To follow up the Armory vs. Delamirie post, and yesterday’s post on child labour, today’s subject is Mr Delamirie himself. This is quite a comprehensive mini-biography, but Paul de Lamerie represents two of my main interests: he was a Huguenot immigrant (although a tiny baby at the time) and an artisan. The plain fact that items fashioned from solid silver (often referred to in the Georgian period as Plate) could be turned back into money at any given time has led them to be widely regarded as a commodity rather than works of art. I would argue Paul de Lamerie’s production is equal to that of any 18C artisan.
As Paul de Lamerie regarded young Armory across the court in the spring of 1722, he may well have thought There but for the Grace of god go I. He was born on the 9th of April 1688 in Bois-de-Duc (modern ‘s Hertogenbosch) in the Netherlands. His father, Paul Souchay de la Merie was a minor French nobleman, a soldier and a Huguenot, and had taken service with William IIIrd after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes expelled the Huguenots from France in 1685 (post to follow). This service was not to last however, and in February 1686, he was paid off and released from the army along with many others. Paul Snr’s role in life is fairly vague. He doesn’t appear to have pursued any particular trade, but what is clear that by the time they had their only son baptized, five days after his birth, they had made the decision to leave the Netherlands, evidenced by their request for a copy of his entry in the baptismal register (noted to the side). They were following William of Orange to England, and would need to prove their son’s identity on arrival.
They came to London and took up residence in Berwick Street, Soho. How they survived we cannot know, but Paul Snr was clearly not without resources. In Pall Mall ‘over by the Duke of Schomberg’, a goldsmith named Pierre Platel worked (and probably lived). Even in those days, it was a remarkable address, testifying to Platel’s business acumen and solid finances. Platel was a shrewd and cautious man, active within the Huguenot community. He apprenticed only four boys during his working life. Why he agreed to take on Paul, aged 15, on the 24th of June 1703, is a mystery. Platel had spent time in the Netherlands at the same time, perhaps he and Paul Souchay had met there. Perhaps Paul Souchay was a very charismatic and persuasive man, as his son was to become.
The De Lameries were without funds. They had never applied to be denizened in England (like a visa, with indefinite leave to remain but not a citizen), and had to do so to allow young Paul to take up an apprenticeship. Father and son appear in the Denization Lists on the 24th of June 1703 and in July 1703, Souchay applied to the Huguenot relief fund (a community church-based charity) for the £6 he had to hand over to Platel to take Paul on. Only when the money had been obtained did Platel sign the indenture of apprenticeship.
Six pounds is worth about a thousand pounds in today’s money. Certainly no fortune to a man like Platel, so he must have seen promise in the boy. The money was a token, supposed to feed and clothe the apprentice for the seven years of his term. This was a more literal payment for English apprentices, who tended to travel a long way to take up a place in London (a deliberate ploy as it made the boys more dependent upon the masters, and less likely to leave once they had served their term). However, Soho and the Strand were Huguenot strongholds, so much so that the predominant language on the streets was French. Paul was serving less than a mile from his family home and he may even have lived there whilst working in Pall Mall. Whatever circumstances his family lived in, it is clear he was an educated boy at fifteen: his handwriting is beautiful, as you can see from the image of the ledger. Many English apprentices signed with a cross at this time.
In 1711, he had served his time. He almost disappears for nearly two years before finally registering his mark at Goldsmiths’ Hall on the 4th of February 1713. This was unusual: most apprentices were keen to register their freedom on the day it became available, even if they stayed on as journeymen and never had their own work marked. It was a sign of no small achievement.
(It is probably necessary to say a few words about the working life of London goldsmiths here. They had to serve a seven year apprenticeship, upon the completion of which, they became ‘free’. This meant they were allowed to register a maker’s mark at Goldsmiths’ Hall which they applied themselves to accompany the hallmark on any piece they submitted for testing, or assay, at the Hall. Providing the piece came up to standard, it was hallmarked and returned to them for sale: if not, it was destroyed. Goldsmiths’ Hall houses the Goldsmiths’ Company, both a protective and regulatory body, with its own internal ‘court’. During Georgian times it kept a tight leash on its members and had the Devil’s own job stopping infighting between English goldsmiths and the French ‘interlopers’)
It was previously thought that Paul de Lamerie stayed on with Platel as a journeyman, but now it looks unlikely. Invoices have come to light proving Lamerie was dotting about London selling large and expensive items to the nobility. He had no maker’s mark himself, and the items are lost to us so it’s impossible, for now, to tell where he got them from; probably Platel, but what is clear is that he was already an independent operator, selling directly to high net worth individuals, which is not bad for a twenty-five year old. It should be borne in mind that he would have served in Platel’s shop front, no doubt making excellent contacts in Pall Mall. Returning to Goldsmiths’ Hall in 1713, he enters his first mark, giving his address as ‘in Windmill Street near the Haymarket’.
