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The Story of Maria Caley

Caley's Windsor 26th June 2006
Caley's Windsor 26th June 2006 ©Pamela Marson

Maria Caley was born in Windsor, Berkshire in 1797 and worked there as a Millner and Dressmaker until her marriage in 1826. There are many myths surrounding her life as a Victorian businesswoman, but the evidence tells a rather different story.

Maria Caley was reputed to be the founder of Caley’s and the power behind its early success. It was said that she was awarded a Royal Warrant and she guided the Caley’s store for over 30 years and never married but was given the title of “Mrs” Caley as a sign of respect.

The evidence tells a rather different story.

Maria was baptised Mary at St Andrew’s Church, Clewer on 2nd April 1797. She was the daughter of William Caley and Elizabeth née Boulton. Her mother, Elizabeth died just six months later on 26th October 1797 and was buried at Clewer on 29th October. Her grave, close to the church, commemorates two of her children William and another Mary, who died when they were infants. She was just 34 years old.

We next hear of Maria in October 1813 when an advertisement appeared in the Windsor Express to say that M. Caley was to join sister, Mrs Noke at the family business on Castle Street. John Caley was a silk mercer and Charlotte Noke was the dressmaker and milliner who made up the fabrics for the customers who wanted that service. The premises, on what we now call Castle Hill were very prestigious as one would expect by the entrance to a Royal Castle. Charlotte was now pregnant with her first child, and probably could not devote as much time to the business.

Sixteen-year-old Maria had been making dresses and hats on her own account, probably in her own room at the Red Lion Inn on the corner of Bier Lane (now River Street) where her father, William Caley was landlord. The family probably thought she was now competent enough to join the family business. Maria was still working with her brother five years later in 1818 when they purchased a licence to sell British Thread Lace for five shillings from the Windsor Postmaster.

Her brother John married Mary Ann Goodman at Stamford, Lincolnshire on 4th April 1820 and on 29th April of the same year an advertisement appeared in the Windsor Express using the title Mrs Caley and with a Royal Warrant as a supplier to ‘Her late Majesty’. This would be Queen Charlotte who died on 17th November 1818. The Royal Warrant had not appeared before, and it was probably awarded to Mary Ann Goodman before she married John Caley, as there was no Royal Warrant in Maria’s 1819 advertisement.

We hear no more of Maria until her marriage to William Goodman at Windsor Parish Church on 21st March 1826. William Goodman and John Caley’s wife, Mary Ann Goodman were brother and sister and born in March in Cambridgeshire.

After their marriage Maria and William went to Louth where their first daughter, Emma was born, but they came back to this area and set up a business very similar to Caley’s in High Street Uxbridge. William was a silk mercer, and Maria continued with the millinery and dressmaking business.

In 1832 two advertisements appeared in the same column of the Windsor Express: the two families were selling the same goods. It seems that they were working together, but it was Mary Ann who was using the Royal Warrant. Maria was not.

A year later the Goodman’s premises were burgled. The offenders were arrested and tried at the Old Bailey. The transcript of the trial on 5th September 1833 is on the web and it makes fascinating reading as it lists the goods that were stolen and how much they would have cost. It is possible to tell from the account of the happenings of that morning what the Uxbridge premises were like. Two of the burglars were sentenced to death.

Maria died on 8th July 1834 about a month after giving birth to her only son, and she was buried at Hillingdon on 15th July. The parish register tells us that she was just 38 years old. She left four children. One would have been Emma and the others, who were baptised at St Margaret’s Uxbridge were Sarah Ann (baptised 28th January 1831), Jane (25th November 1832) and William Bellwood who was not baptised until two years after his mother’s death (1st July 1836). William and Maria also had another daughter, Charlotte Mariann who died when she was only 12 days old and was buried at Hillingdon on 20th April 1829.

William stayed in Uxbridge and continued the business. He also became an undertaker, which is not surprising, because Caley’s became funeral furnishers. Uxbridge library has a manuscript called The Peregrinations of a Kiddy which records that William was Standard Bearer of the Uxbridge Yeomanry Cavalry and would parade on horseback each day. He also became overseer of the township of Uxbridge.

William and two of the children, Jane and William Bellwood were still living at the Uxbridge premises when the 1861 census was taken. William Snr. was 63 years old, Jane was 28 and William Bellwood was 26. William the son was listed as a silk mercer like his father. Jane may have been acting as a housekeeper as no profession is mentioned, and there was a live-in milliner.

© Pamela Marson 2014

My thanks to Paul Caley of Coventry who is descended from John Caley and Mary Ann Goodman for providing much information including the Hillingdon connection.

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