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Banting, France & Co; Banting, France & Banting; Banting & Son; Thomas and William Banting (1811-1925)

Banting, France & Co; Banting, France & Banting; Banting & Son; Thomas and William Banting

22 Pall Mall and 27 St James’s Street, London; cabinet makers and upholsterers (fl.1811–1925)

In its various incarnations the Banting firm was one of the most enduring of all London’s 19th century furniture makers and upholsterers, but their work has so far been of little interest to furniture historians and consequently published information about their activities is scant. As holders of royal warrants from 1811 onwards, Bantings must have been highly regarded and, remarkably, they retained the same premises in St James’s Street, Piccadilly for the best part of a century. The firm undoubtedly merits more scholarly attention; what follows is merely an outline of their history until more detailed information is uncovered.

Thomas Banting

Thomas Banting (1774-1846) was baptised in Bampton, Oxfordshire, on 22 May 1774. He was the son of James Banting, a blacksmith, and his wife Martha. In 1788 he was apprenticed to Robert Bruce, cabinet maker of Cavendish Square, London. He married Anne East at St George’s Hanover Square on 13 October 1793, before the notional end of his seven-year apprenticeship. Thomas and Martha’s two sons were both baptised at St Martin’s-in-the-Fields: Thomas II on 17 August 1794 and William on 5 November 1796.

France & Banting

It is possible that Thomas Banting worked for Beckwith and France after his apprenticeship. When William Beckwith France left this business in 1811 Thomas went into partnership with William France and they traded as France & Banting from France’s business premises at 31 Pall Mall. 

On 10 June 1811 the partners were jointly appointed cabinet makers and upholsterers to George III [TNA CL/3/68/127]. The firm is well represented in the Royal Household accounts. They did upholstery, repairs, cleaning, moving, alterations and fixing at locations such as Westminster Hall, Carlton House, Swinley Lodge, Brighton, &c. Their invoice for the quarter ending 5 January 1814 [TNA, LC 11/ 15] includes much library furniture in the Duke of Sussex's apartments at Kensington Palace, including a mahogany pedestal table supported on octagon pillars, £96 10s; mahogany bookcases, £31 8s; a carved antique chair with lions heads, paws, rosettes etc., £97 18s 4d. For the Military Chapel, Whitehall, in the same quarter (January 1815) they invoiced for a handsome richly carved lion, unicorn, crown etc., stars gilt in burnished and matt gold, £36 10s. 

After the death of George III in 1820 the firm continued as cabinet makers and upholsterers to George IV and royal commissions, seemingly inexhaustible, continued to be the firm's staple employment. They supplied furniture, moved and cleaned it, repaired and converted it in most royal houses over many years. Among other furniture supplied to Windsor Castle in 1825-6 was ‘A Handsome … Tambour Writing Desk on 4 turned legs with reeded & carved leaves on patent castors, 2 drawers in frame & 6 drawers in the inside with pigeonholes to the writing flap, lined with black morocco, 2 carved leaves for the handles, all of very fine Spanish mahogany, French polished £36. 10. 0. 2… Spanish Mahogany Boxes to slide on each side & Wood Knobs added to drawers, & fixing on the locks £7. 10. 8… A very Handsome Stand made to match another for China dish on 4 standards & hollow-sided block, ornamented with brass, and French polished… A Mahogany Bookcase of Spanish wood to fill the recess, with divisions, and shelf in upper part and shelf in lower part enclosed by 2 pairs of folding Doors, to drawing £25’. [Windsor Royal Archives, 25401–03].

As well as supplying to the Royal Household, France & Banting worked for the Earl of Bristol at Ickworth from 9 August 1817. When Ickworth was completed in 1829 it too was furnished by Banting, as was the Earl’s London house. The invoices totalled £5,177 12s 8d and were submitted from 27 St James's St. [Accounts: Bury St Edmunds and W. Sussex RO]. In 1820 France & Banting were contracted to supply furniture additional to that already supplied by George Bullock for Napoleon’s house of exile on St Helena, but Napoleon died before the order could be sent. It was subsequently auctioned off by Christie’s 18 May 1822. 

Before Thomas Chippendale junior retired he may have introduced some of his customers to France and Banting, one of whom was Richard Colt Hoare of Stourhead. Letters written by Hoare to France & Banting in suggest a connection, and even imply that Chippendale might have briefly joined France & Banting after his premises in Jermyn Street closed in 1821. Since not all the Stourhead archives have been catalogued more information might be found.

