Gomm, William & Richard
London; cabinet maker and upholder(c.1698–1794)
William Gomm was born c. 1698 the son of Richard Gomm, a yeoman farmer of Chinnor, Oxon. In 1713 he was app. to Hugh Maskall of London, a member of the Leathersellers’ Co. which Gomm also joined on the completion of his apprenticeship. In 1770 he was made free of the Upholders’ Co. under the terms of the 1750 Upholders’ Act. By January 1725 he had established himself as a cm at Peterborough Ct, Little Britain in the parish of St Bartholomew, Smithfield. He took out insurance cover on 14 January of that year for £500 and by July 1731 this had risen to £800. Although some of this was in respect of household goods the great majority was for stock which was kept in his dwelling house, a shed (£300) and a yard (£200). Whilst at Peterborough Ct he married in 1728 Dinah Cookman. The marriage took place at Harefield parish church in Middlx. In 1736 Gomm moved to Newcastle House, Clerkenwell Close. This building, just off Clerkenwell Sq., had been the property of the Dukes of Newcastle but as London expanded the out-of-date house, part of which was formerly a pre-Reformation nunnery, became less attractive as a residence. The last member of the family to occupy it was the Dowager Duchess of Montagu, and on her death in 1734 a decision was made to dispose of it. Gomm, seeking accommodation for his expanding business, took it over and built a double range of workshops over the surviving basement of the medieval nun's hall. For purposes of rating the property was valued at £80. Gomm's first wife died soon after the move aged 39 and in 1737 he married Marianne de Moivre, a widow possibly of Huguenot descent. He had three sons from his first marriage of whom Richard, the eldest, was to be associated with the business. Two daughters and two further sons resulted from the second marriage. Gomm is remembered particularly because of his association with Abraham Roentgen. In the 1730s Roentgen travelled to Paris, Rotterdam and then London to gain experience in the cabinet-making trades in those cities. Family memoirs mention working with a number of skilled furniture makers in London including one named as ‘Gern’, at Newcastle House, St John's Sq. This was without doubt William Gomm and the use of the Newcastle House address suggests that he was with him in the period post 1736. By 1756 William had taken his eldest son Richard into partnership and in that year Richard was paying rates on the larger western side of the premises and his father on the eastern side only. In 1763 the business was styled William Gomm & Son & Co. William Gomm was still active in the business at this period. A series of manuscript designs bearing his signature and dated July, August and November 1761 exist at the Henry Francis Du Pont Museum, Winterthur. These are Rococo in character and of varied originality. To some degree a number of them depend on the published work of Chippendale, Lock & Copland and Thomas Johnson. They show a knowledge of and an appreciation of the Chinese and Gothick tastes popular at this period. The items illustrated include looking-glasses, a girandole, a table frame, an elbow chair, a clothes press, bookcases, a bed, a sideboard table, a library table, a commode and a cabinet on stand. Four related drawings illustrate a scheme for the furnishing of a fashionable drawing room and feature seating furniture, pier glasses and tables in the Chinese taste, girandoles, an oval mirror, Rococo picture frames and festoon window curtains with elaborate pelmets. Another drawing shows the furnishing of an ante-room in similar taste. [Antiques, April 1971, pp. 556–59] As early as 1747 Gomm started to purchase property in his native village of Chinnor. In that year he purchased Nethercote House for £700 and in 1758 bought the rest of the estate for £3,873. He no doubt hoped to retire there leaving the obviously prosperous business ever more under the direction of his son Richard. The failure of the business and bankruptcy proceedings in 1776 must have been a profound shock to William in his old age. It was probably as a result of this that in 1777 he sold the estate, subject to his own life interest, to Richard Paul Jodrell for £8,400. He died in 1780 aged 82. His eldest son Richard was born c. 1729 and was never formally app. to his father's trade. He does however appear to have been associated with the business from an early date. He married at the age of seventeen. In 1754 he subscribed to Chippendale's Director, and two years later was paying rates on part of the Clerkenwell property. In 1763 he took as app. Joshua Bottom. It thus seems likely that by the late 1750s and early 1760s he was taking on an ever increasing degree of responsibility for the running of the business although his father's name continued to be linked with his in the trading styles adopted. Additional premises at 3 Freeman's Ct, Cornhill, were used in 1767–72. These were taken over from John Gomm, possibly Richard's brother by the first marriage. A Francis Peter Mallet is mentioned as a partner in 1765 and in 1771 the business was trading as Gomm, Son & Mallet, though other sources of the same year name it as Richard Gomm & Co. By this period the properties in the Clerkenwell area hd been numbered and Gomm's business traded from 48 (later 47), The Close. In 1776 bankruptcy occurred though it was stated that Richard Gomm ‘failed by faults not his own’. In the following year he was living at 8 Red Lion St, Clerkenwell where he insured a house for £200. He still declared his trade as cm but probably was not trading from this address. He had certainly given up the furniture making trades by October 1784 in which month he was offered and accepted the Stewardship of St Bartholomew's Hospital. He died in 1794. Richard Gomm's son William was made free of the Upholders’ Co. under the terms of the 1750 Upholders’ Act, 5 December 1770 but there is no evidence that he played any role in the business and he subsequently became a minister of the Church of England and at the time of his father's death was Rector of West Dean, near Salisbury. [D; Burlington, June 1980, pp. 395–402; GL, Upholders’ Co. records; Sun MS vol. 22, p. 24; vol. 26, p. 30; vol. 32, ref. 54780; vol. 256, p. 93; Gents Mag., April, July and September 1776, November 1784]
The business used its trade label to identify its products though this practice appears to have been on a very limited scale. To date only one item so marked is known. This is a mahogany Pembroke table on square section legs which are joined near the base by X form stretchers. The label used bears both the Newcastle House and Freeman's Ct address and is in the name of Richard & William Gomm. It therefore probably dates from the late 1760s or early 1770s. A manuscript endorsement on the label reads ‘John Mordant Cope’ probably the patron concerned who can be identified with a person of that name resident at Bramshill, Hants. [Burlington, June 1980, p. 402; Sotheby's, 24 February 1967, lot 145; 19 July 1968, lot 152] The table is a plain serviceable piece of furniture probably typical of much of the Gomm's output. Although patronized from time to time by members of the aristocracy and gentry the location of the business away from the most fashionable London makers was probably a disadvantage in obtaining such customers.
