Written By; Edward James Gilbert – Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

Nugent Sisters

Nugent Sisters

Sisters Ruth Hannah, Esther Mary, and Grace Nugent were three of ten children born to Francis William Nugent (1846-1922), a grainer and painter of Lambeth London, and Barbara Hannah Nugent, nee West (1848-1930). All of the Nugent children had been born in Brixton, Surrey and it was sad to note that of the ten children only six had survived by 1911,five daughters and one son, and that none of the daughters ever married.

By 1891 Ruth left her parent’s home and worked as a drapers assistant in Hove,Sussex and by 1901 worked for a drapers business in Huntingdonshire as a bookkeeper and cashier. In 1891 her sister Esther Mary Nugent was still living with her parents and six siblings at Streatham, London where at that time she was attending school.

By 1901 she moved to Tunbridge Wells where she worked as a drapers assistant at a large shop at 45 to 57 Calverley Road. The third sister Grace, who was the youngest of the three, was living with her parents and siblings in Streatham, London in 1891 but by 1901 she was working as a milliner on the High Street in St Michael, Sussex.

By about 1905 the sisters Ruth, Esther and Grace decided to make Tunbridge Wells their home and place of work and they opened a drapers and milliners shop at 177 Silverdale Road under the name of R & G Nugent, for Ruth and Grace Nugent. Why Esther’s name was not included is not known for by the time of the 1911 census, taken at their shop only Ruth and Esther were living there and operating the business, as Grace was working as a draper at that time in London. At their shop on Silverdale Road the Nugent sisters sold a wide selection of good pertaining to ladies apparel including a selection of lovely hats.

Silverdale Road, flooded during 1920

Silverdale Road, flooded during 1920

Local directories recorded “Misses Ruth & Grace Nugent, drapers and milliners, 177 Silverdale Road up to 1922 and sometime after that the business ended for there is no trace of the Nugent sisters in Tunbridge Wells by 1930. The departure from their shop is most likely connected to a devastating fire that gutted the premises.

It is interesting to note however that the sisters mother died and was buried in Tunbridge Wells in 1930 ; that Ruth Hannah Nugent died and was buried in Tunbridge Wells in 1944. The sister Ester Mary Nugent was buried in Tunbridge Wells in 1956 and the sister Grace, who died in Thanet, Kent was buried with her sisters in Tunbridge Wells in 1968.

This article reports on the Nugent family with a particular emphasis on their time in Tunbridge Wells when they ran their drapers and milliners shop.


Tunbridge Wells had many shops in the drapers and milliners trade, some of which I have reported on in other articles, such as Weeks (later Hoopers) at the corner of Grove Hill Road and Mount Pleasant Road; Waymarks on Calverley Road;Testers, run by Edmund Allen on Camden Road; Noakes on Calverley Road;Frederick Wickham on Mount Pleasant Road,just to name a few. They were to be found in every shopping district of the town, frequented by ladies looking for the latest fashions.

Some milliners shops made ladies hats on the premises,but some did not, and there is no information about the Nugent sisters to establish whether or not they made hats on the premises or just brought them in for resale.

Unlike today, ladies in the 19th and early 20th century, dressed up in the finest attire they could afford given their station in life. Wonderful hats with feathers,fruit and all manner of decoration were all the style until a movement to stop killing birds to make feathered hats gained momentum.

Most drapers and milliners shops at that time were owned and run by men. It was not considered acceptable in society for married women to work outside the home although those in the poorer class, out of necessity, had to. It was quite acceptable for single ladies like the Nugent sisters to work although it was not common for them to run their own businesses and if they did so they were normally expected to give up their employment or business when they got married.

Why the Nugent sisters never married is not known but the fact that none of the five sisters did so suggests it was perhaps not by choice. They did not come from a wealthy or upper class family where a life of living in leisure with their  income derived from dividends or investments, or money received from parents and brothers. They unfortunately had been born at a time when the prospect of war loomed and by the time Grace Nugent was 31 WW 1 had begun, with most young men serving their country at sea, in the air and in the trenches. There certainly was an opportunity for them to have married when they came of age but did not do so and instead decided to work  in the drapers and milliners trade as spinsters.

Shown above is CDV of a lovely lady in a wonderful gown taken at the portrait studio of G. Granville In Tunbridge Wells and second photo of a lady in a fantastic hat and gown, typical fashions of the times by those who could afford such finery.

I begin my account of the Nugent family with the 1871 census, taken at 41 Geneva Road in Lambeth,London in which Francis William Nugent(1846-1922) is given as a grainer, born 1846 in Camberwell, Surrey. Francis was actually both a grainer and a painter. For those unfamiliar with the term ‘grainer’ a grainer is a person who produces painted, stamped or printed designs that imitate the patern found in wood, leather or stone. By 1891 Francis was both a Baptist minister and a painter/grainer operating his own business. At the time of the 1871 census living with Francis was his wife Barbara Hannah Nugent, nee West (1848-1930). Born in Dorking,Surrey, and their daughter RUTH HANNAH NUGENT,born 1870 at Brixton,Surrey (one of the central figures in this article).

