Industry and Ingenuity:The Partnership of William Ince and John Mayhew by Hugh Roberts and Charles Cator
The publication date of this highly-anticipated book – by me anyway – has been changed to 8th December 2022 in the UK. There will be 500 plus photos of their furniture and all family descendants will be delighted to see that in the blurb the firm’s pre-eminent importance is noted. The partners' clientele was probably larger, and, arguably their work was more influential over a longer period, than most other leading metropolitan makers – even, perhaps, than that of their older contemporary, the celebrated Thomas Chippendale.
I have just pre-ordered a copy and am especially looking forward to reading the sections on Workshop Management and ‘House Style’ and Stylistic Development. Both authors have been enthusiastic about Ince & Mayhew for many years and have been responsible for raising the profile of the firm in the antiques world. Their research in all sort of different archives has led them to uncover much new evidence about the business and its influence within cabinetmaking circles.
Other aficianados will recognise that the title Industry and Ingenuity comes from the preface of the Universal System of Household Furniture in which they praise the Duke of Marlborough for being ever willing to promote and encourage Industry & Ingenuity.
I am sorry I have not been keeping up to date with recent sales of the firm’s furniture, but I have become engrossed with my Irish ancestors and am off to the gathering of Clan Shaughnessy in Galway in mid May!
There was an interesting article in The Times this Saturday, suggesting social media is behind a trend for younger people to start buying antique furniture. It is much more eco-friendly than buying something new and prices have declined as mahogany and walnut have fallen out of fashion. My question is whether Antique Dealers will be willing to lower the prices of more desirable pieces to make more of their furniture affordable, or whether they will wait for the market to heat up.
The Ince & Mayhew furniture listed in my previous blog sold for more than any student I know would be willing to pay. The bookcase went for £12,000, the pair of giltwood chairs for £10,000 and the pair of chairs with lions' heads were sold for a staggering £42,500! What a gift!
Interestingly the pair of commodes did not sell; presumably they did not reach the reserve price, but there is more Ince & Mayhew furniture for sale in another Christie’s Auction to be held on 10th November in London.
There is a secretaire-bookcase which has been attributed to Ince & Mayhew, dated circa 1775. It is made of burr-yew, mahogany and engraved marquetry, the yew wood with ebonised details being an Ince & Mayhew feature. If you look at photo 4 on the Christie’s web site, which shows the top of the bookcase, you will be convinced it is by the firm. The estimate is £10,000 - £15,000, a quarter that asked for the two commodes, so it will be interesting to see if it finds a buyer. In the lot essay I learnt that “A pair of mahogany bookcases by Ince & Mayhew with carved fluted friezes was purchased by the Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother for Clarence House from Olantigh, Kent. One of these appears in a photograph of the refurbished Lancaster Room, M. Hogg, 'Clarence House,' The World of Interiors, October 2003, p. 199.” Olantigh House was near Wye in Kent and one of the owners, Jacob Sawbridge made a fortune as a Director of the South Seas Company and slavery, then was expelled from parliament when the South Seas Bubble burst. His great grandson was also an MP and was unseated twice for bribery!
Also in the sale are a pair of giltwood open armchairs, attributed to Ince & Mayhew as they are identical to twelve cabriolet chairs made for James Alexander for Caledon House, estimated in May 1783 at 3 guineas each. They were made for the Oval Drawing room. The estimate for these is £8,000 - £12,000.
Finally there are two giltwood chairs with lion heads on the back and the arms and this time there is a sofa with a similar design which was sold in 2018. The estimate for these is £30,000 - £50,000. The lion motif was possibly designed by Sir William Chambers who was closely associated with Ince & Mayhew at Blenheim Palace.
 Hugh Roberts, ‘Unequall’d Elegance’: Mayhew and Ince’s Furniture for James Alexander, 1st Earl of Caledon (2009) Furniture History Volume XLV 101–141. 2009 Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23410720
It's a delight to look through the photos of the two Ince & Mayhew commodes that are for sale in Christie's Exceptional Sale to be held on 13th October in New York. Both commodes have marquetry panels which depict classical designs, some derived from Sir William Hamilton and Baron d'Hancarville's, Collection of Etruscan, Greek and Roman Antiquities, Naples, 1766-67, and some from T. Martyn and J. Lettice's, Antiquities of Herculaneum, 1773. Christie's have helpfully included some of the original engravings and it is fun to see how William Ince has interpreted them. The panels are marquetry, with the facial features finished either in pen or by burning the timber.
