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Hallett, William Snr & Jnr (1730-1767)

Hallett, William snr & jnr

Great Newport Street, Long Acre, London; cabinet makers (b. c. 1707–d. 1781; b.c.1730-d.1767)

In 1938 the late R. W. Symonds published an article on Hallett and Vile and Cobb, stating that William Hallett was born in July 1707 and died in December 1781. Despite a very extensive search it has not proved possible to establish the source for the July 1707 date. However, we know Hallett died on 17 December 1781, and was buried at St Lawrence, Whitchurch on 28 December. He was 74 years old which seems a credible span for his life. Hallett was born, seemingly, at Crewkerne, Somerset, to William and his wife (maiden name unknown). William had brothers, George, and (Sir) James, who died in 1733. It was Sir James's son, also James (d. 1723 in France) who was the father of Lettice (or Letitia) who married William Hallett, the cabinet maker, as his second wife, in 1756. In other words, William married his cousin. However, the reader should be spared the full intricacies of an involved story; it is set out, with pedigrees in Furniture History [G. Beard, 'The Quest for William Hallett', in Furniture History, 1985].

What is interesting, however, about the Crewkerne origin for Hallett is that he could have encountered William Vile - whom he was later to support financially - at an early age. Vile was born somewhere in Somerset about 1700–05. An aid to being more precise is denied through the destruction of the many Hallett and Vile wills (Taunton Archdeaconry) in Second World War raids on Exeter. There is no reason to assume he was the apprentice of this name put to John Baxter of Sarum, Wiltshire in 1728. Indeed, Hallet snr had set up as a cabinet maker by 1730, when he took his first apprentice, Ralph Sharrington, for £15, a fee which was slightly lower than the average fee for the period.

This 1730 expansion is further support for the presumed year of his birth. Apprenticeship at age 14 in say, 1721, with service of seven years would bring the date to 1728–29. Furthermore, as William Hallet jnr was born by 1730; his father's marriage to Anne had taken place about the time he ended his years of training. Ann Hallett died in 1755 and was buried in Whitchurch on 18 April. Further apprentices were taken on in 1733, 1737, 1741, 1756 and 1764 at a premium of between £30 and £50. The latter two may well related to Hallett jnr.

William set up in London at Great Newport Street, Long Acre, and his first recorded commission from that address was in 1735. We know of another ten over the same number of years. By 1747 William, using whatever money his father had left, and the success of his business, bought items at the demolition sale of the 1st Duke of Chandos's great house of Cannons at Edgeware, and then built himself a house on the old centre foundations. He is shown holding a plan of his new house in a conversation-piece by Francis Hayman, RA, c.1750 (frontispiece, GCM; Hughes-Hallett Coll.). The dates of marriages and births however do not allow us to be certain who the seven figures depicted in the painting are, but they are held to be Hallett's wife, his son, daughter-in-law, grand-daughter, and his father and mother-in-law by his (first) marriage. William Hallet jnr, born about 1730, married in December 1753 his first wife, Hannah Hopkins, the heiress of the successful financier and South Sea stock speculator, John ‘Vulture’ Hopkins of Brittons, Essex. William snr's second marriage to Lettice Hallett had brought over her considerable dowry. From the early 1750s, therefore, he seems to have been drawn more and more to his property interests, allowing his son to continue his business, however casually, and supporting, albeit as a sleeping partner, the new partnership (1751–52) of William Vile and John Cobb. Vile was still calling Hallett ‘my Master’ in 1749 and was probably his journeyman at this time.

For this theory to be credible it is necessary to assume that William Hallett I made no furniture after the mid-1750s, or in any case after his second marriage in 1756. The theory holds in the evidences accumulated for this Dictionary, and is confirmed, if we can read a little into a letter from Hallett to James Whittle of April 1755. In asking consent for his nephew Samuel Norman to visit Ann Whittle with a view to marriage, Hallett implied that he desisted before in encouragement because Norman was of the same business ‘but as things are now Surcomstanc'd that Objection is removed with regard to myself’. The state of the complex arguments may be summarized as follows: (a) William Hallett snr made furniture from about 1730 — with work for Lord Irwin as the first recorded commission (1735) — until the early 1750s. (b) He allowed his son, William jnr to carry on running some sort of furniture-making business after he had more or less retired in the early 1750s as the squire of Cannons. The son, due to his wealth, pursued the business with casual inattention. (See also Reynolds, Commissions 1750 below.) (c) William snr (and to a certain extent his son) acted as ‘sleeping partners’ in the firm of Vile & Cobb. This is attested by payments and receipts in the Hallett, Vile and Cobb bank accounts. William jnr predeceased his father in 1767, and Cannons was left in his father's will to the grandson, William (1764–1842). It is William III, with his first wife Elizabeth Lettice Stephen who are the subjects in Thomas Gainsborough's The Morning Walk ,1786. He is not known to have had any furniture making connections. Most of the family are buried at St Lawrence, Whitchurch but it has not been established where William snr was married or where his son William jnr was baptised. Confusion with a William Hallot, cabinet maker has occurred.

