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Morel, Nicholas and Morel & Hughes, Robert (1790–1831)

Morel, Nicholas and Morel & Hughes, Robert

London; cabinet maker and upholder (fl.1790–d.1831)

Nicholas Morel was almost certainly of French extraction although this remains undocumented. He seems to have been associated with the group of Anglo-French craftsmen who worked for Henry Holland and Dominique Daguerre, particularly at Carlton House. Daguerre's will in 1796 was in fact witnessed by a Nicholas Morel who may have been the same individual. The French connection is further reinforced by the discovery of a portrait miniature on ivory by the French émigré miniaturist Francois Huet-Villiers which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1813. When exhibited it was framed with portraits of ‘a lady’ and Morel’s business partner Robert Hughes.

The earliest known mention of Morel is in the accounts of the Prince of Wales (1795). Described as a cabinet maker and upholder of Tenterden Street, Hanover Square, he submitted a bill for £192 for work at Carlton House in the accounts for the Prince of Wales's debts on his marriage in 1795. In the same year the Prince took a lease for twelve years of The Grange, Hampshire, a hunting box owned by the Drummond family, although he only used it for a year. Morel supplied a number of furnishings for it but the payments are recorded in arrears, 1800–01.

Morel's standing as a fashionable cabinet maker and upholder, patronised by the Prince of Wales and his circle, is further illustrated by his involvement at Southill, Bedfordshire, where Holland designed interiors and probably some furniture for Samuel Whitbread II. Morel was amongst a group of prominent cabinet makers including William Marsh, who were paid a total of £2,167 4s 3d in 1798 and £1,580 7s 5d in 1800, while further small payments were made during the period 1804–07. It is not possible to identify Morel's work because no detailed accounts have survived, nevertheless, the strongly Francophile flavour of the furniture remaining at Southill must owe something to his workshop.

From 1802 Morel is listed at 13 Great Marlborough Street, where he was joined soon after 1805 by Robert Hughes, perhaps because increased business required sharing the financial responsibility. The premises by 1821 included a dwelling house, warehouse, workshops and a warm air stove in the cabinet making shop. The stock and tools were insured for £5,000, indicating a fairly large business. It is not clear exactly when the partnership ended since some directories continued to list both Morel and Hughes at no. 13 until 1828, while the London Post Office Directory gives both in 1826, and only Morel in 1827. Both partners were involved in their own projects in 1826, thus making it likely that this is the year when the partnership ended.

Nicholas Morel continued to supply the Prince of Wales with furniture and furnishings, particularly for Carlton House. Typical payments included in 1803, £53 6s for cleaning and repairs and £332 10s for gilt bronze candelabra and inkstands; and in 1804, £239 16s 8d for a bed and its upholstery; four pedestals for some of the Prince's statues costing £11 11s; plus two years’ interest of £30 on a total of £302 10s outstanding, for a Parisian inkstand, bronze Egyptian figures and ormolu girandoles. These were typical of the lavish objects, many of them French, with which Carlton House and Brighton Pavilion were furnished.

In 1810 Morel and Hughes provided a mahogany sideboard with bronzed mounts and griffin supports for £182 16s for the New Dining Room at Carlton House, presumably the room created on the lower floor overlooking the garden by James Wyatt in 1804. They also made various repairs and new covers for furniture at Carlton House, including the Prince's large polonaise bed and furniture in the Throne Roomat a total cost of nearly £900. Other interesting pieces supplied by the firm for the Prince at Carlton House (which cannot now be positively identified) include six bergère chairs with carved chimeras supplied in 1812 for £951 12s.

Presumably Morel and Hughes continued to supply furniture for the Prince until the 1820s when Morel and George Seddon formed a partnership in 1827 to provide furniture and furnishings for Windsor Castle. Morel was granted a warrant as Upholsterer in Ordinary to George IV on 11 July 1828, presumably for the Windsor Castle commission, and this suggests that his partnership with Hughes was terminated in that year.

Morel and Hughes also worked for a number of aristocratic patrons, one of the earliest being the 1st Earl of Bradford (2nd creation) at Weston Park, Staffordshire, 1802–03 and 1805–06. The second commission is itemised in an account among the family papers and the bill of 4 June 1805 is reproduced in Furniture History (1987) pp. 19-30; the total cost was £4,714 16s 4d. The firm provided new decorations and upholstery for the Drawing Room, Library, Dining Room, Study and Billiard Room, new furniture for the Library and Drawing Room and new curtains, blinds, carpets, bed hangings and upholstery for the bedrooms and dressing rooms. Chintzes and calicoes were ordered separately by Lord Bradford from Richard Ovey, 'Furniture Printer to the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York', and made up by Morel and Hughes, who supplied all other materials.

