Although the firm of John Gordon and John Taitt received a number of important commissions in the 1770s, relatively little is known about the two partners’ early careers. The origins of John Gordon have yet to be discover
ed, but from his will in which he leaves a bequest to his spinster sister in Stranrawor, Galloway, it might be surmised that he had come from that place. A John Gordon was working in 1725 at Hopetoun House, W. Lothian. He is mentioned on an order of wainscots amounting to £133 from William Adam [Hopetoun accounts, No. 4] but from the early date and signature it is unlikely to be the same John Gordon who in 1756 was providing furniture for the 2nd Duke of Atholl at Blair Castle, Perthshire.
John Gordon's address is first cited on two bills in the Blair Castle accounts for 30 March and 29 April 1748 as the corner of Swallow St, Argyll Buildings. Heal lists a John Gordon at this address quoting a trade card of 1748. In 1749 a John Gordon, cm of King St, Golden Sq., London is featured in the polling list for a Westminster by-election. Little Argyle St is a turning off Swallow St and probably the same address; and King St is immediately behind Swallow St. We are therefore probably dealing with a single complex of buildings throughout Gordon's career, but variously described. The type and range of furnishings supplied to the Duke of Atholl indicates that John Gordon ran a sizeable establishment, providing a variety of cabinetmaking, upholstery and joinery services. Two fully documented suites of seat furniture still survive at Blair Castle. The quality of these pieces, together with the descriptions of other items in the accounts indicate the work of a fashionable craftsman.
John Gordon's next recorded commission, for the Duke of Gordon, illustrates the variety of services he offered. Gordon supplied furniture and upholstery for the Duke's London houses between the years 1747 and 1753. As well as undertaking repairs, he provided a wide range of goods from a cradle to a house for two goats, a child's painted cart, and a mahogany hardboard for cutting cucumbers. For Sanston House, Gordon received a grander order which included 12 beds with bedding, numerous carpets and 2 dozen wainscot hall chairs. In 1750, however, a dispute arose between the Duke and Gordon, who had been asked to supply furniture and furnishings to the Duke's house in Upper Grosvenor St, leased from the Earl of Holderness. He had been instructed by the Duke to take possession of the house while His Grace was in Scotland and to supply some furniture together with Alexander Dingwall, cm. Gordon is alleged to have dismissed Dingwall, and to have exceeded his instructions, supplying furnishings totalling over £863 in the Duke's absence. Gordon was faced with ruin and in June 1750, the Duke paid on account £100 and a note for £600. He called in two arbitrators, tradesmen of character, who made a detailed appraisal [Scottish RO, GD44/49/20/16] and concluded he had overcharged £170 11s on a grand total of £1,226 19s 9d. [Scottish RO, GD44/49/20/3]
In 1753 John Gordon, upholder and cm in the parish of St James, Westminster, renounced all claims ‘on the estate of Cosmo George, late Duke of Gordon’. [Scottish RO, GD44/ 51/309/4/77] The official document was dated 24 April 1753, and on that same day the Dowager Duchess, widow of the Duke, paid him £431 16s.
It may be that this dispute caused a severe financial setback and/or forced Gordon into the greater security of a partnership, but for whatever reason, there is no further record of John Gordon for the years 1756–67. He may, however, be the ‘Mr. Gordon, upholder … to Sir William Chambers’ who is listed as a subscriber to Chambers's Treatise on Civil Architecture, 1759. There is a possibility that at this time John Gordon was associated with the William Gordon, cm who is named as a subscriber to Chippendale's Director, 1754. Other than a reference in the app. reg. to a ‘Jn Bencroft app. to Wm Gordom of St James Westminster, carv. £20’ in 1762, there is no further clue to the identity of William Gordon.
It could also be that during these years John Gordon was in partnership with Thomas Landall, cm of Little Argyle St. A tradecard of c. 1750 advertises ‘Landall & Gordon Joyners, Cabinet and chairmakers at ye Griffin & Chair in Little Argyle Street by Swallow St Makes all sorts of Tables, Chairs, setteebeds, looking glasses, picture frames, window blinds and all sorts of cabinet work’. [Heal] The next certain information we have about John Gordon, however, is found in the accounts for a commission for the Earl of Coventry at Croome Court, Worcs., in 1767. Gordon was now in partnership with John Taitt whose earlier career is undocumented. The Croome Court bills were submitted in 1767 and 1769 and are signed for ‘Mr. Gordon & self John Taitt’. They reveal that the firm had supplied among other items a very grand suite of carved and gilded Neo-classical furniture.
From 1767–70 Gordon and Taitt are located at King St, Golden Sq, according to London directories. By 1771 they appear to have expanded their business to premises on Swallow St. [Essex RO, A.31/3 1773] Directories list the firm at Little Argyle St from 1771–79. The size of their next two commissions, which were undertaken almost simultaneously, would seem to indicate that their trade was flourishing. For Sir Griffin Griffin at Audley End between 1771–73 they worked, under Robert Adams's direction, supplying the entire furnishings for the Great Drawing Room, the Little Drawing Room, the Great Parlour and the Library. The large suite of green and gilt furniture for the Great Drawing Room is still in place, as is the exceptional double-headed couch, one of the two original small couches and the four matching stools made for the Little Drawing Room.
