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Kennett, Robert & Kidd, William (1766-1795)

Kennett, Robert & Kidd, William

Londonupholders, upholsterers, cabinet makers, paper hangers, house agents, house furnishers and undertakers (1766–95)

Amongst the Chancery Masters’ Exhibits in The National Archive (TNA) is an account book of the firm, 1792–95. [TNA, C 114/81]. It is one of the few known ledgers of an 18th-century furniture-making firm and reveals an extensive trade. 

Robert Kennett & Co., later Kennett & Kidd. Kennett was almost certainly the person who was bound apprentice to the famous firm of Ince & Mayhew in 1766 for the extremely high sum of £157 10s. [TNA, IR 25/23].

The Mr Kennett who supplied furniture to Lady Isabella Finch in 1759 and to the 4th Earl of Holderness in 1763 may have been his father or brother because Robert Kennett did not finish his apprenticeship until 1773.

By 1776 was in partnership with Thomas Vernon, working from premises near Air St, Piccadilly. In 1776 they insured their stock, utensils and goods for £1,000 [Guildhall Library, Sun MS ref. 365936] and when Kennett set up on his own at 67 New Bond St in the following year he insured similar items for the same sum [Ref. 391441]. The new premises came into his possession after the death of his eldest brother, John, but the new venture ran into some financial difficulties. In 1783 he was taken to court by William Crawford, an auctioneer of Holborn, and John King of Soho, with whom he had been involved in some complicated financial dealings, and in 1785 was declared bankrupt [TNA, B 4/22].

His business recovered and he supplied furniture to Lord Howard of Audley End, 1789–90. In 1791 the firm designed and made the carved and gilt Grand Master's Throne for the Prince of Wales who became Master of the Grand Lodge of the Free Masons in 1790. Kennett won an open competition for the throne and two warden's chairs which are in the French Louis Seize style admired by the Prince [Connoiseur, July 1965, figs 8 and 9]. The account book of 1792–95 includes work for the ‘Grand Committee of Free Masons’, mainly for cleaning and preparing the furniture ready for meetings and putting on protective cases afterwards.

It may have been the success of this prestigious commission which encouraged Kennett to borrow £3,000 and buy a £4,000 property in Essex in 1791. He was also in debt to his clerk, William Kidd, who had worked for him since 1787 and with whom he entered an unofficial partnership in 1792 [TNA, C12 259/18, 680/34 and 1736/2]. They agreed to divide the business and profits on a 4:1 ratio with Kennett retaining the major share. This arrangement was formalized in 1794 when Kennett and Kidd signed a seven-year partnership agreement dating back to 1792. The partnership reflected the former concerns of the two men: Kidd looked after the book keeping and administrative side while Kennett supervised manufacture.

The firms of Kennett & Co. (1792–94) and Kennet & Kidd (1794–95) were referred to in directories as ‘Upholsterers’ but carried out a wide range of activities including cabinet making, chair making and paper hanging as well as services such as arranging funerals. House furnishings and letting was one of their specialities. During the partnership Kennett bought or took leases on several houses and the partners furnished them and let them at ‘considerably advanced rents’. They also acted as estate agents, letting houses, taking inventories and seeing to repairs, etc., for clients who were out of London. They furnished entire houses or the principal rooms in a number of houses, mainly in Dublin and London, for which the owners became indebted to them for ‘considerable amounts of money’. These sums can be seen in the account book which reveals an extensive array of wealthy and titled customers.

The firm appears to have been a favourite with members of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy in the 1790s. The Hibernian Journal for 26 April 1793 carried the following advertisement: ‘ Mr Kidd, Upholsterer, New Bond-street, being obliged to return to England sooner than he expected, prevents his being able to attend all his appointments; and he begs leave to acquaint the nobility and gentry, that he will be again in Dublin in the course of May, and will bring with him a further set of beautiful drawings, and patterns of furniture – Should any family with a design for the furnishing any particular room, by transmitting the dimensions to London, he will execute it for them and bring it on his return’.

The largest order in the book is that for the Earl of Ormonde, for his town house in Dublin and Kilkenny Castle, which totalled £7,096 12s 10d. Other large orders came from the Earl of Westmeath (£2,059 14s 9d); Lord Viscount Dillon (£1,837 19s 2d); - Dickinson Esq. (£1,455 10s 5d); George Templar of Somerset, who later acted as lawyer on behalf of the beneficiaries of Kennett's late father-in-law [TNA, C 13 160133] (£1,049 3s 6d) and Edward Wheeler (£1,020 8s 3d).