The account emphasises the fashionable aspects of the designs with frequent mention of new patterns; for example, the curtains of the Dining Room were ‘of an entire new form … of crimson unwatered morine bound, ornamented, & fringed with silk vandyke lace made to flow over Antique Bows … richly carved & highly finished as rosewood & gold.’ Although the curtains have perished, the bows survive in their original setting, now the Library, repainted and fixed as cornices above the present curtains. A good deal of furniture supplied by the firm survives in the house including a set of gilded chairs for the Drawing Room with carved ram's heads on the arms. There is also an example of early functional design in two library chairs dated 1806 ‘with pivots to turn round’ on a central support with four feet, a forerunner of the revolving desk chairs popular in the later 19th century (illus. Furniture History (1987) p. 32).

This important commission relatively early in the partnership was followed by others for similar patrons, unfortunately without similar documentation. The firm are listed in the Earl of Mansfield's account book for work at Kenwood in 1808, the sum paid being £20 17s; provided furnishings at Grosvenor Place House for Lord Whitworth 1808–10. Here they furnished Lady Whitworth’s sitting room at a cost of £609 6s 3 1/2d with renovated curtains in blue silk, a chaise longue and easy chairs, and repaired a library table which she had brought back from Paris. They worked at Harewood House, Hanover Square for Edward, Lord Lascelles in March 1809 for £68 16s; and provided materials for the 6th Duke of Bedford 1807–08. They also made repairs and alterations to a tortoiseshell cabinet for the Duke which included new inlay of tortoiseshell and ivory and a new stand on ‘large carved antique feet’ in April 1808. In 1813 Morel and Hughes were paid £1,242 for work at 75 South Audley Street for the Duke of Buccleuch, a very sizeable sum suggesting a major scheme of refurnishing. They also worked in 1813 for the 2nd Marquess of Bath. Although these patrons are only a proportion of the number who must have commissioned furniture and furnishings from Morel and Hughes, they do indicate the fashionable aspect of the firm's work.

Some idea of the cost of individual items of furniture supplied by Morel and Hughes may be seen in a bill in 1813 for work for James Henry Leigh. A pair of ‘neat Pole Fire Screens of wood as ebony relieved with brass ornaments, the mounts covered with blue silk pleated’ cost £5 12s while a ‘handsome Mahogany Parisian Secretary the fall covered with purple morocco and gilt lines round it the whole resting on bronzed lions claws the top finished with a dove marble slab’ cost £31 10s. The description of the secretaire emphasizes the French influence associated with much of Morel's work and would of course have been very fashionable.

Perhaps the most important commission of the later period of the firm's existence was their work at Northumberland House, Strand, London. The 3rd Duke of Northumberland had commissioned Thomas Cundy to make alterations to the south wing about 1820 which included changes to Robert Adam's interior decorations in the Glass Drawing Room. Shortly afterwards Morel and Hughes refitted all the rooms in the south wing and their bill in 1823 for the Glass Drawing Room was £1,898 15s 10d and for the entire project £34, 111 9s 7d.

The new furniture supplied for the Glass Drawing Room included a pair of gilt fire screens, a pair of gilt footstools, a Turkish divan or woolsack and an oblong aburra and canary wood sofa table with stuffed foot rail which cost £221 16s. Repairs were carried out to furniture supplied by Adam, including strengthening a carved side table with iron plates and adding two new legs and a back rail, new carving by Mr Ponsonby, for £9 18s, and ‘thoroughly repairing and strengthening’ the frames of two semi-circular pier tables with marble tops inlaid with scagliola, again with new carving by Mr Ponsonby, for £7 14s. These tables, which stood on the window wall in the Glass Drawing Room are now in the Red Drawing Room at Syon Park, Middlesex. Morel and Hughes also provided new curtains and draperies for the room besides repairing the frames and renewing the upholstery of the sofas, confidantes and twelve cabriole chairs, and covering them with ‘green ground rosette silk’ and matching silk and gimp. New squabs and pillows were also provided for the sofas and confidantes.

