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Alken, Sefferin (1744–1783)

Alken, Sefferin

London; carver (fl.1744–83)

In 1744 Alken was in St. James's, Westminster, and from 1760 he was at Dufour's Court, Broad Street, Golden Square. He worked in both stone and wood and was active at Stourhead for Sir Richard Colt Hoare as early as 1744. 

In 1746 he bound an apprentice named Lawrence (probably Richard Lawrence, 1760–95) who may subsequently have become his partner, as in 1763 the business is referred to as Alken & Lawrence. In 1760 be bound another apprentice named Engleheart (possibly Thomas Engleheart, b. 1745-d. 1809). 

Alken subscribed to Chambers's Designs for Chinese Buildings, 1757, and Treatise on Civil Architecture, 1759. He was also a subscriber to Adam's Spalato, 1764. His son Samuel, born 22 October 1756, attended the Royal Academy Schools from 1769 and followed his father's profession as a carver. Sefferin may have died in 1783 as all payments after this date in connection with work being carried out at Somerset House are made to his son, Samuel. 

Apart from these two talented craftsmen the Alken family was also renowned as sporting painters. Carved the bookcase and overmantel made for Thomas Brand of the Hoo, c. 1765, to Chambers’ design (illus. Goodison, Furniture History (1990), p. 81); also a table of 1768 for Chambers (illus. Goodison, Furniture History (1990) p. 83). A table based on this design is at Wimpole Hall but was made in the late 19th century by Rattee and Kett of Cambridge.

Supplied furniture for:

  • Audley End, Essex, invoicing Sir John Griffin Griffin on 30 June 1770. The major part of the £16 total was for ‘A Gothick Chair an Ornament at Top with foliage &c. 2 penicles at the Corners of the back with husks &c. 2 Boys heads at Elbows & Leaves’ for which £13 was charged. The invoice was receipted on 10 April 1771 by Samuel Alken on behalf of his father. 
  • On 26 July 1778 ‘Mr. Alking’ is recorded as providing for Blenheim Palace, Oxon., ‘4 Pier Glasses with Carved Frames Gilt in Burnish'd Gold’. (illus. Roberts, Furniture History (1994), p. 124) and also ‘A large picture frame for the present family picture’. 
  • Worked as a carver at Cleveland House, London, 1746–52. 
  • In 1761 bills for work at Croome Court, Worcestershire were approved by Robert Adam for the carving of garden chairs, the greenhouse pediment, two glass frames, table frames and two glass frames en suite for the dining room. In 1763–64 work involved the carving of bookcases, pediment etc. for the library and in 1765 furniture for the gallery. 
  • Employed for carved work on chairs supplied by John Cobb and ten scroll end sofas supplied by Bradburn & France (1763-64). 
  • Further furniture was supplied in 1770 and 1782. Much of the furniture was to designs by Robert Adam. Furniture from this commission is now at the V&A; the MMA, NY; Philadelphia Museum of Art; and Kenwood, London.
  • Carving bills also exist for work at the Earl of Coventry's London house in Grosvenor Square dated 1761, 1767 and 1768 amounting to £39 11s 11d. 
  • Supplied two gilded terms to Robert Clive at 45 Berkeley Square, October 1767. 
  • Worked at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire, providing in 1759 five gilt picture frames for the Breakfast Room to Robert Adam's design. A letter from Adam to Lord Scarsdale dated 15 May 1761 stated that Alken had nearly finished making frames for the Painted Room. 
  • Supplied to Marston House, Somerset, in 1754 ‘a richly carved pier-glass’ for Lady Dungarvon, the daughter of Henry Hoare
  • Carved work at Normanton Park, Rutland, including a chimney piece for Sir Gilbert Heathcote carried out in 1765– 66. A part of this commission was for Sir Gilbert's London house in Grosvenor Square. 
  • Carved work at Shardeloes, Amersham, Buckinghamshire for William Drake to designs by Robert Adam. By 21 April 1763 the cost of this work amounted to £543 12s exclusive of the carving to be carried out on the mahogany doors. This additional work ‘answerable to drawings delivered by Mr. Adam’ amounted to £15 17s 2d, while carving ‘one side of door next to drawing room’ was charged at a further £11 13s 6d. 
  • Extensive work at Somerset House, Strand, London was carried out from 1777–83 by both Sefferin and Samuel Alken. This included a number of wooden chimney pieces.
  • A bill for work at Stourhead, Wiltshire, dated 24 May 1772, records the carving of an oval frame costing £29 10s and a ‘rich flower for ceiling’ at £3. A further charge of £9 9s 6d was made for joinery work. Between 1750 and 1770 no fewer than seven payments to Alken are recorded in Henry Hoare's account book. This included chimney pieces, ‘Lady Boyle's Pier glass’, £60, and a picture frame, £34 11s. Some of this work was in connection with a house that Henry Hoare was having built at Clapham, London. 
  • Carved work at the Villa Marino, Lord Charlemont's seaside villa near Dublin. In a letter sent from Sir William Chambers to Lord Charlemont in 1767 regarding its furnishing it is recorded that ‘Alkin has carved one of the little heads for the corner of the doors of the medal-cases. It is very fine, but as he tells me that he cannot do them under three guineas and a half a head, I have stopped his further progress till I hear from your Lordship’. 
  • Carried out work at Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire, by order of William Chambers for the 4th Duke of Bedford.
  • Worked for Francis, Marquess of Tavistock at Houghton. This included a mahogany bookcase with the mouldings and drop ornaments representing music, war, painting and sculpture for which £27 9s 6½d was charged in 1764. Six chimney pieces, cornices, a bedhead and footboard, friezes etc. amounting to £36 3s 8d were paid for in 1769. A further sum of £117 9s 8d was paid in 1771 under the 4th Duke's executorship account for general carver's work at Woburn. 
  • The account of the Duke of Northumberland at Hoare's Bank records payments made to Alken between 1750 and 1768.

Sources: DEFM; Goodison, ‘William Chamber's Furniture Designs’, Furniture History (1990); ‘Decorators and Furniture Makers at Croome Court’, Furniture History (1993); Roberts, ‘‘Nicely Fitted Up’: Furniture for the 4th Duke of Marlborough’, Furniture History (1994); Fairclough, ‘A Suite of Furniture for Clive of India’, Furniture History (2000).

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