Those who placed orders over £500 were:

  • J. H. Casamajor; Dr Morton
  • Charles Floyer
  • Mr Davis
  • Augustus Floyer
  • Colonel Bridges
  • John Parlby
  • Mr Spencer (plasterer)
  • Culling Smith
  • Lt John Charlton
  • William Anderson
  • Sir John Dalling
  • Christopher Hodgson (William Kidd's maternal uncle)
  • Thomas Carter
  • William Gill
  • Baron de Robech
  • Mrs Horne
  • Mr Davies
  • Major Lewis
  • Madam Herbert
  • W. Earle Welby
  • Earl of Montreath
  • David Digges La Touche jnr
  • Joseph Dimelo (carpenter)
  • Montgomery Crothers (Dublin)
  • Devall (stone mason)
  • Charles Stanley
  • J. Rawlins
  • Thomas Oakes
  • Charles Knatchbull
  • George Stodart
  • Patrick Bride (Dublin)
  • Hon. Hugh Howard (Dublin)
  • Colonel Bridges
  • Lord Viscount Hawarden
  • Executors late Mrs Mary Clavell; Thomas Mann; Zachary Burton; Mrs Crofton; Rev. Mr Lowry; John Lyons; James Smart; Obadiah Standert; John Dechever; Robert Brent; Robert Brown and Henry Methol.

It is not possible to detail all the accounts, nor even that of the Earl of Ormonde, whose Dublin account of 1794–95 alone came to £6,321 12s 8d. It included wages and expenses for a cabinet maker who travelled from London and spent nine weeks in Dublin fixing up furniture with the assistance of a local cabinet maker.

The furniture was mainly of satinwood and mahogany and a great deal was painted, japanned and inlaid. It was designed in the French style, although the accounts simply refer to items as ‘French’ whether they were designed and made in France (as presumably was the case with three French clocks, one costing £84 and two £52 10s, and ‘a large French plate glass in white and gold with a beautiful painting of figures in a panel’, £90) or whether they were designed and made in London. The overall colour scheme was white and gold as was that of the elegant main drawing room at the Duke of Leinster's imposing home, Leinster House, which was already furnished in 1794 and which Ormonde may have been trying to emulate.

There is a small order for Leinster House in the Kennett & Kidd account book but there is no evidence to suggest that they furnished Leinster House. The main furniture supplied to Ormonde included three carved white and gold cornices with bronzed eagles in the centre, £56 14s (for the main drawing room); two small ‘French’ sofas, richly carved in gold and white with ‘very handsome’ painted tablets in the backs, £40; two magnificent tripods ‘beautifully designed and executed in the very first style of manufacture, richly carved and gilt in white and gold and elegantly ornamented … cut glass saucers with cut drops and gilt tassells for lights’, £189 and a ‘French’ cabinet richly inlaid and ornamented with flowers, with a marble top and brass galleries, £63. The Kilkenny Castle account totalled £774 11s 2d, of which £525 was spent on one item which Kennett and Kidd rather boastfully described as ‘A very Super Glass in Compartments to fill the whole end of Gallery at Kilkenny Castle with very magnificent ornaments, including your Coat of Arms … a beautiful painting of figures in Relief embrodered in a Tablet in the Centre … the whole forming the most Complete thing ever executed’.

Many splendid Irish Georgian houses are now empty or bereft of their original furniture, as are large and small houses of the 1790s in England, and it has not yet proved possible to trace any of the furniture detailed in the account book, although research continues.

The partnership of Kennett and Kidd was not a happy one and was dissolved in October 1795. The entire stock and goods in trade were sold at a sale which lasted for seven days and raised over £3,850, while money and bills were received to the tune of £7,904. There were, however, outstanding debts, including one of £2,000 to Thomas Parlby, Kennett's father-in-law. 

The effects of the partnership were assigned to Trustees but, when no agreement was reached as to how to settle the partnership accounts, matters were referred to James Henderson, Upholsterer, Joseph Brown, Gentleman, and James Davidson, Accountant. When they finally decided that Kidd owed Kennett over £400, matters went to litigation. [TNA, C12 259/, 680/34 and 1736/2].

