Seddon, George snr
Aldersgate Street, London; cabinet maker (fl.1753–d.1801)
The firm of Seddon was probably the largest furniture-making firm in London in the last quarter of the 18th century when it employed more people, held more extensive stocks and produced a wider-range of goods than any other furniture making business. It remained of considerable importance throughout its history, yet few labelled or documented pieces are known so it is not possible to present a stylistic analysis of the output of this major firm.
Family tradition has it that in about 1750 George Seddon, of a Lancashire family of that name, went to London and set up as a furniture maker. It may well be that his great grandson was correct about his origins because there was a George Seddon, cabinet maker who had to buy his freedom of the London Joiners’ Co. because he had not been trained by a member of that company. Other writers have claimed the founder of the Seddon firm as the George Seddon who came from Blacklea and Eccles in Lancashire and was app. to George Clematson of the Joiners’ Co. However, this is contradicted by the entry in the Joiners’ Co. app. records which states that the George Seddon who was app. to George Clematson in September 1742 was the son of John Seddon, Clerk, of Warfield, Berks. The premium charged by the master was £16 and it was met by a charitable payment from the ‘Stewards of the Sons of the Clergy’. This same George Seddon became free of the Joiners’ Co. in 1751, a Liveryman in 1757 and ultimately Master in 1795. A portrait, said to be of George Seddon, is in the collection of the V&A (P.71-1927).
Whatever his background, the George Seddon who headed the famous firm of that name had purchased a two-acre site in Aldersgate St which included London House, the former residence of the Bishop of London, by 1753.The choice of site suggests that Seddon intended to establish a large firm from the outset. It remained in Aldersgate St until 1826. Directories gave the address as 158 Aldersgate St until 1770, whereafter re-numbering led to it being 151 and sometimes also 150 Aldersgate St. George Seddon took his first app. in 1753 and bound one per year until 1759. In 1754 he subscribed to Chippendale's Director.
The firm expanded fairly rapidly in the 1760s. The number of journeymen regularly employed is not known but Seddon soon took advantage of a licensing arrangement which enabled him to employ craftsmen who were not freemen of the City of London. Between ten and twenty workers were thus engaged in 1760–61. In 1762 and 1763 twenty men worked under license for Seddon and the number rose to thirty in the years 1764–67. In 1768 and 1769 one hundred non-freemen were employed. A fire at Seddons in 1768 was reported as consuming ‘upwards of eighty chests of tools’ and it would appear, therefore, that the majority of Seddon workers at that date had not been trained within a London Company. This does not automatically mean that they had been app. outside London but it is likely that some of them were provincially trained. The same fire was stated to have caused £20,000 of damage and Seddon was forced to move for about eighteen months into houses in Jewin Street.
By 1783, when there was another fire, the firm employed nearly 300 ‘of the most capital hands’ in London while in 1786, Sophie Von La Roche noted that Seddon was ‘foster father’ to 400 ‘apprentices’. Her figure must have included both journeymen and apps, and it probably also included metal and glass workers whom she stated worked on the premises. Seddon regularly took on apps, all of whom appear to have been bound for the traditional period of seven years. By 1757 there were seven in the firm and there were more than ten at any one time during the years 1766–69. In the 1770s the figures fluctuated between four and nine and in the 1780s between five and ten. In 1790 and 1791 there were ten apps, but the app. records note only one app. taken by George Seddon after then. The Inland Revenue app. records tail off at this time, but the fact that there are no further entries for Seddon in the Joiners’ Co. records after 1794 suggests that George Seddon did not take on any further apps. Rough ratios of apps to journeymen can be calculated. When the firm was still establishing itself in the late 1760s, it had approximately one app. for every seven workmen but when it greatly expanded its workforce in the 1780s the number of apps did not rise proportionately, with only one app. for every thirty or forty workmen at that time. The expansion of the firm, therefore, was based on the employment of craft-trained journeymen rather than apps.
