Linfield’s Store, Medicine Hat c. 1914

The Isle of Wight Linfields

Sometime during the mid-1850s, Mark Linfield (1825-1909) moved with his young family to the town of Ventnor, on the Isle of Wight. Mark was a linen draper1 by trade, and in the 1851 census he is recorded as such at 1, Albert Terrace in Camberwell, with his sister Jane and younger brother Stanford Frederick (1829-89), also a linen draper. Mark and his siblings were all born in Storrington, West Sussex and were the youngest three children of William and Harriet Linfield (née Stanford) who were married in 1803. Both Mark’s father, and grandfather Peter Linfield (1734-91), were farmers and butchers in Storrington, a trade followed by his older brother, Thomas (1812-84). Sadly for Mark, Jane and Stanford, they were orphaned when both their parents died in 1835. They were all still very young – Mark was ten, Jane 12 and Stanford only 6 – so they began life with a distinct disadvantage. They were brought up by older siblings, who no doubt wanted to relieve themselves of the financial commitment as early as possible. And so, by 1841, at the age of 15, it is hardly surprising that Mark is working as an apprentice to Henry Marshall, draper of High Street, Steyning.

Sometime after the completion of his apprenticeship, Mark moved to Peckham to practice his trade, but there is no indication at this stage whether he was an employee or running his own business. On 29 September 1851, he married Mabel Hall at Belper in Derbyshire and on 10 November 1852 their first child, Mark junior was born. Sometime before the birth of their son James in 1855, they moved away from Camberwell to start a new life on the Isle of Wight, where Mark set up as a linen draper in Ventnor High Street. The obvious appeal of Ventnor in an expanding tourist destination may well have been the deciding factor for making the move. Mark worked hard and made a real success of his business, and his family continued to grow. They had a typically large Victorian family, a total of eleven children between 1852 and 1865: Mark; a daughter Mabel, on 18 January 1854; James, their second son, on 12 August 1855; Frederick, born 31 December 1856; Harriet, born 4 March 1858; Francis Spencer, born 26 March 1859; Arthur Elliott, born 1860; Alice, born 11 December 1861; Charles Ashover, born 21 January 1863; Charlotte Elizabeth, born 13 April 1864; and, finally, John Stanford, born in 1865.

At some point, possibly at the same time as his older brother, Mark’s younger brother Stanford also moved to the Isle of Wight, setting himself up as a draper in Brading. It would appear that Mark and Stanford had a close family relationship, no doubt borne out of the difficult circumstances of their childhood. As good citizens in their communities, both Mark and Stanford were appointed parish overseers in 1875, Mark for the town of Ventnor and Stanford for Brading, further to the north in the island.

In the 19th century, the draper’s store could be found in every town. In fact, there could be up to four or five drapers in an average market town. Whilst some would cater for the upper classes, others would specialize in linens. Making dresses and clothes at home was common practice, and the local draper would stock a vast selection of material and associated items to satisfy the demand in his area. Many would offer credit facilities where a small amount could be paid off each month. During the course of the 19th century, there was a significant change in the drapery business. In the first half of the century, most of the business comprised of unmade goods, and women would make up their dresses at home or supply the material to their dressmaker. But by the second half of the 19th century, the largest and most profitable part of the business was the sale of made up goods. Customers expected to be able to choose a gown or bodice in the morning, and have it altered for them ready to wear by the evening of the same day. Alterations became an important part of the business, and many drapers had work rooms where clothes could be made on the premises.

It was common for the more provincial drapers to employ members of their own family as staff, and Mark was no exception to this rule, employing various members of his family at different times. Often daughters would become assistants, and sons would shadow their father, learning all aspects of running the business. A typical draper’s shop in a small country town could employ up to eight people, plus delivery man and boy. Larger stores could employ far more, maybe between 20 and 50 if they were involved in making clothes. In the typical country town, the owner of the store would often be the manager and buyer. He would see the sales representatives, and go out to buy the cloth; he would keep a very close eye on the books, which he would do himself or employ a clerk to do for him. His wife might act as manageress in his absence, or a son might deputise for him. This is the case for Mark Linfield in 1881, when one of his sons deputises for him during a visit to Hampshire. Shop staff in general would have numbered at least four on the shop floor, usually women, whose job was to serve customers and wrap their goods, and maybe arrange their delivery as well.

