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Snell, William and Edward; Snell & Co. (1788-1871)

Snell, William and Edward; Snell & Co.

London; upholders, cabinet makers, carvers, gilders, bedstead makers, (fl.1788–c.1871)  

Traded as William Snell, upholder from 1788–1817 although one directory of 1794 lists the business as Snell & Wright. In 1818 William’s son Edward Snell married Anne Middleton and although she brought wealth to the marriage, under the terms set by her father, the amount available to Edward was limited to £500. 

From 1819 the business was William & Edward Snell. At 15 Hanover Street, Long Acre from 1788–1821, but by 1823 had moved to 27 Albemarle Street. From 1835 premises at 1 Belgrave New Road were used in addition to those in Albemarle Street; the former housed workshops designed by J. B. Papworth.

William Snell was included in the list of master cabinet makers in Sheraton's Cabinet Dictionary, 1803. In February 1792 he took out insurance cover of £300 on his property at 13 Hanover Street (possibly an error in the number) and 1 Lower Sloane St. In 1819 ‘Snell’, perhaps this firm, was recorded as a buyer of wallpaper and patterns for cast brass ornaments at George Bullock’s stock in trade sale. 

By the 1820s the firm was noted for the production of furniture in the French taste and was mentioned in the April 1822 issue of Ackermann's Repository of Arts in this connection. The furniture plate for this month was of a secretaire bookcase based on a French design and this may have been supplied to Ackermann by Snell.

William Snell was dead by 1839 when a lease on the Albemarle Street premises were renewed for twenty-one years in the name of Edward Snell. However 1845 London Postal Directory listed Wm & Edwd Snell, upholsterers & house agent at 27 Albemarle Street, & 1 Belgrave Road, Pimlico.  The firm was called Snell & Co. by 1851, when it participated in the Great Exhibition. The display included a large walnut chimney glass, walnut cabinet, sideboard and oval cistern to the designs of Baron Marochetti, satinwood wardrobe, various tables and seat furniture [The Furniture Gazette, 26 April 1873].  The stand is depicted in one of the series of watercolours of the Exhibition by Joseph Nash commissioned by Queen Victoria & Albert, now in the Royal Collection (RCIN 919938).

In 1871 when it was recorded as cabinet makers, house agents, bed stead makers, at 27 Albemarle Street, there was also Henry Snell, upholsterer, at 51 Dorset Street, Portman Square.

Private Commissions

In July 1797 Sir John Geers Cotterell of Garnons, near Hereford and Hereford Street, London paid an upholstery bill of £70 to a Snell, probably this maker. Between 1821–23 Lady O. B. Sparrow expended with ‘Snell upholsterer’ £324 10s 8d in connection with work at Brampton House, Huntingdon.  

A number of Snell's other customers are firmly documented. In 1818 John James Ruskin, the father of John Ruskin, the art critic, made a payment to Snell of £1,386 7s 2d for furnishing his house at Hunter Street, London, and continued to pay more-or-less substantial sums every year until 1848. In 1852 John James Ruskin furnished the house, 30 Herne Hill, which he had leased for his newly married son, from Snell, much to the disapproval of his new wife, Effie. John Ruskin dreamed of Snell in 1869 and when, in 1871, he purchased Brantwood he seems to have gone back to Snell to furnish it. No accounts survive but the many well-made mahogany pieces of a late Regency of early Victorian style, associated with Ruskin and preserved at Brantwood or now belonging to The Ruskin at Lancaster University (formerly at Bembridge), are exactly what might be expected from such a long-established and conventional maker. 

The architect John Buonarotti Papworth was concerned with repairs to 24 Berkeley Square for William & Edward Snell from 1822–23 and also with their workshop at Belgrave Road, 1829–35. In 1815, James and Alfred Morrison, two wealthy collectors, were introduced to Papworth and in the 1820s the Snells began making furniture for them to the designs of Papworth. On occasion Snell would reuse items from the Morrison’s collection such as carved panels from which Snell created two rosewood pedestals. In 1832, Snell placed a large mirror bought by James Morrison from the sale of the contents of Erlestoke, the home of George Wilson Taylor, in James’s dining room at 57 Harley Street, adjusting its frame to fit with ‘raffle leaf, & frieze relieved by buhl, buhl up the pilasters &c. finished in mat and burnished gold’. In the library of Harley Street, mostly furnished by Seddons, the Snells provided Spanish mahogany spindle back chairs covered in green morocco. 

Royal Commissions. In 1837 two rosewood whatnots were supplied to Buckingham Palace at a cost of £33 12s. They were described as having ‘statuary tops, each with three shelves supported on turned columns, with framed backs and three silvered plates with gilt mouldings’. On 31 December of the same year ‘an Easy Chair finished in mat & Burnished Gold in fine canvas’ was supplied to Windsor Castle at £7 10s. On the accession of Queen Victoria they rented furniture for use at Kensington Palace prior to the move to Buckingham Palace. Snell's men worked from 20–24 June arranging the Vestibule and Saloon for the Council. Snell also moved a bedstead from Claremont, Surrey, and furniture from Kensington Palace to Buckingham Palace apart from redecorating the State Apartments between 30 October and 5 November 1837. Also recorded in the Lord Chamberlain’s accounts in 1844. In addition to work for the Royal Household Snell attracted patrons from the aristocracy and gentry.

Sources: DEFM; Joy, ‘The Royal Victorian Furniture Makers’, The Burlington Magazine (November (1969); Jervis, ‘Ruskin and Furniture’, Furniture History (1973); Kirkham, ‘The London Furniture Trade 1700-1870’, Furniture History (1988), p.89; Levy, ‘George Bullock's Partnership with Charles Fraser, 1813-1818, and the Stock-in-Trade Sale, 1819’, Furniture History (1989); Meyer, Great Exhibitions. London, New York, Paris, Philadelphia. 1851-1900 (2006); Dakers, ‘Furniture for James and Alfred Morrison’, Furniture History (2010).