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A Brass and Cabinet Founder in Early Modern London

Published by on 20 May 2019

Welcome to the BIFMO blog where you will find news about the ways the project is developing, recent discoveries of British and Irish furniture makers, and potted histories.

Many of you will know that 50,000 biographical entries currently in BIFMO derive from the 1986 publication of the Dictionary of English Furniture Makers, 1660-1840. The editors, Geoffrey Beard and Christopher Gilbert actually documented over 90,000 tradespeople. However, when faced with the prohibitive costs of publishing a printed source, they took the difficult decision to only include those they considered ‘the main furniture trades’ – cabinetmakers, upholsterers, chair makers and the like – and to exclude over forty per cent of the recorded artisans and tradespeople they deemed ‘fringe trades’, such as timber merchants, mercers, ironmongers and cabinet founders. Today we are able to disseminate unlimited volumes of material through digital means and can now begin to relate the stories of these important auxiliary trades, adding an entirely new dimension to furniture history.

Auxiliary trades were part and parcel of the furniture industry because they provided the materials and services vital for manufacture. The details of these artisans and trades men and women document the range of goods and services they supplied, and in some instances, the furniture makers they were associated with. One example is John Giles, a London brass and cabinet founder who worked and lived in Addle Street in the parish of St. Mary Aldermanbury, Cripplegate, from 1720 until his death in 1743.

An inventory recorded as a result of a dispute between members of Giles’s family following his death lists his credits and debts, providing precious information to material, cultural and socio-economic historians. Giles apparently held a prominent position in his trade because amongst his clients were many notable mid-eighteenth-century London furniture makers: John Belchier, William and John Linnell, William Hallett, Peter Hasert, and William Bradshaw, to name but a few. The inventory is fascinating and merits future research; not only does it include the names of hundreds of furniture makers, it also demonstrates the diverse range of supplies that brass founders stocked at the period. For example, in addition to materials clearly intended for the furniture trade like thousands of nails [silvered, gilt, and plain], cabinet hinges, ‘bow’ latches, brass locks and heading chisels, he also sold candlesticks, ten children’s coffin sets, bell lamps, and ‘a Small nest of Crusibles’.

Trade card of John Giles and Shadrach Mulline
Trade card of John Giles and Shadrach Mulliner, at the ‘Two Candlesticks and Bell’, Addle Street, near Wood Street, c.1740 (British Museum, Department of Prints and Drawings, Banks Collection, Ref. 85.120). Source: Anon, Banks Collection, 85.120, British Museum, online [accessed 19 May 2019].

John Giles was in partnership with Shadrick Mulliner. Their trade card also describes the range of goods they supplied: haberdashery wares such as cloak pins, dress rings and roses, buttons and sash knots, and furniture hardware: brass handles, escutcheons, leather and wood casters, brass bolts, desk side tumblers and rule joint hinges, door hinges (brass and iron), cabinet locks, and girandoles ‘richly furnished in the newest taste’.

Giles was well positioned to sell furniture hardware in Aldermanbury. It was a long established location for furniture tradesmen populated with scores of cabinetmakers and joiners, some who you may recognise: Daniel Bayly was at the ‘White Bear’, William Palleday at ‘The Crown’ John Prankard at the ‘Golden Ball’, and several decades earlier, Hugh Granger was in Aldermanbury at the sign of the ‘Carved Angell’ where he had ‘All sorts of fashionable household goods at reasonable rates’.

Trade card of Hugh Granger
Trade card of Hugh Granger, cabinet maker at the ‘Carved Angell’ in Aldermanbury, c. 1692 (British Museum, Department of Prints and Drawings, Heal Collection Ref. 28.80). Source: Anon, Heal, 28.80 British Museum, online [accessed 19 May 2019].

Only a ten-minute walk northeast from the popular shopping district of St. Paul’s Churchyard and Cheapside – and considering the numbers of cabinetmakers in the neighbourhood – it may also have been a fashionable place to buy furniture. Evidently there were other residents in the neighbourhood involved in woodworking trades because, according to John Strype’s 1720 Survey of London, ‘Ruins of the old Court Hall, in Aldermanbury Street … of late hath been imployed as a Carpenters Yard’.

The BIFMO team is currently revising and updating some of Beard’s and Gilbert’s biographical accounts and writing entirely new entries about more recently discovered tradesmen, like John Giles, who were not included in the original collection. From July of this year we’ll begin rolling out thousands of these entries, so please stay tuned