William Gates was a cm who specialized in fine inlay and engraved
woodwork. He succeeded John Bradburn as a tradesman to the Great Wardrobe, his warrant from George III being dated July 1777. Gates's first recorded commission from the Royal Household came in 1778 when he supplied ‘a very neat mahogany cistern’ for the dining room of the Queen's House, St James's Park, at a cost of £8 10s.
Like many English 18th-century cm Gates's life has glaring gaps through lack of information. In 1779 Gates was insured for a total of £1,000 which covered stock and goods. [GL, Sun MS vol. 275, p. 289] In March 1780 he was listed as bankrupt. [Gents Mag.] Gates obviously weathered this crisis for he kept his Royal Warrant and the Lord Chamberlain's Office returns for the quarter ending January 1781 list him as having supplied a ‘Sattinwood writing table with a Tambour top’; this table was inlaid and engraved with the feathers of the Prince of Wales, and cost £24 19s.
Two seminal pieces in Gates's oeuvre are ‘2 very fine Sattinwood inlaidcommode tables to stand under piers with semi-circular fronts’. These were supplied in 1781 to the Prince of Wales, later George IV, for his apartments in the Queen's House, St James's Park (Buckingham Palace). The cabinets cost £80 plus an extra £3 1s 6d for two leather covers. Each commode has three drawers in the frieze, two doors in the centre, which open to reveal drawers, and two doors either side enclosing cupboards. The doors are inlaid with ovals enclosing tall urns; the semi-circular tops have urns in the centre with Neo-classical floral scrolls emerging from the base. They are still in Buckingham Palace. [Burlington, July 1931, pp. 22–27] Gates also made other, less elaborate furniture, an example of which is the ‘Clothes Press with fluted Cornice and carved Paterae’ supplied for £20 to a Mr Hawkins of Kew, Surrey.
In 1738 William Gates formed a short-lived partnership with Benjamin Parran, the nephew of Benjamin Goodison. During 1784 Gates lost his Royal Warrant. This may have had a connection with the fact that George, Prince of Wales, was allowed his own household and his accounts were no longer controlled by the Lord Chamberlain's Office. It is not known why the Prince should have withdrawn his patronage but it must have had a detrimental effect on Gates's career. In 1784 he moved from the fashionable cabinet makers’ street of St Martin's Lane to 30 St Albans Hill. [D] He continued in business and at least by the turn of the century was associated with Charles Elliott. The date of his death, like that of his birth, is not known.
To judge from the surviving examples of his work Gates was one of the foremost inlay workers of his day. He probably designed his own pieces but in at least one case he worked to a drawing supplied by the Prince of Wales. This was in 1780 for a pair of ‘superb tripods or thermes’. Apart from cabinet making, Gates may have been involved in building speculation for in 1774 he took out a policy with the Sun Insurance Co. on a house in Owens Row, Islington. The house, no. 5, still stands and Gates insured it for £200, it being described as ‘A Brick house … not finished’. [GL, Sun MS, vol. 235 and vol. 240, p. 360]
QUEEN'S HOUSE, St James's Park. In 1778 Gates supplied for the dining room of the Queen's house ‘a very neat mahogany cistern on a pedestal, the inside lined with lead, a brass cock & cover to d°. and very neat brass mould by way of hoops neatly wrought & wrought handles to d°. (size of the whole 3 feet 2 inches high & 15½ inches wide & deep, with reel carved mouldings) £8 10s. [V & A archives]
GEORGE, PRINCE OF WALES. In 1780 Gates supplied ‘an exceedingly fine Sattinwood writing table with a Tambour top neatly inlaid & engraved with various services, on the top a plume of Feathers very neatly inlaid, & the motto’, £24 10s. [Lord Chamberlain's Office, Bills for the quarter ending 5 January 1781; V & A archives]
QUEEN'S HOUSE, St James's Park, London (George, Prince of Wales). In 1781 Gates supplied for the Prince of Wales's apartments in the Queen's House ‘2 very fine Sattinwood inlaidCommode tables to stand under piers with semicircular fronts, 4 drawers each & 3 drawers over ditto, one drawer of each with a sliding board over d°, cover'd with green cloth to write on, the doors, drawers, and tops richly engraved with Urns, Vases, flowers and ornaments in woods of different colours, with locks and bolts to d°. Size of each, 3 feet 9inches long, and 3 feet high. £80. (2 leather covers £3 1s 6d)’. [PRO, Lord Chamberlain's papers, no. 328]
GEORGE, PRINCE OF WALES. In 1781 Gates supplied the Prince of Wales with a ‘chimney-glass in a carved frame, a very fine top to d° with clusters of flowers hanging in festoons from vases, & other ornaments, & husks down the sides of the frame all very neatly gilt in burnish'd gold, a large Plate in the middle and border to d°. (size of the frame 5 feet 7 wide & 3 feet 9 high) £63’. [V & A archives]
MR HAWKINS’ HOUSE, Kew, Surrey. In 1781 Gates supplied ‘a very good mahogany Clothes Press with fluted Cornice and Carved Paterae, 6 shelves with inside made in two parts with 2 long and 2 short drawers … £20’. [V & A archives]
GEORGE, PRINCE OF WALES. In 1781 Wm Gates charged the Prince £9 15s ‘for three very fine trays curiously inlaid and engraved with different devises rims to d° & a silvered string round d° & handles’. [V & A archives]
QUEEN'S HOUSE, St James's Park (George, Prince of Wales). In 1781 Gates supplied ‘two very fine card tables in a semi circular form and inlaid with different woods of different colours and neatly … and the top lined within with green cloth £21’. [V & A archives] T.R.