Beckwith & France
St Martin’s Lane, London; cabinet maker and upholder (c.1777-1804)
The partnership of Samuel Beckwith and William France jnr was established in 1777, after the death of Edward France in June of that year. It is possible that Beckwith had left Chippendale (Beckwith was described as Mr Chippendale’s clerk when he was a witness in a court case) and was with Edward France prior to Edward’s death. On Edward’s death the business passed to his younger brother William jnr, who was at 19 still a minor, so guardians were appointed and they arranged the partnership between Samuel Beckwith and William France.
On 14 October 1777 the new partnership took out an insurance policy for the France premises 101St Martin’s Lane which comprised a dwelling house, passage, warehouse, feather room, three timber workshops and a saw-house. Total cover for the property and stock was £4,000 [London Metropolitan Archives, Insurance records]. However, in 1778 the address 105 St Martin’s Lane was recorded on a print by James Donowell of the Steine, Brighton, indicating it could be obtained from ‘Messrs Beckwith and France’. This must be a mistake, since when the lease was renewed in 1797 at a rent of £80 per annum the address was confirmed as 101 St Martin’s Lane.
The firm's principal private commission, 1781–90 was for Lord Salisbury at Hatfield House, Hertfordshire and Salisbury House, Arlington Street. Lord Salisbury owned the freehold of 101 St Martin’s Lane and was therefore the firm’s landlord. There was, however, another connection, since in 1772 Beckwith had married Jane Donowell, the daughter of John Donowell, who managed Lord Salisbury’s London property and who also supervised the works at Hatfield House. The firm’s bills from 1781-83 totalled £8,200, and much of the furniture is still at Hatfield House. It included bookcases in the Library, seat furniture for the King James Drawing-Room, picture frames, silk damask wall coverings, chairs and a sideboard for the dining room.
Other private clients included:
- 5th Duke of Beaufort who on 23rd February 1782 paid William France £16-11s for a library ladder in mahogany in the Chinese taste for the library at Badminton, Gloucestershire
- Earl of Verulum at Gorhambury, Hertfordshire, for whom they supplied a table, c. 1790
- Lord Mansfield at Kenwood House, 1778 -1793
In 1783 Lord Salisbury was appointed Lord Chamberlain and the following year Beckwith and France received the Royal Warrant as cabinet makers and upholsterers, an appointment which the firm and its successors held until 1836. They supplied a range of furniture forSt. James’s Palace, Buckingham Palace, Kew Palace and Windsor Castle.
The partnership with France lasted until Samuel Beckwith’s death in April 1804; in his will he left £10 to his ‘trusty friend and partner’ William France. His eldest son, also Samuel, went into partnership with his uncle, John Beckwith the same year, while William Beckwith moved his business to 31 Pall Mall, from which address he continued to supply the Great Wardrobe. This had previously been the premises of the cabinet maker John Kerr.
Originally written by Geoffrey Beard
Sources: DEFM, Castle, ‘The France Family of Upholsterers and Cabinet-Makers’, Furniture History (2005); Putnam, ‘The Tasteful Genius of Princess Elizabeth': The Furnishing of Queen Charlotte's Cottage in Kew in 1805’, Furniture History (2017); Geoffrey Castle, personal communication, 20 January 2021.