Cornelius Muscutt

Trawling through the later censuses starts to turn up names that had some resonance when I was a boy in the mid-twentieth century. Cornelius Muscutt, for example. He was the founder of the very prominent news agent’s business on the Stratford Road known as Muscutt and Tompkins. In 1881 he shows up as a 22 year old lodger with the Joseph Gabell family at 548 Young Street. Here his name is spelled as “Musket” but there is no doubt that this is the same man. He was born in Long Buckby and he was a shoemaker by trade, as was his father. He is still doing the same work a decade later, when as a married man with two daughters he is living on Aylesbury Street. It must have dawned on him that with the rise of factory made shoes from Northampton tehere was little future in making made-to-measure shoes and he probably looked around for another opportunity, so at some point in the last decade of the 19th century he opened up his lock-up shop opposite the main works gate.
The timimg was perfect. The Daily Mail was founded in 1896, the Daily Express in 1900 and the daily Mirror in 1903. Newspapers were affordable and education had swelled the potential readership and the railways made possible the morning delivery of newspapers printed overnight in Fleet Street. Later Bill Tompkins married one of Muscutt’s daughters and joined the business. From here it grew as a family business and when I was a boy in the 40s and 50s Muscutt and Tompkins ran the newsagents, a tobacconists nearby and a stationery goods shop at Number 9, managed by Mrs Tompkins. After the war they added a printing business to their range run by Bill Tompkins son-in-law Reg Tomlin.
As a boy delivering newspapers in the 1950s I saw a lot of this at first hand. Piles of papers wrapped in string wrer picked up from the station before 6am and the hurried activity of the morning would start. The bundles would be cutopen and the papers piled on the counter. All the papers for delivery were counted off and placed in bays opposite the shop counter for the delivery boys. Since Muscutt and Tompkins delivered to about 90% of Wolverton households this was quite a lot. After the paper boys had gone the men heading for work started to arrive on buses and came in to buy their paper and Woodbines. After 7:30, usually as I was finising my paper round, the trickle of men would become a flood as thousands of men would arrive to clock on by 7:45 am. It was a frantic business and Ralph Tompkins, who had succeeded his father, looked to me to be increasingly worried.
In an age of corporations we forget that most busineses in those days were family businesses. Sons could succeed fathers and occasionally you would see shop signs that would proudly proclaim the continuity – “Lawson and Son” for example. In the context of Wolverton Muscutt and Tompkins was one of the more successful family businesses. It went through three generations but not, I think, a fourth.