Gregory Browne – Army Contractor – Woolwich

The parade ground in front of the Royal Artillery Barracks, Woolwich.

Contractor Type & Function:

Contract Services Supplier – Canteen operator to the Royal Artillery Barracks, Woolwich and later to the Military Camp on Woolwich Common.  

Brief History:

Gregory Browne was born in 1821 in Smithfield, London. In 1851 he is recorded as the landlord of the Star Inn, Wellington Street in Woolwich, Kent. This appears to have been a newly built hostelry established previously by Gregory’s father. The Browne family continued to run the Star Inn until c.1862 when the license passed to others(1). It was also in 1851 that the license for running the Royal Artillery’s (R.A.) Canteen at Woolwich was transferred into Gregory’s name, although it is believed that initially his father was heavily involved in this additional business venture.

A map of the Royal Artillery Barracks, Woolwich (2007) indicating the position (as a yellow rectangle) of the R.A. Canteen as identified in 1811.

 In 1854 Gregory married Charlotte Luff, the 6th daughter of the late John Luff, a surgeon from Hackney, London. Together the couple continued to run both the Star Inn and the R.A. Canteen in Woolwich although it is believed their focus was on the latter which presumably was more demanding of their time. The couple’s fortunes appear to have grown with time as Gregory entered into other lucrative local business ventures and became a leading citizen of Woolwich. His other ventures were associated with the Woolwich Mutual Building Society and the Woolwich Monetary Company, both of which he eventually became a director of. He maintained these positions until his death. He was also a member of the Woolwich Board of Commissioners who were responsible for the implementation of the Public Health Act of 1848. He was also involved in benevolent work, through the Society of Licensed Victuallers, in organizing collections (at the R.A. Canteen) for the relief of the victims’ families of the Hartley and Merthyr Tydfil (Gethin pit) colliery disasters of 1862.

The Star Inn, Wellington Street Woolwich (2013).

In c.1857 Gregory picked up a further lucrative government contract when he took on the tenancy of the  Army Camp Canteen on Woolwich Common. He and his staff were now successfully operating two separate military canteens in the town. In the same year, Charlotte gave birth to a son while in the R.A. Canteen. Unfortunately, the child died (again while in the R.A. Canteen)  only seven months later. At the time of the 1881 census, the couple is listed as having 10 surviving children who had birth dates ranging from 1855 and 1871.

In 1865 the Army decided to implement significant changes to the way it ran the R.A. Canteen at Woolwich. It appointed an internal committee of officers to run the canteen and organize the procurement of provisions to supply it. Food was to be sold at cost price to the troops while profits were to be retained on the sale of alcohol which was aimed at funding the canteen. Despite a few minor fines from the local authorities, for serving light alcoholic measures (in 1858 and 1859), Gregory Browne appears to have had a good working relationship with his employers. However, the army’s decision to effectively take over the running of the R.A. Canteen forced him to resign his position as landlord of the R.A. Canteen in October of that year. He continued to act as landlord of the Army Camp Canteen on Woolwich Common until at least 1881.

The west prospect of Brampton Place. Bexley Heath, Kent (c.1910s).

By the mid-1870s Gregory Brown was leasing Brampton Place (or Hall) in Bexley Heath, Kent. Here he lived with his family along with two domestic servants. By this time, in addition to his ongoing military canteen business, he was also deriving income from farming 10 acres of land.  At the time of the 1881 census, Gregory described his income as being from “Land, Houses and as a Government Canteen operator”.  It is believed that shortly after this time ill health caused him to give up his army canteen business and go into semi-retirement. He died at Brampton Place in March 1886, at the age of 65. He was buried in Charlton Cemetery, Kent.

Notes:

  1. While Gregory Brown is credited with operating the Star Inn it is noted that in both Archdeacon’s Greenwich & Woolwich Directory of 1852 and Melville’s Woolwich Traders of 1858 the license is recorded as being in the name of a Mrs. Mary Browne. Mary’s exact relationship to Gregory is unclear but she may have been his mother given that his father is credited with having established the Star Inn.

