Street View: 2
Address: 105 Leadenhall Street
Although at first sight, William John Huggins seems to have had a substantial house in Leadenhall Street, in fact, all he probably had was an entrance in the street, with a narrow alley leading to his house which was situated behind numbers 104 and 106. Horwood’s 1799 map and Goad’s 1886 insurance map show the actual situation. It is, however possible that Huggins used one of the front rooms of number 106 as his shop. Number 106 was listed in the Street View for F.S. Crawley, modeller, who will get a blog post of his own sometime in the future. Huggins did manage to have his name prominently depicted on the Street View elevation, suggesting number 106 was where his business was, but no evidence has come to light that he actually occupied that house in addition to number 105, so I assume it was rather an advertorial opportunity rather than a depiction of the actual situation.
In 1825, William John Huggins (sometimes given as John William), marine painter, acquired the freedom of the City by redemption. A note at the bottom of the document states that Huggins had been admitted as freeman of the Fanmakers’ Company in December 1823. And the 1829 Post Office Directory lists Higgins as marine painter & print seller at number 105, so it would appear that he started his career in the 1820s, but that is only half the story, as he used to be a ‘sailor’ in the service of the East India Company and had hence every opportunity to make numerous drawings of ships, coastlines and landscapes. The only documented voyage for him is one in 1812-1814 to Bombay and China when he served as steward to Captain James Buchanan on the Perseverance. Already in 1817, he exhibited a picture in the Royal Academy, “The honourable Company’s ship Lowther Castle off St. Helena”. His address is then gives as 36, Leadenhall Street, and only with his exhibit of 1823, “The James Watt steam packet towing the Royal George yacht”, is his later address of 105 Leadenhall Street mentioned. He may have rented that place first of all as the Land Tax record of 1828 lists the house for one Jane Davis and only in 1829 does Huggins’s name appear as “Huggins & others”. No indication, unfortunately, who the ‘others’ were, although in 1831, the house is listed for Young & Huggins.
A trade card in the British Museum collection gives 105 Leadenhall Street as the address for Huggins, but it also says “removed from Merles 36 opposite”. Number 36 at the time of Tallis’s Street View was occupied by E. Fisher, a carver and gilder, but the 1822 indenture for William John’s son, James Miller, tells us more. James Miller is described as the son of John Huggins of Leadenhall Street, artist, and his master as Thomas Robert Merle of the same place, carver and gilder. Only in 1841, did James Miller seek the freedom of the City and he does so by testifying that he had been bound to Merle in October 1822 and had served the full seven years of his apprenticeship. Merle’s father had had his frame maker’s business at 36 Leadenhall Street at least since 1783. See for more information on Thomas Robert Merle and his father Thomas Merle the National Portrait Gallery’s website here.
Huggins was assisted by Thomas Duncan, whose son, Edward Duncan married Huggins’ daughter Berthia, named after her mother. Huggins probably taught all his children to draw and a tantalising glimpse of daughter Berthia’s skills can be seen in a drawing of the figurehead of the ‘Druid’, now in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (see here). Edward was responsible for many of the prints made after Huggins’s paintings, for instance the one below of the crowd watching ships coming into St. Katherine Docks on the opening day in 1828. On 20 September 1830, William John was appointed marine painter to William IV, who commissioned three large paintings of the battle of Trafalgar. The first two were shown at Exeter Hall in 1834.
Huggins died in 1845, 63 or 64 years old, and, although the Dictionary of National Biography says that nothing is known about his parents, it is not so difficult to work out that William John Huggins and Berthia Miller were married 27 March 1804 at St. Clement’s, Oxford, and their eldest son William was registered at St. Clement’s with the note “born and baptised at Kidlington”. The couple must have moved to London before July 1807 as on the 5th of that month, their third child, James Miller, was baptised at St. Luke, Old Street. William sr. died on 19 May 1845, according to The Era “after one or two days’ illness” and was buried on the 24th at St. James’s, St. Pancras. The burial register lists his age as 63, but most other sources give 64. The reception of his painting was varied; E.C. Needham, who wrote about ‘Painters within the City Gates’ in the June 1885 issue of London Society: An Illustrated Magazine of Light and Amusing Literature said of his work “unluckily for his fame, his works are tame in design, his skies bad in colour, his seas poor and thin”, but his obituary in The Gentleman’s Magazine was a lot more positive, “his portraits of ships … were excellent, and the scenery displayed many a sunny spot of beautiful colouring, particularly in his delineations of Chinese landscape”. Huggins left his estate to his wife and his unmarried daughters, which suggests that the other children predeceased him or that he had already given them money on their marriage.(1)
The 1848 and 1851 Post Office Directories list Henry Edgerley of the Golden Anchor, public house, at number 105, but other businesses used the address as well. In 1849, for instance, J. Witham of number 105 sent out a 4-page booklet on Phillips’ patent fire annihilator, which has ended up in the collection of the International Institute of Social History. There is another copy of a few years later in the British Library collection. William Henry Phillips had a chequered career, but the fire annihilator was one of his more successful inventions. However, by 1853, he, for one reason or another, no longer wished to be associated with the Company and arrived one day at the office in Leadenhall Street where he started tearing up the leaflets. He was bound over to keep the peace.(2) And with this disruptive episode in the history of 105 Leadenhall Street, I will end this post.
(1) PROB 11/2022/341. Children: William (1804-?), John (1805-?), James Miller (1807-1870), Berthia (1809-1884), John (also known as John William, 1811-?), Elizabeth Mary (1813-?), Amelia (1817-?), and Sarah Christina (1821-?).
(2) Deborah Colville: ‘From Aerodiphros to Painless Dentistry: Bloomsbury’s Notable Inventors’ online here.
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