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Saunders, Paul (1722–1771)

Saunders, Paul

Soho Square, London; upholder, cabinet maker and tapestry-maker (b.1722–d.1771)

Paul Saunders was a major London upholder of the 1750s and 1760s supplying the important upper strata of London and country house clients as well as by royal appointment as ‘yeoman arras-worker to the Great Wardrobe’ in 1759 and yeoman tapestry taylor in 1761. His workshops, known as ‘The Royal Tapestry Manufactory’ contained a special ‘tapestry room’ and from 1755 until his death he was the main tapestry producer in London. After Saunders's death in 1771, his firm carried on until 1794 from his last premises in Charlotte (now Bloomsbury) Street with his eldest son, Hugh, and his clerk, John Bracken, forming a partnership.

Paul Saunders was the son of John Saunders, a Citizen and Skinner of London, and his Sarah, christened on 27 January 1722 at St Martin-in-the-Fields. His career began on 7 November 1738 when he was apprenticed for seven years to Michael Bradshaw, a Citizen and Upholder of London. However, a second confusing entry in the records of the Upholders’ Company states that Saunders ‘doth put himself apprentice to Richard Bradshaw, Citizen and Upholder, from the date dated the 7th day of December, 1738 …’ and a sum of £30 consideration fee is recorded for the Master.

Michael and/or Richard are most likely to have been related to William Bradshaw and George Smith Bradshaw with whom Saunders was in partnership. In 1747 Paul Saunders polled at Hartshorne Lane, Westminster (now Northumberland Street), where he insured his household goods, utensils and stock for £500 on 3 March 1749. By 1 July 1750 the Sun Insurance policy lists Saunders's address as ‘near Slaughter's Coffee house in St Martin-in-the-Fields’, insuring household goods and stock for £1,000].

On 5 December 1751 he was admitted freeman of the Upholders’ Company by servitude. He subsequently bound his first apprentice for the consideration of £60. In 1755 Saunders and George Smith Bradshaw seem to have formed a partnership, probably using the premises of George's relative, William Bradshaw (a possible third member of the partnership), whom they succeeded as rate-payers at 59 Greek Street as noted in the 1755 rate books for St Anne, Soho. The partnership with Bradshaw ended in October 1756.

Carlisle House on the east side of Soho Square was leased by Saunders and George Smith Bradshaw, described as ‘upholsterers of Greek Street’, in May 1753. This property extended eastward from the Square along Sutton Street and included a coach house and stables in Hog Lane (now Charing Cross Road) where workshops were established in 1754.

Copyright (Attribution/Credit)
British Library

A notice in Public Advertiser gives an idea of the size of the workforce: ‘The late unhappy Fire at the Workshop of Mess. Smyth, Bradshaw & Saunders [sic], Upholders  and Cabinet-makers, Soho, having not only consumed the same, but also the Chests & Working tools of thirty-seven journeymen there employed …’, Public Advertiser, Thursday 6 February 1755, Volume 6, Issue 6326, Burney Newspaper Collection, The British Library. 

Later in the same year the 2nd Duke of Portland, as ground landlord, granted the partners a reversionary lease of Carlisle House until 1853– the usual fine being remitted as ‘His Grace's regard for their loss by the late fire’. Saunders and Bradshaw announced the dissolution of their partnership in London Gazette, 26–30 October 1756: ‘Business will continue to be carried on as usual, by Mr. Bradshaw in Greek Street, Soho, and by Mr. Saunders in Soho Square, the Corner of Sutton Street.’ Already on 19 October 1756 Saunders had insured the utensils, goods and stock in workshops and warehouses on these premises for £3,000.

The British Chronicle, 30 September 1757 announced that ‘Mr. Paul Saunders of Sutton Street, Soho is appointed Tapestry Maker to His Majesty and on Thursday was sworn into office’ — thus succeeding John Ellys as Yeoman Arrasworker to the Great Wardrobe. Saunde and Bradshaw's partnership had already been engaged in supplying tapestries to Holkham and Petworth, continuing William Bradshaw's established position in this field, although as was typical of most Soho Tapestry makers, the partners were primarily upholders and cabinet makers.

