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Williams, Henry (1717-58)

Williams, Henry, Long Acre, London, joiner and chairmaker (1717–58). In 1717 he was occupying a brick house and workshop on the south side of Long Acre, abutting the east side of Bagnio Walk. This property he insured for £250. His trade was given as ‘joyner’ but it is clear that from an early stage he was strongly involved in furniture making. In 1749 his address was simply rendered as Long Acre but his trade was then stated to be chairmaker. A reference of 1737 names him as cm.

He was the successor to Richard Roberts as chairmaker to the Royal Family and his name frequently appears in the Lord Chamberlain's accounts as a regular supplier both of seating furniture and cabinet work. He was also extensively patronised by Frederick, Prince of Wales. Furniture was supplied to Windsor Castle, Somerset House, Kensington Palace, Hampton Court and the Houses of Parliament. For Hampton Court he supplied in 1731 a wainscot bedframe for the State Bedchamber though the upholstery work was undertaken by Sarah Gilbert. In 1736–37 he supplied seating furniture for the Queen's Withdrawing Room at Hampton Court. This included 2 large armchair frames and 24 square stool frames en suite at £192. Also provided at the same time were four large settee frames, richly carved and gilt and eighteen square stool frames similarly finished all for the Queen's Gallery. The settee frames were charged at £60 and the stool frames a further £99. These items can perhaps be identified with two arm chairs now at Windsor Castle and existing sets of stools (see GCM). Apart from such expensive and rich furniture for state apartments, Williams supplied more mundane items and furniture for servants’ rooms. In 1752 a wainscot chest of drawers was supplied ‘for the New Page’. He also repaired furniture for the Royal Household and in the case of a set of nine walnut chairs he declared them to be ‘much out of Repair’ and charged for ‘taking them all to pieces, New Jointing them, mending, Scraping and polishing’.

For Frederick, Prince of Wales he supplied in 1729 ‘a very neat Mahogany Windsor Chair’ for the Library at St James's Palace and charged £4 for this. Two further chairs of a similar type were supplied for the Blue room. These latter Windsor chairs were said to be ‘richly carved’ but were charged at the same rate of £4 each. Williams also made a set of six mahogany ‘Forest Chairs carved with scrolls &c’ for the Royal establishment at Swinley Lodge in 1739–40. In the household accounts of Prince Frederick are payments to Williams of £16 9s 6d in 1731 and £20 17s in 1732, the latter being for stools, chairs, a wainscot bedstead and a wainscot press. One of the most expensive items of furniture supplied to the Prince of Wales must have been the cradle made in preparation for the christening of his daughter Augusta in August 1737. ‘The Inside is white Satin, lac'd with Silver Lace, as are the Curtains. The Covering is Crimson Velvet, with Gold Lace, Fringes and Tassels. The Feet that support it are four Lions, finely carv'd and gilt’. This cradle was said to be valued at £500. In 1757 Princess Caroline was supplied at St James's Palace with ‘a Turkey walnut tree easy chair frame with very large brass socket castors’ costing £4 15s. This must have been one of the last of Williams’ commissions for from 1759 Catherine Naish becomes the main supplier of chairs and upholstery work to the Crown.

Williams’ name appears in connection with commissions for a number of members of the aristocracy and gentry. In 1728 he supplied Sir Paul Methuen with a chair and a large mahogany frame for a marble table top. He is probably the ‘Mr. Williams’ who on 24 March 1727 charged Sir John Dutton of Sherborne House, Glos. £25 for a large lookingglass with a carved frame for his drawing room. In 1729 a further large glass with a gilt tabernacle frame was supplied costing £30. It is also likely that he was the ‘Williams’ who supplied a set of eighteen walnut framed leather covered chairs costing £19 11s 6d to Holkham Hall, Norfolk in 1720. In 1738 twelve leather chairs for the Steward's room were supplied but only £2 14s appears to have been charged for these. A Mr ‘Williams’ from London is recorded supplying the Lodge at St John's College, Cambridge with a gilt leather screen in 1748 at £6 13s. [GL, Hand in Hand MS vol. 17, p. 99; Westminster poll bk; GCM; DEF; PRO, LC9/288–92; Old Furniture, vol. 2 (1927) pp. 183, 185; Household accounts, Frederick, Prince of Wales, Duchy of Cornwall, vol. 1(2) p. 507, vol. 111, pp. 242, 248; C. Life, 24 May 1962, p. 1242; Furn. Hist., 1979; Gents Mag., August 1737; Winterthur, Delaware, Symonds papers 75×69.15, p. 87; Glos. RO, Sherborne D678, account 1790; V&A archives; St John's College account bks] B.A.

The original entry from Dictionary of English Furniture Makers, 1660-1840 can be found at British History Online.