Invoice for T Polton, 1831 Show image info

Invoice from T Polton, wine and pickle dealer, Bath, 1831

T Polton, British Wines etc invoice dated 15 March 1831

Written in 2019 by a member of a creative writing class, through a collaboration between Bath Record Office and the St. John’s Foundation.

An invoice from wine and pickle merchant T Polton, sent to his customer Mr Barnett on 15 March 1831, inspired this piece of writing.

I am George Spinks and I started work last month, February 1831, in Polton's in Abbey Churchyard in Bath. When I left school at Christmas my mates at school laughed at me and said: “only girls work in shops”. Well I like it. It's far better than going down the North Somerset Coal mines or sweeping chimneys. I got to stay at school till I was 12 because we have a National School in the village where I live and my reading and writing are good.

The shop is much bigger than it looks from outside because it has a cellar for the barrels of wine and cordials and a big bottling and pickling area at the back. Mr Polton, the owner, says that, if I work hard he will teach me everything he knows about the business. His son died from influenza in 1829 and I do not think his daughters are interested in the business.

When I get in at 7.30 each morning my first job is to collect the returned bottles from the yard and put them in the washing machine. Then I turn the crank handle to start the machine. When they have been thoroughly washed I put them on the spikes to dry. Then I paste on the labels: sack, Madeira, raspberry and many others I have never seen before. My favourite name is Double Strength Jamaican Ginger Wine which is meant to cure lots of diseases. It tastes very hot! I don't think anyone saw me having a taste.

My next job is preparing the orders. Most of our customers want a dozen bottles of wine and some seem to get through an awful lot. They have to pay a deposit on the bottles but they get it back when they return them. I am not so keen on working with the pickles and putting them into jars because the vinegar makes my eyes hurt. The fish sauce smells disgusting.

The front shop is full of floor to ceiling mahogany shelves, specially made to hold all the different bottles containing all the drinks we sell. There is a special gantry for barrels that the fortified wines are kept in. Mr P lets some of his best customers taste before they buy and keeps a few glasses for them. Nearly all the customers are well dressed in fine clothes and the men have top hats and silver topped canes. Some send their butlers who are not quite so smartly dressed but very well spoken. Poorer customers do not often come into the shop because Mr P likes to sell the wines by the dozen bottles and they cannot afford that as well as the deposit on the bottles.

Mr P. says he will show me how to make the fruit cordials and wines in the autumn when the berries are ripe but the cowslips need to be picked and processed into wine soon. I had no idea wine could be made from all these fruits.

I have to wear a large apron and wash my hands a lot between the different jobs. There are three others working in the back shop and four serve at the counter. Nobody has to work all the time in the cellar where the more expensive wines are kept. It is cold, dark and creepy down there.

It is good working in the centre of Bath because it is a busy place. Someone told me that Mr Jolly is going to make his temporary shop permanent and it will be in five houses and be called a Department Store with a wide range of services and products for sale. Maybe more people will want to work in shops. I think it is a good place to be working.

Kathy Elam, 2019