It is important to pursue genealogical problems in order to see what is probable. It is my belief that certain items of furniture with foliate ovals which can be dated to c. 1750 are more likely to be by William Hallett snr than his journeyman William Vile, and that Vile continued the ‘style’ in later years (e.g. the bookcase c. 1762, for Queen Charlotte.

Some of the transfer of style may have been done in workshop terms through Samuel Reynolds, and in 1753 Hallett had moved his business from Newport Street to St Martin's Lane. He took premises next to Vile & Cobb's. Two years later his name is crossed through in the rate books and Cobb's is inserted. Reynolds had signed for money on Hallett's behalf in 1750, but a year or two later he did so on behalf of Vile & Cobb. I have noted this ‘transfer’ as early as 1753 (Commissions, below, Canons Ashby).

Within their business the Halletts were also served for a time by Edward Edwards who later established himself as a painter and was appointed a Royal Academician. The business took apprentices from 1730: Ralph Sharrington (1730); Philip Davis (1732); Christopher Bingham (1773); Joseph Beale (1736); James Cole (1742); and James Stewart (1756). 

At some point Hallett snr was in ‘partnership’ with the successful painter-stainer, Thomas Bromwich. This was about 1745, but as late as 1756 Richard Cambridge coupled their names in his Elegy Written in an Empty Assembly Room ‘… In scenes where Hallet's genius has combin'd with Bromwich to amuse and cheer the mind …’. They both worked at Holkham and Uppark and both were mentioned by the inveterate letter writer, Horace Walpole, who had some Gothic furniture by Hallett, and wrote also of his ‘mongrel Chinese’ furniture.

Finally, we must dismiss, I hope with certainty, the reported event of Hallett's bankruptcy in 1769. I have advanced good reasons to show that this has been an orthographical confusion with the separate cabinet maker, William Hallot. The bankruptcy record and Hallot's signature (compared to that of the two Halletts) establishes a separate person, whose work has been, alas, credited to the squire of Cannons. The entry in 1769 for Hallot confirmed as ‘Hallot’ by title, and signature was mistaken as Hallett in Furniture History, 1966. The fortunes left by Hallett and his son, and the fact that Hallett jnr at least had predeceased the alleged bankruptcy pushes it further to the name of William Hallot. However, mystery persists, with the Westminster rate books showing an otherwise unknown Samuel Hallett living in Long Acre in 1753 (when Hallett snr was in St Martin's Lane). He stayed there until at least 1762 — the books for 1763–64 are missing and there are no Hallett entries for 1765–71. Could he be another son of William snr? Research continues but is unlikely to upset the pattern established above for Hallett snr's removal from active cabinetmaking in the early 1750s.

Only one piece of furniture signed by William Hallett jnr is known, a large architecturally conceived mahogany cabinet on chest signed ‘William Hallet 1763 Long Acre’ (illus Coleridge, Furniture History (1965), pl. II) Despite its seemingly archaic form there is no reason to doubt either the cabinet or the signature.

Essay by Geoffrey Beard, 1986.

Known commissions to date are:

  • ARTHUR INGRAM, 7th VISCOUNT IRWIN. 1735: August, 18 carved walnut tree chairs at 23s, 22 other chairs. September, 12 matted chairs, 2 tables, 6 common chairs. February 1736, three tables, dressing glass, two voyders etc. Received £45 13s 6d from Viscountess Irwin, an executrix of her husband, but not until 28 years later in 1763. The furniture was made for the London house, and sent in 1736 to Temple Newsam House, Leeds.
  • OKEOVER HALL, Staffordshire (Leake Okeover). 1736–38: 2 mahogany chests, ‘a Handsome glass in a Carved and gilt frame in Burnish gold, £19. 10s.’.
  • ROUSHAM HOUSE, Oxfordshire (General James Dormer). 1737: ‘For a Large Wainscot press for Books, £7. 10. 0. For a Lybrary stool on Castors. 0. 15. 0.’.
  • HOLKHAM HALL, Norfolk (1st Earl of Leicester). 1737–52: 18 March 1737, ‘Mr Hallett for a pattern chair for Holkham £3. 5s.’ (This may be the chair illus. Apollo, February 1964, p. 128, and Furn. Hist., 1965, p. 15, but surely the payment is too low?) 15 April 1738, for a pattern chair £3 5s — ‘in exchange for a pattern chair which he received £3. 5s. for on the 18th of March last. £2. 5s.’ 1747: ‘For a canvas screen, altering a glass frame & polishing.’ 1748: ‘2 mahogany trays for long dishes £2. 3. 0. do. for glasses £1. 4. 0. 2 mahogany stands £2. 10. 0. 2 canvas screens 1.18.0. 2 night tables 1.8.0. mahogany dumb waiter (London) 1.11.0. 43 yds of check linnen for chaircovers £3. 3.–.’ 1749: trays, screens, stands, etc. 1751: ‘2 night tables £1. 4. 6. 2 chess tables £3. 3.–. Mending a voider £—.9. 6.’. 1752:‘2 night tables & a case £1. 15. 0.’.
  • GIBSIDE, Co. Durham. 1739–45: ‘For a good mahog. couch’, £12 17s. 30 April 1745: ‘Paid Hallett ye Cabinet-maker his bill in full of accounts. £89. 13s. 6d.’.
  • AUGUSTA, Princess of Wales. 1740–41: Abstract of expenses, 1 July 1740–1 July 1741. 4 April 1741. Received £38 7s. BADMINTON, Gloucestershire. (4th Duke of Beaufort). 24 June 1740: Paid £100. 24 April 1742: Received £16. 13s. Possibly for Kentian style seat furniture, or library table, North Hall.
  • CANNON HALL, Yorkshire (John Spencer). 1741 May 15: Card Table £2 2s; Dining Table £2 2s; Mahogany Writing Table £5. 5s; Straining Frame £1. 4s; Total £10. 13s. ‘4 Chairs, £3; 8 Do, £8.8.0; 1 Do, £2.10; 1 Do, £1. 8; Total £15. 6.0. Book Case Gilding and Locks, all Deal £9. 19. 0. 2 Sconces & Frames £8. 15. 0. Gilding–. 8.–. 3 India Pictures £1. 2. 6. To June 2, 1741. £46. 3.6.’. Hallett also provided a bed and its bedclothes and dressed it with green Harateen. This amounted to a further £18. 9s 1d making a final total of £64 12s 7d, with carriage charges, in November 1741, of £3 14s 9d. DITCHLEY PARK, Oxon. (2nd Earl of Lichfield). 1742: ‘For tables, stands and screen’.
  • DUCHESS OF MONTROSE. 1742: ‘2 Chimney glasses in carved mahogany frames £6. 8.0. & £4. 0. 0.; a sconce in a carved mahogany frame £10.10. 0.; 13 black frames with gilt edges for pictures £2. 9. 6.’, receipted account, 1742. WILTON HOUSE. Wilts. (7th Earl of Pembroke). 1742: 7 April. ‘To Hallett, 3 pair of candlestands, silvered nozzles, £5. 8s. 0d.’
  • DEENE PARK, Northamptonshire 1745: Unspecified work.
  • REDBRAES CASTLE, Berwickshire, Scotland. 1745: Hallett & Bromwich, Cabinet-maker and paper-hanger. Received £184 15s.
  • MOULSHAM HALL, Essex (Earl Fitzwalter), 1745–48: 6 March 1745: ‘Pd Mr Halett of Newport Street for Ten black leather bottom'd chairs for my dining room in town £17. 10s.’ (i.e. Schomberg House). 12 March 1746: ‘Pd Mr Hallett, upholster, his bill in full’ £9 19s. 1 April 1747: ‘Pd Mr Hallett for a little firescreen’ £1. 1s. 17 May 1748: Pd Mr Wm Hallett for a light fire screen £1. 1s.
  • ST GILES'S, Dorset (4th Earl of Shaftesbury). 1745: 2 February, ‘Paid as pr Bill to Mr Hallet for carvedchairs. £167’. As Hallett's chairs for Lord Irwin (above) cost 23s each many of the chairs formerly at the house may be Hallett's (listed Christie's, 26 June 1980, p. 8). 1746: 26 April, ‘Paid as pr Bill to Mr Hallet for making and putting up ye bed (This refers to a blue damask bed for which 45 yds of blue damask was provided at a cost of £22 1s on 15 April 1746). The bed does not survive. 1746: 3 June, ‘Paid as pr Bill to Mr Hallet. £17. 10s. 0d.’ 1752: 20 August, ‘Paid Mr Hallet as pr Bill for Mahogany Cisterns £5. 15s. 0.’ A mahogany commode which may have been by Hallett (rather than Vile) was sold Christie's, 27 March 1952, lot 75, and another, Christie's, 3 July 1953, lot 283. There is a similar example at the Toledo Museum (GCM, pl. 56), and a number are illustrated by Coleridge, Thomas Chippendale (e.g. pls 9–10). Caution is necessary however as documentation is lacking in all cases.