Some of these figures occur on other items of Ince & Mayhew furniture. For example the Bacchus and Ampellus are also on the corner commodes that are in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston - see p.71 of William Ince - Cabinet Maker - and they are on a commode at Badminton House, Gloucestershire - see p.232 of Catalogue of Commodes by Lucy Wood. The vestal bearing a fruit-tazza and an ewer is also on a commode sold by Christie's in 2008, and the dancer with tambourine which is on the top of one of these commodes also appears on a commode sold by
Sotheby's in 2014.
Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to buy these commodes and have them somewhere on public display in the UK? Alas we don't have a spare $60,000.
Recently I went to Sissinghurst to see the new Delos gardens. It is based on the vision of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson to create a classical garden with the feel of the Isle of Delos, which they had visited in 1935. The garden is very relevant to present day gardening as it is an arid garden. I really enjoyed its calm ambience amid a scattering of Greek columns and Kent ragstone boulders. Two of the columns were carved with ram’s heads, which I immediately linked to the ram’s heads carved on many Ince & Mayhew items of furniture. This reinforced the importance of the Grand Tour and the fascination with classical items in eighteenth century England.
Both Sir William Chambers (1723-1796) and Robert Adam (1728-1792) used rams’ heads in their designs. The V&A holds the Franco-Italian album of drawings by William Chambers, many of which contain rams’ heads. William Chambers was born in Sweden and travelled widely, visiting China, and studied at the Ecole des Arts in Paris from 1749 and in Italy from 1750 to 1755 when he moved to London. His Treatise on Civil Architecture was published in 1759. Ince and Mayhew worked with him at Blenheim Palace in the early 1760s, dedicating their Universal System of Household Furniture to the Duke of Marlborough in 1760. They also worked with Robert Adam at Croome Court from 1764. Born in Kirkaldy, Scotland, Adam went on the Grand Tour in 1754, studying in Italy until 1757. In 1761, Robert Adam was appointed Architect of the King's Works, jointly with Sir William Chambers. Both architects would have influenced Ince & Mayhew and provided designs for some of the furniture produced by the firm. Plate VIII in the Universal System, entitled Therms for Busts or Lamps, has a rather skeletal ram or goat's head on the top on a column, drawn by John Mayhew.
Cousin Matt Coles has alerted me to a tripod table listed in Bonhams Fine Decorative Arts auction to be be held on 23rd June 2021. The table is in the rococo style and has similarities to the drawings by William Ince in the Universal System of Household Furniture plate xiii. Suggested bids are between £12,000 and £18,000.
Back in August 2018 an Ince & Mayhew tripod table was for sale at Nicholas Wells, and in my blog I made reference to the book by Ronald Phillips which has amazing information about tripod tables.
I had a fun afternoon last weekend looking at Ince & Mayhew serving tables. Once again, someone had contacted me through this website to ask about my research and see if I had any knowledge of a particular serving table which was decorated with amazing rams' heads.
I discovered that Christie's held a sale last week at which an Ince & Mayhew serving table was sold for £17,500. This magnificent piece has swags and carved husk pendants, a good indication that it was made by the firm. The craftsmanship is superb. The Lot Essay describes a number of tables that have similar features to this one, and are proven to have been made by them.
Another beautiful carved mahogany table attributed to the firm was sold in March last year. This had a goat's mask with beribboned husk swags for decoration and went for £20,000. A magnificent I&M tea caddy was sold in the same auction for $4750. It was the property of the Earl and Countess of Perth, sold in 1996.
TODAY in Christie's New York Auction, you will find the Parham Park Ince & Mayhew Suite, a suite of George III cream and blue painted mahogany dining room furniture, including a serving table and two urns. There are matching side tables, one of which dates back to 1775 made by Ince & Mayhew, the other more recent. The Suite was supplied to Sir Cecil Bisshopp, 8th Bt (later 12th Baron Zouche) 1753-1828 for Parham Park, Sussex and sold by Christie's in 1966 by the executors of one of his descendants. It is worth looking at the photos in close-up to admire the workmanship. The estimate for the serving table and urns is $80,000 to $120,000 and for the side tables $30,000 to $50,000.