The earliest known commission by William Gomm was in the period 1731–33 when furniture was supplied to Richard Hoare of Barn Elms. Items supplied included a walnut framed dressing glass, two mahogany arm chairs, a ‘lolling’ chair, a backgammon table, a mahogany chest, two dressing tables, two other tables and a ‘fine mahogany tea chest’. [Burlington, June 1980, pp. 395, 397] On 23 January 1756 furniture was invoiced to J. Buller of Morval, Cornwall. This consisted of a mahogany sofa 6½ ft long in canvas with two cushions and bolsters at £8 10s and a mahogany folding screen at £1 10s. On 17 January 1757 a teaboard at 3s was purchased and the account for all these items settled on the same day. Also in 1757 a mahogany desk was supplied to the new banking premises of Glyn, Halifax & Co. in Birchin Lane, London. The desk was 8 ft long and was designed to provide space for five clerks. It cost £18. [Cornwall RO, DDBU 337; R. Fulford, Glyn's 1753–1953, p. 8] In 1762 payment was made to the Gomm's in respect of furniture supplied to Richard Weddell for his house in Pall Mall, London. He was the father of William Weddell of Newby Hall, Yorks., a well-known collector of Classical antiquities. The items supplied included ‘a fine Mahogany Compass Cutwork Tea Table on Castors’ at £5 10s and a ‘Mahogany Bed Chair Stuff'd & finish'd at £1 3s. A set of armchairs was supplied to Kenure Park, Co. Dublin in 1763, and in the following year Gomm was negotiating with Alexander Voronstov, the elder brother of Count Voronstov, later the Russian ambassador in London. Gomm had four mahogany armoires which had cost him £200 and a table frame and marble top which he was anxious to dispose of. Voronstov offered him £100 or £120 for the armoires. [Leeds archives dept, Newby NH 2787; Burlington, June 1980, p. 399; C. Life, 15 March 1973] In March 1763 George William Fairfax bought a large quantity of furniture from Gomm for his house at Belvoir, in Fairfax County, Virginia. The total of goods invoiced amounted to £440 14s 3d and included case furniture, chairs and sofas, beds and bedding, looking glasses and sconces, fire screens, tea trays and more. In June 1774 most of this was offered for sale by auction because the deteriorating political situation had persuaded the Fairfaxes to return to England. The leading buyer was George Washington, a personal friend, who bought furnishings to the value of £169. 12s. 6d. and installed them at nearby Mount Vernon. In 2013 Fairfax’s account book detailing the purchases from Gomm was discovered and purchased for Mount Vernon, allowing the full story of Gomm’s furniture for Fairfax, and its later acquisition by George Washington, to come to light. A number of pieces are thought to survive, including a mahogany spider table, a chest on chest, and a shaving table (illus. Erby (2019), figs. 30 & 31, 34-36 & 38). Replicas of some other furniture have been made and installed at Mount Vernon. The most extensive commission known to have been carried out by this firm was for the 5th Lord Leigh at Stoneleigh Park, Warks. from 1763, the year in which Lord Leigh came of age. Much modernization took place paricularly to the bedrooms and the Gomm's were the main furniture suppliers employed, working in association with the decorators Bromwich & Leigh. The first items were supplied on 12 May 1763 and continued to be delivered until October of the following year. The account totalled to £818 9s. A total of 183 assorted chairs were included together with tables, dressing tables, clothes presses, close stools, a chest on chest, shaving table, commode dressing table and a Pembroke table and a sideboard. A number of these items survived in the house until 1981 when they were sold by auction. [Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Leigh receipts, DR 18/5; Christie's, 15–16 October 1981]
After the collapse of the Gomm business in 1776 the enterprise was carried on by Francis Peter Mallett.
Sources: DEFM; Erby, ‘“Mostly new, and very elegant”: The Several Lives of George William and Sally Fairfaxes’ [sic] London-Made Furniture’, American Furniture (2019), pp. 1-77.