Family archive illustrating the consequences of bankruptcy.London, [c.1803-1871] Stock Code: 128644
NotesA fascinating and varied archive which vividly illustrates the ramifications of bankruptcy upon family life, comprising financial, promotional, and personal documents related to the late Regency-era performer Mary Radcliff Chambers, "the Banker's Daughter", who took up an onstage career to revive her family's fortunes after the collapse of her father's bank in the wake of the Fauntleroy panic.
In 1824 prominent London banker Henry Fauntleroy was prosecuted for forgery after he was revealed to have appropriated trust moneys and securities deposited by customers of Marsh, Sibbald & Co. by forging powers of attorney to prop up his tottering firm. He was hanged on 30 November 1824. "Inevitably, other financial establishments found themselves caught up in the maelstrom. 'A want of confidence,' one paper predicted, 'which has been produced by the bankruptcy of Marsh and Co., will prove most disadvantageous to bankers in general, particularly at the west end of the town, and will render it necessary for them to keep in their hands a large available amount of cash, to meet any demands that may be made.' The general panic meant a constriction of credit, and many firms scrambled to meet the demands made by uneasy depositors." (Finn, Lobban, & Bourne Taylor, p. 100) One such firm was Chambers and Son of 160 New Bond Street, operated by Abraham Henry Chambers (bapt. 1766) and his son of the same name (bapt. 1796). Overstretched, the bank suspended payments on 3 November 1824 and was charged with bankruptcy later the same month. Chambers, who considered the reparations that he had made to be honorable, disputed what he saw as the unjust severity of his punishment: two of his rebuttals to the charges brought against him, "Mr. Chambers's Address" and "Mr. Chambers's Statement of Facts. Respecting his Banking Concern", are held in this archive. Despite his justifications he was imprisoned in Fleet prison for upwards of seventeen years, leaving his wife Mary Radcliff (or Ratcliff) and children, once esteemed members of high society, nearly destitute. The family estate was offered at auction; the sales brochure and map drawn up by the solicitors are present here.
The entire Chambers family became financially dependent on his only daughter, Mary Radcliff Chambers (b. 27 April 1804; a copy of her baptismal record is included). She appealed her father's treatment and wrote in support of the introduction of a clause in the Bankruptcy Bill which suggested that no debtors should be put or remain in prison past their 70th year. A copy of the printed letter of petition from herself and her mother is included, signed at the bottom, "M Chambers", "M R Chambers".
In the meantime, styling herself "the Banker's Daughter", Miss Chambers carved out a performing career which played upon the public's sympathy for her misfortunes and the generosity of "her (once) associates (now) patronesses" (The Musical World, vol. 15, 1841, p. 302). She organized a regular programme of morning concerts and evening theatre events and accepted engagements to sing at small parties. The archive includes six performance licenses granted to her by the Lord Chamberlain dated between 1829 and 1842, showing that she worked in such a way for at least thirteen years; three broadsides and one smaller advertisement advertising shows from the same period held at the King's Concert rooms in Hanover Square, the King's Theatre, and the Theatre Royal, Dover; an article of agreement between her and theatre proprietor Miss Caroline Darling (stipulating the costs to be undertaken in aid of one of her concerts); and an annotated theatre plan (labelling the boxes in which her aristocratic friends would sit). Presumably to generate further income, in 1845 Miss Chambers produced a book titled Simple Ballads, a series of seven librettos dedicated to the Queen, present here in its original printed boards and beautifully extra-illustrated with the addition of nine well-executed, intricate vignette pen drawings to the title, contents, and several libretti pages. A number of the vignettes are dated 1845 (sometimes specifically "S.5/45" or "16 June 1845") and signed "F.C." (once adding "inv et del") - likely a family member. OCLC locates just a single copy in institutions worldwide, at Harvard's Loeb Music Library.
Contemporary newspapers readily took up the Banker's daughter's cause, though some were more critical than others. Of her performance as Lady Teazle in Sheridan's The School for Scandal, The Figaro wrote: "We have been told that the fashionables of Bath have been excessively considerate and kind to the young aspirant to histrionic fame, but we cannot help saying that they might have found objects more in want of their assistance She possesses a pleasing exterior, and a soft voice, though the latter is impaired by an awkward lisp betokening any thing but that to which she lays claim - an intimate connection with good society. She got through the part very well and did not want for confidence. We were told her father's assignees were coming in a body into the gallery to oppose her, but we do not believe it" (The Figaro in London, no. 22, 5 May 1832, p. 88).
There is ample evidence of her management of the household finances, and her steady schedule of payments to her father. An envelope labelled, in some agitation, "Sums of money lent by M.R.C. to her Father and never repaid her!", contains sheets of workings-out and balance sheets (c.1850-51); a report from two servants on the washing bills of Mr and Mrs Chambers; and an autograph letter from Miss Chambers to her father detailing how far she has stretched her "little income" of 90 pounds a year and justifying her small expenditure on a few necessary articles of clothing.
On the death of Chambers the elder, Richard Oastler's letter to the editor of the Morning Post (present here in a newspaper clipping) declared that "It is more than probable that the subsequent salutary changes in the laws of bankruptcy, in a great measure owe their origin to the honourable protest of Mr Chambers; and that his resistance and his protracted imprisonment may be one, if not the chief, reason why bankers and merchants are now released from the dangers, vexations, and losses, which formerly, by even the irregularity of a simple post, vindictive creditors might have caused Of Miss Chambers, that daughter, were I permitted, I could recount many most honourable and praiseworthy facts. I will not allow myself to be restrained from naming, that, by her own efforts, that lady not only supported herself, added much to the sustenance of Mr and Mrs Chambers, during the protracted imprisonment of the former, but, at her own cost, assisted her two nephews, afterwards providing them with the necessary outfits and still she watches over the younger grandchildren, with very limited means. Pardon me. Such heroism should not be buried in a father's grave. If not rewarded, it may not be forgotten."
Together 42 items, which broadly fall into 3 categories: printed and handwritten material related to the bankruptcy of Chambers and Son and the family's subsequent financial situation, including a series of printed petitions, a brochure listing particulars for the auctioning of the family estate, with map, and an envelope of letters and sums tied with pink string (16); the performance career of Miss Chambers, including 3 broadsides advertising concerts, 6 performance licenses with affixed wax seals, an annotated theatre diagram, and 1 printed book, Simple Ballads (an engraved musical score by Miss Chambers, this copy charmingly extra-illustrated with vignette pen drawings) (14); and a variety of family documents, including copies of baptismal and marriage certificates, an obituary for Abraham Henry Chambers by Richard Oastler printed in the Morning Post, and several autograph notes and letters (12). Housed in a black flat-back solander box, Simple Ballads shelved separately.
Overall a well-preserved collection in very good condition, the papers sometimes creased from folding with occasional wear and tear, Simple Ballads professionally repaired along spine and corners, book block reattached. A full list of the contents is available on request.
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