London; carver, cabinet maker and upholder (b. c. 1703–d. 1763)
William Linnell was the son of a yeoman, John Linnell of Hemel Hempstead, Herts. He went to London in 1717 to serve his apprenticeship with Michael Savage, a member of the Joiners’ Co. In 1719 he was turned over to John Townshend with whom he completed his apprenticeship in 1724. A few years later he set up his own carving workshop in Long Acre and, in 1729, became free of the Joiners’ Co. After only four years he was already a member of the Livery. He took on apprentices in 1730, 1733, 1735, 1744, 1746, 1750, 1752, 1753, 1756 at premiums ranging from £15 to £50.
In the meanwhile he had married Mary Butler, sister of a leading coachmaker, Samuel Butler. (d.1769) Mary and Samuel's father was John Butler (d.1724), a carver, which perhaps explains the connection. Their first son, John, was born in July 1729. There were five further children of the marriage. A second son, Richard, was app. to an artist but died as a young man. Of a third son, William, nothing is known. Mary, the elder of three daughters, married one of her father's apps, William Bond, by whom she had a son, John Linnell Bond, named after her own brother who was the child's godfather. William Linnell Bond grew up to be a successful architect. No records survive of the clients who employed William Linnell in the first ten years of the life of his workshop, but he evidently concentrated upon carving. His early documented commissions, the first dating from 1739, refer mainly to the provision of architectural elements and mouldings and items such as picture-and mirror-frames, consoles, pedestals and cornices. An unpublished bill dated January 1749 rendered to the 4th Duke of Bedford for work at Woburn Abbey refers to ‘Carving the cupola eight large trusses and eight key stones … £17.10.0.’, ‘Carving two stone pediments by model … £80.0.0.’ and ‘Carving one Ditto with your arms by model… £4.16.0.’. Other, previously published accounts rendered to the Duke are for carving mouldings, cornices, chimney-pieces and frames at Woburn Abbey under the direction of Henry Flitcroft. Tables and seat furniture, however, the latter stuffed and upholstered, also figure in the early surviving bills, notably those rendered to Richard Hoare of Barn Elms between 1739–54. Over this period the workshop was flourishing and growing and, far from being confined to carving, William Linnell was increasing his range and is referred to in Richard Hoare's bank account of 1747 as ‘carver and cabinet-maker’. A splendid mahogany card-table, carved with lion masks at the knees and a bacchanalian mask festooned with grapes on the rail was supplied to Richard Hoare in October 1740 for £11 11s and survives at Stourhead, Wilts. along with a mahogany sofa and ten armchairs. William was joined by his son as early as 1749. This is documented by the presence of two hitherto unpublished vouchers for carver's work at Woburn Abbey receipted in October and November 1749 by John Linnell. Father and son then worked together until William Linnell's death.
In 1750 the family moved to a larger establishment at 8 Long Acre. It was shortly after this move that William Linnell received a commission from the 4th Duke of Beaufort to provide a suite of Chinoiserie furniture for a bedroom in the Chinese taste at Badminton House, Glos. Many pieces from this famous commission survive, notably the bed, japanned commode and shelves in the V & A Museum and another set of shelves in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight. Increased business led to a further move in 1754 to 28 Berkeley Sq. in the fashionable West End of London where there was spacious family living accommodation and a large workshop, complete with ware room or show room. A full inventory of the contents of the dwelling house and of the stock-in-trade in the workshops at Berkeley Sq., taken at William Linnell's death in 1763, survives and has been published, revealing that the firm employed at that time some forty to fifty people and had a stock-in-trade worth £1,052 19s 8d. The workshops themselves consisted of a yard with sawpit, a joiners’ shop, a cabinet shop, a chair room, a carving shop, a gilding shop, three upholstery shops and a feather garret, a glass room, a storeroom and a packing and transport room. There were