By Benedict Kelly with Barbara Byne and Peter Williams
Above: 72 High Street, taken from
Above: Ramsgate Library now occupies the site
The partnership of Friend & Vinten was established in 1838 by two young men from Ramsgate who had had known each other from boyhood, were apprenticed together, were each to marry twice and who became
brothers in law.
George Friend was born in Princes Street, Ramsgate, on 17th August 1812. His obituary describes how his father had “followed the water” into the Temperance movement. He would become a member of the Burial
Board, and a member of the Local Board. In 1839 he married Isaac’s sister, Hannah (1814-1861) and in 1871 he married Jane Philpott (1821-1895). They lived at Faythe Lodge (24 Marlborough Road) where he died on 10th
Isaac Vinten was born at Melancthon House, (162 High Street) in 1815. His father John Vinten (1778-1865) was then a bricklayer. He has been described earlier as a gardener but in the 19th and even 20th centuries building companies often grew from one man forced by poverty to dig and fire clay on his own land. The fact that John and his wife Esther Vinten (1776-1842) moved to Ramsgate from the Weald of Kent where fine clay is still produced would fit that possibility.
Their son Isaac began his career as a cabinet maker and upholsterer, and later became a member of the Local Board. He took out his first licence as an auctioneer at a time when duty had to be paid on all goods sold at auction, and before granting a licence the Excise required sureties. One of his sureties was Sir Thomas Gray, a well-known local magistrate.
Isaac was a bibliophile and in 1868 founded the Ramsgate United Literacy Club with a meeting hall for the Club that faced Guildford Lawn. The Club’s first library was in rooms rented in Effingham House and today
Ramsgate library occupies the site of the Literacy Club house.
The partnership of Friend and Vinten developed in a typically Victorian entrepreneurial style. One business grew from another almost by diversification. Making and selling furniture and upholstery required the purchase of second hand stock for re-upholstery to save on woodwork construction. House clearance to acquire such material was a short step from measurement, valuations and surveying. That was another short step from estate management and when properties were to be sold, the firm became auctioneers.
They built what was claimed to be one of the largest halls in Kent at more than 100 feet long. Even with the new businesses, the partners did not abandon their original tradition of fine woodworking and became undertakers as well. When William Collingridge Barnet, E W Pugin’s agent in Ireland married Isaac’s daughter Ann, the couple lived with the family in Ramsgate and the firm were responsible for the funeral of EW Pugin in 1871.
The registered office was at 72 High Street (Estate Office & Auction Mart). The large auction mart was located at the rear of the offices with a public entrance from Meeting Street. The premises were damaged by fire
some few years after the firm was founded but it then grew to enjoy a virtual monopoly on sales and transfer of major buildings around Thanet in the late Victorian period. These included Bromstone House at St Peter’s,
Southwood House at St Laurence, and the Wrotham Estae at Broadstairs.
The Vintens were a long-lived family. Isaac’s father, John Vinten died on 25th January 1865 at the age of 87. Isaac lived to the age of 90 and died at Tenby House, on 5th April 1906. This was demolished many years ago and is now the site of a car park opposite Ramsgate’s new swimming pool. Isaac was buried at St Laurence with his wife 2nd wife Marie. He left £4,449 16s. 5d.
George Friend was interred at St George’s Churchyard along with his first wife Hannah and left some £6,104 19s. 8d. The company continued under Isaac’s son, Henry George Vinten (1843-1909) who had been made a partner in the firm in 1869. Henry lived at Elmside (9 North Avenue). He was a prominent member of the Kent Archaeological Society and contributed to a number of papers.
In 1866, he married Emily Lucy Kelsey (1841- 1926), daughter of Charles Vye Kelsey. When Henry suffered a fatal heart attack at Elmside on Friday 7th May 1909, and was buried in Ramsgate Cemetery, he left £38,300 7s. 4d. The wealth that had resulted from continually adapting to changing circumstances and effectively creating a new profession, typified the aspirations of the age.
Henry’s only son, Harold Bertram Vinten (1870-1958) took over the firm. The last reference to Friend & Vinten appeared in the 1939 directory. By that time many auctioneering companies were well established. No detailed obituary was recorded for Harold who died at the Bon Secours nursing home on 26th January 1958 leaving £18,048 15s. 6d.
In 1874, Isaac Vinten commissioned a stained glass
Above: Plot no. EC 394, Ramsgate Cemetery.