The improving fortunes of the firm are reflected in insurance and stock valuations. In 1756 and 1757 Seddon's insurance policies gave cover for £500 and included domestic residence, workshops and stock. By 1763–64 household and business goods were insured for £1,000 with the Sun Insurance Office but in 1763 Seddon also had a policy with the Union Fire Office for £1,000. There are a few references to George Seddon insuring with both firms, but it is not clear whether this was done on a regular basis. Stock and goods were insured for £3,300 in 1768 but in the latter year Seddon unfortunately allowed his policy to lapse before a fire did extensive damage to both premises and stock. He claimed losses of £7,700 but the Directors of the Sun Insurance Office only awarded him £500 compensation. He appears to have made good his loss fairly quickly and by 1770 had policies totaling £7,700 for both dwelling house and business. At this time George Seddon raised money by taking out a mortgage from Giles Grendey, at which time the business was insured for £4,300. By 1787 the sum insured with the Sun Office was £17,500, of which £13,000 related to the business. Such very large sums confirm that George Seddon's business was perhaps the largest in London. The DEFM states that the firm's stock-in-trade amounted to as much as £118,926 in 1789 (£21,702 for timber, £9,068 for carpets and £3,293 for contents of upholstery warehouse) but it has not been possible to verify these figures. The large timber stocks reflect the fact that Seddon was a major importer of mahogany and supplied information on wholesale mahogany prices to the Board of Trade in the late 1780s (National Archives, BT6/50).
Sophie Von La Roche's description of Seddon's premises adds flesh to these statistical bones. She recorded that Seddon employed a variety of tradesmen on ‘any work connected with the making of household furniture- joiners, carvers, gilders, mirror-workers, upholsterers, girdlers- who mould the bronze into graceful patterns — and locksmiths. All these are housed in a building with six wings. In the basement mirrors are cast and cut. Some other department contains nothing but chairs, sofas and stools of very description, some quite simple, others exquisitely carved and made of all varieties of wood, and one large room is full up with all the finished articles in this line, while others are occupied by writing-tables, cupboards, chests of drawers, charmingly fashioned desks, chests, both large and small, work-and toilet-tables in all manner of wood and patterns, from the simplest and cheapest to the most elegant and expensive…. Chintz, silk and wool materials for curtains and bed-covers; hangings in every possible material; carpets and stair-carpets to order; in short, anything one might desire to furnish a house; and all the workmen besides and a great many seamstresses; their own saw-house too, where as many blocks of fine foreign wood lie piled, as firs and oaks are seen at our saw-mills. The entire story of the wood, as used for both inexpensive and costly furniture and the method of treating it, can be traced in this establishment …’. It is not surprising to find the partners in such a large and comprehensive firm subscribing to Edward T. Jones, Jones’ English System of Book Keeping, Bristol, 1796.
There can be no doubt that all aspects of furniture making were carried out on the premises. Besides this, the firm probably also made some of its own metal work: Von la Roche noted ‘girdlers — who mould the bronze into graceful patterns’. She also claimed that ‘mirrors were cast and cut’ in the workshops. She may have mistaken finishing processes for those of manufacturing, but George Seddon had close business connections with glass making. The firm's billheads of the 1780s and 90s refer to it as ‘Manufacturers of British Large Plate Glass’ and George Seddon had dealings with the British Plate Glass Manufacturers. In 1780 Matthew Boulton bought plate glass from this firm which he later found he could not use. He offered it to Seddon who had not only bought it cheaply but prevailed upon the company to lower the price originally asked of Boulton. The evidence suggests that Seddon was a member of the Board and, taken with the evidence of the firm's billheads, it seems safe to say that Seddon was financially involved in a firm which manufactured plate glass for both windows and mirror glass. In all probability the large plate glass intended for the Empress of Russia and destroyed in the 1783 fire was made by the British Plate Glass Manufacturers. Whether it was made at Aldersgate Street is another matter: the combination of furniture making materials with the fires and furnaces necessary to glass production is not a happy one, but it might account for the several fires suffered by the company. In 1804 George Seddon's sons, Thomas and George, owed money to a glass company and tried to raise cash by selling glass in New York.
George Seddon was in the same entrepreneurial mould as Matthew Boulton who, in 1781, wished him ‘success in your great undertaking’. This could have referred to Seddon's glass making ventures or to the fact that he bought a copy of James Watt's copying machine. This was a forerunner of the carving machines which were used commercially by certain furniture makers from the 1840s. It may be that Seddon attempted to use the machine to cut down the cost of roughing out carving which then had to be finished by hand. If so, Seddon again appears as a pioneer; on this occasion in terms of the mechanisation of the production process in furniture making.