also two warerooms for display. At the time of his death, William Linnell had built up an important business and had demonstrated his sense of enterprise in moving to the West End. His clients included William Drake of Shardeloes, the 6th Earl of Coventry; Nathaniel Curzon, later 1st Earl of Scarsdale; the bankers, Francis and his brother Robert Child; and Hugh Smithson, 18th Earl and subsequently 1st Duke of Northumberland. All these patrons also employed Robert Adam as their architect. The way was open for William's son, John Linnell, on taking over the firm, to exploit the opportunities created by his father's good management and to benefit from collaboration with one of the greatest Neo-classical architects of the late 18th century. BARN ELMS, Surrey and London (Richard Hoare Esq., Knighted after 1745). 1739–54: Various bills for carving and providing tables and seat furniture (a carved whist table, a sofa and ten chairs survive at Stourhead, upholstery and repair work. A payment dated 7 February 1752 was made by Henry Hoare for a picture frame for a portrait of Sir Richard. RADCLIFFE CAMERA, Oxford (Trustees of the Radcliffe Camera). 1745–48: Accounts, describing the carving work carried out by William Linnell, published by Stanley George Gillam, ‘The Building Accounts of the Radcliffe Camera’, Oxford Hist. Soc., new series, xiii, 1958. THE FOUNDLING HOSPITAL, London (Trustees of the Foundling Hospital). 1747–52: Description of the decision to commission William Linnell to provide a frame for the chapel altar picture published in The Foundling Hospital General Committee Minutes, vols i-iv, 1739–55, Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, 40 Brunswick Sq., London. WILLIAM DRAKE'S LONDON HOUSE. 1749–75: Eight bills rendered between 1749–62 refer to furniture and repair and cleaning work carried out at Drake's London houses. Linnell appears to have been in sole charge of every aspect of furnishing and maintenance. From 1763 bills were rendered to John Linnell and from 1765 these refer to work at Shardeloes. WOBURN ABBEY, Beds. and London (4th Duke of Bedford). 1749–51: Bill amounting to £133 for carving at Woburn, including the carving of models for the pediment designed by Flitcroft in July and November 1749. Between January-April 1751, £324 15s 3d was paid to Linnell for carving chimneypieces in the Duke's Dressing room, the Venetian room, the Duchess's Dressing room and three other rooms on the ground floor. Work also included the carving of door architraves, window architraves and the mouldings on shutters and doors. Two vouchers for carving work (unspecified) were receipted in October and November 1749 by John Linnell. There is also correspondence in 1749–50 between Henry Flitcroft and the Duke's agent concerning the appointment of William Linnell as the Duke's carver at Woburn. ALSCOT PARK, Warks. (James West Esq.). 1750–51: Bill of 1750 for £19 11s 9d, including ‘To a six-legged table by a design of Kents with a mahogany top … the frame gilt in parts and painted of a wainscot colour’ and another for £33 11s 9d of 1751 which includes an item for the repair and restoration of a 17th-century Flemish cabinet with verre eglomisé panels which survives in the house. CROOME COURT, Worcs. and London (6th Earl of Coventry). 1751–61: The first account dating from August 1751, is of small importance. It includes a clothes-press and was probably for the London house at 29 Piccadilly. The rebuilding of Croome Court under ‘Capability’ Brown necessitated carving work on a considerable scale for which William Linnell was partly responsible together with James Lovell. Three bills of 1758–59 list carving work, including ‘carving a chimney-frame very handsome by drawing and gilt in burnished gold for Lady Coventry's Dressing Room’. A further bill of 1761 for £52 16s 9d refers to the provision and making of curtains and carpets for Croome. BADMINTON HOUSE, Glos. (4th Duke of Beaufort). 