The extent of Gordon and Taitt's commission in the early 1770s for the Earl Spencer is harder to determine. Stylistically a number of items of furniture now at Althorp show similarities with the furniture Gordon supplied to Blair Castle in the 1750s, and the quality of the furniture at Audley End would seem to support the argument that Gordon and Taitt might have supplied in the 1760s some of the grand Neoclassical furniture for Spencer House, including the lion suite for which it is known they made the loose covers in 1772.
The close relationship John Gordon may have had with the Spencer household is revealed by his appointment of the Earl's steward as an executor in his will, of 1778. What is known is that the firm provided a great deal of upholstery in the 1770s for the Spencer houses, including the furnishings for an elaborate bed costing £16 5s. Of the furniture only a few minor pieces are itemized in the bills including a lunar table, a quilting frame, some low stools with cane seats, an expensive dressing table, a ‘Trou-madame’ table and a neat mahogany French writing table.
In addition, they carried out in 1772 a considerable amount of repair work, mending and regilding the John Vardy hall lantern at Spencer house, and making loose covers and cases for the furniture designed by James Stuart.
In 1776, the year the 1st Duchess of Northumberland included ‘Gordon, London’ in her list of furniture makers [C. Gilbert, Chippendale, p. 154] the firm of Gordon and Taitt of Swallow St insured its utensils, stock and goods for £2,200. [GL, Sun MS vol. 248, p. 590] Two years later in July 1778, John Gordon's will was proved at London. The exact date of his death, however, is not known. This will, which was drawn up in 1777, describes the bequests of ‘John Gordon, cabinetmaker and upholsterer of the Parish of St. James within the Liberty of Westminster’. His executors were his two brothers (whom he does not name), John Taitt of Swallow St, cm, to whom he left £20, and Thomas Townsend, steward to the Earl Spencer. [PRO, Prob., 11/1044] After Gordon's death, John Taitt continued in business under his own name, trading at 75 Swallow St from 1779–85.
On a trade card c. 1780 Taitt of 75 Swallow St advertises his services as u, cm, appraiser and undertaker, carver and gilder. [BM] Taitt's documented commissions included two for earlier clients. He provided in 1781 a neat mahogany pillar and claw table to the Earl of Coventry for which he received payment in the following year. The note acknowledging receipt of payment on behalf of John Taitt was signed by William Taitt. Also in 1781 John Taitt received another valuable commission from Sir John Griffin Griffin to supply 12 cabriole carved and giltchairs and two sofas to match for his house on Burlington St. The bill in this case was submitted by John Taitt and Richard Taitt. Despite these commissions business seems to have gone badly, and in the Gents Mag., June 1786, it was announced that John Taitt had been declared bankrupt.
The sale of his household furniture, stock in trade and other effects was held by Christie's, 13–17 March 1786, at Taitt's house and warehouses in Swallow and King Streets, Hanover Sq. The extensive premises included upholstery shop, wareroom, upholder's shop, Blanket room and counting house at Swallow St with the saw pit, warehouses, cabinetmaking and carvers shops on King St. The stock in trade included a complete dining suite as well as numerous small decorative items. Among the books in the sale was a copy of Chippendale's Director. One of the Taitts bought in several of the lots of timber in the sale, and by 1787 John Taitt is listed in the London Directories at 254 Oxford St, with his occupation given as cm and u. He is listed at that address until 1799.
Both John and Richard Taitt appear in the Lord Chamberlain's accounts for 1793–96. Richard Taitt is described as an u and joiner and his address is given as Jermyn St between 1793 and 1795. [Fastnedge, Sheraton Furniture] John Taitt's death at Exeter is recorded in the Gents Mag., October 1800.
BLAIR CASTLE (2nd Duke of Atholl). 1748 bill to John Gordon, Swallow St, Argyle Buildings for bedstead, 12 cherrytree Marlbro chairs, large wainscot library table, etc., £33 8s 6d. 1753 bill for panama card table & watch case, £4 4s. 1753 bills for bedsteads, 6 mahogany chairs with lion paws, 2 settees do. etc., £36 10s. 1756–57 bills for ‘8 mahogany chairs carved frames in fish scales with a french foot and carved leaf on the toe, 6 mahogany 3 footed stools with a French scroll toe, 2 pillar & claw tables and 6 library stools … £49 12s 6d. [Blair Castle archives] The ‘lion's paw’ and ‘fish scale’ suites still survive at Blair.