By 1714, his utter disregard for authority is already making itself plain. He was had up before the court at Goldsmiths’ Hall for failing to have his work hallmarked. As silver objects were made from the same standard as coin (Britannia standard at the time, which was higher than sterling to prevent coins being clipped to make hollow ware, thus devaluing the currency) it was illegal to sell objects which hadn’t officially been converted from one type of bullion to another. Furthermore, every ounce of fashioned silver passed for hallmarking was taxed by the government; one of the few taxes at the time, and bitterly resented by both goldsmiths and their customers. A large amount of pieces by Lamerie are not marked other than with his own maker’s mark, proving he was avoiding duty (dodging) and selling to people who trusted him to provide them with objects of superior fineness.
The court fined him £20, over three thousand now. It was a sharp and rather spiteful rap, considering the court failed to prove the extent of his crime, but Lamerie pushed back almost immediately by presenting large quantities of basic domestic silver for assay. It’s all of decent quality, but very plain and much of it lacks the flair one would expect of him, and that’s because he didn’t make it: he took in work from anonymous French silversmiths (you are only a goldsmith if your freedom is registered at Goldsmiths’ Hall) working in the back streets of London and had it hallmarked as his own. He would have charged for this. So by the summer of 1715, he was back up before the court because he ‘covered Foreigners work and got ye same toucht at ye Hall’. Other Huguenot goldsmiths got into trouble for this too, but no one on the scale of Lamerie. He was up before the court for it again in 1716.
By 1717, in what was becoming an annual event, Lamerie is referred to as ‘the King’s Silversmith’ (why no one is quite sure, most likely King’s restorer rather than supplier) when being charged with ‘making and selling Great quantities of Large Plate which he doth not bring to Goldsmiths’ Hall to be mark’t according to Law.’ However, the Hall realized they had to admit defeat: Lamerie was simply becoming too big a player to be ignored. Shortly after the court appearance, he presented a vast quantity of spoons for assay and on the 18th of June was summoned to the Hall. The Goldsmiths’ records show Lamerie ‘being discoursed with by ye Wardens about his admission into the Livery and he accepted thereof’. The Livery is the first stage of the upper hierarchy of a Company. I’d imagine Lamerie was as surprised as anyone. He probably thought he’d been summoned to explain why he’d changed his maker’s mark, completely illegally, the previous year.
To understand Paul de Lamerie, it’s necessary to gather up the tiny details of his life and pick them apart in context. On the 7th of February 1717, he applied to the Archbishop of Canterbury for a marriage licence and four days later married Louisa Julliot in the Huguenot church in Glasshouse Street. The bride’s uncle conducted the service, which is probably the only reason they married there. The application for a licence means Lamerie was not a churchgoer. He wasn’t interested in attending for the reading of the banns and general obedience marrying in a Huguenot church required. Either that or he was desperate to marry. Seems unlikely given the level of calculation he applied to everything else in his life. Anyway, from this time on, he is rated for two neighbouring properties in Windmill Street. Their daughter Margaret was born the following year, and baptized at St James’ Church in Piccadilly, and Anglican church, proving Lamerie had little interest in his Huguenot background. It won’t have hurt that the influential and well-connected Samuel Clarke was the pastor either.