1752–55: Payments made to William Linnell between October 1751 and December 1755 amounting to a total of £800 are recorded in the 4th Duke of Beaufort's bank account. These payments were very probably for the furniture made for the Chinese bedroom at Badminton known to have been completed by 1754 when Dr Richard Pococke visited the house. No inventory exists for the room, but the furniture provided included a bed, eight armchairs, a dressing-commode and two pairs of standing shelves. The bed and dressing-commode are now in the V & A Museum while one pair of shelves belongs to the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, Cheshire (one of this pair being at present on loan to the V & A) and a second pair is in the MMA, MY. A pen and ink and water-colour design for the chairs by John Linnell is in the V & A Museum. HILL ST, Mayfair, London (Mrs Elizabeth Montagu). 1752: A letter from Mrs Montagu to Gilbert West, 16 November 1752, contains complaints over William Linnell's high prices. (Elizabeth Montagu, Her Correspondence from 1720–61, ed. Emily V. Climenson, 11, 1906, 17] A japanned secretaire commode and cabinet-on-stand believed to have been made for Hill St are in the possession of Mrs Montagu's descendants at Came House, Dorset. KEDLESTON HALL, Derbs. and London (Sir Nathaniel Curzon, Bt, created 1st Baron Scarsdale, April 1761). 1758– 96: Lord Scarsdale employed the Linnell firm for nearly forty years. Household ledgers record payments for unspecified items, made regularly from 1759–96. There is also one bill, dated 27 March 1759 for items supplied to the London house in Audley Sq. including ‘six neat gothick chairs covered with Spanish leather, two large sofas with stuffed backs and seats’ and a ‘four post bedstead’. These items have not been identified. It is probable that the sum of £49 16s 2d paid to William Linnell in 1761, as recorded in the ledgers, was for the provision of a bookcase, designed by Robert Adam, for Lady Scarsdale's Dressing-room. This piece survives in the house. It was delivered in 1761. In that same year Lord Scarsdale was considering the provision of seat furniture for Kedleston and a chair design by John Linnell inscribed with his patron's name survives in the V & A Museum. It does not appear to have been executed. On the other hand, three finished drawings by John Linnell for two pairs of sofas for the drawing-room, prepared in 1761–62 were used as a basis for the two pairs made by the firm and delivered in 1765 after William Linnell's death. For subsequent deliveries to Kedleston, see John Linnell. OSTERLEY PARK, Middlx (Francis Child, d. 1763 and Robert Child). c. 1760–84: The name ‘Mr. Child’ occurs among the debtors to William Linnell at his death. It is not known to what this refers. Only one late bill survives and evidence concerning the furnishing of Osterley Park by Robert Child after his brother's death and after the death of William Linnell rests largely on stylistic judgement. (See John Linnell.) STOWE, Bucks. (Lord Temple). 1760: Bill 14 January 1760 ‘To 6 mahogany french elbow chairs on castors stuffed and covered with your own morrino and brass nailed all complete £15.15.0, To 12 open backed mahogany chairs carved and covered with Spanish leather welted and quilted and the best princes metal nails all complete at 1–10–0…. £18.0.0., To 2 mahogany french elbow chairs on castors covered with Spanish leather welted and quilted all complete £7.0.0.’ This bill, for a total of £40 15s was receipted on behalf of his father on 30 May 1760 by John Linnell. It is unclear whether the items were purchased by Lord Temple for Stowe or for his London house in Pall Mall. NATHANIEL RYDER, created 1st Lord Harrowby in 1776. 1762–77: Payments are recorded to the firm (all but one unspecified) over the period 1762–77. Two of these payments were made during William Linnell's lifetime: (1) 29 July 1762 ‘for a mahogany bottle stand and dumb waiter £4.0.0.’ and (2) unspecified, 22 July 1763 £1 13s 6d. It is not known for which house the items purchased were intended as Nathaniel Ryder only bought Sandon Hall in 1777 at which date he purchased furniture for the house from John Linnell. LANGLEY PARK Norfolk, bill from William Linnell, unknown date, Norfolk Record Office BEA 305/760 UNSPECIFIED. At the death of William Linnell, the list of the debtors to his estate included three hundred and eighty-four names many of whom must have been his clients but no details about their various commissions are known.
Sources: DEFM; Kirkham, ‘London Furniture Trade’, Furniture History (1988); Dodd, ‘A Cherishable Wreck: An Early Neo-Classical Table at Stourhead attributed to John Linnell’, Furniture History (2015).