Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Rice portrait of Jane Austen - a case of the wrong Legg? - part two

The 'Rice' Portrait
This is the second of a two part post about the 'Rice Portrait' of Jane Austen painted when she was about 12 years old. The first part can be found HERE. For more information on the Rice portrait please go to the official website HERE.

To date the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) has not accepted that the portrait is of Jane Austen. A major (indeed perhaps now the only) substantial component of the argument against it being of Austen is a stamp on the reverse of the portrait placed there by the supplier of the linen canvas. The NPG  attribute this stamp to a certain William Legg born in Reading in 1760 and who was not trading in London until around 1800. The argument of the NPG therefore is that the portrait must date from the early nineteenth century when Austen would have been in her twenties.

In my previous post I posited that the NPG may have been looking at the wrong Legg and suggested a possible alternative, one William Daniel Legg, who could have been trading in linen in the late eighteenth century. In this post I want to explain why the coincidence of two William Leggs supplying linen from the same area of London, High Holborn, is not as unlikely as it might seem, and in fact is not a coincidence at all. The story involves four men of a similar age, all merchants and all living in London in the 1780's who are linked by trade and by religion. They are: Samuel Legg, James Poole, Thomas Walters and William Daniel Legg.

Samuel Legg
Born in 1754, Samuel Legg was the cousin of William Legg of Reading. (b.1760). His father John was a member of the Congregationalist or Independent Church and Samuel and his brothers and sisters were baptised at the Independent Meeting House in Broad Street, Reading, a non-conformist chapel (now occupied by Waterstones). He was apprenticed for 7 years to Samuel Walker, citizen and draper of London and later took over his business at 51 Snow Hill, just to the east of Holborn perhaps in partnership with a relative, possibly an uncle (another William Legg) who had married Samuel Walker's daughter Elizabeth.

In 1781 Samuel married Elizabeth Gill and the couple had two children, Jabez and Elizabeth Legg. Jabez was baptised at the Independent Chapel on Camomile Street where the pastor was John Reynolds. Both Samuel and his son Jabez were active members of the Congregationalist church while his daughter Elizabeth married William Chapman, a Congregationalist pastor at Greenwich. Directories list Samuel Legg as upholsterer/upholder/hardware and later he and Jabez also maintained a successful business as undertakers, a common combination in eighteenth century England, trading from Fleet Street and later from 2 Knightrider Street. Samuel lived until the age of 92 and was buried on the same day as his sister Mary Westbrook, six years his junior, at Bunhill Fields on 14 August 1846. He named as one of his executors his friend Joseph East of Newington Place in Surrey. You can read more about Samuel and Jabez Legg here.

James Poole
James Poole was the son of a Buckinghamshire farmer who retired to Dinton near Aylesbury and whose land James Poole inherited. His wife Sarah was born around 1747.  Like Samuel Legg, James Poole was a member of the Congregationalist Church. His sister Hannah Poole married John Griffin, the son of a Wooburn paper manufacturer and in 1794 the couple moved to Portsea in Hampshire where Griffin took up a post as Congregationalist minister of Orange Street Chapel and later their sons, John and James also both became Ministers. Another of James Poole's sisters, Sarah, married John Bristow from Great Marlow at Wooburn in 1786 and their son John also became a Congregationalist Minister, at Poole in Dorset. Meanwhile James' sister Mary Poole married William East, another paper manufacturer from Wooburn in 1784. William and Mary's son, Joseph East (mentioned above), was baptised in 1790 at Bethel Chapel in Wooburn. The 1851 census shows him to be a printer and living at Newington Place, Surrey, with his wife Bethiah from Piccadilly, Middlesex.

James Poole traded as an artists colour man at 163 High Holborn from at least 1785 and supplied many of the leading artists of the day including Joshua Reynolds and George Romney (see here), both close friends of Ozias Humphry, the artist the Rice family believe is responsible for painting the Austen portrait in about 1788. (Incidentally, an unhappy incident occurred in November 1796 when Poole was required to testify at the trial of one of his employees, John Bannister, who apparently in the evenings had a more nefarious occupation as highwayman. Bannister was sentenced to death for armed robbery and executed outside Newgate prison on 1 February 1797.) James Poole was buried at Bethel Independent Chapel in Wooburn on 10 July 1801. His brother-in-law, William East, Joseph East's father, is named as an executor of his will. James Poole was survived by his wife who died at Stratford-on-Avon in 1836.

