Thursday 22 September 2011

The Scottish businesses of Frederick Street

Frederick Street became the heart of town after the disastrous fire of 1895, when it was rebuilt by the well-known Scottish architect George Brown. It is Brown’s Frederick Street that frames the memory of most Port of Spainers born in the 1930s to 1950s. It is the Frederick Street of brightly lit show windows when on full moon nights the street lights in the city would be turned off so that the moonlight may be enjoyed and families went windowshopping.
Frederick Street from Marine Square to Park Street was shaded by overhanging, elaborately designed galleries and hanging awnings for even more shade, with the names of the stores on them: MIiler’s, Stephens, Todd, Glendinning’s, Waterman’s, Canning’s, Wil. Ross, Perraries, St. Johnson’s, Matherson’s, Amoogam’s and many others.
Frederick Street was famous for its lantern roofs, some of which still exist. These marvellous contraptions let in air and bathed the entire store in a lovely light. Frederick Street was also famous for its trams, tea rooms and Indian lace vendors. ... were the last Frederic Street characters of the old school.
Frederick Street has a Scottish ‘kirk’ (church) that dates from the first decade of the 19th century. Because in those days many a ... young Scot made his way to Trinidad in search of fortune, the Scottish became very influential as a commercial group and tended to dominate the drygoods business. Merchants in Glasgow and Edinburgh sent out bright young men to work as shop assistants or clerks in Scottis firms. Usually hardworking, they in turn would start up on their own after a few years or be admitted as partners to established Scottish merchants.
They were mostly Presbyterians and by the 1880s, the St. Andrews Society had been formed as a social centre for Scots. It was however business that Trinidad’s probably smallest group was involved with.
An interesting summary description of Frederick Street businesses appeared in the authoritative publication ‘From Colonial to Republic’, in which it is said that on the earliest records of the Colonial Bank is W.C. Ross and Company. This company was formed in the early 1850s by Ross, a Scotsman. Under the name ‘The Colonial Dispensary’ the company dealt in chemicals and drugs. Its first address was on the eastern side of Frederick and Queen Streets corner. After the fire of the 1880s, it was relocated to the western corner, where previously a tavern had been located, with the Ross family living upstairs.
W.C. Ross died in 1896. His son-in-law, Arthur Jaimes Taitt, who had worked in the company since he was 21, became the proprietor. When Taitt died in 1914, the company was sold to A.V. Stollmeyer, who employed chemist Henry Govia and accountant M. Traverso as managing directors. Discontented with this arrangement, Govia and Traverso established another pharmacy directly opposite on Frederick Street, and Stollmeyer was forced to sell W.C. Ross & Co. in 1927 to Bookers.
Another old Scottish firm on Frederick Street was Todd. It had started off as a jewellery store in 1828 in San Fernando under the name James Todd and Sons. In 1838, James Todd relocated to Port of Spain, took on a partner and went off to the sea, which ahd been his first love. The partner, however, absconded ten years later with the valuable stock. It was Jamie Todd, James’ wife, who single-handedly restarted the business. She bought some unclaimed crockery at Customs, and in the years to come,the genial businesswoman made Todd become a renowned dealer in china.
The Todd’s oldest son succeeded in the business, but in 1870 he died after having been bitten by a rabid dog. The two smaller sons, William and James, were still children, and Mrs. Todd took them back to Scotland for their education. An uncle named Davidson bought into the company, and the name was changed to Davidson and Todd Limited.
William and James returned in 1892. William fell ill and returned to Scotland, and James Todd jnr. was the one to continue in the family business.
On 4th March, 1895, the great fire of Port of Spain originated from the Todd’s business premises. It left 57 business houses and residences burnt to the ground. The damage was an estimated £750,000 - a mindboggling sum at the time. The Todd family, however, rebuilt their business again, and two of James jnr.’s children, Bill and Winnifred, took over from their father. In 1953, Stephens bought Davidson and Todd. Winnifred, who had joined the firm in 1926 and developed the china department of the business, remained with Stephens and Todd Ltd. until 1972.


Unknown said...

Hi, this article is about my father's family. My dad was William Wright Todd and Winifred my Aunt. My father died quite young and I was only a child so any family information is much appreciated - thank you

Patrick Vella said...

Am also interested in making contact with any Govia's who are descended from Henry Govia of Govia and Traverso. My grandmother was a Govia from Trinidad.