With a rich and diverse past reaching back in time to around 650 AD, the town of Folkestone probably began as a small settlement of fisherman living along the shore. A Market charter was granted in 1215 and over the next two hundred yeras or so, the town flourished to become an important fishing, farming and trading centre. Accompanying its continuing commercial growth through the second half of the 19th century, Folkestone also enjoyed an extensive building programme providing the community with homes, schools, churches, public buildings, a theatre and a number of grand hotels. Enterprise, affluence and refinement were the town's watchwords. In the early 1800s a harbour and a pier for commercial shipping were built. These facilities opened up increased access and trade opportunities but it was the coming of the railways in 1843 that proved to be the main agent of change. With the railway came the tourist trade, and these two industries contributed to Folkestones's prosperity, creating the ideal environment for astute tradesman to invest in new businesses and meet the demands of a growing population. One such enterprise was that created by Joseph John Musgrave who, with commendable forethought, identified the westward expansion of the town and acquired a number of ideally located premises in High Street and in Sandgate Road for his drapery, millinery and mantle making business. By the 1870s the name of Musgrave had become inextricably linked with Folkestone's Drapery and Fashion industry, which was soon to become a cornerstone of the town's success.
Joseph John Musgrave (1833-1917) began to learn his trade as a Draper from when he was just 17 years old. His father Joseph Robinson Musgrave, who was also a Draper, died in 1836, leaving his wife Elizabeth Corke (1806-1876) to bring up their family of Joseph John and his three sisters, Catherine Jane, Elizabeth Robinson and Mary Maria. Elizabeth was also from a family with a history of trade in Drapery and, in 1850, she arranged for Joseph John to spend time living and working with his uncle Henry Corke in Tonbridge Wells, where he operated a business as a Draper and Tailor. Within just a few years, Joseph John Musgrave had set up in business as a Master Linen Draper in Maidstone. A sign of the early success of this business can be found in the 1861 census which shows that he was providing employment for his sisters Catherine Jane, as a Housekeeper and Mary Maria, as a Milliner. He also employed an Assistant Draper, John Geale and he was repaying the benefits of the training that he had received from his uncle by providing an apprenticeship for his cousin, Richard Edwin Corke. The business continued to expand and at some point shortly after the census was taken, Joseph John met his first wife Grace Button, a dressmaker,also from Maidstone. They were married in August 1862 and had five children: Elizabeth Jane, Clara Maria, Louisa Margaret, William Robinson and Catherine Grace. The family moved to Folkestone sometime in the late 1860s but sadly, Grace Button died in childbirth in 1870, aged just thirty-two. Joseph John continued to operate his business and the 1871 census shows that, once again, he was successful. At this time he was living at No. 7 High Street which was both the family home and the first location for the Musgrave Drapery business in Folkestone. Joseph John lived there with his five children and also resident were: his sister Mary Maria as Housekeeper, Arthur Marden, an apprentice Draper, Rebecca Brown, a Milliner, Sarah Spencer, a Dressmaker, Hannah Fuller, a Nurse and Fanny Rye, a general servant.
J J Musgrave Drapers was located next door to another business, a shoemaker and cobblers owned by Thomas Le Butt. Like the Musgraves, the Le Butt family had moved to Folkestone in the 1860s and had established themselves as part of the business community. Thomas Le Butt's daughter, Sarah Anna, was a successful businesswoman who owned and ran a Lodging House at No. 3 Pleydell Gardens. In October 1871 Joseph John and Sarah Anna Le Butt were married and they moved to 18 Sandgate Road, known as Upper Sandgate, where they created a typically middle-class Victorian household. Joseph John was a practising Christian and a man of high principle; a particular characteristic evidenced when he was called for jury service in June 1861. He refused to sit on the jury, stating to the Recorder, "I cannot conscientiously be sworn with others who may or may not be Christians. Nor can I be a yoke-bearer with others of whom I know nothing to bring a judgement against another man." This moral stance earned Joseph John the respect of many in the local community, a sympathetic article in the local press, and a £10 fine from the magistrate.
Over the next twenty years or so, the Musgraves raised their growing family comprising Joseph John's five earlier children and those from his second marriage to Sarah Anna: Florence Sarah, George Clarke, Laura Francis, Joseph Leslie, Henry Paul and Mary Isabel. It seems likely that through this period, the children, including George Clarke, inherited some significant aspects of their character and personality from their father. As with all their other addresses, No. 18 Sandgate Road was both a family home and the premises for their business. In the records of the 1891 census, residents were Joseph John, Sarah Anna, their children and a number of employees, including domestic staff and both tradesmen and women in the drapery business.
Although the business now employed a number of family members, Joseph John maintained the primary management role through most of the 1890s but he eventually retired in around 1898, at which time the structure of the business changed. By 1901, Joseph John and Sarah Anna Le Butt had moved to Gandor Gardens in Hampstead accompanied by their children: Florence, Laura and Mary (daughters), Joseph Leslie and Henry Paul (sons), together with Joseph Leslie's wife, Maud, and their son of eight months, Barrington Le Butt. At this time, the family home at No. 18 Sandgate Road was occupied by Elizabeth Jane and Louisa Margaret, together with five Drapery Assistants and two domestic staff. Clara Maria was a Drapers assistant but was living in Weston Super Mare as a boarder. George Clarke was in America, where he was a war correspondent, recovering from wounds received in the Spanish-American war in Cuba. Catherine Grace (the only daughter who had married), was living in Kingston, Surrey with her husband and two sons, while William Robinson was living with his wife, Nellie Bradley and their son Reginald Bradby at No. 46 Bournemouth Road in Folkestone.
From the early 1900's, the business continued with a number of family members living in Folkestone employed in various positions, and managed through a formal partnership between William Robinson Musgrave and his sisters, Elizabeth Jane and Clara Maria Musgrave, who had returned to Folkestone. In 1911, William Robinson Musgrave - now a Master Draper - was living with his family at No. 5 Copthall Gardens, where his son Reginald Bradby, aged 16, was undertaking a Draper's apprenticeship. His three sisters, Elizabeth Jane, Clara Maria, and Louisa Margaret were all living at No. 18 Bouverie Place, which was also home to five Drapery saleswomen and two domestic staff. In 1914 this partnership was dissolved by mutual agreement and William Robinson took over control on his own, see: London Gazette July 1914
The business operated successfully and prospered along with the post-war recovery and the growth of the town through the 1920s and 30s. The properties at Nos. 26, 28 and 30 Sandgate Road were acquired and became the hub of the Musgrave business. No. 28 was modernised as a large high street drapery and millinery shop, No. 26 was later sold and became the Astoria cinema, and it is likely that No. 30 was used as a sewing centre or workshop, as well as a family home.
William Robinson Musgrave remained in control until he died in 1933, at which time his son Reginald Bradby Musgrave took over. He dissolved the existing company and renamed it as Musgrave and Company (Kent) Limited but, otherwise, continued to operate with the same management style as his father and the business continued as a successful and profitable enterprise. In the 1960s though, the whole of the UK fashion, clothing and textile industry came under intense pressure from rapidly changing tastes, the onset of global trading and the influx of cheaper fabrics from the new production centres rapidly springing up in Asia. The era of the traditional, local draper, milliner and costumier was over and, for the Musgrave business, the end came when Reginald Bradby died in 1964. Operations did continue on a limited scale for some time but the company was eventually wound up by Reginald's daughter, Sheila Anne Bradby Musgrave in August 1972, see: London Gazette Sept 1972