Shown above is a photograph from a Nugent family tree which on the back is dated 1912 taken at the photographic studio of local Tunbridge Wells photographer Percy Squire Lankester. The handwritten note on the back of the photo gives “1912 Tunbridge Wells Ruth and Esther Nugent”. As  the photograph does not bear the name of the photographer on the front in typical CDV style this image must be a cropped image of the original. Shown elsewhere in this article are generic images of ladies in fine hats. Also shown is another CDV by Percy Lankester from his Great Hall Studio on Mount Pleasant Road of a lady in a lovely dress taken in the early 1900’s.

The 1881 census, taken at 6 Santley Street, in Lambeth London, gave Francis William Nugent as a grainer/painter. With him was his wife Barbara and his children RUTH HANNAN,age 11; Barbara Sarah,age 9; ESTHER MARY,age 6; Florence Elizabeth ,age 5 and  Ebenezer,age 1. Both RUTH and Barbara were attending school.

The 1891 census, taken at 4 Victoria Terrace,Bedford Hill Road in Streatham,London gave Francis William Nugent operating his own grainer/painter business but that he was also a Baptist minister. With him was his wife Barbara and his children ESTHER MARY,age 16; Florence Elizabethm,age 15; Ebenezer,age 10; GRACE,age 8; Augustus L, age 7 and Edith Priscilla, age 2. The two eldest sisters were not employed suggesting that the family was reasonably well off financially. The younger children were attending school.

By the time of the 1891 census the older sister RUTH HANNAL NUGENT had left the family home . She was found in the 1891 census at 23 Western Road in Hove,Sussex where she was working as an assistant(drapers bookkeeper) in a drapers shop run by Silk mercer William J. Austin. Mr Austin had a large business and at that time he employed several assistants in his shop.

The 1901 census taken at St Ives, Huntingdonshire gave RUTH HANNAH NUGENT as a boarder living on Bridge Street. She was single and working as a bookkeeper cashier in a drapers shop. By 1901 Ruth’ sister ESTHER MARY NUGENT had moved to Tunbridge Wells. Esther is found in the 1901 census at 45 to 57 Calverley Road, where she was working as a drapers assistant in a large shop along with at least 20 other drapers assistants. A postcard view of Calverley Road is shown opposite. Calverley Road at that time was a busy commercial location with both sides of the road lined with shops . The road then was open to both vehicle and pedestrian traffic but in recent times the road was closed off to vehicles, but still thrives with many fine shops.

The shop that Esther worked at was that of “Noakes”. The history of the Noakes family businesses was described in my article ‘Noakes Family Drapers of Tunbridge Wells’ dated October 5,2011. A photograph of the shop where Esther worked is shown above.The memory of Noakes will be  fresh in the minds of many residents of Tunbridge Wells as the last store closed in 2009 after more than 150 years of business in the town.Some may remember that there were actually two Noakes stores,each one operated by a different branch of the family.The first and longest operating store was on Calverly Road and later Grosvenor Road was founded by Elias Noakes(1813-1877) and the second by his brother William Noakes(1823-1893) who had his store on High Street.Elias and William came from a large family of eight children born to Joseph Elias Noakes and Harriet Cox. Elias and William and their decendents established their respective drapers stores as family institutions in the town. Elias Noakes had been born 1813 at Lamberhurst, Kent .He later married and had had children.After the census was taken in 1851 the family moved to Tunbridge Wells and Elias began his drapers business in a weather boarded cottage on what was a fairly rural Calverley Road at the time and operated his store under the name of E. Noakes. By 1861 the business was doing well and by 1871 the shop operated from premises at 27 and 28 Calverley Road.By 1881 the shop employed 14 assistants and apprentices with many of the Noakes children working in the shop. Elias son Frederick ,the only other man in the premises, took an increasing role in the operation of the business. Elias passed away in 1877 but his wife Amy and his son Frederick continued the running of the business, until Amy passed away in 1890 and Frederick took over entirely. In 1896 Noakes had a new 3sty building constructed on the same site as the old shop, which is known today as ‘Calverley House’, a building designed by local architect Herbert Murkin Caley (1859-1938).In 1891 the store,now known as F.E.Noakes Limited occupied 45,47,49 and 51 Calverley Road was doing a good trade and as noted above, by the time Esther worked there the premises had been expanded to include 45 to 57 Calverley Road. For more information about his business please refer to the original article.

R.G. Nugen fire Silverdale Road

R.G. Nugen fire Silverdale Road

The 1901 census taken at 176 High Street at St Michael, Sussex gave GRACE NUGENT boarding at the home of Jane Fears along with two other drapers assistants. Grace was also drapers assistant, and it was not long after this that she and her sister RUTH HANNAH NUGENT opened a shop on Silverdale Road in Tunbridge Wells under the name of R & G Nugent, drapers and milliners, further information of which is given below.

