Lea of Portsmouth – a new identity

4th June 2023
John Lea of Portsmouth, silhouette artist

© Private Collection

Lea’s profiles are prized by collectors not just for their distinctive and appealing style but also for their comparative rarity. Carefully painted on the underside of convex glass in shades of translucent grey, they always show the sitter’s facial features and costume details using a combination of fine stippling, short brushstrokes and scratching out. His profiles are typically finished with three narrow verre églomisé borders in gold, then backed with plaster and housed in papier-mâché frames. Lea did not use a printed trade label but some works were signed on the blue backing paper ‘Lea, Portsmouth’.

John Lea of Portsmouth, silhouette artist

Being a naval base and a garrison town, Portsmouth guaranteed Lea a steady clientele of officers seeking portraits to send home as mementoes. Each portrait would have taken many hours of painstaking work so perhaps it is no surprise that Lea’s output was limited.

John Lea of Portsmouth, silhouette artist

© Private Collection

Owing to what is now recognised to have been a mis-read inscription on the back of one of his silhouettes, Lea’s first name has traditionally been recorded as ‘Arthur’. Fresh research has, however, now proved that his first name was actually John.

John Lea was born in early 1768 – probably in Portsmouth – though no confirmed record of his birth has been traced. At the age of 21 in June 1790, he married a local girl, Elizabeth Nelson, at St Thomas’s (now the Anglican cathedral). The marriage index lists him as a ‘gent’. The young couple settled to live at Grand Parade in Portsmouth, a central and prestigious address and, between 1791 and 1809, had four sons and five daughters, though three children did not survive infancy.

The lack of a printed trade label suggests that painting silhouettes was not John Lea’s primary source of income and this is borne out by the Universal British Directory for 1792 that lists amongst the residents of Portsmouth ‘John Lea, glazier’. He was not the only artist from the period to have traded as a glazier and chosen to paint silhouettes on glass, John Woodhouse of Newcastle being another example. The trade would have given them ready access to suitable glass and both men may have honed their painting skills on stained glass projects.

John Lea of Portsmouth, silhouette artist

© Private Collection

At some point John and Elizabeth became members of the Non-Conformist Church, perhaps swept up by the fervour surrounding the newly opened independent King Street Chapel in nearby Portsea in 1813. In November of that year they had their three youngest children baptised there – James would have been eleven, Mary Ann eight and Eliza four years old.

The next major event in the Leas’ family life was a move to London which occurred some time between 1814 and 1823. The reason for uprooting the family is hard to fathom as neither John nor Elizabeth appear to have had family connections in London. Perhaps John had acquired a patron for his art who persuaded him to make the move to further his artistic career. Their new home was 6 Great Charlotte Street off Blackfriars Road. It was from this address that John Lea exhibited a portrait (undoubtedly one of his silhouettes) of the Non-conformist preacher Rev. J. Angel James at the Royal Academy. It must have been a great coup for Lea to have seen his work hung alongside miniatures by the likes of George Engleheart and Andrew Robertson.

The final official record for John Lea is the notice in the Hampshire Telegraph (3 March 1828) that announced his death at the age of sixty ‘leaving a wife and several children’. The obituary gives an insight to his personality making mention of his

superior natural intelligence – his various knowledge – his conversational talents – his unaffected piety and the active benevolence of his character . . .

 The same newspaper announced his wife’s death in 1842 –

at her residence in London, Mrs Elizabeth Lea, relict of Mr John Lea, artist, formerly of the Grand Parade, Portsmouth in her 77th year. Her end was peace.

Lea was an accomplished artist and it is satisfying to have uncovered his true identity and to now know more of his life story.


Merryweather – From Boom to Bust

26th August 2022

Edward Merryweather was not a prolific silhouette artist so verified examples of his work are few and far between, making them prized amongst collectors. Recent research has revealed that he took up silhouette cutting late in life having previously worked in two other lines of business.

© Wigs on the Green

Merryweather cut both full- and bust-length silhouettes which were then finely bronzed. Some full-length profiles were over-painted in shades of grey watercolour and Chinese white with bronzed highlights. A stylistic trait that helps in the identification of his work is a patterned floor of concentric circles and S-shapes.

