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Norman, Samuel (1746–1767)

Norman, Samuel

London; carver and gilder, furniture and upholstery supplier (fl.1746–67)

Samuel Norman was apprenticed to Thomas Woodin, carver and gilder, from 1746–53, in consideration of £15 15s. He set up his own business shortly after the end of his apprenticeship. Working from King Street, Soho, he took an apprentice, John Haynes, in July 1754 in consideration of £30.

There were conflicting opinions as to the health of his business in 1755 when he went into partnership with James Whittle. Norman claimed that he had stock and effects of ‘very Considerable Amount or Value’ whereas John Becuda, an executor of Whittle's estate, claimed that Norman ‘was engaged in some small Trade or Business as a Carver and Gilder upon a Slender Capital which he had borrowed … of one William Hallett his Uncle’.

William Hallett took a close interest in the welfare and career of his nephew. When the only son of his old friend, James Whittle, died in March 1755, Hallett wrote to ask permission for Norman to call on Whittle's daughter Ann with a view to marriage. Whilst Whittle and his son were engaged in the same business as Norman, Hallett had hesitated to suggest that the young couple might court, but felt free to do so when Whittle was left without a partner and with his business in a state of ‘fateage’. Hallett told Whittle that he had ‘a great pleasure in his [Norman's] well doing’ and believed that Norman's character would ‘bare the thickest inquiery, which at this time a day is one great step towards makeing a married state Hapy.’ With regard to business, Hallett told Whittle that Norman was ‘capeable of taking great part of the burden from you and therby prolong your days.’

Ann Whittle and Samuel Norman were married on 24 April 1755, with Whittle borrowing Norman's £700 marriage token from Hallett. At the same time Whittle and Norman became full partners. Their articles of co-partnership reflected the family links; Norman was guaranteed half of the stock and goods-in-trade of his father-in-law and a clause was inserted into the agreement whereby, if Norman's wife should have any child living at her father's death, then one half of Whittle's estate should pass to Samuel Norman. Thus, only two years after completing his apprenticeship, Samuel Norman was a full partner in an established carving and gilding firm.

At this time the carver, Thomas Johnson, returned to London from Ireland and initially undertook contract design work for Whittle and Norman from his own address, but for a short while was their foreman between (probably) 1757 and 1759. The work of the partnership, which ended only with Whittle's death on 10 January 1759, is detailed under Whittle & Norman.

Only thirteen days after Whittle died Norman's house, workshops, stock and records were destroyed by a fire from which Norman and his wife were fortunate to escape with their lives. Norman set up in a large room over Exeter Exchange from whence he carried on business as best he could. In January 1760 he only insured his household goods and stock-in-trade at £350, plus £50 for plate and glass.

In June 1760 he took over Paul Saunders' Royal Tapestry Manufactory in Sutton Street, Soho, and increased his insurance on household goods and stock-in-trade to £1,100, plus £500 for china, plate and glass and £800 for stock in a yard. Norman bought Saunders's unwrought stock-in-trade valued at £1,270 19s 10d. He also came to an arrangement with Saunders whereby for one year, Saunders was to have use of the tapestry room, but all orders taken by him for furniture were to be executed by Norman, who would receive the profits less five per cent. Norman was allowed to use Saunders's stock and materials and in return supplied Saunders with goods at trade prices. Orders for funerals were to be executed by both men for one year and the profits divided equally.

The business association with Saunders helped Norman through a difficult time. He set to work fulfilling orders which came from Saunders's former clients who now became his. Theresa Cornelys was one of them. In 1761 Norman built a concert room at her famous public assembly rooms, Carlisle House in Soho Square and Mme Cornelys hired furniture made by Norman to the value of £1,209 5s 6½d to adorn it and other rooms.