What is particularly striking about the Isle of Wight Linfields is the extent to which they all became drapers. Eldest son Mark was married sometime before 1879 to Harriet Chilman, and established his draper’s business in the neighbouring town of Shanklin, also a thriving resort. The census of 1881 shows that they were living at 3, Adelaide Terrace in the High Street; Mark’s younger brother Charles, now aged 19, was also living with them and is described as ‘draper’s assistant’, so he was obviously working for him and learning the ropes. They had three daughters: Ruth, born in 1879; Ada Florence, born in 1881; and Harriett Mabel, born in 1882. But the happiness and apparently bright future for this young family was brought to a shattering end when Mark was killed in a tragic road accident in 1882. The story was reported in a number of newspapers at the time, the following appearing in the Pall Mall Gazette:


Last night a fatal accident occurred at the top of the hill between Ventnor and Shanklin known as the Cowlease. Mr Mark Linfield, a Shanklin tradesman, and his wife, were thrown out of a carriage by the sudden fright of the horse. Mr Linfield’s neck was broken, and he died immediately; his wife was also seriously hurt. The horse leaped through the hedge into a deep ravine at the roadside.

With three small daughters, all under the age of 3, and their mother seriously injured, no doubt their grandfather would have taken on the responsibility for their welfare, at least until their mother was in a position get back on her feet. Mark was sole executor of his son’s will, with total effects amounting to £903 2s 5d when probate was granted in 1883. In fact, two of his granddaughters, Ruth and Ada, were living with Mark at the time of the 1891 census. Sadly, Mark senior lost his wife Mabel in 1883, but on 25 February 1884, he married Nellie Cake of Portsea, whom he had known for a very long time – in fact, she appears with the family as far back as the 1861 census, when at the age of 24, she is described as a ‘milliner’ and living at the Linfield household on their business premises in Ventnor. Mark died in 1909, at the grand age of 84, living in retirement at St. George’s Road, Shanklin.

Linfield-Cake Marriage Notice
Linfield-Cake Marriage Notice

Francis Spencer Linfield (1859-1915) was also working as a draper’s assistant in 1881, to a Joseph Head in Brighton. Francis was the father of Kate Hilda Linfield (1892-1982), about whom an article has appeared previously in Longshot2. Although we have some of her correspondence in the archives, with Stanford Smith in the 1950s, and with Eric Linfield in the 1970s, there is no reference to her own immediate ancestry – it would have been interesting to have had one or two details about her father and his siblings. We do, however, know that her father applied for a patent on 15 January 1891 with Robert Beattie for “an improved lining for ladies’ dresses”.3 She did, however, correspond with various cousins, including her uncle Mark’s grand-daughter, and she paid regular visits to the Isle of Wight to visit her uncle John’s children – still living there in the 1970s. Kate Hilda was born on 27 May 1892; she had two younger brothers, Francis Nicholas, who was born in 1895, but sadly died before the age of two years, and Reginald Spencer (1904-75).

Thanks to an article by Dorothy Linfield, we have some interesting information about her father, Charles Ashover Linfield (1863-1939), who emigrated to Canada in 1913. Charles was born in Ventnor on 21 January 1863, and in January 1877 at the age of 14, he was sent to boarding school at St. John’s College, Hurstpierpoint4. Yet he didn’t stay there long, since he was withdrawn from the school in the following year. This may have had something to do with the headmaster, Canon William Awdry, who kept putting up the fees in the face of seriously declining numbers. Part of the reason for the decline, which Mark Linfield would not have known prior to before sending his son to the school, was the failure of the headmaster to tackle the intermittent outbreaks of scarlet fever at the school. These health scares, in which a number of boys had died, and a general decline in the school’s standards, must have worried many parents and I feel Mark withdrew Charles because of the anxiety it must have created. By 1881, Charles was working for his elder brother Mark as a ‘draper’s assistant’, and continued to work in this line of business for the rest of his life. In 1891, he is dealing in silk and on the night of the census, he is lodging with a widow in Hornsey, Middlesex. By 1901, he has changed his career completely and become a soldier, a gunner at the Royal Garrison (Artillery) at Dover Castle.