Among other rooms in the south wing Morel and Hughes furnished the Ante Room to the Crimson Drawing Room, on the first floor at the top of the Grand Staircase. The suite of furniture supplied included four ottomans, two bergères, eight lightchairs, eight stools, two cheval screens, an ebony cabinet inlaid with ivory and a flower stand, while wall hangings, window draperies, cornices and carpets were also replaced. Four of the chairs, and the stools, now forming four tables, survive at Syon Park and Alnwick Castle, while four chairs and two bergères were sold at Wateringbury, Christie's, 1 June 1978, lots 522, 523.

Copyright (Attribution/Credit)
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

One of a pair designed by Benjamin Dean Wyatt and made by Morel and Hughes. The original upholstery was grey-striped and patterned silk, trimmed with cord and gimp, 1823 [W.46-1980]. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The bergères were originally described by Morel and Hughes as ‘from the antique of your Grace's aburra wood, highly polished and richly carved and giltwith ornamental trusses, foliage leaves, scroll sides and tablets back seats stuffed with the best horse hair in canvas, standing on brass socket castors’ at a cost of £225 16s for the pair. Aburra wood is probably a corruption of Albuera wood, a synonym for zebrawood or goncalo alves from Brazil. The use of this is interesting since it was apparently supplied by the Duke, and family tradition suggests that he had been presented with it by the King of Portugal. Upholstery of grey striped silk with rosettes finished with silk gimps and cord cost £5 18s for the pair.

The light chairs, two of which are now at Towneley Hall Museum and Art Gallery, Burnley, were also made of aburra wood supplied by the Duke, and cost £189 12s for the set of eight. Reference was made to the furniture supplied by Morel and Hughes for Northumberland House by Rudolf Ackermann in The Repository of Arts, March 1825, pl. 17, where a carved and gilded armchair with sphinxes supporting the arms was illustrated. This apparently ‘reminds the spectator of the splendid furniture lately executed for the Duke of Northumberland by Messrs. Morell and Hughes’. Robert Hughes in fact continued to supply furniture for the Duke and apparently worked at Syon in 1826 and 1829 after his association with Morel had ended. In 1829 Hughes supplied two long sofas for the Red Drawing Room at Syon, their design reflecting that of the Neo-classical suite of seat furniture designed for the room by Robert Adam in the late 1760s, but with Rococo ornament on the arms which was highly fashionable in the late 1820s. The sofas cost £587 12s .

The Morel and Hughes partnership ended in 1826 and Morel then entered into a partnership with George Seddon III, probably to enable him to fulfil the important contract to refurnish Windsor Castle. Morel was appointed Upholsterer in Ordinary to George IV in 1827 and in 1826 had been sent to France at the government’s expense to collect patterns, designs and ideas for Windsor. He returned from Paris with 13 cases of carved wood for Windsor, bought from the dealer Delahante.

At the same time, he was involved with another large commission to furnish Stafford House (now Lancaster House, London) for Thomas Grenville, 2nd Duke of Sutherland. The house had been owned by the Duke of York who had commissioned Benjamin Dean Wyatt to alter it, and Wyatt continued his work even after the transfer of the property to the Duke of Sutherland. Although Wyatt was the presiding architect it seems that Morel controlled the interior decoration and furnishing. The whole job cost £15,410 8s, and transcripts of the bills are published in Yorke, Furniture History (1996). Morel’s men began work on the State Apartments in April 1829. They were furnished in the revived Louis Quatorze style and the final payment was made by August 1830. The furnishings have since been dispersed but some were recorded in interior photographs taken in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (illus. J. Yorke, Furniture History (1996), figs 1-4).

The partnership with Seddon lasted until 1830. The following year Morel’s name disappeared from the accounts. According to Thomas Grenville, a friend of the Duke of Sutherland, ‘… poor Morel was swindled into bankruptcy by Seddon’ and he died the following year.

Sources: DEFM; Rogers, ‘A Regency Interior: The Remodelling of Weston Park’, Furniture History (1987); Yorke, ‘The Furnishing of Stafford House by Nicholas Morel’, Furniture History (1996); Knox, ‘The Elusive Mr Morel: A Portrait of a Regency Arbiter of Taste’, Furniture History (2015); Rowell & Burchard, ‘François Benois, Martin-Eloi Lignereux and Lord Whitworth’, Furniture History (2016).

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