Although Kennett & Co. were listed in directories until 1799, the firm was dissolved in 1795, and there is no known work from Kennett after that date. He is listed in Holden's Triennial Directory, 1802–04 as an upholsterer at 4 Ranelagh Green, Chelsea, but in 1804 was referred to as a former upholsterer who was by then a tooth-ache curer [London Gazette, 21–24 January 1804]. He was declared bankrupt in 1804, with debts of over £3,000, mostly from when he worked as a furniture maker. His creditors were so convinced that he would not attempt to pay off his debts that in 1809 they threatened further litigation. Robert Kennett is last heard of in that year in litigation involving his son Henry, who had received money from the sale of his father's property but had not paid his creditors. Henry ended up in prison but refused to reveal his father's whereabouts lest he too be arrested.

The records of Kennett's bankruptcy case of 1803 indicate that he was indebted to persons who either worked for him or supplied him with goods for his trade [TNA, B3 2811A]. They included:

  • G. E. Woodhouse, Oxford St, linen draper 
  • William Moore & Benjamin Millward, Oxford St, undertakers
  • Richard Ovey, Tavistock St, furniture printer
  • Cruis(?) Waring, Margaret St, carver and gilder
  • William Walker, Covent Garden, cabinet maker
  • Alexander Cleland, Middlsex Hospital, cabinet maker
  • Thomas Wakeman & Richard Jones, St Mildred's Court, carpet manufacturers 
  • Richard Dyer, Witney, Oxon., blanket weaver.

When William Kidd died (1 September 1808), he was not in such dire circumstances as his former partner. One major creditor, namely Kennett's father-in-law, had refrained from harassing Kidd during his lifetime in recognition of the part played by Kennett in his downfall.

Kidd bought items from the partnership sale and continued to work as a furniture maker. He is listed in directories at 62 New Bond St until his death in 1812. He worked for Richard Griffin, 2nd Lord Braybrooke, at Audley End, Essex in 1801–02, and in 1803, the year in which he appeared in Sheraton's list of master cabinet makers, supplied a large amount of furniture to Castle Coole, Co. Fermanagh for the 1st Earl Belmore.

He worked in partnership with his brother, Joseph, from about 1803–08, but by the latter date was in partnership with John Johnstone (who married William Kidd's sister in 1811), whom he referred to as a partner when he made his will in 1808. After Kidd's death in 1808 [TNA, C13 160/33], Johnstone operated not from 62 New Bond Street, but from number 67, the former premises of Kennett & Kidd. [Chancery cases relating to Kennett & Kidd C114/18, C12 259/18, C12 680/34, C12 925/3, C12 1736/2, C12 160/33 and bankruptcy cases B3 522, B3 2811 A & B, B4/22] BADMINTON HOUSE(?), Glos. (5th Duchess of Beaufort). 1781–82: Robert Kennett charged a total of £24 8s 9½d for 2 mahogany carved cabriole-leg chairs, 6 mahogany hall chairs with oval backs and crest and cypher, upholstery, etc. [Badminton archives, bills and receipts; the Duchess of Beaufort's red leather account bk] AUDLEY END, Essex (Lord Howard de Walden). 1789–90: Robert Kennett's account for white and gold carved pole stands and frames totalled £10 5s. [Essex RO, D/DBy/A48/2] GRAND LODGE OF FREEMASONS. 1791: Robert Kennett made the throne for the Prince of Wales and two Warden's Chairs at Freemasons Hall. [Conn., July 1965] Clients of Kennet & Co. who spent more than £500, (see text) [1792–95 Account Book, TNA, C114/18]; AUDLEY END, Essex (2nd Lord Braybrooke) 1801–11: Kidd and Kidd & Co. are named in the account books for bills for furniture, etc.: in 1801 (£28 2s 8d); 1802 (£26 15s 8d); 1802 (£270 1s 10d); 1810 (£28 2s 8d) and 1811 (£175 8s. 8d). [Essex RO, D/DBy/A357 and A375] P.K.

Sources: DEFM; Glin & Peill, Irish Furniture (2007), pp. 177-8; Personal correspondence with Andrew Malton, 27 March 2021.

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