road only. The last entry for the business can be found in a London trade directory from 1982, no entries are included in subsequent trade directories for 1983 onwards although it is possible that the business carried on in some rudimentary form for slightly longer than this. The date span of the J. J. and S. W. Chalk archive (1819-1988) reflects the fact that it contains a small amount of material with entries from later in the decade. These records include some financial records (series ref: B/CHA/1/8) and some personal records relating to Robert Marzetti Seymour Chalk and his wife, Inge Ketty Seymour Chalk (series ref: B/CHA/5/10).
CustodialHistoryThe records were held by the Chalk family until the business was moving out of its premises at 32 Commercial Road, Whitechapel, in July 1997. At this point they were deposited with Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives by Inge Ketty Seymour Chalk.
RelatedMaterialMaterial held at London Metropolitan Archives, including plans in the British Waterways Board collection (references: ACC/2423/P/1865; ACC/2423/P/2241; ACC/2423/P/2932; ACC/2423/P/3281)
SubjectPrivate enterprises
Wood product industry
ArchNoteCatalogued by Natasha Luck, 2014-2015
Access StatusOpen
AccessConditionsMaterial within this collection has been closed under current Data Protection legislation as the records concerned contain sensitive personal data. Please check specific item level descriptions for details, and refer any queries to the Heritage Officer (Archives).
RequestNO - This does not represent a physical document. Please click on the reference number and view list of records to find material available to order at file or item level.


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