George Seddon trained his sons within the family firm and bound them through the Joiners’ Company. His first born, named George, was apprenticed in 1769 but died sometime before the second son, Thomas (b.1761), was bound as a cabinet maker from 1775 to 1782. The younger son, George (b.1765), was also bound through the Joiners’ Company two years later but he was trained as an upholsterer. Although Seddon snr was in an influential position within the Joiners’ Company (he joined the Livery in 1757 and became master in 1795) his son George was forced to become free of the Upholders’ Company in 1787 upon threat of legal action by the company.
George Seddon took his sons into partnership in the mid-1780s. An invoice made out to the Rochester Bridge Trust dated March 1785 is headed ‘Bo’t of George Seddon & Son’, indicating that the elder boy Thomas was by then a partner in the firm. On another invoice of six weeks later made out to Arthur Jones the word ‘Son’ has been altered to read ‘Sons’ indicating that George jnr had also joined the firm.
About 1790 George Seddon’s daughter Mary married Thomas Shackleton, and from June 1790 the firm trade as ‘Seddon, Sons & Shackleton’. This arrangement lasted until George Seddon’s retirement in 1798, after which the business reverted to ‘Geo. Seddon & Sons’.
When he retired in 1798 George Seddon passed on the firm to his two sons. He allowed them to use £25,000 remaining in the business at 5% interest and they agreed to pay him £1,000 per annum to rent the Aldersgate St premises. On retirement Seddon made a will, supplemented by a codicil of 1799, to provide for his family after his death. His wife had died in 1788 but he had three daughters, Dorothy, Mary and Lydia who were each left £6,000. In order to assist his sons, to whom he left the residue of this estate, George Seddon specified that the money for the legacies be left in the firm for two years after his death whereupon half should be paid, followed by the other half in a further three years. George Seddon snr died in 1801 and two years later Mary and Lydia pressed for their legacies (Dorothy having died). The brothers found themselves unable to pay. Thomas Shackleton claimed that they had mis-managed the business and it is clear that what had once been a flourishing concern floundered after the retirement and death of its founder. A third devastating fire in 1803 cannot have helped matters.
KNOWN COMMISSIONS: SAXMUNDHAM, Suffolk (Charles Long). 1766: Bill for mahogany sideboard, £4 13s. 1768: Bill (addressed to Bond Street) for chest of drawers, chamber table, walnut kitchen chairs, bottle cistern. GOLDSMITHS COMPANY, March 1770: Mr George Seddon commissioned to make 36 ‘Mahogany Chairs with Black Leather Seats and double rows of Nails and One Arm Chair to Answer them agreeable to a pattern Chair produced to the Committee…’.The chairs were paid for in January 1771. NEW RIVER COMPANY, 1772. Geo. Seddon Upholsterer his Bill for Furniture… £151 5s; Geo. Seddon Cabinet-maker, do for Furniture £50 14. A set of 26 chairs survives, attributed to Seddon (illus. Wood, Furniture History (1997), figs 2-3. JOSIAH WEDGWOOD 1774 bill for mahogany Pembroke table and a bed; further bills for sundry items between 1798 and 1799. There are also bills from Wedgwood to Seddons for items of earthenware or ceramic – bidet pans &c. HULL, Houses in High Street and Charlotte Street (Joseph Robinson Pease). 