In October 1905, with two other applicants, he applied for a patent for ‘an improvement in the frame work of umbrellas, sunshades and parasols.’5

Charles married quite late in life; at the age of 46, he married Kate Marion Yorke at Hackney in 1909. In 1912, their only child, Dorothy Linfield was born, and in the following year they decided to make a fresh start and move out to Canada. The story continues in Dorothy’s own words, which appeared as a short article in The Prairie-Rattler on 14 August 1969. She called it ‘Days to Remember’:

First of all, I would like to tell you how we, the Linfield family came to Medicine Hat, and in so doing I decided to call and interview others who came and settled in this district many years before us.

In England, after the turn of the century, they received literature from Alberta telling the people of the cheap gas they had there. So my father, still young and thinking to venture into new fields, decided to go to Canada.

My father’s father had a large drapery store – to us a furniture store – in the Isle of Wight, and as the custom in the Old Country is, for sons to follow in the steps of their fathers, so my father took on the dealings with firms in silks, satins and cloths. Later he made arrangements to have fur fabrics exported to this country.

The family arrived in Medicine Hat on June 3rd 1913 – which was the Old King’s Birthday and also a holiday. My father, needing a haircut badly, couldn’t find any shop open.The next problem was to look for living quarters. The family made do with a hotel room for two weeks while looking around for something else. Eventually they managed to find two small rooms for $60 a month. My father was shocked – if gas wascheap, rooms weren’t! This building still stands and is now known as Gunn’s Apartments. It was the only dwelling in that block then.

Charles Ashover Linfield
Charles Ashover Linfield

In those days, newcomers experienced difficulties to which they were unused, and it was hard to become oriented to a new and very different life. For example, about my first birthday, the change of drinking water upset me and my mother thought she was going to lose her only child.

My father’s business establishment was on 3rd St. – perhaps named Toronto St, in those days. The last company to do business there was W. Armstrong Real Estate. The structure was torn down in the fall of 1959 to make way for a large business concern, now Kresge’s.

Mr. Linfield’s business was to sell Mohair fur of all kinds, some being pony cloth, plush Astrakhan and Caracal. He had samples of plain fur in colours of grey, blue, green, brown, red and white, while other samples were dappled and with the streak of the wool from the Angora Goat. The latter denoted it to be genuine.

Now, for those who would like to know what Mohair is: it is the wool of the Angora Goat from Asia Minor. Each animal at the annual clip in April or May yields from 2 to 4 pounds of wool. Astrakhan is the name of a description of fine fur – the produce of a variety of sheep found in Bokhara, Persia and Syria, much used for wear. Plush is a variety of woven cloth of which the pile is of goat’s hair and the weft is of worsted.

When the Hudson Bay Co. heard of my father, he sold bale upon bale of the black Mohair to them for Hudson Seal. This, of course, was when the boom was in progress, and all exported goods arrived all right, but when the First Great War started in 1914, they stopped and business dropped. So my father enlisted in the Army and while he was away my mother carried on with a little grocery store on Columbia Avenue, now 7th Ave. S.E.

I still have some of the Mohair in my possession if anyone is interested in seeing them.

Accompanying this article is a photograph of her father, which appears above (Fig. 1). I am grateful to Colin Moody who recently sent me a copy of Dorothy’s article, as well as some old photos of the Linfield Store in Medicine Hat, one of which appears on the front cover of this journal. Altogether, there are four pictures of the Linfield store, all of which are reproduced below:

Linfield’s Store, Medicine Hat c. 1914, soon after their arrival
Linfield’s Store, Medicine Hat c. 1914, soon after their arrival
Grocery Store in Medicine Hat started by Kae Linfield
This is a view of the grocery store started by Kate Linfield when her husband was away during the Great War. c. 1920, 862 2nd Street, Medicine Hat.
Inside view of the Linfield grocery store at 862 2nd Street, Medicine Hat c.1920
Inside view of the Linfield grocery store at 862 2nd Street, Medicine Hat c.1920
Another inside view of the Linfield grocery store, c. 1920
Another inside view of the Linfield grocery store, c. 1920