Location Details:

Woolwich, Kent, England

Associated Token, Check & Pass Issues:

Type 1

Function: Unofficial Farthing

Material: Copper

Design: Bi-facial with plain edge

Shape & Size: Circular,  23.0 mm

Obverse: Young head of Queen Victoria facing right (Note 1), wearing a coronet with her hair braided with a double row of pearls, and drawn back into a chignon. Beneath the truncation, the maker’s signature PINCHES in very small lettering.  Raised legend arranged around the edge reads ROYAL ARTILLERY CANTEEN WOOLWICH .

Reverse: Artillery gun facing left with a mussel cleaning sponge and charge rammer resting against it. Legend around the upper edge reads GREGORY BROWNE and below gun in three lines WINE MALT LIQUOR / AND PROVISION / MERCHANT .

Date:  c.1851 to 1865 (Note 2)

Maker: Thomas Pinches of London

Published References: Withers, P. & B.R, – The Token Book 2: Unofficial Farthings and Their Values 1820-1901.  Token reference No. 5155 & 5160 (minor die variations related to maker’s signature). 


Type 2

Function: Unofficial Farthing

Material: Copper

Design: Bi-facial with plain edge

Shape & Size: Circular,  22.9 mm

Obverse: Young head of Queen Victoria facing right (Note 1), wearing a coronet with her hair braided with a double row of pearls, and drawn back into a chignon. Beneath the truncation, the maker’s signature PINCHES in very small lettering.  Raised legend arranged outer edge reads ROYAL ARTILLERY CANTEEN WOOLWICH .

Reverse: Artillery gun facing left with a mussel cleaning sponge and charge rammer resting against it. Legend around the upper edge reads GREGORY BROWNE and below gun in three lines WINE MALT LIQUER (miss-spelt)  / AND PROVISION / MERCHANT.

Date:  c.1851 to 1865 (Note 2)

Maker: Thomas Pinches of London

Published References: Withers, P. & B.R, – The Token Book 2: Unofficial Farthings and Their Values 1820-1901.  Token reference No. 5150. 


Type 3

Function: Army Canteen/Refreshment Token (Note 3)

Material: Copper

Design: Bi-facial with plain edge

Shape & Size: Circular,  34.0 mm

Obverse: Raised legend around the upper part of outer beaded border reads ROYAL ARTILLERY CANTEEN and in the lower part . WOOLWICH . all within an inner raised line border. Incusely stamped number in centre of field reads 12 (Note 3).

Reverse: Raised legend around the upper beaded edge reads GREGORY BROWNE and in the lower half in two lines of small lettering reads TENANT BY APPOINTMENT  /  OF THE WAR DEPARTMENT all within an inner solid line border.  In centre field a crowned shield containing three cannons in the centre with the motto SUA TELA TONANTI in a ribbon below (Note 4).

Date: c.1851 to 1865 (Note 2)

Maker: Possibly Thomas Pinches of London

Published References: Yarwood, J. – Military Tokens of the British Commonwealth. Page 25 – BMT002. Private Publication. 2011.


Notes:

  1. This is the only unofficial farthing token recorded where the bust of Queen Victoria is not facing left.
  2. The date for these tokens must fall within the time period in which Gregory Browne was the landlord of the R.A. Canteen, Woolwich, i.e. 1851 to 1865. While the tokens clearly indicate an association and use with the R.A. Canteen it can not be ruled out that they may have found a later secondary use within the Army Camp canteen on Woolwich Common. This was operated by Gregory Browne from c.1857 to at least 1881.
  3.  The meaning of the number stamped on the reverse of these “penny sized” tokens is unclear. Worn examples exist with and without stamped numbers on them and it is known that some numbers are repeated on different examples (i.e. they were not intended to be used as individual identification numbers).
  4. This represents the coat of arms of the Board of Ordnance. The motto translates to “To the warrior his arms”. The Royal Artillery has had a strong association with the Board of Ordnance for much of its history.

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