Researched and written by Christine Shackell
Clementina’s story as a successful business woman may not seem remarkable today. What is remarkable is that she achieved this is in an era when women were ill-educated, if at all, and were under the control of their fathers and husbands. Widowhood allowed an element of financial freedom which was otherwise unattainable.
Clementina Mingay was born on 28 May 1769 to parents Charles and Ann Browne and was baptised on 2nd June at St Giles Church Norwich. A Charles Browne advertised his business as a Hairdresser and Peruke maker in Norwich at this time and it is possible that he was Clementina’s father.
In 1798, at the age of twenty-nine, she married Mark Bean Mingay, a hosier and hatter who ran a business at 19 Market Place Norwich. The couple produced nine children, five of whom died in infancy. The children were baptised at the Catholic Chapel St John’s Maddermarket (NRO, MF/RO 618-9). In 1810 Mark Bean Mingay was advertising his business in the Norfolk Chronicle as a Woollen Drapers selling a variety of cloths which could be made up into adult or children’s clothing, as well as his waterproof beaver hats.
The following year in May, the Norfolk Chronicle reported his death “after a severe illness” at the age of only thirty-six, which left his widow Clementina, pregnant and with four young children to care for alone. Clementina was clearly a resourceful woman as in July she placed a notice, again in the Norfolk Chronicle, soliciting financial support for herself and her children. Benefactors were named in the notice as well as their contributions which amounted already to over £90, which is equivalent to around £4,000 today. She was granted Letters of Administration on her husband’s estate as he had not left a Will. The document states that his effects were valued at under £2,000 which has a value of around £93,000.
With this financial backing, Clementina set herself up in business initially selling coffee with an address of Market Place Norwich and subsequently, selling “elegant dresses, boots and shoes” advertised as from a London supplier. By 1820 her business was described as Ladies London Shoe and Boot Warehouse, which also sold dresses, gloves and perfumery, particularly, lavender water, at the address of 7 Old Haymarket Norwich. In local Trade Directories she continued to advertise her businesses under both Boot and Shoe maker and Perfumer.
Clementina was a successful business woman and her efforts allowed her to move to the fashionable suburb of Eaton where she was living with her daughter Lucy in the 1841 census. In 1851 census, at the age of eighty one years, Clementina was described as a partner in the Ladies shoe trade, which would seem to indicate that she was still involved in the running of the business even at this great age. Her household comprised her two unmarried daughters, a cook and a housemaid.
Clementina died in 1855 at her home, Mount Pleasant on Unthank Road Norwich and was buried at St Giles church on the twenty-ninth January. In her Will she left her estate to her four surviving children, Mary, George, Lucy and Agnes, on equal terms, “share and share alike”, describing the latter three as co-partners in her business at 7 Old Haymarket. She left the Catholic Chapel at Willow Lane Norwich fifty pounds to say an annual Mass for her soul. She also remembered her “long and faithful servant”, Catherine Dixon, leaving her nineteen guineas. On their retirement, her two younger unmarried daughters both became nuns leaving the business to be run by brother George Nelson Mingay. The story of her eldest daughter, Mary Lambert nee Mingay, who also managed to combine raising a large family as well as running a very different sort of business, is written separately.