Banting, France and Banting

In 1826 William France retired and a new partnership was formed between Thomas Banting and his two sons, William (1796-1878) andThomas II (1794-1874), and William France’s youngest son, John Hale France. They traded as ‘Banting, France and Banting’ and they supplied men for general jobbing, cleaning work on carpets, upholstery etc. at some twenty Government offices and Royal Apartments [TNA, LC 11/41–11/18; LC 11/59–68]. However, John France felt the Bantings dominated the partnership and were not giving him full access to the firm’s books in accordance with their agreement, so in 1830 he sued them [TNA C/13/1515/52]. The matter was settled out of court but John Hale France left the partnership in 1832.He died unmarried in 1864.

Among the furniture supplied during this period which survives in the Royal Collection is a set of 6 hall chairs recorded in a book of 'Work Done and Goods delivered for His Majesty's, service, at Windsor Castle… Bantings, France and Banting' [RCIN 1114797]. The account notes '6 neat Wainscot Hall Chairs with Sunk Shields in Back with the Crown Garter and motto Painted the whole varnished' costing £21 [RCIN 20020].

Also supplied were a number of matching items which have not yet been identified: a pair of ‘Long Wainscot Seats with backs &c made to match the above Chairs’, '2 Small Wainscot Stools as above Varnished' and '2 Long Wainscot Stools without backs Varnished'. The same Book of Work recorded the supply of '12 Handsome Gothic Wainscot Hall Chairs with Crown Crest Garter and Motto Painted in the Backs, all Varnished' costing £45.12s [RCIN 20021].

These were made for the Sovereign's Entrance, Windsor Castle, and probably subsequently moved to Fort Belvedere, George IV's gothic pavilion in the grounds of Windsor Great Park. Bantings also supplied '6 Strong framed mahogany Gothic Hall Chairs…' costing £21, which are as yet unidentified.

Banting & Co.

The new incarnation initially traded from Pall Mall but from 1836 was recorded also at 27 St James’s Street. Few commissions from this period are known but in 1834–36 the firm worked on London houses for the Gage family in Whitehall Yard and at 16 Arlington St, totalling £3,224 1s 9d. [Firle Pl. MS, copies V & A archives].

After the death of William IV in 1837 the Lord Chamberlain did not renew Banting & Co’s Royal Warrant, despite Thomas Banting’s pleas [TNA, LC5/22]. They did, however, continue as undertakers for royal funerals and even without a warrant they executed royal commissions over the years.

Pigot's Directory for 1838 recorded Thomas Banting at 22 Pall Mall, and William at 27 St James's St, Piccadilly. The entry was repeated in Pigot 1839, but by 1840 they were both at 27 St James's Street, listed as ‘Thomas and William Banting’. This is the likely date at which Thomas Banting snr retired, the business now being in the names of his sons William andThomas II. Both were now married;William had married Mary Ann Thurmott on 20 January 1818 at St Mary’s, Newington, Surrey and Thomas II had married Sarah Phillips on 17 November 1824 at St George’s, Hanover Square. When Thomas snr died in 1846 his will described him as ‘late of Pall Mall Middlesex Upholsterer and Cabinet Maker but now of No. 19 Circus Road, Saint John’s Wood… gentleman’ [NA PROB 11/2038/249]. Both his sons were appointed executors and trustees, but whereas William was described as an upholsterer of 27 St James’s Street, Thomas II was of ‘Prospect Place Worthing… Gentleman’. It seems that between 1840 and 1846 Thomas II had retired from the business, leaving its management in the hands of William and his son, Thomas III.

Banting & Son

A manuscript sketch-book of the 1830s and 1840s for ‘Banting & Son, 27 St James's Street’ survives in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York [MMA 36.28.5] and mentions clients such as Lord Bristol, another in Eaton Sq. (1838), and a client who ‘died 1845’. 

The designs include beds, curtains and chairs with early examples of deep buttoning. The name Banting & Son suggests some of the notebook post-dates Thomas Banting’s exit from the firm about 1840, and that by this time William’s son Thomas III had joined the firm. They exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the 1855 Paris Exhibition. At the former their exhibits included a circular marquetry table, a sideboard made from an oak tree from Windsor Forest, and satinwood china cabinet, an oval table of amboyna secretaire and a cabinet of kingwood. While the firm remained at the St James’s Street address, William’s dwelling house, according to the 1841 Census, was in Craven Street, off the Strand near Charing Cross. By 1851 he was living at 4 The Terrace, Kensington, where he remained until his death in 1878. In later life he achieved unexpected fame as the originator of a diet, published in a booklet of 1863 titled Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public. The diet quickly became popular and spawned a new verb – to ‘bant’, or diet.

