Street View: 19
Address: 111 Strand
On the 8th of June, 1821, John Miers, 64 years old, jeweller of 111 Strand was buried at St. Paul’s, Covent Garden. From John’s will we learn that he had nine children living (two had died before him) and that his son William and John Field “who has been my assistant several years shall jointly and as partners have the option of purchasing the lease of my house, goodwill of the business … at a fair valuation”. If they do not want it, the executors (Francis Place and John Meabry) were to sell the business. If we go back in time a few years, we come across an Old Bailey case in which two young boys were tried for attempting to steal earrings from the shop.(1) In itself, the report of the theft is not terribly exciting, but it does tell us that the shop belonged to John Miers senior and that his son, John junior, was also working there and so was Lewis Field who described himself as assistant to Mr. Miers. Were this Lewis and the John Field mentioned in the will related? Possibly. Or was there a mistake in the Old Bailey report and was his name John? Also possible.
William Miers and John Field did indeed enter into a partnership after the death of John Miers senior, but The London Gazette of 14 April 1829 has a short notice to say that they are “in insolvent circumstances”. A later notice (London Gazette, 15 October 1830) announces a meeting with the creditors and the executors of John senior’s estate. It also mentions that John junior has a debt owing to the estate and that he is “late of Rio de Janeiro, in the empire of the Brazils”. He was, in fact, to remain in South America for many years and became a well-known botanist. In due course, dividends were paid out to the Miers & Field creditors, but in 1840 (London Gazette, 17 March 1840), William is once again in financial trouble. This time no longer together with John Field (more on Field’s later career here), and instead of jeweller, he is now described as “ormolu miniature frame-maker, dealer and chapman”. His address is still given as 111 Strand, but two months later, in a further notice in which he is given a certificate (London Gazette, 15 May 1840), he is described as “late of 111 Strand”.
From the 1841 census we learn that he is living at 31 Cockspur Street with his wife (Amelia) and children (William John and Amelia). Ten years later, he and his wife can be found at 5 Charlotte Street. William dies in 1863 and that would be the end of the story, but for the amazing work father and son did. Although John senior was described as a jeweller, he specialised in silhouette portraits, or ‘profiles’ as they were also called, done on cardboard, plaster or ivory, some so small that they could be used on rings or lockets. Robert Burns had a silhouette of his Clarinda (see here) and a miniature one as well (see here). The correspondence between Burns and Clarinda shows her announcing that she is going to Miers (who was at that time working in Edinburgh) and Burns replies, “I thank you for going to Miers … I want it for a breast-pin to wear next my heart”.(2). The National Portrait Gallery has ten examples of silhouette portraits by and after Miers (see here), but the Internet will reveal many more.
These small profiles or silhouettes obviously required small frames and that is what son William seemed to have specialised in. They were first made from gilded plaster or papier mâché, but were later made in ormolu. It is thought that at least some silhouettes ascribed to John Miers were in fact by John Field and he seems to have been the artistic driving force during the partnership with William Miers. William may not even have made any profiles himself, but just relied on copying the duplicates his father had made. In the trade card below you can see – in very small print – that he has “preserved all the original profiles for nearly half a century, and can supply copies of every size without the necessity of sitting again”. During his career William described himself variously as goldsmith, profilist, jeweller, miniature frame maker, and engraver.
Addresses and partnerships:(3)
various cities in the north of England – John Miers (1781-1788)
162 Strand – John Miers (1788-1791)
111 Strand – John Miers (1791-1821)
111 Strand – William Miers and John Field (1821-1829)
111 Strand – William Miers (1830-1840)
31 Cockspur Street – William Miers (1841-1843)
36 Haymarket – William Miers (1844)
8 Greek Street – William Miers (1846)
35 Princes Street – William Miers (1848-1850)
5 Charlotte Street – William Miers (1853)
94 Dean Street, Soho – William Miers (1854)
88 Dean Street, Soho – William Miers (1856-61)
William died 22 August 1863, but does not seem to have written a will, at least, no mention is made of him in the National Probate Calendar. More information on John Miers can be found here, and more on William here.
And 111 Strand? That became the address of the Phonographic Institution, first run by Thomas Allen Reed and later by Bernard and Henry Pitman, the brothers of Isaac Pitman who developed phonography, that is, the shorthand writing system.
(1) Old Bailey case t18100411-47,
(2) The Correspondence Between Burns and Clarinda, 1843, p. 191.
(3) For this list, I have relied on various post-office directories and on the information that profilesofthepast.org.uk has compiled.
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