London; carver and gilder (fl. 1731–59)
Whittle took three apps in the 1730s: James Griffith in 1731 for £10, Christopher Jackson in 1734 for £5 5s and Peter South in 1738 for £15 15s. He took app. named Thomas Ashley for £31 10s in 1743, a year after he supplied a carved and gilt chimney glass frame in the French taste for £11. In the mid-1740s Thomas Johnson worked as a journeyman for Whittle, at which time Matthias Lock was also either in Whittle’s employ or working as a sub-contractor as designer and carver. Little more is known about Whittle until his work for the Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey between 1752–55. This included ‘a large glass and frame by a design of Mr. Kents Gilt all over like Mr. Brands …’ at a cost of £44 15s and another large Chinese style frame and glass for £43.
From some time in 1752 until May 1755 James Whittle was in partnership with his only son Thomas. Although working with his father, Thomas subscribed independently to Chippendale's Director, 1754. During the partnership, Whittle snr and jnr. were responsible for carved stonework at Woburn Abbey, the bill for 1755 amounting to £697 11s 4d. Other work undertaken by the partnership included that at Petworth House. There are payments by the 2nd Earl of Egremont to James Whittle between 1753–59. In June 1753 Whittle was paid £88 9s for gilt frames, and a pier glass exists at Petworth House which is very similar in form to a pair at Holkham attributed to Whittle by Matthew Brettingham. The remaining payments totalled £1,332 15s.
Thomas Whittle died on 27 March 1755. His widow married another carver, Timothy Cooper, who had been apprenticed to James Whittle. Within a month of his son’s death James Whittle had a new partner and son-in-law, Samuel Norman.
It was only after the death of James Whittle's only son that William Hallett, friend and fellow furniture maker, wrote to Whittle to ask if his nephew, Samuel Norman, could call on Whittle's daughter Ann with a view to marriage. Norman had pressed his uncle to do this on earlier occasions, but Hallett had thought it unwise to do so because Norman was in the same business as Whittle and his son. However, when Whittle lost his son and his business was ‘in a state of fateague’ Hallett recommended his nephew as an ideal son-in-law and business partner. Norman and Whittle's articles of co-partnership reflect the family tie: Norman was guaranteed half of the stock and goods-in-trade of Whittle and, if Norman's wife should have a child living at her father's death, then one half of Whittle's estate should pass to Samuel Norman. Hallet loaned Norman £700 to give Whittle as part of the marriage settlement.
Business appears to have picked up after Norman joined Whittle. From November 1755 they subcontracted carving and gilding work to William Long of Long Acre who probably worked on some of their major commissions. A full schedule of Long's work for the firm survives. The partners enjoyed the continuing patronage of the Duke of Bedford and the Earl of Egremont. Whittle and Norman were responsible for carving all the mouldings, door cases, screens of columns and other items of interior woodwork at Woburn Abbey which had not been done by the firm of Linnell. They received £1,065 1s 11d for carved work in 1755 and two years later work began on the gilding which, at times, occupied twelve gilders. Two magnificent carved and gilt oval frames with glasses which hang in the saloon at Woburn today were billed in January 1757. Whittle and Norman continued to work at Woburn until Whittle died in late 1759. After Whittle's death Norman submitted a bill for work done in 1759 which included an ‘exceedingly large and grand oval frame with eagles’ at £97 10s and a ‘grand state bed’, the furnishings of which cost £123 9s 7d and the frame £52 13s.
Lord Egremont paid James Whittle £1,332 15s between 1754–59. There are no surviving bills, but the firms of Whittle and Whittle and later Whittle and Norman clearly supplied a great deal of the carved furniture with which Petworth House was re-furnished, including pier tables and candlestands (which resemble work at Holkham) and the magnificent state bed. The frame for the pier glass in the anteroom at Holkham is believed to have been supplied by Whittle's firm in 1759 [Brettingham], although Lady Leicester ordered extra ornaments from the house carpenter and supplied the old glass which was used.
Whittle and Norman also worked for the Earl of Holderness from 1755. In May 1758 he gave Whittle a bond for £250 which was not finally honoured by the Earl until nine years after Whittle's death. They also supplied items totalling £73 14s including a pair of girandoles at £30 for James West in 1758 which were probably for his house in Covent Gdn. The bill was annotated ‘dear’, ‘very dear’ by West but was paid in full.
In 1759 the partners subscribed to William Chambers’ A Treatise of Civil Architecture, giving their trade as ‘Carvers and Gilders’. The firm of Whittle and Norman specialised in carving and gilding, particularly frames, but from September 1758 expanded into cabinet making and upholstery. In November of that year they moved from Gt St Andrews St, Soho, and took over the premises of the late John West, cm of King St. They were joined briefly by John Mayhew who was probably brought in to help with the expansion into furniture making proper. Mayhew did not stay long, however, because by 1759 he was in partnership with William Ince who was formerly app. to John West. At the time of the move, an app. William Jackson, was taken on and recorded as bound to James Whittle, ‘Citizen and Joiner’, for £44.
The partnership between Whittle and Norman lasted until Whittle's death on 10 December 1759. Whittle left half of his estate to Ann Norman, presumably because there was no heir, and the other half was put in trust for his grandson, John (son of the late Thomas) then a minor. Norman, however, was granted the use of John Whittle's half share of the firm's stock, goods-in-trade and book debts ‘at an Appraised value’.
Only thirteen days after Whittle's death the King St premises were consumed by a fire from which Samuel and Ann Norman were lucky to escape with their lives. The fire occurred before Richard Evatt and Robert Hyde had completed their inventory and valuation of Whittle and Norman's stock and goods in trade. This, together with the fact that most of the firm's records were destroyed in the fire, meant that it proved very difficult to sort out affairs between Norman and those who represented Whittle's grandson John. Norman was left with virtually no stock but, with the continued patronage of Egremont and others, he managed to re-build the business. 4thEARL OF CARDIGAN. 1742: James Whittle supplied a carved and gilt chimney glass frame in the French taste costing £11. WOBURN ABBEY (4th Duke of Bedford). James and Thomas Whittle, 1752–55. PETWORTH HOUSE (2nd Earl of Egremont). James and Thomas Whittle, 1753–55. WOBURN ABBEY (4th Duke of Bedford). James Whittle and Samuel Norman, 1755–59. PETWORTH HOUSE (2nd Earl of Egremont). James Whittle and Samuel Norman, 1755–59. HOLKHAM HALL (1st Earl of Leicester). James Whittle and Samuel Norman, c. 1759. 4thEARL OF HOLDERNESS, probably for Hornby Castle, Yorks. James Whittle and Samuel Norman, 1755–59. JAMES WEST, probably for his house in Covent Gdn. James Whittle and Samuel Norman, 1758. See Samuel Norman.
Source: DEFM; Kirkham, ‘The London Furniture Trade’, Furniture History (1988); Simon, ‘Thomas Johnson's The Life of the Author’, Furniture History (2003).