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Not Brentford

Brentford Councillors - Robert Richard Bignell


Janet McNamara has researched details of the men who served as Brentford Local Board Members and Councillors, see intro page for more details of early local government structure.

Robert Richard Bignell

Mr Bignell was a member of the Local Board by 3.1.1882 and his name is on the dedication stone at the Sewage Pumping station opened in 1883.

Robert Richard Bignall was born on August 2nd 1811 and baptised at St Martin in the Fields, Westminster on October 13th 1811. His parents were Robert (1785 1864) and Mary. He married Emma SOCKET at St Martin in the Fields, Westminster on April 6th 1840 and their daughter Emma Alice was baptised at St James' Westminster on May 30th 1847.

I haven't found an entry for either of them in the 1841 census but there is a death of an Emma Bignell recorded in the June quarter 1849 in Epsom 4 101. It seems that she died in a coaching accident after asking her friend Sarah SQUIER, who was the housekeeper to look after her daughter.

The Ancestry website has a copy of a record of him being summonsed for Assault in 1845 but he was found Not Guilty.

In the 1851 census he is shown as a widower aged 39 living at No 8, Great Windmill Street, described as 'gentleman' with Emma A aged 4 and a household consisting of:
Sally PRINCE a widow (40), cousin, gentlewoman b in Staffordshire.
William MASON, cousin (30) gentleman b London.
Ann SQUIER servant (23) b Edmonton.
Polly ROBINSON friend (28) lady's maid b Staffs.
George T BYER (28) gentleman b London.
Martin FRIEND (17) nephew b London.
William PRICE (16) nephew b Birmingham.

Robert remarried (see Note 4) and he and Elizabeth had a daughter who died young. When Elizabeth became unstable they lived separately. There is an Elizabeth Bignell aged 48 in the 1861 census as a patient in a hospital in St Margaret's Westminster.

It seems that about 1860 Sarah Squier became Robert's lifelong companion and I can't find either of them or Emma Alice in 1861.

A possible entry is a 49 year old married victualler at Carlton Chambers, Regent Street but the rest of the household doesn't check as he's shown as the son of the head of the household.


The Argyll Rooms and Trocadero

In 1849 Robert had leased the Royal Albion Theatre, near Piccadilly Circus with partners George BRYER and Charles LAURENT. The old vaults below were used by Mr Bignell to store wine. At the time he was described as a wine merchant. The rest of the building was reconstructed and redecorated and opened as the Argyle Subscription Rooms.

See the Arthur Lloyd Music Hall and Theatre History Website for the story.

The Argyll (or Argyle) Rooms gained a reputation as a place frequented by prostitutes and their customers and was closed down by the police in 1878.

The London Metropolitan Archives catalogue shows they have papers starting in 1857 (MR/LMD/6/10 to 34) which start with a Petition against the transfer or grant of a license to Argyle Rooms (proprietor Robert Richard Bignell) from householders in the Haymarket, Coventry Street, Piccadilly and Regent Street.

6/14 is a petition in favour of a grant of a Music and Dancing License to RRB of Argyle Rooms from M. Anthony LA MOTTE and members of the orchestra of the Adelaide Gallery, Strand late of Argyle Rooms. 6/16 is the petition against this.

6/17 is the application for renewal after lapse of 12 months in 1858.

After the closure in 1878 see a contemporary article explaining that they were allowed to reopen to help keep the 'vicious population' together rather than they be let loose on society.

By 1880 the name had been changed to Trocadero and the LMA have petitions from owners of property on the Arundel Estate, Haymarket and ratepayers and inhabitants in the vicinity of the Trocadero 6/24 and by the parishioners of St Peters, Great Windmill Street 6/25 1881.

They also hold plans for the proposed Concert Hall with the applications for the music license and the votes for and against.

6/40 is plans showing the Trocadero and surrounding properties with the regulations regarding Music and Dancing licenses.

The concert hall for 600 people opened in 1882 as 'Trocadero Palace of Varieties' (a Music Hall). There's a description on the Trocadero website mentioned above.


Residence in Chiswick and Brentford

By 1869 Robert's household had moved to Chiswick as on January 15th 1869 his daughter Emma Alice married William Arthur Warner SLEIGH at All Saints Church, Turnham Green. Her address is shown as Turnham Green and Robert as a wine merchant. The witnesses are Robert Richard Bignell and Sarah Ann Squier.

Was his only address in Chiswick the house called Stile Hall?

This was one of the biggest houses in Chiswick situated on the south side of the road to the east of Kew Bridge. It had extensive grounds that had been cut by the building of the London and South Western Railway from Waterloo to Isleworth in 1849 and on to Hounslow in 1850.

William Warner Sleigh and Emma had a daughter, Emma Warner Sleigh in 1870 who was born in Brentford.

In 1871 there is a large household at Stile Hall, Turnham Green, Chiswick.
Robert Richard Bignell is Head of the household aged 59, born Strand and living on Dividends.
Sarah Squier (42) Visitor b Edmonton.
Mary A Friend (28) Niece b Strand, Peter Friend (22) nephew b Strand and Edwin Friend (16) nephew b Strand. William Kingston (36), coachman b Ealing. Eliza Kingston (32) b Chiswick, Elizabeth Walker (21) servant b Brentford, Ann Dear servant b Brentford, Arthur Simpler (16) page boy b Chiswick.
Warner Sleigh b St James shown as Visitor in the relationship to Head column. This has been deleted and changed to Boarder. This is also in the Occupation section too. His age is blurred. Also Mrs Sleigh * (24) Boarder b St James and Alice Sleigh 9mos **born Kew.
This is Robert's daughter (see Note 1) and granddaughter see Note 2.