The continued patronage of the Duke of Bedford, the Earl of Egremont and the Earl of Holderness helped Norman to recover after the fire. Norman rendered a bill for work done at Woburn Abbey in 1759, before Whittle's death, which included an ‘exceedingly large and grand oval frame with eagles’ at £97 10s and a ‘grand state bed’ which cost £52 13s for the frame and £123 9s 7d for the blue silk furnishings. In 1760 Norman supplied two large glass frames in burnished gold at £229, together with one plate glass measuring 76 × 44 ins for the Blue Drawing Room where they hang today. Two years later he supplied a frame for a portrait of the Duchess and in 1763 a frame for a portrait of the Duke. Goods and services were also supplied to Bedford House, London, in 1760–61 including a magnificent set of fourteen parcel-gilt Virginia walnut chairs, with two elbow chairs, an easy chair and a ‘Grand Sofa French shaped’ to match in silk damask at a total cost of £122 13s 7d. In 1760 Paul Saunders and Thomas Woodin appraised the two large gilt frames and the plate glass, agreeing Norman's overall charge of £142 5s which included carriage and insurance.

In the following year Charles Smith and Robert Hyde examined work done by Norman ‘consisting chiefly of some rich Fringes for the State Bed and Drapery Window Curtains’ and a large oval glass in a gilt frame. Smith informed the Duke and his fellow valuer that he found the materials and workmanship to be of the very best quality and the prices charged to be fair. Smith, however, discovered ‘an early, determined (and I'm sorry to say partial) resolution to take off £20 from the bill’ to which he reluctantly agreed on the basis that if he did not then somebody else would. Consequently, the bill was reduced by £20 to £358 5s.

Norman continued to sub-contract work out to William Long who had worked for Whittle and Norman. In 1760, Long charged £23 to carve and gild an oval glass frame which may have been one of those commissioned by the Duke of Bedford. Norman's prices were undoubtedly high. Sir William Chambers commented that the cornice of one room alone at Buckingham House cost nearly £200 in the 1760s. Sir Lawrence Dundas queried Norman's total bill of £2,700 for work at Moor Park, Aske Hall and Arlington Street from 1763–66. The Assessors (Thomas Chippendale, George Bradshaw and William Mayhew for the furniture, and Richard Brown, Samuel Haworth and William Almond the carving and gilding) made a detailed schedule of the work and reduced the sum to £2,410 1s.

Norman was paid by Adam in 1764 for gilding of the gallery at Moor Park and in the same year Norman recorded ‘Stuffing a pair of crutches with green Bays’ for Sir Lawrence, who was plagued by gout, and around the same time he also supplied ‘2 Beach stands to Brush Cloths upon’ for Sir Lawrence’s Powdering Room at 19 Arlington Street. Norman also supplied for Arlington Street ‘2 neat mahogany oval cisterns w Rich brass Ornaments & Stands’ for the Dining Room, Wilton carpet for the Peagreen Dressing Room and the Chintz Bed Chamber in 1763, with 2 French elbow Chairs, 4 back stools, and a mahogany four-post bed and bedding for the Chintz Bed Chamber.

In 1763 Mrs James Harris informed her son, the 1st Earl of Malmesbury, that she had spent the whole morning with Norman, ‘partly at Whitehall and partly at his warehouse’ and gave what, for her family, were large orders though, as she pointed out, ‘not so great as those of Sir Lawrence Dundas’.

The Earl of Holderness made payments to Norman in 1760, 1763 and 1764 of £150, £231 10s and £17 17s respectively but it was not until 1768 that he paid the principal sum and interest on a bond for £250 given to Whittle ten years earlier. Although Norman held the bond, the Earl had refused to pay, claiming that the debt was due to Whittle alone. Norman, however, was a full partner in Whittle's firm at that date and, as such, entitled to his share of the profits.

Norman also experienced difficulty in getting Sir Herbert Pakington to pay £500 on a draft which Norman had passed to Matthew Boulton who encashed it.

In 1762 Norman was favoured with a royal appointment as ‘Master Carver in Wood’ to the office of Works and in 1763 was described as ‘Sculptor and Carver to their Majesties; and surveyor of the curious carvings in Windsor Castle. The Windsor Castle archives note a ‘Mr Norman’ paid £82 7s for a pair of gilt frames in 1764, and £75 17s for a pair in the following year. It is clear from this appointment and other commissions undertaken, that Norman's business had expanded considerably from the small beginnings after the 1759 fire. His insurance policies reflect this expansion. By March 1764 he insured household goods, utensils and wrought stock for £2,250, china and glass for £2,400 and utensils and unwrought stock for £200. At the same time he also insured a number of houses and shops, together with goods therein, which he rented out. Such evidence suggests that he was poised for a long and fruitful career. However, there is no known major work by him after 1766, and he went bankrupt in 1767.

