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Boson, John (1720–1743)

Boson, John

London; carver (fl.1720–d. 1743)

When John Boson died in April 1743, he had become one of a select group of craftsmen closely connected with the designs of William Kent. Vertue said of Boson that he was ‘a man of great ingenuity and undertook great works in his way for the prime people of quality and made his fortune well in the world’. It is possible that his death at a relatively young age — Vertue says ‘an age not considerably above middle age’ — robbed Boson of his place in furniture history.

The date of Boson's birth is uncertain but was probably about 1695. He may be the same John Boson who was the son of a gentleman, Michael Boson, apprenticed through the Joiners’ Company to Jarvis Smith on 1 May 1711 and made free by servitude on 7 September 1725. It is possible that his master, Jarvis Smith, was a ship carver based near the naval shipyards at Deptford, for by the 1720s Boson had a yard at Greenwich.

His name first appears working as a carver on several of the ‘Queen Anne’ churches in the 1720s - St George's Bloomsbury, St Luke’s Old Street, and St John’s Smith Square. Other churches that Boson worked on included a screen and organ gallery for Westminster Abbey in 1729, and a reredos for Canterbury Cathedral in 1732. In 1725 his first domestic work is recorded when he made carvings for 4 St James's Square, London. He turned his hand to the secular market, working on East India House, Leadenhall Street in 1730 with a partner at this time, John How. Together they were responsible for all the carved woodwork on the facade and the chimneypieces inside. Chimneypieces may have been one of Boson's specialities for there are others recorded, for example in 1735 when the Hon. Francis Godolphin paid £61 for the ‘Great room’ chimneypiece at Baylies, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire and another example for Sir Michael Newton's seat, Culverthorpe, Lincolnshire. He also signed an interesting monument, sculptured by Guelfi (and may therefore only have erected it) to Anne, Duchess of Richmond, c. 1730, Deene Church, Northamptonshire.

The 1730s were Boson's years of greatest success. From 1732 onwards he regularly carried out work for Frederick, Prince of Wales on his houses at Leicester Fields, Kew Palace and Cliveden, Buckinghamshire. In 1738 Boson carved the taffrail, or stern-board, of a barge for the Prince and even after Boson's death the Prince owed a considerable sum, subsequently paid to the executors. Only seven pieces remain complete with their receipts: a pair of pier tables and matching glasses, a pair of candle stands and the stand for the ‘Pope's Cabinet’ at Stourhead. The pier glasses and tables are decorated with the owl crest and were made for Lady Burlington, wife of the 3rd Earl, and installed in her Garden Room at Chiswick. Designed by William Kent, the carved and gilt glasses cost £15 and the two mahogany tables with gilt-wood enrichments, £20. The receipt is signed by Boson and dated 11 September 1735. Included on this receipt was a pair of candle-stands with ‘Boys heads’ for which Boson charged £5 each but deducted £1 16s for the woodwork of the stands which was to be paid to ‘Mr Davis the Joiner’. However, although Boson is often credited as the maker of the dressing tables, the bill was for carving only.

Conservation work in 2013 revealed the signature of the cabinet maker who made the carcases: Cornelius Martin. In 1742 Henry Hoare II commissioned Boson to make a mahogany stand in the form of a Roman Triumphal Arch to carry an important piece of 16th-century Italian pietre-dura work known as ‘The Pope's Cabinet’. In October 1738 Boson had charged Sir Richard Hoare £10 5s for making a mahogany bed.

Another facet of John Boson's business included the making of picture frames. For example, in 1746 Boson's executors put in a bill of £328 11s 4d to the Prince of Wales for work on his house at Leicester Fields. This included two large frames for ‘Battle Pieces painted by Mr Wooton’, two frames in ‘the French Manner’ as well as several hundred feet of enriched mouldings.

Apart from working for people in Burlington's circle, such as Lord Charles Somerset (later 4th Duke of Beaufort) and Lord Guilford, Boson also subscribed to a number of important books: Leoni's Alberti, 1726 and Isaac Ware's Palladio, 1738.

John Boson often worked on his own, but he did however share the work on East India House with John How, and Benjamin Goodison also worked with Boson at Leicester Fields. In March 1733/34 Boson took a long lease from Lord Burlington on a plot in Savile Row. The house was probably designed by William Kent and was finished in 1735. Boson lived there with his wife until his death in 1743. He also had a country house at St Anne's Hill, Chertsey, Surrey. In his will made in April 1740 [TNA PROB 11/725/245] Boson left amongst various bequests £10 to his foreman Thomas Nicholls the elder, and the Chertsey house and its contents to Mary Norman, daughter of Barak Norman, a musical instrument maker of St Paul's Churchyard. Boson's executors were the painter George Lambert, James Horne the architect, and thirdly John Thornhill of St Martin-in-the-Fields.

