Wardour St, London; upholsterer, cabinet maker, decorator, appraiser, agent, undertaker (b.1760-d.1829)
Son of Robert and Elizabeth Newton, James was christened at the church of St Botolph without Aldgate, London, on 9 March 1760. He was distantly related to another James Newton, a Holborn cabinet maker declared bankrupt in 1738. It is likely he was apprenticed in the workshops of Lawrence Fell and William Turton c.1774, becoming qualified by 1781 when his name first appeared in the Burghley Day Book. He married Elizabeth, probably William Turton’s daughter. Newton gradually assumed control of the Fell and Turton partnership at 31 Compton Street from the late 1780s having been made a partner in 1782. In 1782 the Compton Street premises of Fell & Newton comprised a ‘house and warerooms communicating’ (insured for £150), ‘utensils, stock & goods in trust therein’ (£500), ‘utensils, stock & goods in trust in their timber workshop situate the east end of the yard’ (£100), ‘utensils and stock in the open yard’ (£700), and ‘utensils, stock & goods in trust in their back workshop’ along with ‘timber situate in Mill Alley’ (£300). Newton acquired 63 Wardour Street at the end of 1782, using this as a dwelling only, with Fell & Newton continuing to trade from Compton Street until at least 1784. In 1789 Newton was first recorded as an independent cabinet-maker at the Wardour Street address with 64 Wardour Street being acquired in 1805. In 1808 his first and third sons, Robert and James jnr, entered the partnership which then traded as James Newton & Son. In 1812 James snr formed a second, separate partnership with Thomas Dawes of 69 Dean Street, later 20-21 Carlisle Street, Soho. Dawes was the ‘inventor of the patent sunshades’ as well as copying machines, portable desks, medicine chests, tea cadies and dressing cases. The partnership lasted 15 years, but only one piece by them is known, a console table c. 1812-20, (illus. Furniture History (1995), p. 169), with the printed label: ‘Manufactory for Patent Outside Sun Shades, Dawes and Newton, Cabinet Makers, Upholsterers, Appraisers, Auctioneers and Undertakers, 69 Dean Street, Soho, Superior Carpets, Bedding, Blankets &c.’. James Newton was a subscriber to Thomas Malton’s Compleat Treatise on Perspective, 1775, and was listed in the names of master cabinet makers included in Sheraton’s Cabinet Dictionary, 1805. Newton’s wife and his daughters Elizabeth and Mary died in 1827 and James died on 19 October 1829. His will dated 4 June 1825 made provision for his fourth son, Richard, who had had a mental breakdown. Newton’s estate was sworn in under £35,000 and included freehold land at Hemingford Gray, near Huntingdon; properties and warehouses in Wardour Street, funds, stocks and bonds with the Bank of England and the lease on a house in Duke Street, Mayfair, to which he had probably retired. Despite a long-standing connection with St Anne’s, Soho, Newton was evidently a Dissenter by the end of his life, as his parish was given as Portland Chapel. His life was insured at the Equitable Insurance Office for £500, and Newton’s attorneys were Messrs. Allen, Gylby & Allen of 17 Carlisle Street, Soho. James and Charles Newton served as executors to their father’s will, along with Thomas Sheldon Chittenden, an undertaker from Greek Street, Soho. James Newton jnr and Robert succeeded to the Wardour Street premises, which was trading as Robert & James Newton after 1822, and leased a showroom in Bruton Street. In 1824 they supplied the Royal Household with furniture to the value of £172 10s. The business continued until 1848. Charles inherited the house in Duke Street.
Surviving accounts indicated that Newton’s workshops in Wardour Street were of considerable size and diversity; furniture was painted, carved, veneered, metal-inlaid, upholstered etc. and he employed specialist craftsmen as well as sub-contracting work such as carving to Edward Wyatt and John Deane. Newton’s bank account for 1790-92 included regular disbursements (salaries) to the same three people, Messrs. Edwards, Baird and Davies, but by c. 1810 the staff was considerably larger. The workshops did not have a metal foundry so metal objects like fire baskets, chimney mounts etc. were outsourced, with Newton’s designs, to Benjamin Laver of 4 Bruton Street, Mr Pontifex and W. S. Summers of 105 New Bond Street. In addition to furniture making, Newton acted as an estate and managing agent of large London houses, mainly in Mayfair; he refurbished houses and supplied furnishings and decorations directly both on a permanent basis and for balls and galas. He also acted as appraiser carrying out appraisals and inventories for the Duke of Buccleuch in 1812, the Marquesses of Exeter (1804 and 1837) and the Earl of Jersey (1805). Upholding was a large part of his work, ranging from rugs to elaborate satin, velvet, silk damask draped beds.
