Perfumed Gloves, Ear Covers and Revolving Heels

Those Georgians certainly had entrepreneurial spirit, and  I came across such an example of this some time ago in an article I wrote about the things that every respectable woman should own. In 1794, this gentleman, a Mr Nosworthy,  advertised the wares that he sold in his store on Queen Street, Norwich. At that stage his was simply one of many similar adverts I plucked from the newspapers as he sold the unusual item referred to as perfumed gloves.

It wasn’t until later that I found myself drawn back to him to take a closer look at exactly who he was, and guess what, he was the gift that kept on giving.

British School; Bishops Gate and Bridge, Norwich; Government Art Collection;
British School; Bishops Gate and Bridge, Norwich; Government Art Collection

James was born around 1762 and married his wife Martha Slack, in 1783. They bought a shop in Norwich where they sold a whole variety of goods with the added bonus of Martha being a ladies hairdresser. Apart from working in their shop, she also travelled around the county offering her services and in 1789 she advised ladies that she would be in Great Yarmouth, some 20 miles away, on the 9th August, so if they required her services on that date they should book an appointment via the local grocer, Mr Groom on Green Street.

Despite being busy with their business they produced two children, a son, who died shortly after birth and a daughter, Martha Harriot.

In 1790 they had moved premises and expanded the business to include the hairdressing services of Martha, plus expanding into the perfumery market, selling ‘the best sort of foreign and English perfumery – Duty Free’.

James, it appears, was also an inventor and had invented ‘Ear Covers’, I really haven’t quite managed to work out what these were, they could have been akin to ear muffs for warmth, although it seems more likely that they had something to do with hairdressing, so if any of our readers have any suggestions … do tell.

The Old Fishmarket, Norwich. Yale Centre for British Art
The Old Fishmarket, Norwich. Yale Centre for British Art

This was a couple that meant business! Seeking out every opportunity to increase their wealth and social standing. When I first met Mr Nosworthy he was selling a whole host of items including everything you needed for sewing; toys for children, crockery and cutlery, stationery, fashion accessories such as purses, fans, parasols, umbrellas and perfumed gloves. He rapidly expanded his range to include everything from children’s rocking horses to wigs.

As his business grew he found it necessary to take on an apprentice, Jonathan Gallant. Business, it appears, was booming.

Two years later he expanded the business again, into selling gold and silver jewellery, everything from thimbles for 1 shilling to 10 guineas for a gold watch chain. He also bought old gold and silver and repaired and cleaned jewellery.  He also advised his customers that he had recently received a large quantity of Real Turkey Liquid Black for ladies’ Spanish leather and other kinds of shoes. He sold ladies gowns of all kinds and gown dye.

He also wished for it to be known by all his customers that he had engaged the services of one of the best ladies’ hairdressers from London, sadly he didn’t name the hairdresser.

I can only imagine how large the shop must have been, with all the stock he mentioned in his adverts, it must have been the size of a large modern department store. They even had a department to train hairdressers.  Business continued to grow over the following years.

Even James Woodforde, author of The Diary of a Country Parson referred to Mr Nosworthy in his diary, stating that he had purchased a bed from him. Was there nothing James didn’t sell?

The Haymarket, Norwich c 1825. David Hodgson. Yale Center for British Art
The Haymarket, Norwich c 1825. David Hodgson. Yale Center for British Art

In 1797 a merchant and banker, Thomas Bignold founded the ‘Norwich Union Society’, which was set up to insure houses, stock and merchandise from fire. The company was a mutual society, so policyholders received a share of the profits.

Guess who one of the other directors was? – none other than James Nosworthy, he really did have fingers in many pies. Bignold, then changed the company name to Norwich Union Fire Insurance Office, James remained a director.

Early 1808 Thomas Bignold created Norwich Union Life Insurance Society, still with James as a director, but things began to unravel for Bignold. After 1815 a recession began to take effect and claims against the Society increased until eventually his sons and other directors, mainly James Nosworthy, forced him out of the company and into retirement.