The dominant role in the tapestry side of the business seems to have been assumed by Saunders who rose to a position of prominence as a tapestry worker. Known for depictions of Oriental-style landscapes with soft trees and picturesque ruins, his most famous design is ‘The Pilgrimage to Mecca’ — of which examples survive at Alnwick Castle, Petworth and Holkham.

In May 1761 Saunders received a second appointment in the Great Wardrobe as Yeoman Tapestry Taylor. Thereafter, holding the two positions concurrently until his death in 1771. Both appointments were chiefly concerned with repairing and cleaning royal tapestries, but new hangings were also supplied, and his connections with the Great Wardrobe were undoubtedly, partially responsible, for the entry referring to Paul Saunders, undertaker, being paid for the funeral of the Duke of Cumberland in 1765. His second appointment coincided with Saunders's removal from the premises which he apparently called ‘The Royal Tapestry Manufactury, Soho Square’ to the house in Gt Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, formerly occupied by John Vanderbank and John Ellys, and the site of the Great Wardrobe tapestry workshops until 1742.

Carlisle House was leased in April 1760 to Mrs Theresa Cornelys, to whom in May 1761, Paul Saunders's assignees sold the lease of the entire site, including the workshops on Sutton and Hog Streets. Samuel Norman, carver and gilder, signed an agreement in June 1760 with Saunders enabling him to take over the ‘Royal Tapestry Manufactory’, Sutton Street, whose premises consisted of a ‘dwelling house with an apprentices’ room; extensive workshops which included tapestry, cabinet-making, upholstery, feather and carpet shops; a gilding shop and a silvering room; a counting house; a timber shed and a ‘little drying yard’.

Norman also agreed to buy the unwrought stock in trade valued at £2,270 19s 10d by Messrs Hyde, Smith and Evatt, whose detailed list provides a highly important insight into the contents of an eighteenth-century furniture maker's workshop and tells us that Saunders had ‘32 cabinet-makers’ benches’, Unwrought wood valued at £800 (three-quarters of the investment in mahogany (nearly 12,000 feet) but also included Virginia Walnut Tree (306 feet) pear tree wood (461 feet) suitable as a veneer to be japanned, cherry tree (146 feet) which could be used as a cheap substitute for mahogany, lime tree (914 feet), fustic and ‘Violette veniers’ (50 feet), '10 setts of mahogany table feet..' and other separately described legs and feet, raising the question of whether the entire piece was made by the same craftsman; utility hardware valued at almost £100, and forty-six pounds of seasoned down in addition to 480 pounds of feathers’.

An elaborate contract outlined the sharing of cabinet, upholstery and funeral orders for a year from June 1760, during which time Norman would supply Saunders with goods needed at trade prices. On 1 July 1760, Paul Saunders, using a Dean Street address (where presumably he had temporary premises), purchased a Sun Insurance policy on utensils, stock, goods in trust (glass excluded) in workshop and warehouse next to Samuel Norman, cabinet maker, in Sutton Street, Soho Square, for £2,000. A year later a similar policy of Saunders's insured the contents of Samuel Norman's workshops and warehouses in Sutton Street, Soho for £1,000. Problems developed over Norman's repayment of his debt to Saunders, and in 1762 the Trustees of Paul Saunders filed a suit in the Court of Common Pleas which Norman answered with a Chancery bill against Saunders in 1764.

Throughout his career, Paul Saunders seems to have had a clientèle of extremely important stature — perhaps beginning with early contacts made in William Bradshaw's workshops. The Petworth archives contain a Saunders' letter of September 1748, demonstrating both a high degree of literacy and a familiarity with Petworth and the Duke's health.

