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France, William Snr (1727–1773)

France, William snr

8 Long Acre and 101 St Martin's Lane, London; cabinet maker and upholder (b.1727–d.1773)

William France was the second son of the yeoman farmer, Edward France, and his wife Agnes, of Whittington, Lancashire. He was baptised on 27 January 1727. Both William and his older brother John (b.1725) were trained as furniture makers, probably in Lancaster, although no records of their apprenticeships survive.

By 1759 William France was employed as a journeyman in the London firm of Vile & Cobb. His name appears in Cobb's bank account, 19 February and 26 November 1759 and 22 July 1763, and in that of Vile (both Drummonds Bank), on 17 December 1760, and 14 August 1761. Vile & Cobb held the Royal Warrant (granted in 1761) and bills in the Lord Chamberlain's accounts were often signed on their behalf by France or John Bradburn, another journeyman. They signed for the last time on 11 October 1763. Vile & Cobb were much involved with preparation for the Coronation and fitting out the Queen’s House (Buckingham Palace). The Warrant lapsed with Vile’s retirement in early 1764 and Cobb was dismissed: their last account was 11 April 1764. A fortnight later, on 25 April, William France submitted his first account. The royal patronage of Vile and Cobb was thus continued by the latter's former employees, France and Bradburn.

The formal appointment of France and Bradburn as cabinet makers and upholsterers to Great Wardrobe was made on 6 July 1764, and it was probably between May and July 1764 that Bradburn and France had entered into partnership. This is suggested by bills submitted to Sir Lawrence Dundas (noted below); those of 16 April and 3 May 1764 were invoiced by William France alone, while a third account, dated 13 July 1764, is headed: ‘To Wm. France and Jn.° Bradburn’. There is further evidence in an account of 10 July 1764 for William France alone - ‘Ballanced, William France’ - with subsequent accounts being rendered by both partners. At this time the business was located at 8 Long Acre, Vile & Cobb’s old address, but in the late 1760s William France acquired a lease on 101 St Martin’s Lane, possibly at the same time he split from Bradburn, since Bradburn remained in Long Acre until his retirement in 1777. The probable date of the split was 1767, since in that year John Bradburn registered an apprentice on his own account. However, apprentices were also registered in France’s sole name in 1764. 101 St Martin’s Lane remained the France family’s address until 1804, and in his will William described it as his dwelling house and business premises.

With more work for the firm to undertake, a number of apprentices were taken on: 1766, 28 July, Edward France (William's nephew); 1768, 4 March, William Burnet, 6 April, Geo Thacker; 1769, 6 February (for 4 years), John Johnson. Two more were engaged in 1770. Their normal premiums ranged between £50 to £70. On his death in 1773 William left £100 to Mary Tomkin, widow, and smaller legacies to John Baker and Thomas Francis who may have been employees. The Royal Warrant was not renewed on William’s death and William Farmborough was appointed in his place.

William France died on 12 February 1773. His last Royal account for the small amount of £6 6s 6d was paid in 1774. The grant of probate was noted by those keeping records on behalf of the Great Wardrobe. France’s death at the age of 46 was probably quite sudden because his will was made on the 9 February and on 21 February he was buried at St Martin-in-the-Fields.  All of his stock (made and unmade) was left to his brother John and John’s son, Edward. It was valued at £1,400 ‘and some odd shillings’, but debts amounted to at least £1250 which meant that there were insufficient funds to pay the legacies. Edward also received the lease of 101 St Martin’s Lane. John France, with his son Edward, continued the business until John’s death in 1775. Thereafter his sons, Edward and William, became joint owners. Edward died in 1777 and the whole business passed to his brother William France jnr.  