Colin also sent a photograph of Dorothy Linfield (Fig. 6) and a copy of her obituary, which appeared in a local newspaper (title not known):

Dorothy Linfield (1912-87)
Dorothy Linfield (1912-87)

LINFIELD – Passed away on Monday, January 26 1987, Mrs Dorothy Yorke Linfield, aged 74 years, of Medicine Hat. She was predeceased by her parents Kate and Charles Linfield. Miss Linfield was born on August 18, 1912 in England and immigrated to Medicine Hat in her youth with her parents where they established a convenience store in the Flats area. She was raised and educated in Medicine Hat and lived with her parents until their passing. She will be remembered as a wedding photographer and also as a home sales representative for several home products and sundry items. She was active in her Christian service although severely restricted by her physical handicap. She will always be remembered as a very specialperson. The funeral service will be held in the PATTISON CHAPEL “Downtown” on Thursday, January 29, 1987, at 1.30 pm.

Of the other sons of Mark and Mabel Linfield – James, Frederick, Arthur Elliott and John Stanford (1865-1944) – I know little, only what I have managed to find in Stanford Smith’s papers and the census returns. I have only been able to track them down in some of the census returns anyway but, needless to say, all were drapers in some capacity or other! James Linfield, for instance, was described as ‘son to head, draper’ at his father’s shop in Ventnor in 1881 when his father was away in England. Frederick is described as ‘draper’ in the 1881 census, living at the house of John Booker in North Street, Guildford; in 1891, he was back in the Isle of Wight, living at his father’s house, and probably working at his father’s business. Arthur Elliott Linfield was a ‘draper’s assistant’ at Portsea in 1891, and in 1901, now married with five daughters, a draper’s assistant in Salisbury. His younger brother, John Stanford Linfield, was living in the household of George Bott in 1881, who was a draper and silk mercer in Newport. His occupation is recorded as ‘shopman (draper)’. John went to live the USA at some point, since his son Albion Stanford Linfield (1897-1974) was born in Buffalo, NY during the 1890s. But he soon returned to the Isle of Wight and remained on the island for the rest of his life, as did his two sons, Albion Stanford and Lawrence Linfield, both of whom received regular visits from their cousin Katie Linfield.

Finally, in the 1881 census, we find Jessie Linfield, daughter of Mark’s younger brother Stanford Frederick Linfield (1829-89), described as a draper in the High Street at Brading, IOW, with her younger sister Emily.

This concludes the story of the Isle of Wight branch of the Linfields and their extensive involvement with the drapery business, which they all seemed to follow.


Hurstpierpoint College 1849-1995 – The School by the Downs, by Peter King (Phillimore, 1997)

Ancestors at Work – the Draper, in Family Tree Magazine March 2010, pp 12.

1The term ‘draper’ is not really a term which is used any more in the English language, It means dealer in linens, cloths and related fabrics to make all sorts of items – from men’s, women’s and children’s clothes to furnishing fabrics, bedclothes and curtains.
2Memories of ‘Auntie’ Katie Linfield, by Roger Partridge in Longshot, Vol. 11 No. 1, December 2004 pp.14.
3Illustrated Official Journal (Patents) 107 40. 15th January 1891, no. 762 ‘FRANCIS SPENCER LINFIELD and ROBERT BEATTIE, 15, Grand Promenade Brixton – An improved lining for ladies’ dresses’. They also applied for another patent on 25 February 1891: no. 2920 ‘FRANCIS SPENCER LINFIELD and ROBERT BEATTIE, 52, Chancery Lane, London – Improvements in or relating to the skirts of ladies’ dresses and petticoats’.
4Register of St. John’s College, Hurstpierpoint by HL Johnson (1914)
5Illustrated Official Journal (Patents) 876 1446, 25 October 1905. Application for Patents, 16th October, 20,923: ‘CHARLES ASHOVER LINFIELD, WALTER SCOTT MONTGOMERY and THOMAS DAVIS METCALFE, 150, Minories, London’.

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