THE MACANDREW FAMILY
William Peter MacAndrew joined the family firm which dealt in fruit from Spain and Portugal. He lived in Bell House with his wife and children.
William Peter McAndrew was born on 25 July 1790 on Lower Thames St, the son of William McAndrew, originally from Scotland, and his wife Antonia Sykes. At the age of just 18, William McAndrew senior had begun importing fruit from Spain and Portugal and soon opened offices in London and Liverpool, expanding into shipping. William’s sons, Robert and William Peter, ran the offices in London and Liverpool respectively. In 1854, following a fraternal disagreement said by his son to be the ‘greatest trial’ in Robert’s life, the two brothers split the company in two. Robert concentrated on shipping and ship-owning under the name of McAndrew & Co (a company which still exists today) and also became a renowned marine biologist, naturalist and Fellow of the Royal Society. William Peter established McAndrew & Cunningham in Liverpool with John Cunningham and then moved the business to London. The two firms were recombined following William Peter’s death.
William Peter McAndrew married Ann Knox Child on 22 February 1816 at St Magnus the Martyr on Lower Thames St, the church where he and his siblings were christened and where they worshipped. He was 26 years old and Ann was 17; the bride’s relative, the Reverend Vicesimus Knox, essayist and headmaster of Tonbridge School, officiated. In the 1830s William Peter joined the worshipful company of wheelwrights, a City livery company unconnected with his trade but one in which his father had also been a freeman. City livery companies offered excellent networking opportunities and occasions for charitable endeavours: various Lord Mayors noted that McAndrew & Son made cash donations ‘for the poor box’.
Before moving to Bell House William Peter lived in Croxted House on Croxted Lane and most of his ten children were born there. Two of his sons, William and John, followed him into the family firm; William in particular inherited his father’s work ethic and in his spare time was something of an inventor, improving on the machinery for separating cotton fibres from seeds. At some stage the family name began to be spelt MacAndrew, apparently to aid pronunciation in Spain and Portugal. Another son, James Child MacAndrew went to New York and started MacAndrews & Forbes, a liquorice manufacturing and exporting company, financed by James’s uncle Robert as a way of adding cargo to his ships on their journeys from Smyrna (now Izmir) where he was trading cotton. It seems likely that William Peter MacAndrew also visited Smyrna; as well as his cotton invention he reported back to the Pharmaceutical Society on the efficacy of resin of scammony, a plant found in this region and used as a purgative. MacAndrews & Forbes is now the holding company for billionaire Ronald Perelman’s empire which includes a number of major companies such as Revlon.
William Peter MacAndrew and his sons worked hard in the family firm. Even in 1861 when he was 70 years old, he still described himself as ‘foreign merchant’ of 57 King William Street’, his City office and a stone’s throw from where he had been born. In 1859 he and Ann lost their daughter Clara, aged 17; Ann herself died two years later. The 1871 census describes him as ‘retired’ general merchant at the age of 80. Still living with him in Bell House were William, Mary Ann, Eliza, Susan and John, all unmarried, together with a butler, cook, housemaid and parlourmaid. Fanny and Harriet, the maids, would have spent hours each day cleaning: the coal fires and gas lamps would have made the house dirty, though luckily the newly-built railway was too far away to add to the dirt.
William Peter MacAndrew died on 7 April 1871. His sons, William and John, oversaw the distribution of his estate: he left just under £70,000. He is buried with his wife Ann in Nunhead cemetery.