John Matthew (1811-89) was the head of Matthew’s, Grocers of Trinity Street, from 1849 to 1889. He, his wife, father-in-law, brother-in-law, and eight of the couple’s eleven children are commemorated in three grave plots in the cemetery. Matthew & Son was a significant presence in the centre of Cambridge for 130 years, with its sumptuous offerings of exotic coffees and teas, cheeses, preserves, wines, spirits and tobacco.
John and Mary Ann Matthew
John Matthew was born in London, where his family owned a brush-making business. His elder brother David (not buried here) moved to Cambridge in 1829, and in 1832, in partnership with a John Gent, set up a business at 25 Trinity Street (now part of the Whewell’s Court site, opposite the Trinity College gate) selling grocery, china and glassware. John Matthew moved to Cambridge in 1833 and worked with his brother, taking the business over in 1849 when David returned to London. In 1844 he married Mary Ann Atkins (whose father, William Cooper Atkins, is commemorated here, and also Henry Girling Atkins, probably her brother); the couple had eleven children of whom seven survived beyond infancy.
John was a parishioner of the old All Saints Church (opposite St John’s College), and when that was demolished in 1865 he was much involved in establishing the new All Saints Church on Jesus Lane. A window in the church is dedicated to John and Mary Ann. John headed the family firm for 40 years, establishing it as a thriving business.
John Matthew death and funeral
The Matthew children
Of the children of John and Mary Ann, eight are buried in the cemetery: the eldest son Henry, who died suddenly at age 34, Charles James, who died at age 42, daughters Frances and Katherine, who lived into old age dying in the 1930s, and four sons who died in infancy, two of them named Frederick, two of them Sidney. (It was customary in the 19th century when a child died early for the next child of the same sex to be given the same name.)
Henry (1845-79), the eldest son, had joined the navy aged 15 before returning to the business and becoming a noted public figure. He was involved in launching the Cambridge horse-drawn Tramways Company, was active in the YMCA, and served as councillor for Market Ward, before dying of apoplexy while at Matlock spa in Derbyshire.
The Grocery business
Matthew & Gent became ‘Matthew & Son’ in 1874, with Henry as the ‘son’. After Henry’s early death in 1879 his place was taken by his wife Margaret (née Gosling), and then in 1884 by his younger brother, Arthur (1850-1917), who inherited the firm after John’s death in 1889. In 1858, when 25 Trinity Street was demolished, the business moved to Nos 20-21 (now Heffers bookshop). Up to this time, the family had lived above the shop, and did so over the new premises until 1898, when Arthur had a large house built in the Madingley Road area.
Already in 1894, the firm had opened a wine and spirits shop at 19 Trinity Street (now Heffers Sound) with extensive cellars. In 1896 it opened its ‘Oriental Café’ at 14 Trinity Street, which rapidly became a fashionable meeting place and venue for parties and receptions. The firm had its own bakery, and the front of the Café was a shop selling bread, cakes and sweets. From 1917, Arthur’s wife Maude chaired the business following her husband’s death (they are both buried in Ascension Cemetery); and eventually in 1937 the couple’s middle son, Bernard, became managing director. In 1962, after 130 years of trading, the family sold the business to Harvey’s the wine merchants, after which the grocery, wine and café continued under the Matthew name for a further two years, finally closing its doors in 1964. In 2010 Bernard’s daughter, Judy Wilson, published a vivid account of the firm’s history, and created a website ‘Cambridge Grocer’.
In its heyday, Matthew’s occupied most of the Trinity Street frontage from Whewell’s Court to Green Street, and a large part of the property behind and on Green Street, as well as having a network of local branches. In addition to selling high-quality groceries and provisions, greengrocery, wines, spirits, bread, cakes and confectionery, china, glassware, ironmongery and household equipment to townspeople and the colleges, the firm also delivered its products, initially by horse-drawn van, later by a fleet of motorised vans, to homes as far afield as Huntingdon, Ely, Saffron Walden and Royston.
Coffee and Tea
One vestige of the Matthew enterprise continues into the 21st century. The firm was celebrated — among many things — for its wide range of high-quality coffees and teas; and for the past 20 years or more Arthur’s grandson Michael Matthew has continued this tradition, selling a specialist range of coffee beans and teas at his stall in the Cambridge market place.
There are 3 graves for the family in the Cemetery
Parish : All Saints
Parish : All Saints
Judy Wilson, Cambridge Grocer: The Story of Matthew’s of Trinity Street 1832-1962 (Cambridge: R. A. Wilson, 2010)
personal communications from Michael Matthew and Judy Wilson
By Ian Bent