  • ST GEORGE'S CHURCH, Bloomsbury, London: Between 1720–30 carried out carved work
  • ST JAMES'S SQUARE, Westminster, London: Between 1720–30 carried out carved work
  • DUKE OF KENT: In 1725 payments for carving work made to Boson by the are recorded in his account at Hoare's Bank.
  • ST JOHN'S CHURCH, Smith Square, Westminster, London: In 1727 petitioned for payment for carving work.
  • ST LUKE'S CHURCH, Old St, London.
  • ST JOHN HORSELEYDOWN, Southwark, London:  Between 1727–33 carried out carved work.
  • WESTMINSTER ABBEYBetween 1728–33 he carried out carved work.. In 1729 worked on the screen and organ gallery for £33.
  • EAST INDIA HOUSE, Leadenhall Street, London: In 1730 he was paid £189 19s for ‘carvers work’ in association with John How.
  • CLEY (A house of the Duke of Montrose): In 1732 payments were made to John Boson for the decoration of the dining room and stairs totalling £33 3s.
  • CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL: In 1732 charged £242 for the reredos.
  • HOLKHAM HALL, Norfolk (1st Earl of Leicester): In 1732 the accounts for the 4th quarter record payments to Boson of £19.
  • KEW PALACE, Surrey (Frederick, Prince of Wales): In 1732 carried out various carved work for the Prince, receiving £100 (vol. 2, pp. 291–92) and £20 (vol. 3, p. 261). In 1733 carried out further carving work costing £30 (vol. 3, p. 265). Additional work included a chimney piece and terms at £177 (vol. 4, p. 238). In 1734 Boson received £16 0s 4d (vol. 4, pp. 262, 273d). In 1745 payment of £1 9s was made by the Prince of Wales to Boson's executors.
  • BAYLIES, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire (Hon. Francis Godolphin): In 1735 Boson was paid £61 for a chimney piece to fit the ‘Great room’.
  • CHISWICK HOUSE, Middlesex (3rd Earl of Burlington): Bill of 1735 for two ‘Rich Glas frames’, two ‘Mahogany Tables with Tearmes’ (now at Chatsworth, Rosoman article cited below, pl. 15) and two ‘Stands with Boys heads’ (Rosoman, pl. 7) costing £43 4s, was signed by Boson on 11 September, and payment received from ‘Right Honble the Countess of Burlington’.
  • ST JAMES'S PARK, Westminster (Frederick, Prince of Wales). In 1735 carried out various carved work for the Prince costing £233 19s 5½d.
  • CULVERTHORPE HALL, Lincolnshire (Sir Michael Newton): Supplied a chimneypiece in 1736.
  • FREDERICK, PRINCE OF WALES: Boson received payment for ‘service to Christmas 1736 £10 – 16 – 2d and £1 – 1s – 0’ (vol. 19, pp. 165–66). In 1738 carved frames costing £24 5s (vol. 19, p. 167). Worked on the barge for the Prince of Wales, submitting a bill for carving the taffrail or stern-board, and other ship decoration costing £10 10s on 12 December 1738 (Vouchers Bk, vol. 7).
  • SIR RICHARD HOARE: Bill for carving a mahogany bedstead at £10 5s is signed and dated 10 October 1738.
  • ST OLAVE'S CHURCH, Southwark, London: In 1739 Boson attended a meeting concerning the building of the church where he produced designs and costs and also specimens of his work. Accordingly, he was asked ‘to perform the said work for £50’.
  • LORD CHARLES SOMERSET: In 1740 Boson submitted a bill for carving chimney mouldings, table frames and oval sconces at £71 5s 7d. This may have been for work at Badminton House, Glos. but this is not certain.
  • LORD GUILFORD, 1st Earl of Guilford: In 1740 payment was made to ‘Mr Booson’ of £94. This money may have been for work on Guilford's London house, 50 Grosvenor Sq.
  • WESTMINSTER ABBEY: In 1741 received £95 for an organ case.
  • STOURHEAD, Wiltshire (Henry Hoare II): In 1742 commission to make a stand for the ‘Pope's Cabinet’.
  • LEICESTER HOUSE, London (Frederick, Prince of Wales): Between 1742–43 various carving work for the Prince included frames for two pictures by John Wooton. Boson also gilded some furniture and appears to have worked with Benjamin Goodison on some of the State rooms.
  • LEICESTER HOUSE, London (Frederick, Prince of Wales): A detailed account was rendered on 1 August 1746 by John Boson's executors to the Prince. Included are hundreds of feet of enriched mouldings and architraves, columns and capitals, a chimneypiece and a coat of arms. The total was for £328 11s 4d.

Source: DEFM; Hirst, ‘Conservation Discoveries: New Insights into Lady Burlington's 'Owl' Tables for her Garden Room at Chiswick’, Furniture History (2014).

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