I have had this photo in my files for some time. With no information to go by, I thought it would be just a few minutes work to locate the place in my Gore’s Directory. Some 30 minutes later, it began to make sense. There was no category for pet suppliers or anything else that came to mind, so I concentrated on the faint shop sign on the right, which I decided was H. Middlehu (there is no more on the photo.
Using my 1887 Directory was enough to pin the name down to Henry Middlehurst, seedsman of 11 Manchester Street (near to the corner where Manchester Street meets Dale Street). There, next door were William Johnson (naturalist) at number 7 and Seward Holmes at number 9. Two competing businesses, it appears, rather than one. The shop on the right (Seward Holmes’s) looks the more run-down but it was the only one mentioned in the 1911 Directory.
The photo makes you realise what an intensive trade there was in exotic birds. In the mid-nineteenth century, the trade in caged birds was for finches and other English native species almost to the point at which certain birds were almost driven to extinction here. The same fate befell parrots and other colourful birds in the twentieth century. After all, this is a snapshot of just two shops in one city in Europe. The trade must have been huge.
Sadly, the exploitation of animals continues in any number of ways. The decimation of elephant and rhino populations for nothing more than superstitious belief in the power of their tusks and horns, the decimation of the gorilla populations for bush meat and the drag-netting of our seas and oceans are just some of the depressing realities of today.
To finish on an entirely tangential note, the building next to Middlehurst’s is not shown in the photograph but it housed the solicitor William Henry Quilliam, now better-known as Abdullah Quilliam, founder of the first mosque in England on Brougham Terrace. But that is another story.