Ince & Mayhew were closely involved with the architect William Chambers in the replenishment of Blenheim Palace for the 4th Duke of Marlborough in the 1760s and 1770s up to 1789. Ince & Mayhew’s directory The Universal System, published in book form in 1762, was dedicated to the Duke.
Hugh Roberts has written about their work for Blenheim Palace in his article for the Furniture History Society ‘NICELY FITTED UP': FURNITURE FOR THE 4TH DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH.[i] Apart from providing a great deal of furniture including the State Bed, some beautiful Commodes, chairs for the Hall, the Dining room and the Saloon, and a pair of mahogany steps for the Duke’s Observatory in 1785, the firm was also involved in decorating and refurbishment. They provided items such as silk damask curtains and leather table covers, and they cleaned the tapestries. They also provided bell glass lamps and a Triangle Mahogney Musick stand.
I was interested to read that they provided a number of mahogany doors for the palace in 1776-7 and again in 1787. These doors all had a three-panelled design, some plain, some with fluted panels. The locks on some of the doors were stamped E. Gascoigne, and some of the hinges were stamped INVENTER. In 1787 these were provided by Mrs Gascoigne. The Stewards Day Book noted that on May 18 1787 Came from Mr Mayhews 3 pr. Mehogny doors ..4 Pair of Mehogny doors… from Mrs Gascoigns 2 Strong locks for Iron Doors; 7 mortice locks, 42 hinges, and furniture for 7 Pr. of door.
Writing in the Catalogue of Commodes[ii], Lucy Wood relates that the Gascoigne family worked from 37 Bury Street, Westminster, the address from a 1789 bill to Lord Monson from R. Gascoigne. James Gascoigne paid the rates for this address for 1777-78 and 1784 to 1787. Edward Gascoigne paid for 1780 to 1782 and Rachael Gascoigne paid from 1786 to 1795. Edward was presumably the inventor of the high precision self-closing hinges.
According to the Freemasonry Membership Records[iii], Edward was described as a lockmaker when he became a freemason in 1772. He was buried in St James Piccadilly in 1785 and it may have been that he had met William Ince or John Mayhew through church, as both the Ince and Mayhew families had their children christened there. Alternatively they may have met through the freemasons. Both William Ince and Edward Gascoigne were members of Lodges that met in New Bond Street in the 1770s, William of the Lodge of Felicity and Edward The Corner Stone Lodge. Or the firms may have been employed independently.
It is worth noting that the lockmaking business was continued by Racheal Gascoigne, who may have been the sister, daughter or widow of James or Edward, just as William Ince’s mother, Mary, continued the glass-making business when her husband, John, died in 1745: two examples of women business proprietors in eighteenth century London.
[i] Roberts, H. (1994). 'NICELY FITTED UP': FURNITURE FOR THE 4TH DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH. Furniture History, 30, 117-149. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23407923
[ii] Wood, Lucy, Catalogue of Commodes 1994 London:HMSO p.184
[iii] Library and Museum of Freemasonry; London, England; Freemasonry Membership Registers; Description: Register of Members, London, vol I, Fols 1-597
A beautiful sycamore and marquetry serpentine commode has come up for sale which has only recently been attributed to Ince & Mayhew.
Lucy Wood, the author of Catalogue of Commodes, has carried out a detailed study and has identified a number of Ince & Mayhew characteristics. For example the commode has an unusual frieze of sunflowers which is identical to a frieze on a pair of tables formerly at Mersham-le-Hatch in Kent and the marquetry of the medallions on the doors uses a three-dimensional ornament of a string of beads looped over and under the urn, which can be found on a dressing table from the Bute collection. Overall there are nine other items of furniture linked to this commode by various marquetry motifs.