Thomas Walters
Thomas Walters was born in Portsea, the son of Thomas Walters, an officer at Portsmouth Dockyard and his wife Ann Vodin. He was baptised at St Mary's, Portsea, on 12 December 1756. He came up to London and was initially apprenticed in the ship chandler's trade. In 1780 he married Anne Thompson, daughter of Captain John Thompson, 1st Commander of H M Transports, who later established a successful rope making trade in Shadwell. Thomas and Anna Walters were members of the Congregationalist church and all five of their children were baptised at Old Gravel Lane Chapel in Wapping. Thomas Walters was made a livery member of the Merchant Taylor's Company in 1783 and ran a successful business at 201/202 New Crane, Shadwell. He was in partnership with a relative by marriage, George Seale, supplying ships biscuits and Irish goods. Kent's Directory for 1791 lists him as supplying sail cloth and Irish provisions and textiles. Sail cloth was the same cloth that artists used for canvas. Like James Poole and Samuel Legg then, Thomas Walters was a member of the Congregationalist church, and was importing linen, the same cloth which James Poole sold to artists. The East London History Society has written about Thomas Walters and his business links here.

One of Thomas Walter's daughters married Benjamin Lara of Portsea, a physician to the naval fleet, while a son, Charles became an engineer in Sussex. Thomas Walter's eldest son, John, was apprenticed to his father in 1796 but the following year, with the agreement of all parties, John was turned over to William Daniel Legg for the remainder of his apprenticeship. The most likely reason was that the 15 year-old John had expressed an interest in architecture, a field in which William Daniel Legg had already experienced considerable success. John Walters went on to to design many buildings including St Paul's Church in Shadwell and also patented a new design for a ship's brace to be used in the course of a ship's construction. In 1803 he married Ann I'Anson, sister of architect Edward I'Anson (1775-1853) but he died at Brighton before the age of 40, apparently from chronic overwork.

William Daniel Legg
I covered W D Legg extensively in my last post. Baptised in St Sepulchre, he was apprenticed to a linen draper based in Cornhill and later found success as an architect in Stamford. His only apprentice was John Walters, son of Wapping and Shadwell trader Thomas Walters. He probably is the William Legg listed at Coleman Street in 1774 and may be the William Legg listed at trading at Pelican Stairs in Wapping from 1785 as a dealer in ship stores (marine), not far from Thomas Walter's premises and with a similar trade.

I believe there is a strong possibility these four men knew each other. Samuel Legg and James Poole were both Congregationalists, and Samuel Legg names as his executor the son of James Poole's brother-in-law, William East, himself named as one of James Poole's executors. Thomas Walters and his wife, like Samuel Legg and James Poole, were of the Congregationalist church - and like James Poole also had connections with Portsea. Thomas Walters was importing linen into London and James Poole was selling it to artists. Meanwhile William Daniel Legg - possibly a relative of Samuel Legg although I have not yet found a link - clearly knew Thomas Walters as he was master to his son, John.

When James Poole died in 1801, William Legg (b.1760) was trading in Reading with his brother John as a painter, glazier and coach maker, having taken over the business from their father George. Then in 1801 one or both of the brothers (more likely both) took over James Poole's business as an artist's colourman at 163 High Holborn. Surely this is no coincidence. No doubt Samuel Legg, the brothers' cousin and friend (as he is later described in William Legg's will) helped facilitate the takeover of the business.

Samuel Legg and James Poole were linked by common friendships, trade and the Congregationalist church. Surely it is not impossible that either William Daniel Legg or another William Legg in the family from Reading, traded with James Poole during his tenure in High Holborn during the 1780s and placed his stamp on the linen.