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Houghton, John (1726-1761)

Houghton, John snr

Dublin, Ireland; carver and gilder (fl.1726-d.1761).

Son of Henry Houghton (d.1729). Freeman of the City of Dublin as Carver by Grace Especial, Michaelmas 1748. Recorded in Golden Lane, 1726-9; Maiden Lane, 1731-6; Abbey Street, 1739-43; Golden Lane, 1744-61. Dublin Society prize 1741 and 1742. In 1739 he mortgaged three plots of ground in Abbey Street to Ralph Leland for £200 [Registry of Deeds 95-346-66742]. In 1743 he bought from the estate of the recently deceased Ralph Leland two plots of land on the Inn’s Quay [Registry of Deeds 114—193—72595]. Twice married: 1. Parish of St Anne’s, John Houghton married Hester Wilson, 7 October 1752 [Parish Records Society of Dublin, vol. XI, p. 52]; 2. Universal Advertiser, 20 April 1754: ‘Marriage: April 19th Mr. John Houghton son of Henry Houghton of Golden-lane, Carver, to Miss Polly Brock of Fownes-street’.

Houghton was first recorded working in 1729 in the Parliament House, being paid £333 8s 3d.; the amount of work must have been substantial and included carving the royal arms in the south pediment for £50. A chimneypiece once at Curraghmore, Co. Waterford was carved by Houghton in 1743. Its central panel was a relief of St Paul preaching to the Athenians, as recorded in the Dublin Gazette, 26-30 March 1743: ‘From the Dublin Society. Last week the Society determined the premiums promised by Rev. Dr Samuel Madden. Two candidates appeared for the premium of twenty-five pounds for the best piece of sculpture, the first piece was a representation of St Paul preaching to the Athenians, taken from one of the [Raphael] Cartoons, the other a representation of the Deluge. The premium was adjudged by a great majority to the first piece, which was made the last year by Mr Houghton of Abbey-street, and extremely well carved with all the passions and attitudes of the Figures of the Original. The other piece was done by Mr Mathews of Temple-bar and was well approved of’. The chimneypiece survives but the panel has been replaced by a painting (illus. Glinn & Peill (2007), fig. 83). The stone component of the chimneypiece is attributed to David Sheehan (d.1756), who worked with Houghton on the one carved for Lord Kenmare in Killarney [Faulkner’s Dublin Journal, 19-22 January 1754]. The design was taken from pl. 25 of William Jones’s The Gentleman’s or Builders Companion (1739). This survives and was offered for sale at Bonhams, London, 23 November 2004, lot 82. Two chimneypieces similar to the Curraghmore example survive, one at Iveagh House, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, and the other formerly in the old Presence Chamber in Dublin Castle (illus. Glin & Peill (2007), figs 84 & 85). Other carved work at both locations is attributed to Houghton. Houghton also worked in the house of Bishop Synge in Kevin Street, as described in a letter of June 1747 from the Bishop to his daughter, in which Houghton was described putting up carving in the main reception rooms. A monument (now vanished) for a church near Cork, was recorded in Faulkner’s Dublin Journal, 28-31 July 1753; ‘A magnificent Monument, in the finest Italian Marble of the late Right Hon. James Barry, Earl of Barrymore, is now in the hands and almost finished, by the ingenious Mr Sheehan, Stone-cutter in Marlborough-street. The two grand Pillars and the Entablature are in the Corinthian order, between which is a large niche to the fixed the Bust of that Nobleman in Armour and truncheon in his right hand and at the top of each entablature, two angels, both carved in the most beautiful manner by the ingenious Mr Houghton of this city, and is to be placed in the Church of Castle Lyons within ten miles of Cork’.

Houghton’s most important documented work is the frame he carved for Bindon’s portrait of Dean Swift, c. 1735-40, which still hangs in St Patrick’s Deanery, Dublin. It is of oak, carved with harps, lyres, books tassels and other emblems. The frame cost £18 13s, paid for by William St Lawrence (14th Lord Howth, 1688-1748). A further painting by Bindon, of Bishop Boulter, now in the Provost’s House, Trinity College Dublin, has a carved mahogany frame attributed to Houghton on the basis of stylistic similarity (both illus. Glin & Peill (2007), figs 91 & 92). Other attributable pieces include: the frame of the tapestry portrait of George II made for the Weaver’s Hall, Dublin (c.1738), and now in the MMA, New York; a pair of mahogany framed mirrors formerly at Woodhill, Co. Cork; a mahogany mirror from an unknown house, now in a private collection; two frames for portraits of Provost Baldwin (1746) and Archbishop Price (1747), both at Trinity College, Dublin (illus. Glin & Peill (2007), figs 93-5). A payment for work for Castle Coole, Co. Fermanagh, dated October 1748, to ‘Mr Houghton, Carver’, for £45 plus £10 on account, has been related to a four post carved mahogany bed from the house (illus. Glin & Peill (2007), fig. 96). In April 1751 Houghton was ‘Paid in full’ a further £22 15s. Houghton died in 1761 and the sale of his effects was advertised in Faulkner’s Dublin Journal, 9-13 June 1761: ‘To be sold by Auction, by James Cusack, Auctioneer, on Wednesday next the 17th of June, at the late dwelling house of Mr John Houghton in Golden-lane, Carver, deceased, sundry articles in the carving way viz two large pier glass frames, two tables, A curious chimney glass frame in the Chinese manner, with sundry other kind of frames, A pair of mahogany bed pillars richly carved, with some mahogany veneers, several work benches and tools for carving in wood and stone, some useful books fit for Carvers, Joiners, Up-holders such as Chippendale’s and Ware’s Designs, Gibbs and Aheron on Architecture in 5 books; Pine’s Horace with cuts, a London edition with sets of drawings and designs. And also some few articles in the furniture way, particularly a new brewing copper. The sale begins at 11 o’clock. N.B. Ann Cuthbert of King-street, near Stephen’s-green, Stay-maker and daughter of the said John Houghton, will sell or let her interest of the dwelling house in said Street, as she intends removing to her said Father’s late dwelling in Golden-lane, where she intends carrying on her said business and hopes for the kind continuance of her customers and friends. Applications may be made at the said Ann Cuthbert in Golden-lane, aforesaid’.

The carver Thomas Johnson (1723-99) worked for Houghton in Dublin from 1747-48 and in his The Life of the Author described Houghton as ‘the most eminent Dublin’ and ‘the best wood-carver, for basso-relievo figures, I ever saw’.

Source: Simon, ‘Thomas Johnson’s The Life of the Author’, Furniture History (2003); Glin & Peill, Irish Furniture (2007), pp. 70-79 & 293.