Most of these pieces have been ascribed to Chippendale, as he was originally thought to be the maker of the Mersham-le-Hatch tables. However, Lucy Wood has checked and there are no accounts for Mersham for 1773-78 for Chippendale. She also reminds us that the furniture he supplied to Mersham was much more sober than the tables. (C. Gilbert, The Life and Works of Thomas Chippendale (1978) Vol 1, p222) Looking at the other linked items, she confidently attributes them all to Ince & Mayhew and suggests that stylistic comparisons support this claim.
Lucy Wood reports another unusual aspect in that expensive veneer has been put on faces that would not have been seen, eg on three sides of the stiles and the fourth side of the legs, as well as on the back face of the end panels which were only converted to doors later.
The top of the commode has wonderful marquetry which was presumably requested by the client and may give some clues as to his or her interests and profession. There is a caduceus, which is a winged staff with two snakes entwined. This was an ancient symbol of commerce and negotiation and is associated with Hermes. It was also used as a symbol of printing, from the attributes of Hermes as Mercury the messenger. There is a triangle with rings, an instrument which had recently been accepted into the eighteenth century orchestra and another implement. If you would like to hazard a guess as to what it is, please do so, using a comment. These three items are interlinked with a chain of husks. Either side of the top of the triangle lie a dragonfly and a scallop shell. The latter is a symbol of a pilgrim to the Holy Land or one who has walked the Camino de Santiago. The dragonfly may just represent an interest in nature.
Who was this person with so many different interests, and sufficiently wealthy to have this commode made for them? Presumably a pilgrim who was engaged in commerce or printing and interested in music and nature, but their identity is likely to remain unknown.
It is very pleasing to see Ince & Mayhew described by the antique dealer as one of the finest cabinet-makers of the mid-late eighteenth century and for items previously attributed to Chippendale to be attributed to them.
A GEORGE III FUSTIC, WENGE, MAHOGANY AND EBONISED COMMODE
I was very taken with this description of an Ince & Mayhew commode which in June 2008 was bought for the highest known price for the firm’s furniture at £679,650 in the Christie’s auction Simon Sainsbury The Creation of an English Arcadia. It was made for George Finch, 9th Earl of Winchilsea and 4th Earl of Nottingham for Burley-on-the-Hill, Rutland. From his account book George Finch appeared to use Ince & Mayhew as his main suppliers of furniture when first modernising his mansion. He wrote to his mother in the winter of 1774 'I have got a number of things from Mayhew. I am sure the house will soon have a more furnished look' [i] The commode was described by Christie’s as one of the firm's masterpieces of the 1770s, and later influenced the design of their work at houses such as Broadlands, Hampshire and Chevening, Kent.
So what are fustic and wenge? They are not a comedy duo, nor a term like ‘bunburying’, but exotic woods.
Ince & Mayhew used a number of exotic woods in their veneers including East Indian satinwood, purplewood from northern South America, ebony from India and Ceylon, padouk from West Africa and Burma, kingwood and tulipwood from Brazil and rosewood from the East Indies.
According to the Wood Database, Fustic is a medium to large tree, growing up to eighty foot tall. A member of the mulberry family and found in tropical America from Mexico to Argentina, it produces a yellow dye. The wood itself is a golden to bright yellow but darkens to a medium brown with time. It is a hard, dense wood, so not easy to work.
Wenge grows up to ninety foot tall in Central Africa (Zaire). It can be difficult to work as it blunts tool edges. It also sands unevenly due to differences in density between light and dark areas and is very splintery. The dust can cause severe allergic reactions damaging the central nervous system. It is medium brown to black. Both woods are reportedly very resistant to termites!
The use of woods such as these meant the furniture would have originally been brightly coloured when first displayed. The expansion of British trade, such as the East India Company, and the exploration of new territories led to an enormous increase in the amount and variety of wood that was imported. However, these were luxury woods and only the wealthy could afford them.
[i] C. Hussey, 'Burley-on-the-Hill', Country Life, 17 February 1923, p. 217
Sarah Ingle is the great great great great grand-daughter of William Ince and has been researching her family history for a number of years. She thoroughly enjoyed the detective work involved in tracing William’s lineage.