King's College London
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Stories of Strand-Aldwych

Arabella Morris

Born perhaps some time between 1680 and 1690, Arabella Morris was not representative of the average woman of 18th century London. There is little record of her private life other than that she was twice married (first to Edward Fuller and then, after his death in around 1720, to John Morris), had a daughter by her first husband, also named Arabella, and died a widow in 1756. What makes her stand out, however, is her status as an independent specialist tradeswoman at a prominent address on the Strand. Edward Fuller had traded as a seedsman at ‘The Three Crowns and Naked Boy at Strand-Bridge, near the May-pole in the Strand’ since 1679, when he had inherited the business from one William Lucas, a milliner who also sold plants and seeds at what was then just ‘The Naked Boy, near Strand Bridge’. On his death, Arabella continued the business in her own name, first as Arabella Fuller, and subsequently as Arabella Morris.

The most vivid piece of evidence that speaks to this agency and initiative as a businesswoman is an object in the British Museum, dated to the 1740s. It is a draft trade card from the Ambrose Heal collection advertising Arabella’s wares: “Arabella Morris, At the Naked Boy and Three Crowns against the New Church in the Strand, London, Selleth all Sorts of Garden Seeds, Flower Seeds, and Flower Roots, Fruit Trees, Flowering Shrubs, Evergreens, and Forest Trees. Also Shears, Rakes, Reels, Hoes, Spades, Scythes, Budding and Pruning Knives, Watering Pots, Matts [sic], Sieves, and all Sorts of Materials proper for Gardening. Also, Riga, Dantzick and Ditch Flax Seed, and all Sorts of Grass Seeds. N.B. The true Durham, and common Flower of Mustard Seed."

Arabella Morris Trade Card [1]Arabella Morris Trade Card [1]

The trade card makes note of Arabella’s profession as a horticulturist, and even includes a sketched logo of her shop (the name of which she had subtly changed since inheriting it from her first husband) – the naked boy holding three imperial crowns. A trade card advertising her goods as well as the store having a remarkable name accompanied with distinctive logo, strongly suggests that Arabella Morris/Fuller was a very successful businesswoman despite the sexist and misogynistic obstacles she would have encountered working on one of London’s busiest streets.[2] The explicit specification of London as her place of business moreover suggests that she expected to attract out of town as well as merely local clients. Perhaps the specialty or novelty of her success isn’t by chance, but an indication of a strong and assertive personality.

A further instance which both demonstrates Arabella’s spirit, and also shows her diversifying her trade, can be seen in the testimony she gave during the trial in September 1743 of one William Earl for stealing ‘13 Yards and three Quarter of Mecklin Lace value 51’ from the Naked Boy and Three Crowns.[3]

In court, Arabella testified that Earl had entered the shop and asked her assistant to see ‘the Gentlewoman’. He was brought to the parlour where Arabella kept lace and she showed him samples from various boxes, letting him examine the goods. As in many business interactions, the two parties were bargaining regarding the price of the lace, and in the excitement of the trade and Earl’s eventual refusal to pay, Arabella didn’t immediately register the fact that he had taken one of the lace samples without paying. It was only discovered when Mr. Maltus Paine the Pawnbroker brought Arabella’s attention to the missing lace. This man, who like Arabella had a business on the Strand, also gave testimony in the prosecution of William Earl. He continued the story after Earl left the Naked Boy and Three Crowns.

According to his account, Earl, with whom Paine had had previous dealings, came in that afternoon, claiming to be a lace merchant, and tried to pawn a length of fabric. However, Paine was suspicious of Earl as the night before he had heard of another man being indicted for the theft of lace goods. Hearing this and connecting the two incidents, Paine kept the lace for safe keeping despite Earl’s insistence it was rightfully his, and summoned a parish constable, John Hull, to arrest him. While in Hull’s custody, Earl attempted to run, thus proving his guilt; hauled before the magistrate, he gave the false name of William Day.

Convicted and fined 39 shillings for this offence, Earl was immediately tried a second time for stealing ‘four yards and ½ of lace, called Corded Mecklin Lace, value 49s’ from a Richard Mason, ‘in the Dwelling House of Henry Pearce.’ He was convicted a second time and fined the same amount as for the other offence – meaning that while this criminal seemed cunning enough to use a false name, he wasn’t sly and tricky enough to get away with his crimes. If anything, he was quite bold to commit the same crime twice and to do so in broad daylight with plenty of witnesses who then all testified against him in court further cementing the prosecution.

As many instances show, theft of goods was quite common in the Strand that was a such a hubbub of trade and bartering, but what is remarkable in this case is the interpersonal relationships. The fact that Mr Paine and other gentlemen he was acquainted with kept mutual contact with another and shared helpful information, is what enabled him to piece the pieces to together to bring about Earl’s indictment. Furthermore, it speaks to a kind of business, collegial network on the Strand – these shopkeepers like Mr Paine, helped Arabella Morris and stood up for justice. It reflects an atmosphere that wasn’t one that was strictly ‘cut-throat’ but rather more of a community.[4]

By Victoria Von Conrad.

[1] The British Museum,, © The Trustees of the British Museum [Accessed August 2022].

[2] The manuscript addition to the card, dated November 1748, also reveals that by that time Arabella had passed on the business to one Edward Clarke, who is known from other documents still to have been its proprietor in 1768 (, accessed September 2022).

[3] Or was Arabella simply continuing the combination of trades already practised by William Lucas over sixty years previously?


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