In 1881 the address is shown as 1, Stile Hall, Chiswick.
R Bignell (70) Wine and spirit merchant.
TA Squires (see Note 3 visitor (female) 52 b Edmonton (as 1871)
Emma W Sleigh (11) granddaughter.
Fanny Squires 17 and Mary C Squires 14 both adopted daughters.
Plus 3 servants.

During the early 1880s he must have been elected to the Brentford Local Board as his name is in the stone at the Sewage Pumping Station but he died on July 17th 1888 at Stile Hall. (Brentford 3a 49)

The announcement of his death in the Middlesex Independent said that he had been suffering from a 'complication of disorders and had unsuccessfully endeavoured by change of air to prolong his life'.

August 16th 1888. 'The Will with a Codicil of Robert Richard Bignell late of Stile Hall Kew Bridge in the County of Middlesex Gentleman who died 17th July 1888 at Stile Hall was proved at the Principal Registry by Sarah Ann Squier of Stile Hall Widow Emma Alice Chapman (Wife of Edward CHAPMAN) of Beckton House Boston Road Brentford in the said County the Daughter and Henry Edward HERMAN of 92, Bartholomew Close in the City of London Solicitor the Executors'. Personal Estate 20,845.0.1d

He was buried with his father in Brompton cemetery. The tomb is said to be on the left side of the main road through when entering from Fulham Road. Sarah's grave is on the opposite side of the road.



Note 1: Emma and Warner were divorced in 1877 (Peter King's research not written up at February 2011).

On June 1st 1878, as Emma Alice Bignell she married Charles John CURTIS at St Saviours Church, Paddington. She was shown as 32 and unmarried. Mr Curtis was a solicitor and RRB shown as Gentleman. Emma's local parish was shown as Turnham Green. RRB was a witness with Sarah Ann Squier and AN Other. The death of Charles John Curtis is registered in the December quarter 1881 (Kensington 1a 26). She married Edward Chapman in the June quarter 1882 (St Pancras 1b 42).

She sold her father's Trocadero property in 1895 on a 99year lease to J Lyons & Co who converted it into a restaurant with the same name (see Trocadero, Leicester Square website mentioned above).

Note 2: Robert's granddaughter Emma Warner Sleigh was born 1870 in Brentford or Kew (according to different census entries).

She married Ernest Matthew LACEY the son of William R Lacey a substantial property owner in the area of the Butts, Brentford and brother of Frederick W Lacey the Brentford surveyor until he moved to Bournemouth. Wandsworth September quarter 1888 1d 1052.

See Peter King's research about the Lacey family.

In 1891 Emma (20) born Chiswick and Ernest (25) Electrical Engineer born Clapham were living with their son Robert at Somerset Lodge, Boston Road. Robert was 1 year old and born in Brentford, they had a visitor, Percy A SHEPPARD (32) who was a 'Vocal Comedian'. A Cook/Domestic and a nurse were also resident.

Note 3: I think the TA should be SA for Sarah Ann and has been wrongly copied. See 1851 census and witness at Emma's weddings and should read Squier (see below).Sarah Ann Squier was a lifelong companion of RRB. The two girls in the 1881 census and below are their daughters.

'14th January The Will with a codicil of Sarah Ann Squier late of 11 Bayley Street, Bedford Square in the County of Middlesex, Widow who died December 9th 1889 at 11, Bayley Street was proved at the Principal Registry by Fanny Katherine FLETCHER (wife of William Castle Fletcher) of 24, Jesmond Road, Newcastle on Tyne in the County of Northumberland and Mary Constance Bignell of 11, Bayley Street, spinster the daughter of the Executrixes. Personal Estate 1,253.3s'.

Brentford Market first opened on the north side of the road opposite Stile Hall in 1893 and expanded eastwards in 1905. There doesn't seem to be a record of the date the house was demolished but the rate books in Chiswick library need to be checked to see when it disappears and the parade of shops and house behind appear.

Note 4: a marriage of Robert Richard Bignell took place in the third quarter of 1851 in the registration district of St George Hanover Square.

Simon Winston wrote in Otcober 2020: According to Joanna Richardson's book The Courtesans, Robert Bignell "proprietor of the Argyll Rooms, a notorious pleasure-haunt" took his mistress, Emma Crouch, to Paris in about 1852.

She left him there and stayed on in Paris. She changed her name and became Cora Pearl, one of the great courtesans of the French 2nd Empire mistress to the Emperor's brother, the Duc de Morny, and many other notables of the time.

Following the sale of the Argyll rooms in 1895 the Trocadero became Lyons' 1st & flagship restaurant. Nigella Lawson's mother was grand-daughter of one of the founders of Lyons in the 1890s and part of one of the families that owned and ran Lyons until the 1980s.


Other material

Janet has also provided a photo portrait of RR Bignell. To be added as time permits.


Page published April 2011; updated October 2020