St Paul's Churchyard, London, cabinet maker and upholder (1758–74)
Successor to Elizabeth Bell and almost certainly her son. His father was probably Henry Bell who also traded at the same address. For a time he traded in partnership with Elizabeth Bell but appears to have been in sole charge by 1758. Initially he used the trade sign of ‘The White Swan’ as his predecessors had done, but it was in his period of trading that numbering was introduced to this part of London. Initially the premises appear to have been numbered 18 St Paul's Churchyard but this was soon changed to 23. He was a member of the Vintners’ Co., but there is no evidence to show that he adopted any other trade than that of cabinet maker. In 1758, 1761 and 1764 he took out licences to employ limited numbers of non-freemen, never more than three. The trade labels used by Henry and Elizabeth were considered out-dated and he employed Matthias Darly to engrave a new one which reflected the Rococo taste of the age. This featured illustrations of a fine cabinet in the Chinese Chippendale taste, an upholstered chair and a pole screen.
Trade card of Philip Bell at the White Swan Against the South Gate in St Paul's Church Yard (D,2.1266), c. 1758-74. © The Trustees of the British Museum
The text indicated that he performed funerals These labels were used to identify products of his workshops and have been found on a wide range of furniture. One such label is endorsed ‘Removed to No 9 Paternoster Row, Near Cheapside’ though no other reference to such a move has been noted and he appears to have been still trading from 23 St Paul's Churchyard until 1774 when Henry Kettle took over, proclaiming himself to be Bell's successor. Philip Bell took as app. William King, 1766– 74.
By the period that Philip Bell occupied the St Paul's Churchyard address the centre of the fashionable furniture trade had moved west to the St Martin's Lane and Soho areas. The labelled pieces of furniture known are in the main serviceable rather than highly fashionable and there is little evidence of important commisions for the gentry and aristocracy. The notebooks of Nathaniel Ryder, 1st Lord Harrowby of Sandon Hall, Staffs. record payments to ‘Bell’ between 27 March 1762 and 23 July 1774 but none of the amounts are large. The total for the seven payments made is only £52 8s 6d and the only items specified are a dressing glass and three chests of drawers, two of these being noted as ‘for Shiplake’. Labelled pieces are mostly of mahogany and include chests of drawers, a clothes press, tallboys, a secretaire tallboy, a Pembroke table, a medicine chest, a bureau bookcase, a tripod reading stand and a toilet mirror on a base of three drawers. Limited acknowledgements of mid 18th-century fashion were made. One chest of drawers with canted corners had these carved with blind fret, while a tallboy with restrained Gothic decoration is known.