A photograph of their shop taken at the time that a great fire gutted the building in the 1920’s is shown above.

The 1911 census taken at 177 Silverdale Road,Tunbridge Wells, was taken at the drapers and milliners shop of R & G Nugent. Surprisingly one of the founders of the ship (Grace) was not living or working in Tunbridge Wells at the time of the census was taken, suggesting that she and her sister Ruth had moved to Tunbridge Wells by about 1905 to open their shop, but for some reason Grace left the premises, although her name continued as part of the business name. At the time of the 1911 census, living in the apartments above the shop was RUTH HANNAH NUGENT, a draper, and her younger sister ESTHER MARY NUGENT, who’s occupation was given as drapers clerk.

The 1911 census, taken at 21 Ryde Vale Road in Wandsworth,London gave Barbara Hannah Nugent, age 62, born 1849 in Dorking. With her living on private means were her two daughters Barbara Sarah, age 39 and Florence Lizzie,age 35. Also there was her daughter GRACE NUGENT with the occupation of draper, and her sister Edith Priscilla, of no occupation. There was also commercial traveller living with them as a visitor. The census recorded that Barbara had been married 42 years and that of the 10 children she had, only 6 were still living.

The shop at 177 Silverdale Road was part of a row of shops in one large 2 sty red brick building above which were living quarters. The 1911 census recorded that they had 5 rooms a above the shop. The bricks for the construction of this fine looking building had been made by the High Brooms Brick and Tile Company, as so many other buildings in High Brooms had been. Details about the history of this brick and tile company can be found in my article ‘Brick Making in Tunbridge Wells’ dated October 12,2012. This company had been founded by John Smith Weare in 1885. Details about him can be found in several articles I have written pertaining to the history of the residences he occupied and his involvement in the Ferndale residential development.

A review of local directories in 1913 showed that there were several shops in the vicinity of the Nugent shop. Directories of 1913 to 1922 gave the following listing “ Ruth & Grace Nugent (Misses),drapers and milliners, 177 Silverdale Road,Tunbridge Wells”. No record of the business was found in the 1930 directory and it appears that their business closed in the latter part of the 1920’s perhaps as a consequence of the great fire that gutted the interior of the shop, as shown in the photograph above.

As I noted in the ‘Overview’ the sisters Ruth,Esther and Grace never married, and for that matter nor did their other sisters. As there is no record of the sisters in the Tunbridge Wells directories of 1930 to 1938 is the view of the researcher that they left the town but it is known that they did return at a later date, based on death and burial records. Electoral records for Ruth in the late 1920’s gave her living at 20 Wolstonbury Road in Hove,Sussex.  Directores of the 1930’s and 1940’s record her living at 72 Holland Road in London.

Probate records for Ruth Hannah Nugent gave her of Chilston Lodge, 1 Chilston Road,Tunbridge Wells when she died as a spinster, on October 6,1944. The executor of her 3,013 pound estate was her sisters Esther Mary Nugent and Florence Lizzzie (Elizabeth) Nugent, spinsters. Ruth was buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery on October 11,1944.

No. 1 Chilston Road was one of the large single family homes built in the Woodbury Park Development, a development that is described in detail in the Civic Society Book ‘ The Residential Parks of Tunbridge Wells’. This development dates back to 1856 when the Conservative Land Society became owners of a large tract of land in the area and on which many fine homes were constricted. By about 1887 all of the homes had been built and originally Chilston Road was called Woodbury Court. Sometime before 1909 the road became Chilston Road and  in the 20th century No. 1 Chilston Road became a nursing or retirement home . A modern view of the home, located on the north west corner of Chilston Road and Woodbury Park Road, is shown above. It is somewhat interesting to note the John Smith Weare , who’s company ,The High Brooms Brick and Tile Company, supplied the bricks for the Nugent sisters shop, was also involved in the construction of homes at 2-12 Park Road, just a stones throw away from where Ruth Hannah Nugent died.

Probate records for Esther Mary Nugent gave her of Ryde Vale, Gloucester Place in Wadhurst,Sussex, spinster, when she died January 29,1956. The executors of her 3,255 pound estate were her spinster sisters Florence Lizzie and Grace Nugent. Esther was buried at the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery on February 2,1956.

Death records for Grace Nugent gave her passing away in the 2nd qtr of 1968 at Thanet,Kent. She was buried at the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery on April 29,1968.

It was also interesting to note that although the sisters father died and was buried  in London in 1922, that their mother Barbara Hannah Nugent was buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery  in 1930.She had died in Tunbridge Wells January 25,1930.

Shown above is a modern photograph of the shop at 177 Silverdale Road, occupied at the time by Green Fish Consulting. No.177 is the shop on the far right with the green awning and on the left is the Magenta Design & Print shop. Previously No. 177  it had been the florist shop ‘Daisy Chain’, operated by Hazel Parsons, which may well account for the green awning. This row of shops is located between Upper Grosvenor Road and Denbiegh Street.



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