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THE STORY OF Mr THOMAS STUDD

Who founded the chop houses with his wife Sarah in the era when Manchester led the world.

THOMAS STUDD was a chef from Shoreditch in east London.

In the summer of 1855 when he was 20, he married Yorkshire woman, farmer’s daughter and waitress, Sarah Townsend at All Saints Church in Chorlton upon Medlock. They set up home on Derby Lane, Cheetham, just round the corner from where 42 year-old Joseph Holt ran his little brewery which then served just 20 pubs. This is where they started their family. The census of 1861 tells us that their first-born children were Sarah and Thomas.


We can surmise that Thomas senior was a successful chef. Because just 12 years later the couple opened Mr Thomas’s Chop House in a prestigious location on Cross Street in 1867.

The bar and restaurant was located in the original Georgian town house on the current site, just down the road from the famous Dissenter’s Meeting House which was by then the enormously influential Cross Street Chapel. This was the spiritual home to the founding fathers of modern Manchester, which incidentally was first granted city status in 1853.

Thomas’s was immediately the pub closest to Manchester’s heart.


Quite literally, as the site is the nearest licensed premises to the mark on the tower of St Ann’s Church from which all distances to the city were measured. Moreover, the chop house’s front door faced the original town hall which was then located immediately over the road at the junc-tion of Cross Street and King Street. Robert Neill was the new born city’s Mayor at the time. Tom’s was his local.


This hugely exciting era was in many ways shaped by Unitarians from the nearby Chapel, led for 56 years by Rev. William Gaskell and his equally-famous novelist wife Elizabeth Gaskell. They shaped reform and development in the city, which only took its first elected member of parlia-ment in 1832.


By 1845 Manchester was the most powerful economic city in the world.


It boasted the world’s first commercially successful canal. The city was home to the world’s first steam passenger railway station. As well as to a number of the most influential people in the world of the time. It was where Marx met Engels. Where John Dalton set out his atomic theory. Where and precisely when the Women’s Suffrage Movement was founded. And where Edward Binney met James Young, who went on to create the world’s first oil refinery in Bathgate, West Lothian.


More of them later.


Members of the congregation founded the ground-breaking and prestigious Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, Owens College (soon to become the city’s university) and The Man-chester Guardian. In fact ten of the first twenty-eight Mayors of Manchester came from this sin-gle non-conformist Chapel.


To paraphrase Tony Walsh who characterised the city’s response to 2017’s bomb, this location was The Place back then.


Original research on ancestry.com has helped to update our knowledge of the Victorian family behind the city’s original chop houses.


We do not yet know of Thomas Studd’s church affiliations, but we do know that, as his family and business grew with the city’s prosperity, the Studd’s moved to Broughton in Salford. By the time of the electoral roll in 1871 they had three more children: Samuel, born in 1864, John and Lily.


Just a year later in 1872 they also had a second chop house.



It was then on Market Street close to the Royal Exchange building which was being completed at the same time. They named it after their second-born son. To be precise, they actually called it Sam’s London Chop House in a further nod to Thomas’s birthplace.


The couple ran their two restaurants jointly for eight years. The chop houses became Manchester institutions at the very time when the city was at its most influential worldwide. They were the places where people met, and where deals were done.


This success is reflected in further changes in the family’s circumstances. They moved to Grange Villa on Didsbury Road, Heaton Norris ‘in the County of Lancashire.’ This was within easy walking distance of Stockport station, likely to have been Thomas and Sarah’s way into work. Their family grew to include seven children with the addition of Amelia, born in 1874. They were helped by three live-in servants.


The next mention of Thomas Studd in the public domain is the publication of his will.

He died on March 11, 1880 aged just 45. The probate calendar records him as ‘Chop House Pro-prietor.’ It tells us that Sarah was his sole executrix. And that his personal estate was valued at less than £1,000.


The following year’s census confirms that his widow was a remarkable woman. She is head of household, bringing up seven children, managing the servants and running the two chop houses. Her occupation is now ‘Restaurant Keeper.’ Her daughter Sarah is listed as her deputy.


Licensing records show that Sarah senior ran the business for 15 years. She was succeeded by her daughter, Sarah junior, who managed it until 1900.


So now we know that the Studd family ran Manchester’s original chop houses for at least 33 years. That the business was founded by a chef-proprietor. That strong women were at the heart of its early success. And that customer service was central to its success.


We also know that Tom’s closed in 1900. To reopen, rebuilt as it is now, in 1902. It was then in the hands of Frank Willoughby and his partner James Binney. Remember the name? James was Edward Binney’s son. He was a barrister. His offices were in chambers above Thomas’s as it was then known (see the terracotta relief sign at the rear). His funds were at least in part derived from his father’s successful investment in ‘Paraffin’ Young and the world’s first oil refinery. By now Thomas’s was Manchester’s original modern building: its first iron-framed structure.


Frank Willoughby ran his business which grew to include wine wholesaling from these premises until 1942. He relocated to Tibb Lane during the dark years of World War Two.


75 years in just two sets of hands.

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©2020 The Albert Square Chop House, The Victorian Chop House Company Ltd. All images and words by The Albert Square Chop House, Claire Angel, David Lake and Tony Husband.

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