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  • Writer's pictureSteve Matthews

The Strange Tale of Mr Fribourg and Mr Treyer …….. and Mr Fribourg and Mr Pontet

Friborg and Treyer were fashionable snuff sellers in the 18th century. Based at 34 Haymarket their clientele included King George IV, the actor David Garrick and all-round dandy Beau Brummell.

The Fribourg’s had originally come to England from Switzerland, and the claim is, that the firm was started in 1720 by P. Fribourg, although the earliest surviving ledger is dated 1764 according to a written history of the firm by a descendent, George Evans.

It’s not known if the same P. Fribourg was in control of the shop all those years, or whether more generations had the same initial. However, a tax assessment record of 1767 for the St. Martin in the Field parish, shows that a Peter Fribourg was paying taxes for a property in the Haymarket. The only other records I could find for Peter Fribourg show him sitting as a Juror in a couple of inquests between 1761-1780. There is also a record that relates to him paying bail for someone called Mason in 1775. In it, Fribourg is described as a Snuff Man. He appears to have been a pillar of the community, regularly paying the sum of £100 to the poor relief fund.

It is on record as we will see later, that Peter Fribourg retired from the firm in 1780 and went to live near Epsom in Surrey. Although I have found no date for his death, and therefore no clue to his age, it does tend to suggest that if the firm had been started in 1720, it could possibly have been another member of the Fribourg family.

As much as is known of Mr Fribourg, the opposite is the case for Gottlieb August Treyer, thought to be originally from Germany having come to England by way of Amsterdam. The only thing I can find about him apart from his marriage is that he was granted naturalisation in 1793.

It is thought that Treyer was responsible for cultivating the links between the firm and George IV, which would have made them a desirable place to shop by the rich and famous of the time. Apart from those already mentioned account ledgers show the names of the Marquis of Queensbury, Mrs Fitzherbert and Dr. Jenner. There is also evidence that the firm supplied the Pope and also Napoleon. The shop was handily situated for several gentleman’s clubs, Boodle’s, White’s and Brooke’s being quite close.

As well as Snuff the firm also sold cigars, and later cigarettes. Strangely they also felt the need to diversify and there is mention in trade directories of the shop at number 34 selling “Seeds & Trees” and the evocatively named “Treyer’s Portable Soup“, the forerunner of the stock cube.

Business must have been good, as after only twenty or so years Gotlieb Trayer and his wife retired to Brighton in 1803. The couple had no children so control of the company passed to Gotlieb’s wife family, the Evan’s. They expanded the firm until number 34 closed in 1981. However, the brand Fribourg & Treyer for snuff and tobacco still live on to this day, having been bought by two separate production companies.

And so to the strange tale of these two gentlemen.

The fact is that they were never actually in business together.

It appears that when Peter Fribourg retired in 1780 and sold the firm to Treyer he was in no way connected to the business from then onward. It seems that the wily Treyer decided it would be a good marketing ploy to keep the name and the Kudos attached to the previous owner. To what extent he developed the myth that he and Fribourg were partners is only open to conjecture, however, he must have done something to irk the retired Fribourg.

The following announcement was printed in the Morning Herald in 1784.

You get the feeling that Mr Treyer has in some way overstepped the mark as far as Mr Fribourg is concerned. Again, there is no documentary evidence to show what Treyer might have done, but during my research, I found a couple of interesting documents.

You may remember that earlier I mentioned that Peter Fribourg had regularly served as a Juror at inquests at the City of Westminster Coroners Court. As I read down the list of entries I found the following for June 1783

The eighth name on the Jurors list is a Gotlied Fribourg! I can find no record of Peter Fribourg marrying or having any offspring and even if he had what are the chances that a son would be called Gotlied or Gotlieb. Perhaps, I thought, possibly the clerk confused the name of Gotlieb Treyer with the firm of Fribourg and Treyer and entered the surname of the former by mistake. This left me a little perplexed, but the next entry in the records compounded this. It is a list of the Jurors and their occupations.

At number 6 you will see Mr Gotlied Fribourg, Tobaconist (sic) Haymarket.

It is a matter of record that in June 1783 Peter Fribourg is retired and living in Epsom and that Gotlieb Treyer is running the Tobacconists at number 34 Haymarket with his wife, so I can offer no definitive answer to why a Gotlied Fribourg has represented himself as the owner of the firm.

Could it be that the Wiley Mr Treyer is actually passing himself off as the illustrious Mr Fribourg? We’ll never know, but possibly it would be a matter that could have elicited the response in the Morning Herald.

Although slightly tenuous there is another strand to the story.

Just around the corner from the Haymarket shop was another snuff and tobacco establishment at 134 Pall Mall of the firm Fribourg and Pontet. It appears that the firm was founded by a James Fribourg and John Saulle. There is a trade card for 1774 where the name has changed to Fribourg and Pontet. Sources say that James Fribourg started selling snuff in the Haymarket along with theatre tickets before moving to the Pall Mall premises in 1738, but had died by 1768. It is possible that James and Peter Fribourg were father and son, with Peter setting up on his own in the Haymarket after James’ move to Pall Mall.

Two trade advertisements relating to Fribourg & Treyer and Fribourg & Ponet dating from the early 1800s may show that there was no love lost between the two.

Gotlieb Treyer in an advert went to some lengths to disassociate himself from his rivals.

To prevent mistakes, they find themselves under the necessity of giving this public notice, that they have no concern whatever with any other shop in London”.

While at the same time the firm of Fribourg and Pontet issued this disclaimer.

Have no connection with any other shop

Was this just normally rivalry between competitors situated quite close to each other, or was it that Treyer’s activities were beyond the pale as far as the Pall Mall firm was concerned and they wanted to disassociate themselves?

The Pall Mall firm has long closed and the shop premises demolished, however, number 34 Haymarket still exists and is a listed building. Although now a slightly garish souvenir shop the original sign advertising the links with George IV can still be seen and I believe that the interior is still pretty much the same as in Mr Treyers day.

If only the walls could talk!

#London #Regency #tobacco #History #snuff

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