Although he had managed to build up his firm after the 1759 fire, Norman did not come to any satisfactory agreement with those representing the interests of James Whittle's grandson and consequently became involved in lengthy legal wrangles. He also found himself in court with representatives of Paul Saunders, with the sub-contractor William Long, with Theresa Cornelys and probably also Lord Dundas. None of these disputes were settled when he went bankrupt.

A magnificent bed made by Norman was bought by James Cullen at a sale sometime in 1767 or early 1768. Cullen informed the Earl of Hopetoun, for whom the bed had been purchased, that the woodwork of the bedstead had cost Norman about £80 and apologised because the bed had ‘suffered much by the curious examiners at the Sale’. The sale was probably one disposing of the bankrupt Norman's effects. Norman has been suggested as a possible designer/maker of the ‘Four Oval Pier Glasses with three Branches & sockets in each. Gilt Ornaments’ ordered by James Cullen for the 2nd Earl of Hopetoun for the Drawing Room at Hopetoun, sent in June 1768 and recorded there in a general inventory of November 1768 (illus. Furniture History (1992), p. 39). Norman does not appear to have worked in any major way after his bankruptcy. 1760–61.

For patrons who ordered work from Paul Saunders which was handed over to Samuel Norman see Kirkham, 1969, Appendix II. They include Lord Sondes, Sir Orlando Bridgeman, the Duke of Cumberland, Lord Irwin, Lord Scarbrough, Lord Lyttelton, George Pitt Esq., and Sir John Delaval. 

  • CARLISLE HOUSE, London (Theresa Cornelys). 1760–61: Norman executed work she had ordered from Saunders. 1761: Norman supplied furniture including a papier mâché pier frame with a glass (36” × 21”) and another with a glass 35” × 21½”). He also supplied girandoles — one with a richly carved bird, one with ‘Boys heads’, a small one with birds and a large one ‘with Sheep in China Taste’.
  • WOBURN ABBEY, Bedfordshire (Duke of Bedford). 1760–63: (the work is detailed in bills at the Bedford Office, London, see also G. Scott-Thomson). 
  • MOOR PARK, Hertfordshire
  • ASKE HALL, Yorkshire
  • 19 ARLINGTON STREET, London (Sir Lawrence Dundas). 1763–66: detailed schedule of work. A chest of drawers from Aske Hall is in the Lady Lever Coll. 1763: Mrs Harris ordered furniture from Norman. 1760–64: (Earl of Holderness) furniture supplied. Payments until 1768.
  • WINDSOR CASTLE, Berkshire (Royal Household). 1762: appointed ‘Master Carver in Wood’. 1764–65: frames supplied for Windsor Castle. 
  • BUCKINGHAM HOUSE (Royal Household), n.d. Gilding for cornice (Sir William Chambers). October 1771. reference to work done earlier by Norman.
  • CHEVENING, Kent (Earl of Stanhope). 1764: 2 gilt frames with glasses — 5 gns ‘for my two childrens crayon pictures’. PETWORTH, Sussex. After Whittle’s death, Norman took over working at Petworth for Lord & Lady Egremont.
  • WESTWOOD, Worcestershire (Sir Herbert Pakington), n.d. Norman passed draft given him by Pakington to Boulton. 1775 (James Cullen). Painting and gilding work for Cullen at house in Arlington St, Piccadilly, London. £26–16s–10½d.

Sources: DEFM; Pryke, ‘Furniture Designs from Hopetoun House’, Furniture History (1992); Cator, ‘Haupt at Petworth’, Furniture History (1993); Simon, ‘Thomas Johnson’s The Life of The Author’, Furniture History (2003); Wilmot-Sitwell, ‘The Inventory of 19 Arlington Street, 12 May 1768’, Furniture History (2009).

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