Also in this auction a copy of the Universal System of Household Furniture is up for auction in New York, with an estimate of $8000 to $12,000. At the bottom of the frontispiece is a note that the book is 'To be had of the Authors & at A Weoblys near Chancery Lane Holborn & of all other Booksellers.' It will be interesting to see what price they make.
It was very interesting to be contacted via the website recently by a Canadian researcher who is a descendant of Thomas Malton, who wrote The Complete Book of Perspective in 1775. The researcher had got in touch as Henry Robert Ince and James Gray Mayhew were mentioned in James Malton's will, this James being the son of Thomas Malton. James Mayhew was an executor of the will and it was proved on the oath of Henry Robert Ince in 1803. According to the will, all three were 'well acquainted' and 'dear friends'.
As the sons of William Ince and John Mayhew were close friends of Thomas Malton's son, it raised the question of whether the older generation were also close. We know that William Ince subscribed to Thomas's book, and it seems likely that they were already acquainted as two drawings by William in the Universal System for Household Furniture, published 1762, actually include the perspective - these are the card tables, items LII and LIII. Thomas Malton was based in Drury Lane as a cabinet-maker, so is likely to have known William Ince who did his apprenticeship round the corner in King Street, Covent Garden, and also lived in the area as a child. Thomas Malton, John Mayhew and William Ince were all Freemasons, though members of different lodges. James Malton was also a Freemason, and John Mayhew Jnr was a member of the same Lodge - Moderns Grand Lodge.
Thomas Malton was an architectural draughtsman and teacher of perspective in both London and Dublin. He exhibited architectural drawings at the Royal Academy from a London address in 1772-75 and again in 1785, and then settled permanently in Dublin.
A touch of serendipity is that the engraving of St George's Church, Hanover Square in this website is by Thomas Malton's son Thomas, who was an English painter of architectural views, and an engraver. J M W Turner was one of the pupils who attended his evening drawing classes.
I was hoping to give you an interesting story about a family who lived in Worcester in the 1700s who had a daughter called Mary, who just might have been the wife of John Ince, William Ince the Cabinet Maker's father. However, although the father's name was Timothy, and the first born sibling of William was called Timothy, with the help of the Archive Team at The Hive, Worcester I have discovered that this Mary was unmarried in 1731, when her mother died and she signed the probate agreement, so she cannot be the right person.
The good news is that thanks to Ancestry uploading some earlier parish registers for Westminster, we know that John Ince married a Mary Edwards on 29th March 1725 in St James Piccadilly, London. The entry for their marriage includes the initials S M L which stand for St Martin Ludgate, the parish in which John Ince was residing as an apprentice to James Welch. Mary Edwards was described as of the same parish. There are many girls called Mary Edwards who were baptised in London around the right time to marry in 1725, but none of their fathers were called Timothy and for the moment, finding any more about her remains an impossible task. Any ideas for where else to look would be welcome.
I am very pleased with the review of William Ince Cabinet Maker in the August edition of the Furniture History Society’s Newsletter.
Lisa White calls it a welcome second edition and picks up on the extra chapter about John Mayhew and the lively careers of Ince’s descendants.
She says: Sarah Ingle’s book is of interest to the furniture historian as well as the social historian, for she traces the lives of many members of the Ince family from the early sixteenth century in Elmley Lovett, near Kidderminster in Worcestershire to the famous cabinet-maker’s father… Throughout, Ingle paints a convincing picture of the economic and social background for the family making its way from relative provincial obscurity to William Ince’s pre-eminence in Britain’s furniture industry in London’s fashionable West End in the1760s to the 1790s.
She also picks up on the contrast of the Ince family’s modesty with the more socially assured, wealthy John Mayhew who financed the furniture business. She mentions a helpful list of the exotic woods they used in their finest pieces and says This volume serves as a reminder to all furniture historians to ‘dig deep’ into parish records, marriage bonds, wills, deeds and indentures.
Lily White, Furniture History Society Newsletter, no. 219, August 2020
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.