From 1783-1804, taking over from William Turton and Lawrence Fell at Burghley, Newton supplied the 10th Earl of Exeter (later 1st Marquess) with cabinet work, upholstery, lighting, woodwork including the wainscot for the George Rooms, and metalwork. The total was nearly £8,000. Cabinet work included a parcel-gilt rosewood veneered side cabinet and ensuite upright cabinet for the Blue Drawing Room (illus. Furniture History (1995), pp. 151 & 2); a suite of pier furniture (illus. Furniture History (1995), p. 152) and two State beds with hangings (illus. Furniture History (1995), pp. 156 & 157). Newton was possibly also the maker of an artist’s working desk with four drawers and baize covered tilting top, full of painting equipment, discovered at Burghley House in the 21st century (illus. Culverhouse, FHS Newsletter (November 2017), pp. 3-5), made to a Sheraton design published in 1793. On the death of the 1st Marquess in 1804 Newton carried out an inventory and valuation of Burghley. As a result of the Burghley commission, other work followed. Upholstery and three items of furniture were provided for Sir Gilbert Heathcote at Normanton Park in 1797-98 & 1803; an upright cabinet and 2 mahogany X frame games tables (illus. Furniture History (1995), pp. 161 & 165). The commission for Matthew Boulton at Soho House, Birmingham, with accounts dated October 1797-22 August 1799, included rugs, beds, japanned and satinwood chairs, curtains, sofas, and tables; and amounted to £530. Firmly attributed to Newton a set of twelve caned beechwood armchairs and possibly a pair of caned mahogany Klismos chairs (illus. Furniture History (1995), pp. 162 & 164), and a decorative plinth purpose-built for Boulton’s famous Sidereal Clock. Also, Boulton commissioned from Newton a satinwood writing table for his daughter Anne (illus. FHS Newsletter (August 2013), pp. 1-3). The design (1790s) of a giltwood side table/sideboard with marble top, console-pilasters and satyr-hooves at Soho House, has also been attributed to Newton (illus. FHS Newsletter (November 2007). Newton worked for Viscount Villiers, later 5th Earl of Jersey, at Middleton Park providing grand new furniture as well the repair of furniture possibly made by him earlier, and moving of furniture between Villiers houses in Cumberland Place and Charles Street, for which he made more furniture. His accounts 1804-06 totalled just over £900. One of a pair of writing cabinets in Boulle marquetry (illus. Furniture History (1995), p. 161). The commission from 1810-16 for 4th Earl of Breadalbane was initially for his London properties in Park Lane and Wigmore Street then continuing for Taymouth Castle. £3,393 7s 4d was accounted in 1810 for Taymouth. The Taymouth commission (1810-12) included eight French commodes with brass work, two tulipwood coffee tables, a rosewood claw table, and beds, one with a large dome. A set of Gothic chairs, carved by Edward Wyatt to Newton’s designs, were delivered 1810-11 (illus. Furniture History (1995), p. 162). Further furnishings for Park Lane, along with preparations for a rout, were carried out by Newton until the end of July 1813 and the account was paid in full just under two years later. The total accounts for Breadalbane amounted to over £4,000. For the 4th Duke of Buccleuch Newton secured a house in South Audley Street in 1812, which he then altered, decorated and furnished in the same year. He also organised and carried out the funeral arrangements for the 4th Duke in May 1819. Another of Newton’s clients was 1st Earl Brownlow (Belton House) for whom Newton supplied a cabinet (illus. Furniture History (1995), p. 150) and possibly also two small tables (illus. Furniture History (1995), p. 165). It is possible that Newton visited Thomas Hope’s house in Duchess Street in Spring 1804 as he made a pair of beechwood elbow armchairs (illus. Furniture History (1995), p. 163), which are based on a design in Thomas Hope’s Household Furniture 1807 (plate 22). Further examples of the firm’s labelled furniture and labels are illustrated in Gilbert (1996), figs 680-688).
Sources: DEFM; Gilbert, Pictorial Dictionary of Marked London Furniture 1700-1840 (1996); Ellwood, ‘James Newton’, Furniture History (1995); Hardy, ‘The Soho House Table’, FHS Newsletter (November 2007), Rice, ‘Birmingham Museums Trust Acquires an Important Writing Table for Soho House Museum’, FHS Newsletter (August 2013); Culverhouse, ‘An Interesting Discovery in a Drawer at Burghley’, FHS Newsletter (November 2017).