Although the major identifiable commissions of Saunders (Petworth, Holkham and Uppark) concern tapestry, upholstered seat furniture and bed fittings, the 1760 inventory of his stock-in-trade lists many standard cabinetmaker's items. In connection with Norman versus Saunders, an impressive schedule of Saunders' prestigious patrons (i.e. the Duke of Cumberland, the Duke of Norfolk, the Duke of Northumberland, the Earl of Scarborough, Viscount Irwin, Sir Orlando Bridgeman, etc.) and their accounts at the time of Norman's takeover of the Sutton St premises was drawn up.

Paul Saunders bound six apprenticed between 1751 and 1770, the first William Davis for a consideration of £60 when he became a freeman in 1751; following on with Thomas Russell in 1755 (£63); Mo. Dignam in 1758 (£50); William Hodgson, 1764 (£100); his son Hugh in 1767 ‘for love and affection’; and Charles Elliot for no consideration except orphan duty in 1770.

In 1760 the Duke of Bedford called in Paul Saunders and Thomas Woodin to value the ‘large glass’ in the Blue Drawing Room at Woburn - apparently their valuation was in agreement with Norman's bill. Saunders joined John Trotter in appraising an inventory of the furniture in the Earl of Guilford's Grosvenor Square house in March 1767 for a proposed sale to Lord Sondes, another patron. Saunders's standing in London is shown by his membership in the Royal Society of Arts and his wide ranging interests by his subscription to Chippendale's Director, 1754, and to James Paine's Noblemen's and Gentlemen's Seats, 1767. By 1770 he had become a member of the Court of Assistants of the Upholders’ Co.

A front-page advertisement in Public Advertiser, 28 January 1768 announced Paul Saunders's removal from Lincoln's Inn Field (as the lease had expired on the Gt Queen Street property) to a large house on the corner of Charlotte (now Bloomsbury) and Streatham Streets, near Gt Russell Street. Saunders probably died in June or July 1771; his will dated 23 April 1770 was proved on 28 August 1771 and included the following important provisions: ‘to John Bracken £100 if living with me either as a clerk or partner’ whilst ‘the lease of the said dwelling House, workshops, warehouses and premises’ were left in trust to his wife Ann Saunders, his eldest son Hugh, and his ‘worthy friend’ Theodosius Forest … my children Hugh, John and Mary … as then under twenty-one or unmarried’. The executors were Ann and Hugh Saunders.

A Sun Insurance policy of 24 June 1761 to Paul Saunders, ‘Cabinet maker, Upholder & Tapestry Worker at the corner of Charlotte and Streatham Streets, Bloomsbury’ lists ‘household goods in dwelling, £250; utensils above goods in trust, workshops and warehouse, £1500; glass theirein, £200; stock of timber in timber yard behind, £250’ — for a total of £2,200. A second policy dated 21 July 1771 covered ‘utensils, stock goods in trust in warehouse at the corner of Dyot [sic] Street — £500’. The Dyott Street warehouse would have been behind the workshops at 2 and 4 Streatham Street, which adjoined the house facing onto Charlotte Street. These policies show the value of Saunders's business at the time of his death to have been very similar to that in 1760 when his premises were sold to Samuel Norman. ‘Paul Saunders, Upholder’, appears as a yearly entry in London trade directories from 1759 until 1774 when the partnership of Saunders & Bracken is first listed.

Hugh Richard Francis, the son of Paul and Ann Saunders, was christened in St Martin-in-the-Fields on 30 January 1752, and was apprenticed to his father ‘of Great Ivershot, Lincoln's Inn Fields on 2 April 1767 for the Consideration of love and affection’. Hugh received payment from the Duke of Bedford on his father's behalf in November 1769, and after his father's death in 1771, he and his mother issued the firm's bills in the name of the ‘Executors of the late Paul Saunders’.