1778: Bill for wardrobe, sideboard, dressing tables, writing table, billiards table, chairs, etc. £221 17s. 1781 bill. Total £352 13s 10d for drawing room furniture. Reprinted in full in LAC, no. 68, 1971, pp. 17–19. STRETTON HALL, Staffordshire (Mr Turner). 1780: Bill for pearl inlay on card tables, repairs, carpet etc. £2 13s 6d signed T. Cobham for George Seddon. 1782: Bill for mounting screen, varnishing chest, £1. TOWNELEY HALL, Lancs. (Charles Towneley). 1780: Payment in account bk to Seddon for Pembroke table £5 10s, writing table £22 10s. CROFT CASTLE, Herefordshire. (Sir Herbert Croft). c. 1780: Combined writing table and filing cabinet known as ‘The Croft’. MRS ELIZABETH MONTAGU. Probably for 22 Portman Sq., London 1782. Seddon probably supplied Mrs Montagu with a piece of furniture ornamented with paintings by Boulton & Co. In that year Matthew Boulton informed George Seddon that ‘the paintings’ about which he had enquired and which Mrs Montagu wanted could be made fit for the object they were to ornament. HON. H. FANE. The entry ‘To Siddons for a Bed’ in 1783–85 noted in his accounts presumably refers to Seddon. RUSSIA, (Empress of Russia). 1783: Large plate glass intended for Empress destroyed in fire at Seddon's warehouse. AUDLEY END, Essex (Lord Howard). 1783: Reflecting lanthorn £3 13s 6d. 1786: Wainscot bureau, mahogany chest of drawers, mahogany wardrobe £15 4s. LORD DEERHURST, LATER THE EARL OF COVENTRY 1783 Itemised bill totaling £366 17s 6d for furnishing Devonshire Place, London; 1802 account for Devonshire Place and Coventry Hall, London totaling £111. 16s 3d. includes charges for altering, repairing, cleaning and moving furniture; 1804, bill for a sofa bed and bedding. MASTER ROBERT HEATHCOTE, 1786; Account bk of Heathcote's expenses includes 8s ‘To Cash Paid Mr. Seddon Cabinet Maker For A Table Writing Desk’. HEATON HALL, Manchester (Sir Thomas Egerton, Bt). 1783: Bill to Seddon £18 14s. 1790: Bill to Seddon £4 10s 6d. ROCHESTER BRIDGE TRUST, 1785. ‘Bot of Geo Seddon & Son… 12 Mahogany Chairs to drawing with the Arms neatly inlaid in the Backs, sweep front streght sides moulded taper feet, bordered in Red Morocco and two Rows of best Gold Lacquered Nails @ 86/-… £51 12 0; 2 Mahogany Arm Chairs to correspond with a Motto neatly engraved on each for the Wardens… £13 12 0 (illus. Gilbert, Furniture History (1998), figs 4-6).
WILLIAM CLAYTON. 1787: Bill. Geo. Seddon & Sons. ‘Seddon's bill for Mariann's box’. Bill signed by John Jacobs for George Seddon. A satinwood work box and leather cover £13 8s and an oval glass in a mahogany frame 11s.
Bill to William Clayton, Esq. dated March 3rd 1787 (Heal 28.202). © The Trustees of the British Museum
BADMINTON HOUSE, Glos. (5th Duke of Beaufort). 1788: Received £93 as ‘Seddon & Co.’. 1789: Ibid., Received £42. 1791: Ibid., Received £56 7s. CALCUTTA, India (William Hickey). 1791: Billiard table made by Seddon, purchased at price of 1000 sicca rupees (approx. £188).
HAUTEVILLE HOUSE, St Peter Port, Guernsey (D. Tupper). 1790. This is the first documented commission; Bill of Geo. Seddon, Sons & Shackleton for £414 11s 4½ for furniture including 18 painted satinwood elbow chairs which cost 73s 6d each. Three French stools (window seats) were made to match at £15 15s each and a settee for £17 10s. Also supplied were mahogany chairs, a pair of girandoles and screens. A window seat resembling those from the set described above was sold at Christie's, while a pair of chairs were sold at Sotheby's, 20 November 1970, lot 191. One seat rail stamped ‘IP’, the other stamped ‘WR’, twice. Lot 190 was a matching semi-circular card table.