  • KIRTLINGTON PARK, Oxfordshire (Sir James Dashwood), 1747–52: Payments of 2 November 1747 (£425), 12 March 1750 (£42), 22 February 1752 (£31) in ‘General Account of money expended on my new house and the outworks about it begun 12 Sept. 1741’.
  • CHEVENING, Kent (Countess Stanhope), April 1748 paid Hallet £18 15s for ‘Lanthorn stand, altering ditto cleaning Lanthorn & mending glass & lackering’. The stand survives in the staircase hall at Chevening (illus. Wood, Furniture History (2005), fig. 2).
  • SIR WM BEAUCHAMP PROCTOR, 1748: 2 May–9 August, furniture including ‘3 large Mahog. Dining Tables to join to Dine from £15.5; Carved & Gilt Picture Frames £9. 10s. Received £64. 13s. 4d. less £5 Recd by 2 tea tables much broke’. Intended for Langley House, Norfolk, or a London house in Bruton St.
  • ALSCOT, Warwickshire (James West), 4 August 1748: mahogany knife tray, brass corners (14s); two mahogany pails on frames, brass hoops and handles (£4); mahogany tray to carry dishes (12s); mahogany chest of drawers with a sliding board (£4); mahogany bottle tray on castors (£1 5s); glass case in a redwood frame & ebony mouldings (£16). Received £26 18s 6d on 13 January 1749. On 29 February 1752 William Hallett jnr receipted a bill for a ‘Globe Lanthorn, etc. in the sum of £7 8s ‘for my Father Willm Hallett’. This was for work of 20 July 1750. 1748: At a sale of the EARL of CHOLMONDELEY'S estate, Richmond, Surrey, the Catalogue and plans could be inspected at ‘Mr Hallett's Gt. Newport Street, Long Acre’.
  • LONDON, St James's Square, London (Peter Du Cane), 1749: July 3. For Secureing the Gold of a Sett of Dressing boxes12 Jany. 19. For puting a Draw in a bookcase With a Loose Standish to take out14 For Nailing Some Gilt Leather Round Some Doors1 29. For Mending 2 Chest of Draws at your house5 For 10 Rings & Roses 5 Scutchens & 2 Corner Plates of brass & 8 Screws56 For Neat Mahogany China Dishstands12
  • 3rd EARL of BURLINGTON, 1750: f. 22 (1750) ‘Paid Mr William Hallett, cabinet maker (for Chiswick) £21. 8. 0. f. 98 (5 Aug. 1751) Paid Mr Willm Hallett by Saml Reynolds the sum of £8 5. 0 for a Machine Chair’. (Signed by Reynolds for Hallett. This is interesting further confirmation of Hallett's involvement with Vile and Cobb, as Reynolds was later in their employ after Hallett had, as suggested, ‘retired’.
  • COBHAM HALL, Kent (3rd Earl of Darnley) Single payment of £203 in 1754, subsequent payments to Vile & Cobb. UPPARK, Sussex (Sir Matthew Featherstonhaugh), 1754: 27 March, ‘Pd Mr Hallett for a cabinet £43. 5. 6d’. This may refer to a glazed mahogany cabinet of architectural design on a stand at Uppark.
  • STRAWBERRY HILL, Middlx (Horace Walpole), 1755: 20 September, Sofas, chairs, pier glass in Gothic style for the Great Parlour or Refectory. 4 chairs are in the W. S. Lewis Coll., Farmington, USA. One chair is at V & A Museum (W29–1979), and the Glass is Coll. Lord Walpole. Walpole in a letter to Richard Bentley, 5 July 1755, writes of Hallett's ‘mongrel Chinese’ (furniture).
  • LORD ANSON. 1756: 24 November, £220 credited to Hallett's bank account from Lord Anson. 1763: A pencil inscription ‘William Hallet(t), 1763 Long Acre’ appears on the carcase of the base of a cabinet, formerly colls Lord Wharton; Colonel Norman Colville). For views on this see Furn. Hist., 1965 and ibid., 1985. A related cabinet was sold Christie's, 21 May 1984, lot 374, bought P. Hewat-Jaboor. The cabinets are likely to date to the 1750s with the inscription being added for some reason in later years. The inscription was first published by A. Coleridge in Furn. Hist., 1965, p. 11.
  • HATFIELD PRIORY, Essex (John Wright), 1769: ‘William Hallet £75’. This late entry would be after William Hallett jnr's death, 1767, and was rendered presumably as a late debt to his father.

Sources: DEFM; Kirkham, ‘The London Furniture Trade’, Furniture History (1988); Wood, ‘William Hallett's Lantern Stand for Chevening’, Furniture History (1985).

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