In 1722, the silver and jewellery shop in Windmill Street was doing well if the insurance policies are anything to go by. Then, the Armoury case. Not Lamerie’s finest hour. Although it is difficult to state with certainty, it appears he shut the shop in Windmill Street and did something extraordinary, proving himself wily and adaptable. The Sun Insurance records show that Lamerie maintained a lower policy upon the Windmill Street premises (where the workshop remained), and took out a joint policy with Ellis Gamble, a silver engraver and Hogarth’s old master. Gamble was neither a goldsmith, nor a jeweller, but suddenly seems to have had the money to open a fairly grand shop. The policy detailed £1000 worth (about £150,000 now) of merchandise held on a property named at the Golden Angel in Cranbourn Street (see the image of Hogarth’s trade card for the shop). Five years later, the shop was doing exceptionally well, and the partnership was dissolved. Gamble had served his purpose. One of the last pieces of Hogarth’s engraving on silver also appears that year, on a salver bearing Lamerie’s mark (see image). In that year Hogarth vowed to stop engraving on silver as soon as possible, it being very hard work in comparison to copper.
Not content with building a serious London-based business, Lamerie was expanding into the export trade. Once again, it is a court report which reveals the details, although this time, Lamerie wasn’t in the dock. Robert Dingley was a City-based goldsmith and jeweller who had connections to the Russian court. He took orders for certain items, had them made by Huguenot craftesmen in Soho, then stored them until he had a large cargo to send out. He wasn’t in the habit of paying the tax on them before they were exported. In August 1726, officials from Goldsmiths’ Hall tried to seize the cargo as it lay aboard ship near Customs House. However, as usual, Lamerie was a step ahead of them. He had probably been tipped off by someone at the Hall. Dingley was waiting for the officials and took them to the Vine Tavern in Thames Street to discuss the matter, as the ship was moored nearby. As soon as they were inside, the ship sailed for Russia and Goldsmiths’ Hall were thwarted. It’s easy to imagine Lamerie standing in some shady part of the dock waving it off before taking a water taxi back to the shop via the Savoy stairs.
Dingley was brought before Guildhall court, where he testified that the 18,000 ozs of the Czarina’s plate were all properly hallmarked. Of course, no one in London was at that time disposed to go and check, but most of the Czarina’s collection, by item, is not hallmarked. More than half of it bears only the maker’s mark of Paul de Lamerie. Despite his roguery, or perhaps because of it, Lamerie was very popular amongst MPs, and despite often being referred to as the King’s silversmith, it appears he got precious little work from the King. In 1731, his rise through the ranks at Goldsmiths’ Hall continued, when he was made Assistant to the court, ‘on condition that he paid a fine of forty pounds cash to the use of the company’. In 1732, he decided to abandon the Britannia standard, even though he had continued to work in the superior fineness long after it had ceased to be a legal requirement. He was still in Windmill Street, but now at the sign of ‘The Golden Ball’, the location associated with him thereafter.
Something unknown tipped the scales for Lamerie in the early years of that decade. He was now a grown man rather than a young boy on the make. He was respected by his customers. He was a family man, although sadly half his children and both his sons died in infancy. The quality of his extant work begins to soar. It must be noted that Paul de Lamerie, whilst possessing all the skills to make silverware, was unlikely to have done so after his apprenticeship ended. He was primarily a business man and designer. Paul Crespin is thought to have physically manufactured a great deal of silver bearing the maker’s mark of Paul de Lamerie. The sheer volume of work bearing Lamerie’s mark could not have been made by one man, and certainly not one running a successful retail business, a family, and taking part in the community. Like Platel, he only took four apprentices, and one of them, Peter Archambo never even trained with him; it was done as a favour to Archambo’s father. It is thought he employed at least one full-time clay modeller (probably the brilliantly talented James Schruder), a metal chaser (fine detail) and a gilder. This is no way reduces his genius. Faberge didn’t make things either. Some of Lamerie’s finest pieces can be seen in the V&A. They get a bit ignored in the rush for other things, which both mystifies and grieves me.
During 1733, he had made enough money to start investing in property, and purchased a parcel of land in Piccadilly. He even bought land in Gloucestershire in the end, and lent money on mortgages within the French community. In 1735, Paul Souchay de la Merie died and was given a pauper’s burial at St Anne’s, Soho on Boxing Day. It was clear there was no love lost between father and son. Paul Jnr wasn’t exactly low on funds at the time, and immediately after his father’s death, Paul moved his mother out of lodgings and in with his family. After his father’s death he joined the Wesminster Militia. Based on the Huguenot tradition of soldiering, it was a group concerned with keeping order in the area and Lamerie attained the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel by the time of his death. It is telling that he did not engage in the militia when his father, a former soldier, was alive.
