Street View: 40
Address: 29 Oxford Street
In The Morning Post of 4 December, 1823, a Letter to the Editor from “An Englishman” applauds “the flourishing state of the Arts in this country over the Continental States”. Nationalism is obviously not a recent thing. The writer was not so much concerned with the whole of Europe as with France, the arch-enemy, and even when he seems to give them a compliment “the ingenious and tasteful Artisans of France” he is in fact comparing them with the English and finds them wanting “notwithstanding the great influx of English Carriages into France”. Even the excellent English examples cannot make the French into good coach-builders. His criticism of the French coach-makers came about because he had seen “a most elegant Chariot and Harness at the Manufactury of Messrs. Bushnell, Honeywill”. When he asked for whom the magnificent carriage was, he was told it was meant for Prince Auguste Jules Armand Marie Polignac (1780-1847), the French ambassador in London (1823-1829). One wonders who the writer of the letter was; perhaps someone in the pay of the firm involved? I can hardly imagine an uninterested member of the public writing to a paper about a coach he had seen in a shop.
We have a description of the coach in a newspaper report on The King’s Court Levee on 10 March 1824 where those that mattered, or thought they mattered, put in an appearance. Ambassadors from many countries were present, but the Russian and French ambassadors received more attention than a mere listing in the report. While the Russian ambassador is not named and is just described as coming “in state” with his suite “in two carriages”, Polignac gets an extended description.
Prince Polignac, the French Ambassador, also came in state; it was the first time of the Prince’s attending his Majesty’s public Levee since his appointment to the Embassy to our Court. His Excellency and suite came in two carriages. The Prince was accompanied by Count Vaudrieul. His Highness launched a new splendid chariot upon the occasion. The carriage is green, beautifully emblazoned with arms, &c. and profusely ornamented with brass chased work: the hammercloth and lamps beyond description; the harness was particularly grand, and we believe the whole was got up by Bushnell, Honeywill, and Co. Berners-street. The five footmen appeared in new state liveries of scarlet, richly ornamented with silver lace; and their hats were decorated with white silver, with the white cockade of silver lace. The coachman had a similar livery.(1)
These coach-makers had more important customers as in 1825 when the Duke of Northumberland went to the coronation of the King of France as the representative of England and of course, he did not go alone. For the occasion a new carriage was made for Count Bourke de Bourgh at Bushnell and Honeywill’s and for Lord Granvill (English ambassador in France) and Prince Paul Esterhazy (Austrian ambassador in England) at Barker and Co’s (Chandos Street).(2) We also find the Honeywill firm in the paper when they are reported to have fitted out the “very elegant equipage” of the Comte de Chateaubriand, only nine days after they had been given the orders. Proof, of course, of “a most extraordinary act of expedition in the manufactories of this country”.(3) But you need not buy a coach of your own. In 1826, a Miss Elizabeth Wegg of Acton entered into an agreement with Bushnell & Honeywell to hire “a fashionable town coach”.(4) She was to hire a coach again in 1831 and 1836, but by then the firm was called Honeywill, Black and Co.
The firm had been in the hands of James Bushnell, at one time in partnership with Thomas Rawson, at least since 1806 when Bushnell insured 1 Berners Street with the Sun Fire Office. In 1817 James Bushnell and William Honeywill, coach-makers, jointly insured The Rhedarium, Oxford Street, so the partnership probably started around that time. The two coach-makers attended “a meeting of the Committee of Master Coachmakers, held for the purpose of resisting an illegal combination amongst a society of journeymen and others connected with the trade.”(5) No interlopers, please! A notice in the London Gazette of 2 January, 1829, states that the partnership between James Bushnell, William Honeywill, and William Wool, coach-makers, came to an end on the last day of 1828. A further advertisement in The Morning Chronicle of 14 February stated that the business would carry on as usual at 1 Berners-street and 29 Oxford-street, but apparently without Mr. Wool as he removed himself to 38 Margaret Street, Cavendish Square “where he has now finished some good second-hand carriages”.(6)
Coach making was a labour-intensive business and workmen with many skills were required. Some firms bought the bare carcasses from a specialised firm and just applied the outer trimmings, but others took care of the whole process on site. Judging by what the newspaper reader saw of the work at Honeywill’s, the advertisements they themselves put in the newspapers, and the fact that their firm was spread over two locations, suggests that they produced the coaches themselves from start to finish. George Dodd visited the coach-making factory of Pearce and Countze in Long Acre and describes the making of a coach in detail. He also reports on the various people needed to construct the various component of a coach: body makers, carriage-makers, smiths, platers, beaders, carvers, trimmers, lace makers, curriers, lamp makers, harness makers, wheelwrights, painters, herald-painters, etc. The factory not only had designated areas for the various stages of the construction, but also a showroom where prospective buyers could get an idea of the various vehicles on offer, such as “coaches, chariots, phaetons, gigs, cabriolets, curricles, tilburys, &c”. Particular attention is given to the painting of the bodywork which is coated in multiple layers of paint, sometimes as many as twelve or fifteen, which are polished to a far higher degree than an ordinary house-painter would do. Over the last layer, varnish of gum-copal is applied to give the panels their final shiny look. The painting of the coat of arms and the crest required a different artisan, the herald-painter, “whose services are paid for at a higher rate”. The interior is finished according to the wishes and status of the buyer by the trimmer who is also responsible for the exterior hammercloth, that is, the cloth covering the coachman’s seat, only applied to “the more elegant kind of coaches”. I guess the less fortunate coachman had to sit on the bare wood.(7)
For a while, the newspaper advertisements were for Messrs. Honeywell and Co. without specifying who Co. was, but in October 1830 we learn the first name of one partner, William Honeywill, who dies that month. In 1832, one George Kelly, an employee, is a witness to the theft of some material from the coach-makers and he testifies that he works “for Mr. Thomas Honeywill and Henry Black”.(8) Later that year, all the partners in the business are revealed in a notice that said that the partnership between James Hargrave Maun, Giles Widger, Thomas Honeywill and Henry Black has been dissolved “as regards the said Thomas Honeywill”.(9) The name of Honeywill was, however, so well-known that as late as 1856, the firm was still announced as Black, late Honeywill & Black.
(1) The Morning Post, 11 March 1824.
(2) The Morning Chronicle, 25 April 1825.
(3) The Morning Chronicle, 24 April 1822.
(4) LMA ACC/0617/259.
(5) The Morning Post, 19 March 1818.
(6) The Morning Chronicle, 9 May 1829.
(7) G. Dodd, Days at the Factories (1843), pp. 432-456.
(8) Old Bailey, 16 February 1832.
(9) London Gazette, 4 September 1832.
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