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No 7, 7A and 9 South Green

This substantial mid-19th century building was constructed as a department store which became known as H J Debney & Sons. The Debney family had a shop here well before this, however. Their ancestors may have been worsted weavers in Norwich during the 16th century.

Robert John
started his Southwold retail business in 1816. The capital behind it came from questionable sources... Robert John's father - also Robert - was born at Tunstall in 1748 and married a Sarah Clarke in 1775. Their son was born three years later. The family fortune seems to have been accumulated through Robert Debney Senior's smuggling activities as a member of the notorious 'Sizewell Gap Gang'. He died, allegedly, 'on the job' while attempting to recover smuggled goods. He is buried in Tunstall Churchyard.

Robert John Debney - at the age of 38, founds the Debney trading business. He was born in 1778 and married a London girl, Elizabeth Johnson in 1814. Their first-born son, Henry Johnson, was born a year later.

R J Debney's other business interests include the Southwold Gas Light Company of which he becomes a founding trustee in 1848.

Henry Johnson Debney is a churchwarden and is elected as a Corporation Councillor in 1847 in a year when Southwold Council is in a state of crisis and disarray with insufficient candidates to fill the vacancies. In his diary, James Maggs reports that one individual is nominated as a candidate without his agreement and is forced to campaign in the town urging citizens not to vote for him.

Robert John Debney and his son, H J Debney have been running the business as a partnership. However, in April this year, the partnership is dissolved and Henry Johnson takes over as sole proprietor. (M) His father, R J Debney dies two years later in 1863..

Henry Johnson Debney - Son of the founder. Now aged 48, Henry is married to Harriet (nee Ebsworth) and they have had 11 children.

By now, Debney's is an astonishingly broadly based business. Henry is described as "Grocer and Draper, Silk Mercer (merchant), Wine Agent, Bank Manager, Homes and Insurance Agent". with branches also at 37 High Street (W1874), Stradbroke Road, and at Walberswick. Henry dies in 1890. (Gravestone, St Edmund's Church)

Henry Johnson Debney II, now aged 58, who shares his father's names, together with his younger brother, Edward Octavius Debney, now run the store. Edward has been an Alderman since 1899 and is also captain of the local Volunteer Artillery and both brothers are pillars of the community. (SN1903)

To read an account of the store's layout and stock, in 1903, as described in 'Southwold & Neighbourhood', please click here.


Edward Octavius Debney - younger brother of Henry Johnson Debney, now runs the store single-handedly, HJ now being in his 70s..Edward is married to Emily Hornsby MacArthur who was born in Marah in India.

Edward's business is now described as "Wine and Spirit Merchant, Estate and Insurance Agent" (K1916), a more modest range of services than in the past. His older brother, H J, dies in 1917.


Edward O Debney - Wine and Spirit Merchant, Estate and Insurance Agent

Note: Deed records show that, in 1923, the residential part of the site (then referred to as 9 South Green, was occupied by the two spinster sisters of HJ and EO Debney. Later the property was bought by one W M Burton. It appears that Edward O Debney's business now occupies only a small part of the commercial premises, the main shop and warehouse being shared by The Church of England Temperance Society and the Lowestoft Co-Operative Society Ltd.


Edward O Debney dies this year at the age of 77. It appears that the business continues to trade as 'E O Debney' during the early 30s (K1933)although his 40-year-old son, Rupert MacArthur Debney, has now inherited.

Rupert MacArthur Debney - Wine and Spirit Merchant, Estate and Insurance Agent (K1937). Rupert is the last of the Debneys to carry on the business which is now much contracted and confined to a small unit, 7A, - now a garage.

The main building has been converted into an Hotel "The Homestead Hotel' (Advertisement right) (Names of owners?)

Although Rupert will live until 1971, the Debney business seems to draw to a conclusion with the onset of war when at least part of the building is requisitioned as a NAAFI.


During the 1950s, the ground floor of the old Debney store is regularly used for exhibitions by the Southwold & District Art Group, later to become the Southwold Art Circle.

Early 1960s
Entire building converted to residential and known as 'The Homestead', the name previously used for the Debney residence (9) only.

We are extremely grateful to Christine Miller for sharing with us her extensive genealogical research into the Debney family. Also to Heather Martin, from Adelaide, who is a descendent of Robert-the-Smuggler's brother Richard.







