Thomas Hewit was an Edinburgh leather merchant, tanner and, in his early days, a shoemaker. He, his second wife, and three of his sons built up a substantial leather business, and acquired property over two generations. The last of them had a £100,000 fortune by the time of his death in 1887. Newspapers were impressed by his wealth, and commented on what a large proportion would go to charity. The Hewit leather business, which continues to this day, went to one of the descendants of the first marriage. 1
First marriage and becoming a burgess
Through his first wife, Mary Moir, daughter of a burgess, Thomas Hewit got burgess status himself. 2 This gave him civic responsibilities and rights, including the right to run a business in Edinburgh. The marriage record says that Thomas Hewit, shoemaker, of no. 20 Simon’s Square, married Mary, daughter of John Moir, shoemaker [of 39 Candlemaker Row], on 24th January 1822. Mary died in August 1828.
Children of Thomas and Mary Hewit:
- Jane Gilchrist Hewit b. 27 Oct 1822, m. Robert Lawson, corn merchant in the Grassmarket, in 1844. In 1851 they had 2 children: William 3 and John 1. A nurse for the children and a general servant lived with them in Lauriston Place. Other Lawson children were George (b.1862), Jane and Sarah.
- John More/Moir Heriot Hewit b. 14 Sep 1826. In 1851 he was a journeyman optician living with wife Margaret (Caw) in Davie Street. He was “last heard of in New York”, according to David’s 1887 will.
- Mary James Moir Hewit b. 2 July 1828
Second marriage and a move to Grange Loan
Thomas was already married to his second wife, Janet Murray, when he bought Pennywell House in Grange Loan. Their sons grew up there, and Janet’s sister, Ann Murray (see bottom of page), lived with them, and outlasted them all. They housed a few asylum patients there, as the previous owners had done. Janet’s sons Thomas, David, and Charles worked in the family leather business, with their mother playing a key role after she was widowed. The business was re-named J. Hewit and Sons after Thomas Senior’s death. Thomas, the oldest of Janet’s sons, was sixteen when his father died. Those three boys inherited equal shares of the family assets after their mother died, but Jane and John, Mary’s children, got nothing. Their father’s will said the children of his first marriage were already “amply and sufficiently” provided for. 3
Janet’s will left her sister Ann a life interest in her house, which by this time was at number 7 Argyle Square, the “westmost lodging on the north row”. (Part of the site of today’s Chambers Street museum.) Ann stayed in Grange Loan till her death.
Janet had moved on from Pennywell, though she and her sons retained the ownership of all their Grange Loan property. In 1865 Janet Murray was owner of houses, workshops, and shops at 4, 6 and 8 Niddry St., houses at 191 Cowgate, 7 Argyle Square and 12-17 Grange Loan, and a garden at 17 Grange Loan.
Thomas Hewit, leather merchant, Niddry Street, married Janet Murray 21 June 1829, and died 30 December 1846. Janet Murray or Hewit died 20 May 1868, age 61, in Argyle Sq.. Her mother was Janet Murray or Gilchrist, and her father John Murray, broker, according to her death certificate. On her sister’s death certificate, John Murray’s profession was furniture dealer.
Children of Thomas and Janet Hewit:
Their three adult sons – Thomas, David, and Charles – expanded the business to London.
- Thomas Hewit born 29 April 1830, died at Musselburgh in 1886. His will says he was a “tanner and currier, Edinburgh and London”, “residing at Langton Villa Grange Loan” and also occupier of Rosehall, Musselburgh.
- Janet Gilchrist Hewit b. 22 Aug 1831
- William Cox Hewit b. 19 Feb 1835
- David Gavin Hewit 3 Dec 1836, In 1881 he was living in Bride Lane, London. He married Eliza Augustine Bourgois 4 in Edinburgh in April 1886 5. Their son, David Thomas, was born at Endsleigh, Highfield Hill, Upper Norwood in May 1887, but died on 24 August 1887 in Melville Street, Edinburgh. David Gavin Hewit died before his baby son, on 1st August 1887 at Upper Norwood, Surrey. He left about £100,000: a house and annuity to his widow, legacies to his nephews, aunt Ann Murray and other relatives, and the residue to a variety of hospitals and leather trades charities. 6His nephew George Lawson, Jane’s son, was to be given first chance to buy the leather business.
- Ann Murray Hewit b. 16 Mar 1838
- Charles Murray Hewit born 6 Aug 1842, died in 1875. His will says he was “residing at Langton Villa, Grange Loan, of Edinburgh”.
The lodgers in the Pennywell House asylum:
According to the 1841 census of Public Institutions in the Parish of St Cuthbert, there were two patients, neither born in Midlothian:
- Marion Brown, 55
- Thomas Orchardson, painter, 40
- Thomas Hewit, 40, proprietor and keeper
- Janet Hewit, 30, matron
- Ann Murray, 25, female servant [Janet’s sister]
- Live-in servant, Mary Muir
- Thomas 10
- David 4
In 1851 the patients were:
- Miss MB, 66, Minister’s daughter, born Fifeshire Largo
- Miss JG, 61, Captain’s daughter, born Morayshire
- MR WR, 51, Journeyman Compositor, born Lanarkshire Glasgow
One of the women was able to go out alone and “make small purchases”. The other was said to be dirty and was kept in a “ground floor room, which she made “offensive”. The other two slept in attic rooms with clean and comfortable beds, and they all had their meals separately. A medical attendant was paid £5 a year to visit once a week. The patients’ families each paid £40 a year for this arrangement.
Record-keeping did not meet the legal standards: at all asylums in the area, not just this one. A doctor reporting in 1855 felt this asylum was not adequate to cope with the ground-floor patient who got excited and violent at times, and was put in a strait-jacket.
Also listed in 1851:
- Janet Hewit, 42, Mistress of the Establishment
- Ann Murray, her sister, 36, Housekeeper. In 1881 she was a retired housekeeper living with Charles Hewit at no. 13 Grange Loan, where she stayed until her death in 1899. One census gave her birth parish as Canongate, Edinburgh.
- Thomas, 21, Keeper
- David, 14
- Charles, 8
- Servant Agnes Bell, 22, born Glasgow
Charles Murray – with Janet, a trustee of Thomas Hewit’s estate. Described as “sometime printer in Edinburgh and thereafter in Bombay, now residing in Edinburgh” (1850).
Sources: parish registers, statutory records, censuses, street directories, newspapers, the wills of Thomas Hewit Sr., Janet Hewit, and David Gavin Hewit, the Hewit leather website, report of parliamentary inquiry into asylums.
Some of the children presumably died before reaching adulthood.
- George Lawson had been working in the business and was bequeathed first chance to own it, if he paid for the physical assets, valued without adding in the “good will” of a going concern. His uncle David left him and his brothers legacies of six thousand pounds each. ↩
- Roll of Edinburgh Burgesses and Guild-brethren 1761 – 1841, ed. Charles Boog-Watson, Scottish Record Society 1933 ↩
- Possibly via their maternal grandparents whose children did not survive them. ↩
- Daughter of the founder of the Bourgois Hotel, Fleshmarket Close ↩
- Scotsman 9 April 1886 ↩
- Edinburgh Evening News, 24 September 1887 ↩