With his father dead, Lamerie took more pride in his heritage, and even had Hogarth engrave a bookplate for him showing the Souchay crest (see the three stumps in the centre of the image). Bookplates indicate he was acquiring a library, fitting for the gentleman he had become. His standing at Goldsmiths’ Hall had changed too: he was no longer the shady rogue grudgingly accepted because of his success. A court note from 1736 records the fireplace of the Standing Parlour at Goldsmiths’ Hall had need of repair to the metalwork. The Clerk was charged with writing to Lamerie, to request him ‘to be so kind to the Company as to come & view the same, and desire him to take such assistance as he think proper, the Committee esteeming him one of the best of Judges of that fine Workmanship and ye Company will be very ready to recompense his trouble & charge therein.’ The Goldsmiths’ Company is arguably the grandest in London. There is no other example of grovelling in their records.
In December 1737 he was appointed to a Parliamentary Committee to prepare a bill ‘to prevent the great frauds daily committed in the manufacturing of gold and silver wares for want of sufficient power effectually to prevent the same’. The main clause intended to restore the Goldsmiths’ Company’s medieval right to search the premises of free goldsmiths. This was the same year that Lamerie sold a massive duty-dodging ewer to Lord Hardwicke. Unsurprisingly, he insisted the clause be ‘entirely left out of the new intended bill’. This was agreed at the second meeting and he failed to turn up for the subsequent ones dealing with the more trivial matters. The act was passed in 1738 with his signature attached. This was the year he moved to Gerrard Street: his final and most successful retail establishment. There is no extant trade card for Paul de Lamerie, so far, but there’ll be one. It’s waiting in a pile of Victorian household accounts somewhere. There is no portrait either, more’s the pity.
During the 1740s, Lamerie had a relatively uneventful decade, by his standards at least and made his finest pieces to commission, some of which are in the gallery below. He was at the peak of his powers and his rise through the Goldsmiths’ Company continued. He was never made Prime Warden, and it has been intimated this was due to the ‘long and tedious illness’ he eventually died from in 1751. More likely it was just beyond his reach, history counting against him. One dissenting voice would’ve kept him out. He died on the 4th of August and was interred in St Anne’s Church, Soho, with his parents (his mother having been buried there in 1741). St Anne’s was bombed in 1940, destroying the tomb. Paul wouldn’t like the new church much.
His obituary appeared in the General Advertiser thus:
Last night the corpse of Mr de Lamerie, Silverworker to His Majesty, was interr’d in a handsome manner in St Anne’s Church, Soho. His corpse was followed to the grave by real Mourners, for he was a good man, and his Behaviour in and out of Business gain’d him Friends.
His will was detailed and meticulous, as to be expected. His journeyman and former apprentice Samuel Collins was to oversee the finishing of any work in hand, and the vast lot of it, including diamonds and jewellery, was to be auctioned by Abraham Langford. A month after his death, 45 properties were auctioned, for the benefit of his family, proving just what an empire he had accumulated.
It would be easy to cast Paul de Lamerie in the mould of villain. Allowing his father to die a pauper when he himself lived in comparative luxury, cheating a chimney-sweep and lying to anyone in authority are all aspects of his character made much of by historians seizing on the scant details of his life. I prefer to take a view, of a boy who bootstrapped his way up to become the greatest ever English silversmith. Again, it is the tiny glimpses of the man behind the metal that tell us the most. Isaac Gyles was Lamerie’s book-keeper, and was left 40 guineas (about seven thousand) in recognition of his ‘long and faithful service’. Samuel Collins came to Lamerie as an apprentice and never left, and was charged with obtaining the best price for the stock in trade on behalf of Lamerie’s widow.
Finally, the chance discovery of a document pertaining to the French Hospital for Huguenots ties Paul de Lamerie to an act of utter decency, and one typical of the close-knit French community in Georgian London. James Ray was a silversmith, most likely a gilder (heated mercury sent gilders mad, as with hatters) and in 1734 he began ‘running about the streets like a madman, forsaking his business and crying “oranges and lemons”.’ He may have worked for Lamerie, there is no record. It was Louisa Lamerie’s uncle who took James Ray to the hospital to be admitted, being a respected minister and able to have him incarcerated legally. Before admitting a violently ‘distracted soul’ to any hospital, it was customary to find a member of the community to stand surety for any damage caused by the patient. The signature on James Ray’s bond is that of Paul de Lamerie.