Partial bill to D. Tupper, Esq. dated 1790 (Heal 28.201). © The Trustees of the British Museum
BRIDWELL HOUSE, Dorset (R. Clarke). 1792–93: Bill. Seddon Sons & Shackleton for furniture £139 0s 4d. This included matching satinwood card and Pembroke tables with leather covers, £25 for the three; two white and gold tripods with cut glass, £21; and ten white and gold elbow chairs covered with the owner's own needlework, £46 and a matching sofa, £12. The original bill, together with a letter from the firm, was sold with the ‘white and gold tripods’ catalogued as ‘painted and parcel-gilt, torchères [with] cut glass drop-hung foliate drip-pans … 167 cm high’ at Sotheby's, 19 June 1981, Lot 109. Later sold through Hotspur Ltd. NORWAY, Ulefoss Manorhouse, near Posgrunn (Niels Aalls). In 1793 Seddon exported 28 pieces of furniture (mainly mahogany) though several items were ‘japanned’ i.e. painted white). The bill totaled £73 3s. WOBURN, Beds. (Francis, 5th Duke of Bedford). 1793: 4 satinwood pillar & claw octagon tables £20. MASSINGBERD. 1793: May 23: Mr Siddons ‘A Mattress. £3 4s 6d D°, A Door Rug 2s. — £3 6s 6d’. ‘Sept 31: Mattress, Siddons Bill. £3 5s’. These entries presumably relate to a Seddon commission. SPAIN (King Charles IV). 1793: Cabinet made to order of King Charles IV of Spain. Designed by Sir William Chambers, decorated with panels painted by Sir William Hamilton and made by Seddon, Sons & Shackleton. Name of the main craftsman involved (R. Newham) and date on which it was finished (28 June 1793) inscribed inside. The cabinet was broken up after 1908 when it was shown at the Franco-British Exhibition. PHILADELPHIA, USA (William Bingham). The traveller Henry Wansey noted that the drawing room chairs in Bingham's ‘magnificent house’ in Philadelphia were from Seddon's in London. They were in ‘the newest taste; the back in the form of lyre, adorned with festoons of crimson and yellow silk’. WILLIAM FORBES CALLENDAR HOUSE, SCOTLAND, 1795. Bill for a pattern armchair: ‘Mahogany Chair cover’d & border’d in Red Morocco Leather & Finish with two rows of best gold lacquer Nails @ £2 10s; ‘Elbow Do @ £3 13s 6d. KENWOOD HOUSE, London (2nd Lord Mansfield). 1795: Payment noted in bank account of Lord Mansfield to Seddon & Co. £35 10s. (Hoare's Bank] THE MANOR HOUSE, Lee (Lewisham) (Thomas Baring). 1798: Bill for supplying items including a crib bedstead and repairing and cleaning a dressing table and folding bedstead. The firm charged £1 2s 10d for cutting Baring's own plank of satinwood into veneers (120 feet of them). Total bill £17 19s 10d. DEVONSHIRE PLACE, London (Lord Deerhurst). 1799: Bill from George Seddon and Sons to Lord Deerhurst, son of the 6th Earl of Coventry, totalled £1,068 12s 11d. It included chairs, dining tables, bedstead, carpet, music stand, cushions, glove stand, repairs, etc. mainly for his London house. There is a further long bill which includes stuffing a sofa, laying a carpet, and supplying chimney glasses, a writing table, breakfast table, floor cloth, Pembroke table, dining tables, festoon window curtains, Venetian window blinds, hall chairs and other items which probably also relate to the London house). LONGFORD CASTLE, Wilts. (3rd Earl of Radnor). 1801: Payment in Longford Castle accounts to Seddon & Co.
LABELLED/STAMPED PIECES:SEDDON, SONS & SHACKLETON. Images of numerous pieces of documented, inscribed, labelled or attributed furniture from this period can be found in Gilbert, Furniture History (1997), figs 1-38. Gilbert’s subsequent article in FH 1998 illustrates two different trade labels, one for ‘Seddons’ and the other ‘George Seddons’. More Seddon pieces are illustrated in Gilbert, Marked London Furniture (1996), figs 788-798.
Other labelled furniture includes: Mahogany writing table or ‘croft’: 20ʺ wide. Mahogany pedestal writing table, rectangular top. 5′ 6ʺ × 3′ 5½ʺ.
Dressing table c.1800. Mahogany, inlaid in mahogany, box, satinwood and ebony with painted floral borders on cabinet doors. Glass roll-top in centre enclosing four turned satinwood toilet boxes 58ʺ × 32¾ʺ × 16ʺ.
Sources: DEFM; Kirkham, ‘London Furniture Trade’, Furniture History (1988), p. 89; Gilbert, ‘Seddon, Sons & Shackleton’, Furniture History (1997); Wood, ‘The Aftermath of George Seddon’s First Fire: Two London Commissions’, Furniture History (1997); Gilbert & Wood, ‘Sophie Von La Roche at Seddon’s’, Furniture History (1997); Gilbert, ‘A Few Seddon Gleanings’, Furniture History (1998).
- Writing table
- Writing desk
- Sofa table
- Reading desk
- Pembroke table
- Occasional table
- Kitchen chair
- Hall chair
- Filing cabinet
- Elbow chair
- Dressing table
- Dining table
- Chest of tools
- Chest of drawers
- Chamber table
- Card table
- Breakfast table
- Billiard table