CONDUIT ST, London (Duke of Gordon). 1749 detailed bill of goods supplied and services rendered by John Gordon, parish of St James Westminster, including a cradle, mahogany tea chest, childs cart and sundry repairs to furniture and the house. Total £29 4s 7d. [Scottish RO, GD44/49/20/2]
SANSTON HOUSE (Duke of Gordon). 1749 bill from John Gordon for house furnishings including 12 beds, 4 Wilton carpets (one ‘Roman Pavement’) wainscott hall chairs, etc. Total £285 15s. [Scottish RO, GD44/51/302/84]
UPPER GROSVENOR ST (Duke of Gordon). Undated account of stuff given by Duke of Gordon to John Gordon to be made into furniture for Gothic tester bed, etc. [Scottish RO, GD44/ 49/20/5] 1750 note of furniture to be returned from Duke of Gordon's house to John Gordon. Total £75 17s. 6d. [Scottish RO, GD44/49/20/4] 1750 account for joiner work, e.g. mahogany desk & bookcase, walnut chair & firescreen. Total £33 5s 6d. [Scottish RO, GD44/49/20/1] 1750 Memorandum of dispute between the Duke of Gordon and John Gordon over the dismissal of Alexander Dingwall, cabinetmaker and for exceeding instructions. [Scottish RO, GD/44/49/20/3] 1750 Appraisers called in and conclude that Duke had been overcharged £170 11s on a grand total of £1, 226 16s 9d. [Scottish RO, GD44/49/20/16] 1753 sealed document renouncing all claims by John Gordon, upholder & cabinetmaker on the estate of the Duke of Gordon [Scottish RO, GD44/51/309/4/77] 1753 receipt for £431 16s paid by the Dowager Duchess. [Scottish RO, GD44/51/309/4/78]
CROOME COURT (Earl of Coventry). 1767 bill from Gordon & Taitt for fitting a marble slab upon a frame. 1768 payment received for ‘Mr Gordon & self, John Taitt’ for ‘8 large elbow chairs richly carved in the antique manner & gilt 3 large sophas to match’. Total £217 1s 11d. 1769 bill for dressing glass in japanned frame and firescreen £8 8s. 1781 bill from John Taitt, cabinetmaker & upholderer of 75 Swallow Street, for ‘a neat mahogany pillar & claw table’ £1 13s. 1782 ‘account Recd 23 May 1782 The content in full for John Taitt’ signed William (?) Taitt. [Worcs. RO, Croome Court, papers]
AUDLEY END (Sir John Griffin Griffin). 1771 account sent by Gordon & Taitt for ‘2 sofas carved and giltcovered in damask’ supplied to Sir John Griffin Griffin £52 10s; ‘8 cabriole elbow chairs to match’ £58 16s; ‘4 scrold stools, carved and gilt’ £25 4s; ‘2 large plates of glass’ £200; ‘2 table frames under the glasses carved and gilt’ £16 16s; ‘2 very rich inlaid tops for do’ £30; ‘a very large double headed couch, richly carved after the antique and gilt, covered in flowered satin’ £30; ‘2 scrold stolls to match’ £35; ‘4 small stools to match’ £22. Total £695 11s. 3d. [Essex RO, D/DBy/A31/3] 1772 bill for large plate glass for the Little Drawing Room £73 10s. 1772 receipt for £500 signed John Gordon & Taitt. 1773 receipt for the balance. [Essex RO, D/DBy/A31/3] 1782 John Taitt of 75 Swallow St account for supplying ‘12 cabriole elbow chairs richly carved & gilt in burnished gold’ £50. 8d. and ‘2 sofas do.’. Total bill £132 19s 5d. Pencil note indicates that furniture was intended for Burlington St, London. 1783 Receipt for payment in full signed by John Taitt. [Essex RO, D/DBy/A41/3]
BROCKENHURST PARK, HANTS. (Edward Morant). 1772 notebook entry ‘To your bill to John Taitt £92 10/-.’ [MS notebook ‘Edward Morant Esq. accounts & notes 1764–1777’ in possession Edward Morant Roydon Manor, Hants.]
ALTHORP 1772 bills for repairing & gilding hall lantern by Vardy; repairing leather case for Stuart tripod stands; repainting 12 hall chairs and making cases (loose covers) for 2 sofas and 6 elbow chairs in Bow Room. 1773 account of locks sent from Althorp to London to be gilded by ‘Ordr. Mr Gordon’. 1774 bill for furnishing a bed at Wimbledon £16 5s 0d. 1775 letter from John Taitt asking for payment of a bill and in which he mentions his brother.
QUEEN ANN ST (Lord Cork). 1775 bill from Gordon & Taitt £49 9s 6d. 1776 bill from John Tait (sic) for £327 12s. [Stanhope papers K.R.O. U590 A61/7]
CHATSWORTH 1785 Upholsterer Taitt account for 31.16.6 1787 „ „ „ for 10.3.0 and 10.0.0. [Chiswick Account Book Vol. Chatsworth C 166, Vol. A. pp. 180 & 250]
[A. Coleridge, ‘Chippendale, The Director and some Cabinetmakers at Blair Castle’, Conn., December 1960; J. D. Williams, Audley End, The Restoration 1762–97 (1966), p. 61; P. J. Drury & lan Gow, Audley End Guidebook, 1984; P. Thornton, ‘A very special year’, Conn., June 1978; P. Thornton and J. Hardy, ‘The Spencer Furniture at Althorp’, Apollo, vols LXXX, VII and LXXXVIII, 1968] See Richard Tait(t) G.C.