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Betjemann, G. & Sons; George Betjemann Ltd. (1810-1910)

Betjemann, G. & Sons; George Betjemann Ltd

London; dressing, writing case and fancy furniture makers (fl.1810-c.1910)

George Betjemann (1798-1886) was apprenticed to the dressing case maker Gilbert Slater in 1810 and later established himself as a dressing case manufacturer, initially in Clerkenwell. In 1865 the firm was recorded in London Directory as George Betjemann & Sons, 36 Pentonville Road; the sons possibly had the initials of G.W. & J. as these names later recorded on a patent application, dated February 1886, in connection with furniture [The Furniture Gazette, 20 December 1879]. The business continued to expand and was recorded at 36 & 38 Pentonville Road, where it had 119 employees and by 1886 the firm’s address was 36, 38 & 40 Pentonville Road with the telegraphic address of ‘Betjemann, London’ [The Furniture Gazette, 1 March 1886]. 

At the Paris 1878 International Exhibition the firm had an extensive display including self-closing bookslides, extending dressing cases and desks. Also exhibited were writing suites in fancy woods and engraved and gilt medieval ornamental metal work, letter balances, photographic albums and frames. The range of his manufactures extended to clocks and candelabra, silver etui, sandwich cases and toilet cases and his work often made use of exotic and typically French materials such as Algerian Onyx, malachite and other fancy marbles.

Other patent applications by Betjemann recorded in The Furniture Gazette included a patent for improvements in the construction of dressing cases, jewel cases, games boxes and other types of boxes (17 March 1877) and a patent for improvements in stands for decanters, bottles & jars, particularly applicable to spirit, liqueur & scent bottle stands [20 December 1879]. 

Objects made by the firm occasionally appear on the market; recent examples include a walnut and brass mounted writing slope, signed G. BETJEMANN & SONS/LONDON (Lyon & Turnbull, Edinburgh, 14 January 2015) and a satinwood dressing table designed by Ernest Edward Betjemann for George Betjemann Ltd with a fitted safe manufactured by Milners & Company, London and Liverpool, the patent registered 1910 (Bonhams London, 12 June 2013). A writing desk made by the firm, c.1860, walnut with gilt-bronze mounts and pietre dure, was formerly in the Charles and Lavinia Handley-Read collection and is now at the Higgins Art Gallery and Museum, Bedford (HAGM: F.76).

Betjemann acted as trustee in connection with the liquidation of at least two other London dressing case etc. manufacturers.  The first was Toulim & Gale of Cheapside & New Bond Street (The Furniture Gazette, 26 August 1876).  After liquidation Toulim & Gale continued as Betjemann & Gale Ltd until 1878, when Toulim & Gale started trading again [].  The other liquidation with which G.W. Betjemann acted as trustee was P. F. Schafer of 27 Piccadilly (The Furniture Gazette, 18 October 1884).  

G. Betjemann & Sons at 36, 38 & 40 Pentonville Road, were recorded as ‘The En Garde’ and other lock makers in 1890 London Trade Directory.  George Betjemann was the great grandfather of the poet Sir John Betjemann (1906-1984), whose father was Ernest Betjemann recorded at 31 West Hill, Highgate, cabinet maker (manufacturing) in the 1911 census.  

Sources: Wallis, ‘A Hand-List of the Handley-Read Collection’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2016); Meyer, Great Exhibitions. London, New York, Paris, Philadelphia. 1851-1900 (2006); files in the Department of Furniture, Textiles & Fashion, V&A.