Street View: 50
Address: 14 Wigmore Street
The Crace family were famous interior decorators, and although the job description ‘Painter to the King’ in the Tallis index may lead you to think that all they did was either paint the woodwork in the King’s palaces or paint his portrait, you would be doing them an injustice. They were far more than just painters. The Oxford Dictionary of Biography has an entry for the whole Crace family in addition to separate entries for Frederick, John Gregory and John Dibblee. Most of the information used in this post comes from that source, but as they do not show any of the actual decorations the Craces were responsible for, I will add some examples of their work. The family name, by the way, is sometimes rendered as ‘Grace’, as it is in Tallis’s Index to Street View 50, but in all official documents, it is given as ‘Crace’.
But first two pictures of 14 Wigmore Street (renumbered to 38 in 1868 or 1869), a property the Craces used from 1827 to 1899. The first illustration is a 1852 drawing by T.H. Shepherd showing 13-15 Wigmore Street. Davies, the coach maker occupies number 15, and Hetley, glass shade manufacturer, number 13. Davies was already there when Tallis produced his Street Views and we will encounter him in a forthcoming post, but Hetley was not there yet. Tallis has Humprey Hopper, a sculptor, and Neville Daniell, a dentist, jointly occupying number 13. Henry Hetley was the brother of James Hetley of Soho Square who was listed by Tallis and will be given his own blog post sometime in the future.
The second picture shows the same houses as the previous illustration, but also some more on the right-hand side, among them number 12 completely covered in scaffolding. The drawing was depicted in Edward Walford’s Old and New London (vol. IV, p. 438) and alleged that it is Wigmore Street around the year 1820, but that cannot be true. As number 13 shows Hetley’s name, it must have been later than Tallis (± 1839). I will get back to the date of the picture in the post on number 12, but for this post it is enough to see that the Craces had the entrance to their business on the right in what seems to be a small alleyway or porch.
Thomas Crace (c.1690-1774) was a coach builder at Rochester Row and his sons Edward (1725-1799), John I (1728-1806) and Charles (1727-1784) worked in the family business. They designed coach panels and ornaments and Charles even published a book on coach designs. In 1768, Edward changed the business to one of house decorating. In the 1770s, George III made Edward the keeper of the royal collection of paintings, which not only involved cleaning and restoring, but also cataloguing them. John II (1753-1819), the son of Edward, married his second cousin, Ann Gregory, against the wishes of his father with a complete break as a result. John II started his own decorating business in 1776 and was involved in the decorating of Carlton House and the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, assisted by his eldest son. This son by a second marriage, Frederick (1779-1859), inherited the artistic talent of the family and continued the business after his father’s death with the help of two of his brothers and a cousin John III, the son of John I. That partnership was dissolved in 1826, mainly through financial disputes involving one of the brothers, and Frederick and John III started afresh at 14 Wigmore Street in 1827. Under John Gregory (1809-1889), Frederick’s son, and John Dibblee (1838-1919), John Gregory’s son, the firm flourished throughout the rest of the nineteenth century. John Dibblee terminated the business in 1899, but continued as a consultant until World War I.
Frederick continued the collection of maps and views of London his grandfather Edward had begun and which was eventually to comprise some five or six thousand items. He not only collected prints, he sometimes commissioned artists to draw or paint specific buildings or streets. One such was Thomas Hosmer Shepherd whose drawing above of the three houses in Wigmore Street comes from the Crace collection. In 1879, most of the collection of prints was sold by John Gregory to the British Museum. The maps are now deposited in the map room of the British Library. [Postscript: More on Frederic Grace and his collection in the recent blog post on him by Greg Roberts here] John Gregory kept back and continued the collection of plans and views of London churches and these are to be found in Guildhall Library (now in the LMA?).
Besides receiving various royal commissions, the Craces tried to improve their income – the royals did not always pay promptly, if at all – and John Gregory started a number of open-house evenings where prospective clients could see the latest designs. It proved a profitable idea and new orders came flooding in. International exhibitions were also a perfect opportunity to entice new clients and Crace exhibited at the 1851 and 1862 exhibitions in London, the 1855 and 1867 exhibitions in Paris, and at the 1857 Art Treasures exhibition in Manchester. The 1851 census has John Gregory at 14 Wigmore Street as a decorator employing 140 persons. Crace often worked with A.W.N. Pugin whose Gothic style matched his own, for instance in the decoration of the Houses of Parliament. From 1862 onwards, John Dibblee took on more and more of the firm’s work, while his father devoted more and more time to travel and study. After his father’s death in 1889, John Dibblee continued for another ten years before he wound up the business to become a consultant. There is much more to say about the lives and designs of all the Craces, but that has already been done in the Oxford Dictionary of Biography and by M. Aldrich (ed.) in The Craces: Royal Decorators 1768-1899 (1990), so, to round off this post, I will just give a few examples of their work, which is, in fact, only a fraction of what can be found online.
In 1851 at the Great Exhibition, a cabinet, or armoire as some would call it, was displayed in the ‘Mediaeval Court’, which was designed by A.W.N. Pugin. It was depicted in the special Art Journal catalogue, the V&A has a design drawing of it, and they also have the cabinet itself which they bought after the exhibition. More information on the cabinet on their website here (click on the ‘More information’ tab).
In 1845, John Crace sent a letter to John Harman junior saying that the red wallpaper had been despatched and a few months later Frederick wrote to the same firm to notify them that the green flock wallpaper had been sent (letters in Birmingham Archdiocesan Archives). The Hardmans were a Birmingham firm, best known for their metal work and stained glass. The link between the Hardmans and the Craces was no doubt Pugin who ordered glass from the Hardmans for the Houses of Parliament.
In 1862, work started on a new Exchange in Liverpool. The Gothic building was designed by Thomas Henry Wyatt in the Flemish Renaissance style and the Newsroom was described as “a noble apartment, free from all obstructions and well-suited for its purpose.” The new building opened in 1867. The photograph below is from the blog ‘Streets of Liverpool’ (see here) and the text describing the interior of the Newsroom is part of an article on the new building in The Morning Post of 22 April 1867.
The Met Museum has a lovely drawing of a stained glass window. It is stamped on the mount John G. Crace & Son / 38 Wigmore Street, W., so it must date from after 1868 or 1869 when the house numbering changed from 14 to 38. The Met dates it as ‘probably 1880s or 90s’.
And last, but not least, the unusual cinquefoil Remigius window in Lincoln Cathedral which was designed by Crace in 1858. R.E. Leary in his 1860 Illustrated Hand Book Guide to Lincoln says that the window was executed by Messrs. Eaton and Butler of London, but that should probably be Heaton, Butler and Bayne of King Street, Covent Garden, who advertised with stained glass windows for churches. An article on the window in The Illustrated London News praises Crace for his “taste and judgement” and “the antiquarian correctness of the design”. Leary goes one better and says that “a richness of ornament and color [is] scarcely exceeded by any of the admirable early specimens which exist in other parts of the cathedral”. What better recommendation would one want for one’s work?
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