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France, William jnr; William France & Company; William France & Son (1759-1838)


France, William jnr; William France & Company; William France & Son

31 Pall Mall, London; cabinet makers and upholsterers (1759-1838)

Born in 1759, William France jnr. was the son of John France and the nephew of William France snr. He became a Lancaster freeman by patrimony in 1784-85, as his father was a Lancaster freeman. In 1775, William and his brother, Edward, inherited their father’s business at 101 St. Martins Lane. John France had inherited the business in 1773 from his brother, William snr. 

In March 1787 France married Phillis Beckwith, daughter of the late John Beckwith. They had seven children. The eldest was William Beckwith France, born 17 December 1787.

By April 1777, Edward had either died or left the business. This is when William forged a partnership with Samuel Beckwith. Beckworth & France lasted until 1804. After the dissolution of the partnership in 1804, William moved to 31 Pall Mall, previously occupied by the cabinet maker John Kerr.

From this address William France continued to supply the Great Wardrobe, trading as William France & Co. In January 1806 the firm prepared Greenwich Royal Naval College for the lying in state of Lord Nelson, including the barge which carried his coffin up river to Westminster, at a total cost of £291 3s 3d [TNA/ LC/2/40].

William Beckwith France entered the business on or before May 1807, when his father’s account book recorded ‘erecting a counting house for Mr William France, junior in the shop to the left of the back door’. Two years later the firm began trading as William France & Son. This was a short-lived affair, however, because in 1812 William Beckwith France left business and Thomas Banting was taken on in his place., thus Banting, France & Co; Banting, France & Banting; Banting & Son; Thomas and William Banting

France’s other work was extensive: one of France’s account books survives in the National Archives listing well over ten thousand jobs between May 1804 and May 1811 [TNA LC/9/352]. His customers ranged from nobility to tradesmen and included naval officers, army officers and lawyers. Three significant commissions can be identified for which furniture survives.

  • 1807: A bill for furniture supplied to the Duke of Bedford’s London house in 1807 included: four 4ft 9ins four poster bedsteads with sacking bottoms, turned feet & pillars on castors for menservants’ rooms, £11 15s. The beds used 144 yards of blue check furnishing, and each had a feather bolster, flock mattress, 3 pairs of medium blankets and field quilt. Three 4 ft 6 ins four poster bedsteds, as above, were provided for female servants, £15 10s.  Nov. & Dec. Men’s time taking down 4 poster bedstead in Duchess’s bedroom and refixing it on 2nd floor, fixing French couch bed with domed canopy & furniture with drapes etc. £16 16s. Dec. 100 gilt nails 8/-, men’s time for putting gilt leather on 3 doors. 2 new large deal library book cases to fit recesses, with open front & sliding shelves with racking and pilasters, japanned white, 6ft 6ins high x 8ft wide £32 15s. each. For the Duchess of Bedford the furniture included a japanned dressing table, £4 4s.
  • c. 1810: Pakenham Hall (then belonging to Lord Longford and now called Tullynally Castle), County Westmeath has four ‘japanned Roman Chairs with Elbows, finished with black and white ornament, the seats square stuffed and 2 covered with red morocco leather £25 4s’ (illus. G. Castle, Furniture History (2005), fig. 4).
  • c. 1817: Lord Rivers at Stratfield Sayein 1804 France supplied over £1,000 worth of furnishings, much of which were acquired by theDuke of Wellington when he bought the house in 1817. Two library chairs survive, described in France’s journal as ‘A pair of elegant chair frames with carved heads, collars and paws, bronzed with burnished gold, square stuffed seats £26 5s.’.
  • Date unknown: A third customer was Sir William Oglander of Nunwell House, Isle of Wight. The house’s contents have since been dispersed but some France furniture remains with the family, including a round mahogany table, two ‘indulgence’ chairs and a set of eight japanned chairs.
  •  Date unknown: Sir Jacob Astley of Melton Constable, Norfolk was another customer. The contents of the house have since been dispersed but some items went to Seaton Delaval Hall, Northumberland.

Work for the Royal Household continued apace, with some especially fine furniture supplied for Queen Charlotte including:

  • 1804-5: Queen Charlotte’s cottage at Kew
  • 1810: ‘A most superb black rosewood kidney enclosed writing table on pedestals richly inlaid with brass… £220’.  at Holyrood House(illus. G. Castle, Furniture History (2005), fig. 5).

William France jnr. died in Boulogne at 79 years of age, intestate and a widower. His estate was valued at less than £50.

Sources: DEFM; Geoffrey Castle, ‘The France Family of Upholsterers and Cabinet-Makers’, Furniture History (2005); Stuart, Gillows of Lancaster and London 1730-1840 (2008), II, p.309; Putnam, ‘The Tasteful Genius of Princess Elizabeth': The Furnishing of Queen Charlotte's Cottage in Kew in 1805’, Furniture History (2017).