At the beginning of 1773, the firm of Saunders & Bracken was formed, the re-organisation coinciding with Hugh Saunders's reaching his majority and with his admission as freeman of the Upholders’ Company by patrimony on 7 April 1773. A Bedford Office lease of 11 February 1773 shows Ann Saunders and her son Paul, the younger [sic], taking a lease of a coach-house, stable and warehouse on the north side of Streatham Street west, and east side of Dyott Street. The Mr Saunders who subscribed to Thomas Malton's Compleat Treatise of Perspective, 1775 is most likely Hugh.

The firm of Saunders & Bracken, upholders at Charlotte Street, Bloomsbury, was listed annually from 1774 to 1794 in local directories. Little is known of John Bracken: in Paul Saunders's will he is mentioned as clerk and seems to be a likely future partner.

In 1775, the Sun Insurance policy on the work premises was in the name of Ann Saunders and John Bracken. The existing bills of the firm seem to indicate that cabinet making was at least as important to the livelihood of Saunders and Bracken as was upholstery - unlike the emphasis of Paul Saunders's commissions. Nothing is known of the date of the death of either man or of the firm's ceasing to do business.

  • MANSION HOUSE, London. 1752–53: Employed in the furnishing of the newly-completed Mansion House, 1752–53.
  • HAGELY HALL, early 1750s, made of a series of tapestry furniture covers to harmonise with a set of second-hand Arabesques by Joshua Morris (tapissier) for the drawing room.
  • HOLDERNESS HOUSE, London, 1754–58: Large payments to Paul Saunders for work at Holderness (later Londonderry) House, Old Park Lane: 1754, £500; 1757, £300 and £497, 1758, £315 15s.
  • HOLKHAM HALL, Norfolk (1st Earl of Leicester). 1755–58: Considerable furniture, tapestry, upholstery fabric and bed furniture supplied to nearly-completed Hall. Furniture delivered in 1757 included ‘10 elbow chairs with carved & gilt frames and covered with blue Turkey leather — £74.0.4; 2 large sophas, £41.18; do. 12 chairs mahogany frames gilt & stuffed, £39.10.3’ — much of this suite still survives in the Sculpture Gallery and Octagon. Saunders provided a ‘Model of ye state bed — £13.2.0’, bed furniture for the state bed and is felt to have been responsible for the completed state bed and the Canopy of State. ‘Tapestries for ye state Bedchamber — £54.5.0’ included the well-known ‘Pilgrimage to Mecca’ tapestry signed ‘Paul Saunders of Soho’.
  • CLEVELAND HOUSE, London. 1756–60: Raby Castle archives show that Saunders was employed as an upholder between 1756 and 1760.
  • PETWORTH HOUSE, Sussex (Duke of Somerset and the Earl and Countess of Egremont). 1748–67; A 1748 letter in the Petworth archives shows Saunders's familiarity with Petworth and its Duke. In 1759 he was paid £111 for unexplained work; then over the next three years, £400 for tapestries. A bill sent after the 1763 death of the second Earl details ‘14 French Elbow Chairs, the frames richly carved & gilt — £70; 2 Sofas in every respect to match the Chairs — £32; 8 smaller French Elbow Chairs — £40 & 2 Settees to match them — £23.10.0’. Armchairs of both sizes fitting the description survive in the Carved Room and are of advanced French construction with central struts behind the backs, and arm-pads screwed on from below, showing the influence of Parisian meneusiers. A 1767 bill is chiefly devoted to re-upholstery and re-stuffing, but charges for a ‘carved claw’ which is probably the gilt firescreen with a tapestry panel of a parrot.
  • STOWE HOUSE, Bucks. (Earl Temple). 1760: ‘Paid Mr Saunders upholsterer's bill £28’.
  • UPPARK, Sussex (Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh). 1761: On 20 March 1761 Sir Matthew's account bks record £33 0s 6d ‘for Tapestry to Mr. Saunders in full’. This entry almost certainly referred to the tapestry coverings on a set of eight gilded open armchairs now in the Saloon, and it seems likely that Saunders also supplied the frames.