Having retired Bignold became something of an eccentric and formed another business, making shoes with REVOLVING HEELS – no, you haven’t misread that – ‘revolving heels’! No, I have absolutely no idea what they would have been like, let alone why he would have thought them necessary. This venture was destined for failure and finally bankrupt him. He ended up in prison, dying in 1835.

A View of Norwich. John Varley. Yale Center for British Art
A View of Norwich. John Varley. Yale Center for British Art

James however, died in 1821, leaving the majority of his estate to his wife, Martha and the residue to their daughter Martha Harriot for her sole use even though she had, by that time married the London agent for Norwich Union, Charles Andrew Hackett. Martha promptly advertised their cottage at Thorpe for rent, but she lived on until 1837, leaving everything to her daughter.


A lovely reader has found the answer to the revolving heels

Morning Post 10th October 1818
Morning Post 10th October 1818

And here we have an image of the revolving heel from 1905

London News 2nd May 1905
London News 2nd May 1905

Sources Used

Bury and Norwich Post 05 August 1789

Norfolk Chronicle 27 March 1790

Bury and Norwich Post 10 October 1792

Norfolk Chronicle 23 March 1793

Staffordshire Advertiser 29 June 1805

Norfolk Chronicle 19 March 1808

Stamford Mercury 20 November 1818

Featured Image

A Panoramic View of Norwich; Norfolk Museums Service

21 thoughts on “Perfumed Gloves, Ear Covers and Revolving Heels

    1. Sarah Murden

      He certainly was. The more digging I did, the more things appeared about their business. I’d have loved to see their shop. As for the revolving shoes I would love someone to enlighten me as to why Bignold could possibly have ever thought they were a good idea!! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. just a quick query over the toys for children; did it specify for children in the ad? just that ‘toys’ at this date usually meant what we would call ‘novelties’ or ‘nick nacks’ these days – etui boxes, snuff boxes, Tunbridge ware, quizzing glasses, small ornaments, musical boxes and so on.

    a fascinating man and no, I have no idea what ear covers are but I suspect they are protective to keep out bits of hair and dye and water . I postulate oiled canvas circles tightening with a drawstring.

    Revolving heels?????!!!!! I cannot think for one moment why anyone should want their heels to revolve. Unless these were early Heelies, following up the invention of inline roller skates by John Joseph Merlin …


    1. Sarah Murden

      Toys of every description, a very large assortment, rocking horses for young ladies and gentlemen. Puzzles of every description, wax dolls, jointed‘ .. the list goes on. He does refer to Tunbridge ware, snuff boxes etc but they’re in the section pertaining to candles, writing desks and spinning wheels. So it’s not exactly clear.

      We’re assuming that as his wife was a hairdresser that ear covers must relate to some sort of hair process, but no idea which bit of the process.

      Revolving heels – the mind boggles with that idea!! They were a spectacular failure anyway, if somewhat amusing! 🙂


      1. oh that is fascinating, I’ve rarely come across children’s toys specified. Nice!

        I know I hate having my hair washed at the hair dresser as I hate the water going into my ears; I can’t be alone in that ….

        I recall all the kids wanting heelies ,,,, somehow the mind boggles at someone like James Woodforde solemnly bowling along on wheeled heels … and cobbled streets and dirt roads do not lend themselves to such locomotion. I suspect it would have been the materials science, or lack of it, which let them down.


        1. Sarah Murden

          I haven’t given up hope of finding out more about the revolving heels. I so wish the pattern/design had survived somewhere in a dusty file, preserved just for me, but I’m nothing if not realistic and suspect it simply vanished!


    1. Sarah Murden

      Given that they ran some sort of hairdressing business from within the store, that seems quite likely, perhaps to protect the customer from getting powder inside the ear – I do wish his adverts had been more specific 🙂


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