19 ARLINGTON ST, London (Sir Lawrence Dundas). 1761–65: June 1761, For altering Mrs Dundas's Bede by taking away the head, front rail, and sacking, and putting in new ones, and new Sacking, to make it full one foot wider, and polishing all over. 16s. 0d. April—June 1764: eight-page bill, totalling £263 5s 6¾d. April 16, 1764: ‘For a neat Mahny Chair with a high Seat to sit on to write and seat stuffed and covered with Crimsome Morine. Bill receipted by Wm France. 1765: One of a pair of console tables, made by France and Bradburne to a Robert Adam design, 1765 was sold Christie's, NY, 28 March 1981, lot 213, illus. It was invoiced on 12 January 1765. Another table from the same design was invoiced on 30 December 1765, as previously, at £37 10s. [Coleridge, Apollo, September 1967, pp. 214–15] MOOR PARK, Herts. (Sir Lawrence Dundas). 1764–67: 21 page bill, 3 May 1764 to July 1764, (source as above). France signed receipts on 22 May 1765 (£600) and 3 January 1767 (£247 16s 8d), both witnessed by James Wilson. Two extracts show the wide range of activity: 3 May 1764, ‘For making hangings of your own blue Genoa Damask to fit the Bed Chamber, and Dressing Room compleatly, and 3 Gib Doors, and putting up to Do in the 2 Rooms, £19. 17. 0.’ June 1764, ‘For altering your Dining tables in the eating room to make the leaves take off, and adding slip rings, and 2 turned Mahog table legs, and a stretcher, and Beech rail, screws, Glue, Oyl, £1. 9. 0.’ CROOME COURT (The Earl of Coventry) 28 Dec 1763 to 22 September 1764 for £343.3s.3d, They supplied a four post wainscot bed hung with yellow silk mohair, a domed bed with a Vitruvian scroll around the top of the cove mostly covered in green silk damask; curtains for two windows, six arm chairs and a mahogany sofa en suitewith green worsted check covers, six French arm chairscovered with black Spanish Leather. A bill of 4 March 1765 for £158.16s.6d was mostly for servant’s rooms including housekeeper’s and Butler’s pantry. 23 May 1765 ‘For your Lordships house in Piccadilly’, £69.12s.6d, including a large sideboard table frame richly carved and gilt £41.10s. NORMANTON PARK (Sir Gilbert Heathcote) December 1765-January 1766, mostly upholstery items, curtains, bed furniture and covers for chairs, stools and sofas. The bills give details of labour cost for his brother Robert France for 12 weeks and 5 days at 2s 5d per day, Carrington at 1gn a week for 18 weeks and his wife at 6d per day. William France charged his time at 4s per day for 18 days [Lincolnshire Archives ANC8/8 p.1-20]. ROYAL PALACES. 1764–73: France's first bill (£488 9s 3d) was paid in 1764, and was for stuffing the frames of armchairs, 6 new beds etc. for the King's apartments at St James's, for work at the Lodge at Richmond, and pavilions at Hampton Court. 1765: St James's, Queen's House. His Majesty's apartment, curtains, making cases for 4 large armchairs, 12 back stool chairs, ‘sophas’ etc., £339 2s 1d. 1766: Preparations for the Duke of Cumberland's funeral (£416 16s 5d). 1766–68: Worked at the Prince of Wales's apartment at St James's (£546 10s 6d). 1769–70: Received £1, 156 16s 11d for several works. 1770: Covering easy chairs, square stools, covers for a press bedstead etc. for St James's (£285 14s 10d); also work at Kensington and Westminster. 1771: Received £1,735 7s for several works. 1772: Received £2,071 11s for several works. 1772: Worked further at the Queen's private apartments, St James's, the Earl of Rochford's office, the Earl of Suffolk's office, etc. (£447 18s 8d) 1773: Received £220 0s 9d. 1774: Last account ‘The late William France’ (£6 8s 6d). CARLTON HOUSE (Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales) October 1767, total £1750 2s 4.75d [Duchy of Cornwall Archives, Augusta Princess of Wales household a/c Vol LIV]. THE VYNE, Hants. (John Chute). 1765–67: Vile and Cobb had worked at The Vyne in 1752–53 which may account for continuation of patronage to their former journeymen. France and Bradburne's accounts, 1765–67, also relate to Chute's London house in Charles St, but the surviving furniture is at The Vyne. SYON HOUSE, Middlx (1st Duke of Northumberland). 1767: The 1st Duke's bank account includes a payment of £56 on 26 February 1767 to France. KENWOOD HOUSE, Middlx (1st Earl of Mansfield). 1768–70: France was responsible for much of the furniture supplied during Robert Adam's commission, 1768–70. Some of it was illustrated in R. & J. Adam's Works in Architecture, 1773, pl. viii. Although the contents of Kenwood were dispersed by sale in 1922, much has been traced and some brought back. Transcripts of surviving bills can be found in Houliston, Furniture History (2014) and account for the following furnishings for the library: 3 window seat (2 surviving at Kenwood, illus. Houliston, Furniture History (2014), figs 6 & 7); 3 ‘scrole headed’ sofas; 2 further sofas; 2 mirror frames for the niches (the French plates were supplied by Thomas Chippendale); installation and repair of 2 large French pier glasses (still in situ); 2 pier tables; 3 crimson damask festoon curtains with pelmets; a ‘Sexagon’ table with three leaves; and a reading stand on a pillar and claw, now owned by the V&A.

Reading stand
Copyright (Attribution/Credit)
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Reading stand of mahogany, 1765-75 [V&A W202-1923]. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Also supplied to Kenwood House a pair of fire screens; 12 mahogany chairs covered with morocco leather; 8 cabriole chairs. The 8 chairs stamped with initials ‘W. F.’ are believed to have been those made for Kenwood. [V & A archives; Conn., April 1957] A table, one of a pair invoiced by France in March 1770 was returned to Kenwood from America. There are now some doubts surrounding the attribution of  V&A reading stand ‘supplied by William France to Kenwood in 1770’ .

For other members of the France family and partnerships see:

Sources: Kirkham, ‘The London Furniture Trade’, Furniture History (1988); Beard, ‘Decorators and Furniture Makers at Croome Court’, Furniture History (1993); Castle, ‘The France Family of Upholsterers and Cabinet-Makers’, Furniture History (2005); Wilmot-Sitwell, ‘The Inventory of 19 Arlington Street, 1 May 1768’, Furniture History (2009); Houliston, ‘New Light on the Display of Furniture at Kenwood’, Furniture History (2014).

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