  • WOBURN ABBEY, Bedfordshire and BEDFORD HOUSE, London (4th Duke of Bedford until 1771; Gertrude, Executor & Dowager Duchess, 1771–83). 1765–1771: Paul Saunders was paid £150 by John, 4th Duke of Bedford, in 1765 for carver's and cabinet maker's work — and from then until his death in mid-1771, Saunders worked regularly for the Duke, especially at Bedford House, Bloomsbury. From 1767, he presented his account every few months: for Bedford House — a rich carved compass sideboard frame with 4 legs & rail gilt in burnished gold for dining room’. — £19 0s … the quarterly bill to January 1770 totalling £188 0s 4d. Saunders's bill of December 1771 is marked ‘deceased.’ 1772–83. Two bills were presented in 1772 in the name of the ‘Executors of the late Paul Saunders’, followed in January 1773 by regular accounts from the firm of Saunders & Bracken which continue until 1783 when the bills at the Bedford Office cease. Throughout the Saunders & Bracken period, the Bedford estate was controlled by Gertrude, widow of the 4th Duke, during the minority of her grandson, Francis, and considerably less work was undertaken. However important items delivered in 1772 included: ‘a neat canopy with gadrooned cornice, carved middle and corners with pineapple at top — £4.15. & Hangings — £25.12.6’; ‘a mahogany double headed couch bed — £8.8.0.’ Between April 1778 and March 1780, furniture was ordered from Saunders & Bracken for the Dowager Duchess's niece, Miss Wriothesley, who lived with the Duchess.
  • AUDLEY END, Essex and BURLINGTON STREET, London (Sir John Griffin Griffin). 1765–1772: Furniture, upholstery goods and fine tapestry including painted linen panels by Biagio Rebecca supplied between February 1765 and June 1772. An account for upholstery goods and other furniture for Audley End and London in 1765–66 came to £177 18s 11d, and in addition, ‘58 Ells fine Tapestry in two Pieces work'd to your own Designs — £145. Included in the bill for Audley End were '4 brown Holland Spring curtains fixt on Laths' with '24 yds Silk Line to pull them down by'. He supplied a bed, since much altered, with crimson damask hangings with matching window curtains, wallpaper and carpets to a bedchamber which adjoined the State Apartment (illus., Boggis, Furniture History (2017), fig. 6). The associated bill dated 25 November 1767 was for £136 6s 9d. Furniture delivered during this period came to £138.
  • BAGSHOT PARK, Surrey (Earl of Albemarle). 1769–71: The Bagshot Park account books have several small entries in 1769 and three payments of £50 in Michaelmas Quarter 1771 ‘to Paul Saunders, Upholsterer’. THORNDON HALL, Essex and SOUTH AUDLEY STREET London (the Hon. Mrs Howard, mother of Lady Petre). 1771–80: A series of bills from Saunders & Bracken ending in February 1780 concerned with sundry repairs, the supply of upholstery goods and furnture. The largest account (A 189/7) was for £49 3s 8d for bedhangers’ work, and included a detailed listing of removal work, repairs and alterations to curtains, carpets, and bedsteads. Furniture pieces were returned on account, and second-hand items as well as the quality cabinet work was supplied: ‘A Neat Mahg. Library Bookcase the upper Part with wire Doors green tammy Curtains…’. £12 12s.

Succeeded by Saunders, Hugh & Bracken, John, upholders (1774–94).

Source: DEFM; Kirkham, ‘The London Furniture Trade 1700-1870’, FurnitureHistory (1988), pp. 13, 40, 46-47, 59-60, 75, 138, 178; Westman, ‘Eighteenth-Century Window Blinds at Audley End: A Recent Discovery’, Furniture History (1997); Wyld, ‘Tapestry in Eighteenth-century Britain: based on the paper given at the 2011 Annual Lecture’, FHS Newsletter (May 2012); Bowett, ‘Furniture Woods in London and Provincial Furniture 1700-1800’, Regional Furniture (2008); Boggis,‘ Sir John Griffin Griffin's State Bed’, Furniture History (2017).

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