T & W Banting

At some time in the 1860s management of the business probably passed to William’s two sons, Thomas III (1818-72) and William II (1826-1901). Between 1860 and 1885 the addresses for the firm were listed in the London Directories as follows: 1860, 1865 & 1870, Thomas & William Banting, 26 & 27 St James’s Street and 2 Ship Yard, Wardour Street; 1875, Thomas & William Banting, same addresses as above and also Blue Bell Yard, St James’s Street; 1880 & 1885, Thomas & William Banting, same addresses but not Blue Bell Yard.

Like his father, Thomas Banting III lived comfortably away from St James’s Street. He was recorded in the 1851 Census as an upholsterer aged 32, living at 3 Orme Square with his wife and three-year old son, William. The electoral rolls nevertheless continued to list him at 27 St James’s Street between 1847 and 1851, suggesting a distinction between business and family addresses. In 1861 Thomas was listed as an upholsterer, decorator and house agent employing about 90 men and 20 women. He lived at 25 Woodlands, Camberwell St Giles, but the electoral rolls of 1864 & 1865 also recorded him at 3 Orme Square. By 1871 he was living at 9 Phillimore Gardens with his wife and three servants, although when he died a year later the address was recorded as No. 15 (perhaps a renumbering rather than a different house).

None of his children followed him in the upholstery business (his eldest son William Bickham Banting was a vicar) which was carried on through the family of his younger brother William II. William Banting II was born on 1 February 1826. He was recorded in the 1851 Census as an upholsterer, aged 25, living in his father’s house at 4 The Terrace, Kensington. In 1861 he was at 22 Campden Hill Road, with a wife, Mary Ann Pugh, and a young son, William. In 1881 he was described as a cabinet manufacturer.

The name T & W Banting was used consistently in the 1880s, despite the fact that Thomas III had died in 1872. Information about the firm’s activities at this period is scant and requires more research. The Furniture Gazette, 14 February 1885 & 1 February 1888, listed T & W Banting among the furniture makers holding the royal warrant and The Furniture Gazette, 1 July 1887, reported that the T. & W. Banting supplied the upholstery work for the Jubilee Thanksgiving Service in Westminster Abbey. This required 10,000 seats covered with almost 9,000 yards of material in ‘Bath red, which appears to be a favourite colour with the Queen’. Other work for the service included refurbishing the upholstery of the Coronation chair and regilding its plinth. The abbey interior was festooned with 5,000 yards of red cloth, and the outside was hung with cloth and flags. Waiting rooms were constructed outside the west entrance of the Abbey for the Queen and Princesses and these too were erected and furnished by Bantings. In 1889 Bantings compiled the inventory of furniture and other chattels at Cambridge Cottage, Kew [RCIN 1114744]. 

Banting & Sons

By 1881 William II’s two sons, William Westbrook Banting (1857-1932) and Arthur Pugh Banting (1861-1929), had joined him in the business. William II was described as a ‘cabinet manufacturer’ and his sons were stated to be his assistants. Both sons were still with their father at 22 Camden Hill Road in 1891, at which time they were described as upholsterers.

Some time between 1885 and 1889 the firm changed its name from Thomas & William Banting to Banting & Sons, and in the London directories for 1890, 1895 & 1900 their addresses were 26 & 27 St James Street and 2 Ship Yard, Wardour Street. In 1905, Banting & Sons were temporarily at 53 Haymarket (removed from 26 & 27 St James Street) and in 1910 back at 27 St James' Street.

William II died in 1901, but not before the Census of that year listed both him and his son Arthur as upholsterers and employers at 57 Camden Hill Road. William Westbrook’s whereabouts at this time are unknown, but by 1911 both he and Arthur were in the same house at 158 West Hill, Putney, described as house agents, upholsterers, cabinet makers &c. All this time the business remained at 27 St James’s Street, Piccadilly. The firm’s last entry in the London Post Office Directory was in 1925, when it was listed as ‘Banting & Sons (W. W. & A. P. Banting), upholsterers, cabinet makers, decorators, undertakers, and estate & house agents’. Arthur died at Westfields, Wrecclesham, Surrey, in 1929. William was the sole beneficiary of his estate, living at West Hill until his death in 1932. Three other brothers – Edgar, Harold, and Cecil were not involved in the business.

Sources: DEFM; Levy, ‘Napoleon in Exile: The Houses and Furniture supplied by the British Government for the Emperor and his Entourage in St Helena’, Furniture History (1998); Joy, ‘The Royal Victorian Furniture-Makers, 1837-87’, The Burlington Magazine (November 1969); Agius, British Furniture 1880-1915 (1978); Castle, ‘The France Family of Upholsterers and Cabinet-Makers’, Furniture History (2005); Meyer, ‘Trollope and Sons – Makers and Exhibitors of Fine Furniture’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2001); Goodison, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale Junior (2017), p. 103.