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Belchier, John (1717-53)

Belchier, John, ‘The Sun’, South side of St Paul's Churchyard, London, cm (1717–d. 1753). A craftsman whose surname might suggest a Huguenot origin. The earliest references to a John ‘Belcher’ are to be found in the accounts of Boughton House, Northants. Between 1687 and 1710 amounts totalling £3,880 are recorded for glass, solder, piping, lead etc., and as late as 1723 a receipt for £150 was given for money paid by the executors of the 1st Duke of Montagu. This tradesman may well have been the father of the John Belchier who traded at the St Paul's Churchyard address as cm. The latter was noted as a supplier of mirrors, and many of the bureau cabinets which bear his trade label are fronted with mirror glass. The St Paul's Churchyard address is first recorded on 26 July 1717 when insurance was effected ‘for goods and merchandise in his said Dwelling House’. From 1720 he is recorded supplying furniture to Erddig, Clwyd, N. Wales. One of his trade bills indicates that he made and supplied ‘All sorts of Cabinet Works,/ Chairs, Glasses, Sconces, & CoachGlasses’. Another trade bill with different wording stated that he ‘Grinds & Makes-up,/ all sorts of fine Peer & Chim/neyGlasses and Glass Sconces,/ Likewise all Cabbinet Makers Goods’. He also indicated that he could offer ‘Great choice of all Ready Made’. On 24 November 1741 he took as app. William Albrook, son of William Albrook snr, deceased, formerly an ivory turner. At this date Belchier was a member of the Joiners’ Co. The death of John Belchier was announced in March 1753. He was nearly 70 years old at the time of his death and was described as ‘for many years past a very eminent cabinetmaker’. He was also stated to be kinsman of William Belchier, one of the MPs for the borough of Southwark. His successor at the sign of ‘The Sun’, St Paul's Churchyard was Thomas Atkinson.

The most significant commission known to have been undertaken by Belchier was for John Meller at Erddig, Wales, a house which he acquired in 1716. He used Simon Yorke, his nephew, as his agent in London to order and supervise the furnishing of the house, which passed to him in 1723 on the death of his uncle. The most impressive piece of furniture in the house is the State Bed which was purchased in 1720. The bedframe with its carved and gilt gesso work is almost certainly by Belchier, the upholstery work being undertaken by a ‘Mr Hunt’, probably John Hutt, a tradesman whose workshops were also in St Paul's Churchyard. The hawks’ heads on the tester of the bed closely compare with those on gilt pier glasses supplied in 1723 and 1726 at £36 and £50 respectively for the two best bedchambers. A pair of gilt girandoles with glass arms were supplied by Belchier on 25 August 1724 at a cost of £14 each. Apart from the bed and mirrors, a glass-topped table with the arms of John Meller supplied by Belchier on 6 June 1726 also survives in the house. These items are part of the substantial commissions placed with Belchier at this period. His bill covering November 1722 to January 1726 amounted to £262 12s. At the same period as he was working on furnishings for Erddig, he received orders for glass for St Paul's Cathedral. Accounts dated December 1724 to January 1725 record the supplying of 8 glasses 25 inches square at £8, and 27 others 25 by 18 inches at 16s each (£21 12s).

Regular customers in the 1730s and 40s were the Purefoy family of Shalston, Bucks. A letter survives from Elizabeth Purefoy dated 11 January 1735 regarding the supply of ‘a glass in a gold frame’. The details provided suggest that this was a chimney glass which was still present in the house in 1950. It was charged at £3 16s. By a letter dated 8 February 1743 an order was sent for ‘a round neat light mahogany folding table with four legs, two of them to draw out and hold up ye ffolds’. Henry Purefoy, Elizabeth's son, recorded on 18 July 1749 the receipt of an artist's or architect's table for which £3 10s was paid. Of other commissions little is known. Two receipts survive written on trade bills and show that a varied trade was carried on. Items recorded on them include a ‘tea box’, ‘a Claw table with two tops’, ‘A Round Board’ and a mahogany chest of drawers.

Belchier labelled some of his furniture. Significantly, all the pieces known with labels are bureau cabinets veneered in walnut or japanned in red with gilt enrichment. All incorporate mirror glass in the door or doors. Some have a small round label specially made for this purpose worded ‘made by/John Bel Chier/ at Ye Sun/in St Pauls Church/Yard’ (Fig. 4). Some similar cabinets stamped with the impressed initials ‘I. B.’ may also be of his manufacture. The items marked with labels or stamped appear to be in style of the period to c. 1735, and it is possible that the practice was restricted to particularly prestigious pieces of case furniture and discontinued by the mid 1730s. [GL, Sun MS vol. 6, ref. 8806; Joiners’ Co. records, bindings, vol. 5; BM, trade card coll.; V & A archives; London Evening Post, 24–27 March 1753; G. Eland (ed.), The Purefoy Letters, 1735–53, I, pp. 98, 107, 111; Conn., vol. 125, pp. 85–86; C. Life, 10 June 1954, p. 1896, 11 February 1960, p. 264, 12 June 1969, supplement p. 57; 28 January 1971, supplement p. 162; 13 April 1978, pp. 971–73; Apollo, July 1978, pp. 46–55; Wren Soc., vol. xv, p. 226; Heal; Christie's, 18 November 1982, lot 125; Sotheby's, 14 November 1980, lot 30] B. A.

The original entry from Dictionary of English Furniture Makers, 1660-1840 can be found at British History Online.