J&R Starbuck

Ships Chandlers and Industrial Suppliers

Established over 300 years

A Brief History of J and R Starbuck


J&R Starbuck is a family business founded soon after 1634 when William Starbuck, a Quaker, came to Gravesend from Leicester where he was baptised in 1607.

The earliest documentary evidence of the business is recorded in the Gravesend Archives in February 1718 when Will's grandson, Isaac, took on an apprentice ropemaker, William Bland, from the workhouse.

The firm's ropewalk was on the old IPM site at Clifton Marine Parade. where they manufactured sisal rope by hand spinning raw fibres into strands which were "laid" into rope and then tarred on site for mercantile marine use.

By 1800 shipowning was an important part of the business, and the family owned a fleet of colliers, fishing vessels, a Leith smack and at least one Thames barge.

Old shop front.

Robert Starbuck, "Jacko" Horton, Percy Starbuck, in the sail loft at 73-75 West Street, circa 1920.

Robert Starbuck had a boatbuilding and repair yard facing the Thames where he constructed some of the famous Gravesend Bawley boats.

A vast loft housed the sailmaking and repairing business, which was so success- ful that by 1850 "there was hardly a ship on the Thames that failed to carry Starbuck's stores. They were the chandlers of the district!". Demand was so great that The Slopselling (clothing) and Chandlery side was run in the 19th century by John and Robert Starbuck from No.52 West Street, and moved to its present site (then numbered 57) in about 1820.

Young Bob (Robert's son) lived in Southfleet and travelled to work on the train to West Street Station. A sailmaker by trade, at the age of 9 years he could use a sailmaker's palm and needle with the skills of a qualified craftsman.

Fifty years later, following a fall from the sail loft his health declined and he became blind, but he continued stitching canvas until his death in 1934.

The business passed to his son and daughter, Percy.and Dorothy, and following their deaths to Brian Starbuck, their second cousin, in 1966.

Brian retired in 1993 and has t wo sons, Jonathan and Robert. The firm is currently managed by Sally Starbuck, following in the footsteps. of Sarah Starbuck who ran the chandlery business just over 100 years ago. If you visit the trade counter you may still be able to smell the tarred rope, or perhaps be greeted by Captain Morgan, the family's Blue Amazon parrot.

"Jane Duff" of Gravesend March 1884 Owners J & R Starbuck, Trading Coking Coal and Chalk between Felling Tyne & Wear, Hit & Miss Wharf IPM, and Gravesend Canal Basin.

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