Do you have any memories or records about this address? Can you correct any of our information or fill in any of our blanks? If so, please email Barry Tolfree
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BSD - Bernard Segrave-Daly
BCS = Bygones & Characters of Southwold by Barrett Jenkins
C = Census
CP = Cinema Programme 1958
CSP = Coronation Souvenir Programme 1953
G = Gales Trade Directory
GRO = General Register Office
K = Kelly's Directory
LM = Local memory
M = James Maggs' Southwold Diary 1818-1876
MCG = Methodist Church Guide 1930
NA = National Archives
PP = Pantomime Programme 1933
PLR = Petrol Licence Records

POD = Post Office Directory
PPP = Pier Pavilion Programme 1924, 1926
RCE = Rotary Club Exhibition 1969
SCM = Southwold Catholic Magazine 1923
SCTG = Southwold Corporation Tourist Guide
SER = Southwold Electoral Register
SFP = Southwold Scouts Fete Programme 1947
SG = Southwold Guide
SGCH = Southwold Golf Club Handbook
SLHR = Southwold Local History Recorder 1980s 1990s (Mrs R. McDermot)
SMHS = Southwold Museum & Historical Society

SN = Southwold & Neighbourhood 1903
SPM = Southwold Parish Magazine 1895 -1954
SR = Southwold Recorder 1927, 1932, 1934, 1935
SRB = Southwold Rate Book
SRT = Southwold Railway Timetable 1915
SSAS = Southwold Sea Angling Society Handbook 1909
SST = Southwold Summer Theatre Programmes
SSW = Southwold Shopping Week Programme, June/July 1922
STG = Southwold Town Guide 1930
SVL = Southwold Visitors List 1907, 1930
SVCP = Southwold Victory Celebration Programme 1946
SWCG = Southwold Wesleyan Church Guide

TTR = 'The Town Revisited' - Portraits of Southwold by Stephen Wolfenden 2000
TTT = ''To The Town' - Portraits of Southwold by Stephen Wolfenden 1988
W = White’s History, Gazetteer and Directory of Suffolk 1874

Note on dates
Unless otherwise stated, dates given do not indicate the years in which the business started or finished but those for which there is firm evidence that it was trading at this address. Sources in brackets; key at bottom of page.

No 7 South Green is nowadays known as 'The Homestead' and has been converted into apartments. It was actually built as a shop in the mid 19th century specifically for the Debneys' business,.All of the ground floor front bay was originally a shop window (see close-up below).

The original Debney shop started by Robert John on the same site in 1816. In the background can be seen the cannons and The Casino on Gun Hill. Unattributed drawing in 'Southwold & Neighbourhood', 1902.
Click the picture to enlarge.

Sometime between 1848 and 1860. At this time the store was essentially three converted cottages fronting onto South Green, with the Debney Family home ('The Homestead') adjecent on the left..
Southwold Museum P1499
Click the picture to enlarge

As it was in 1860, after the cottages had been demolished in favour of a purpose built single-storey shop front which was later extended upwards as in the 1909 photo below.. Note the separate lean-to bank entrance on the left flank.
Southwold Museum P1500

Click the picture to enlarge

Statements of account dated October 1886 and Christmas 1887 issued to Arthur Grubbe, son of T E Grubbe of nearby South Green House (Regency House). T E Grubbe was Southwold's longest serving mayor. The pump in the Market Place was his gift to the town. The dates of the purchases show just how long traders had to wait for payment from their account customers - in this case over 17 months.

Image courtesy of Robert Temple

Click image to enlarge both bills

As it was in 1903. Reproduced from a photograph
in the 1902 publication ' Southwold & Neighbourhood'.
Click the picture to enlarge.

Advertisement from a 1905 Southwold Tourist Guide.
With thanks to Prof J Hadgraft.

Click the image to enlarge

View towards the harbour. Undated but probably after 1903.
Reproduced courtesy of Sian Slater

Click the picture to enlarge

Another vIew of the shop front aaround the turn of the century.
Reproduced from a postcard in the collection of David Lee
Click the picture to enlarge

Debney bill head of 1863.
Reproduced from a collection in Southwold Museum.
Click image to enlarge

This billhead of 1876 is an anomaly. The company was called H J Debney at this time so it appears that 'H I Debney' is a printing error!

Reproduced from an archive in the Southwold Museum collection.

Click image to enlarge

Robert John, the original 'Debney' who founded the business.


Henry Johnson Debney, grandson of the founder.
Reproduced from 'Southwold & Neighbourhood' 1903.

No 7A (the redbrick insertion with white door on the right), from which Rupert Debney ran his much contracted wine business in the 1930s, is now a garage.

1907 advertisement for H J Debney & Sons. 17 years after the death of the eponymous Henry Johnson Debney.

1915 advertisement for Edward O Debney...

...and one for F E Debney of Walberswick in the same year. Francis Ebsworth was a brother of the HJ Debney II who ran the Southwold Branch. Francis died in 1916

1922 advertisement in the Southwold Corporation Tourist Guide

1929 advertisement in Southwold Wesleyan Church Guide
Courtesy of Heather Osmer

1936 advertisement in Southwold Visitors List.
Courtesy of Margaret Turnbull

Click image to enlarge