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France, William Snr (1727–d. 1773)

France, William snr

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

William France was the second son of Edward and Agnes France. Edward was a yeoman farmer of Whittington, Lancashire. Both William and his older brother John (b.1725) were trained as furniture makers, probably in Lancaster, although no records of their apprenticeships survive. John remained in Lancashire but by 1754 William was working on his own account, probably in London. He subscribed to Chippendale’s Director in that year. In 1757 a daughter, Elizabeth, was christened in St Martin-in-the-Fields and in 1759 a son, William jnr. Nevertheless, William snr maintained a connection with Lancaster; he was admitted a Freeman of Lancaster in 1767-8 while recorded as a ‘cabinet maker of London’. Another son, Robert, was baptised in Whittington in 1761 and his wife Elizabeth was buried there in 1763.

By 1759 William France was employed as a journeyman in the 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. In work for the Royal Wardrobe by Vile & Cobb the Lord Chamberlain's accounts are often signed on their behalf by France (or John Bradburne). They signed for the last time on 11 October 1763. Vile and Cobb's short-lived warrant (1761) had come to an end — their last account was 11 April 1764 — and a fortnight later, 25 April, William France submitted his first account. The safe continuity of royal patronage, in succession to Gumley, Moore Goodison, Vile and Cobb was thus continued by the latter's former employees, France and Bradburne.

The formal appointment of France and Bradburn as cabinet makers and upholsterers to the Great Wardrobe was made on 6 July 1764, and it was probably between May and July 1764 that Bradburne and France entered into partnership. This has been suggested on the basis of bills submitted to Sir Lawrence Dundas (noted below). Those of 16 April and 3 May 1764 are invoiced by William France, alone. 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, as ‘Ballanced, William France’, with subsequent accounts being rendered by both partners. At this time the business was apparently located in Long Acre 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. Apprentices were registered in France’s name in 1764, 1768 (2), 1769 and 1770 (2). 101 St Martin’s Lane remained the France family’s address until 1804.

With more work for the firm to undertake, a number of apps were taken on: 1766, 28 July, Edward France (William's son); 1768, 4 March, William Burnet, 6 April, Geo Thacker; 1769, 6 February (for 4 years), John Johnson. Their normal premiums ranged between £50 to £70. There seems to have been the usual division of activity between Bradburne and France, with the former acting mostly as a carver, whereas France had seemingly trained as an u. (He is not, however, listed among the freemen of the Worshipful Co. of Upholders.

Any cm in royal service carried out a variety of tasks, and in France's case this extended from 1764 to 1773. He died on 12 February 1773 and his last account for the small amount of £6 6s 6d was paid in 1774. The granting of probate to his will was noted by those keeping records on behalf of the Great Wardrobe. The death at the age of 46 was probably quite sudden, as his will was made on the 9 February. He was buried in St Martin-in-the-Fields on 21 February. All his stock was left to his brother John and his nephew Edward, who also received the lease of 101 St Martin’s Lane. John France continued the business until his own death in 1775.

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: 21page 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.’ 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). 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; a reading stand on a pillar and claw, possibly that now owned by the V&A (W.202-1923); a pair of fire screens; 12 mahogany chairs covered with morocco leather; 8 cabriole chairs.

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. GCM, pl. 181 illustrates the V&A reading stand ‘supplied by William France to Kenwood in 1770’ but some doubt now surrounds this attribution. For other members of the France family and partnerships see Edward France; William France jnr; Beckwith & France; Banting, France & Co. G.B. France, William jnr, 31 Pall Mall, London, u (1807–40). William jnr, who may have been a son of Edward France, is first noted in the London POD, 1807, as ‘Upholder to His Majesty’, a title held with his sometime partners Samuel and William Beckwith, and latterly with William Banting and Thomas France. From the evidence of bills rendered to John, 6th Duke of Bedford, it appears that by 1810 France had taken a son (not named, but probably Thomas) into the business, which was then styled William France & Son. This continued until 1812 when William's name disappears, and the firm became France & Banting. This is confirmed by directory entries which show France & Banting for the first time in 1812 as ‘upholders to His Majesty’. In this year also, perhaps to commemorate the new partnership, William France gave a copy of Sheraton's Drawing Book, 1793 to William Banting (MMA, NY, inscr: ‘William France, with best wishes to W. Banting, 1812’).

The main work for the Duke of Bedford was the furnishing between June 1807 and April 1810 of his London houses: 15 St James's Sq., 1 Hamilton Pl., and in Stanhope St, Mayfair. For this work a bill of 1808 totalled £538 13s 6d, and one of 1810 was for £556 14s 3d. Besides a supply of furniture and bedding on hire, and the provision and cleaning of roller blinds, curtains and carpets, new furniture was provided, the main items being:

From June 1807 to May 1808 A large mahogany bidet with white Wedgwood pan, the top stuffed & covered with satin & finished with chair gimp. £3.10.0. A 4ft 3in eliptic tester field-bedstead with sacking bottom, japanned white, turned feet pillars & on castors. £3. 18. 0. A bed wagon with heater & key & extra-large stand. £1.5.0. A mahogany crib bedstead with framed sliding sides & feet, caned. (for Woburn) £9.9.0. Two very large deal library bookcases to fit testers, with open fronts, sliding shelves with racks & pilasters Japanned white, 6ft 6 in × 8ft 1 in.£32 15s each. From January-April 1810 4 3ft 6in wide field-bedsteads with eliptic testers, turned beech pillars, japanned white. £16. 18. 6. 6 Mahogany dressing chests of drawers with solid fronts and strong handles, 3ft 9in and 3ft 6in.£67. 0. 0. 3 3ft 6in wainscot chests of drawers. £23. 10. 0. 4 mahogany Pembroke tables with drawers. £19. 0. 6. 12 deal wash hand tables with drawers, moulded edges and high washboards. £21. 18. 6. A plain mahogany kneehole writing desk … for steward's room. £14. 0. 0.

See France, Edward.

Source: Kirkham, ‘The London Furniture Trade’, Furniture History (188); 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.