Edward Merryweather was born around 1775 in a district of Doncaster known as Red House. His parents have not been traced; he had an older brother, John, who became a saddler and trunk maker with premises on Doncaster High Street.

Edward’s first career was as a builder in the neighbouring town of Conisbrough. It was there that he met and, in May 1811, married Essex-born Catharine Miles. Their first two children were born in Doncaster: Emma in January 1814 and George Edward in June 1817. Edward Merryweather was prospering, so much so that around 1818 he invested in a small plot of land at Red House where he then built at least one house.

If the family lived in the newly-built house, it was only for a few years as by March 1826, when their third child Julia was born, they were living in Cheetham Hill, Manchester. As well as a new home, Edward also had a new career as an art dealer. His property development schemes must have generated substantial capital as by 1828 Merryweather had a gallery at Wright’s Court in Manchester. Close to the busy Market Street, Wright’s Court attracted a select group of small businesses including a wine merchant, a bookseller and an engraver.

When Merryweather advertised his gallery in the Manchester Courier (27 Sept. 1828) he had in stock ‘genuine and capital pictures, by the very first Masters’. It was a collection that was top-heavy with 17th century Baroque artists including Van Dyck and Salvador Rosa. Even in the 1820s such paintings required a sizeable investment. Merryweather sourced his stock at local auctions. At Christie’s Tabley House sale in July 1827 he purchased the star lot – ‘Intruding Puppies’ by Edwin Landseer – for a cool £173 5s (the equivalent of £20,000 today). The painting was subsequently sold on to a Yorkshire art collector.

Merryweather’s art dealing career continued into the 1840s. The 1841 Census shows him as a Picture Merchant still living in Cheetham with his wife and 15-year-old daughter. But all was not well. It would appear that Merryweather had a problem with cashflow as in late 1841 he put three of his houses up for auction. He also moved with his family back to Doncaster. It was not enough though to stave off disaster as in June 1844 he was made bankrupt and imprisoned in York Castle (Leeds Intelligencer, 15 June 1844). Having served four months, he was conditionally discharged.

This marked the end of Merryweather’s career as an art dealer and signalled his new career as a silhouette artist. This may have been an earlier hobby or he may have learned to cut silhouettes during his time in prison, perhaps inspired by a fellow inmate? His work was professional: neatly cut and well-finished. He either signed Merryweather or used a stencil stamp on the reverse.

Cut and painted full-length silhouette of an academic gentleman by Merryweather

© Wigs on the Green

By the time of the 1851 Census Edward Merryweather was 76, working as an artist from 64 Cleveland Street, Doncaster. Still living with him was his wife Catharine and their 25 year old daughter Julia, a milliner and dressmaker. Edward Merryweather died that same year in May 1851 and was buried at St George’s in Doncaster.

Following Edward’s death his family upped sticks and moved back to Manchester. His widow continued to live with their younger daughter, Julia, until her death in 1867. By then, their elder daughter, Emma, had married a Manchester schoolmaster and had one child Fanny, whilst Julia had three children, Eleanor Florence, Henry, and Samuel out of wedlock. She was 44 before she finally married a coachman, Thomas Bates, in 1870. Economical with the truth, she knocked a few years off her age claiming to be 36, her new husband being 37! No further trace of their son, George Edward, has been found.

Edward Merryweather, cur silhouette

© Private Collection


Miss Charlotte Addington (1801-1870)

27th January 2022


Cut silhouette by Charlotte AddingtonThis signed work is the only known silhouette by Charlotte Addington to have been recorded. The small figures are cut as a single piece from glossy black paper and have been laid onto cream silk. It is an accomplished piece as the figures are well-balanced with each one showing movement. The stiffness of straight lines often associated with amateur profiles has been successfully avoided.

Charlotte may have been inspired to try her hand at cutting silhouettes by the publication of Groups of Figures from Cuttings in Black Paper: Intended as Lessons for Instruction in Paper Cutting. Based on cuttings by Miss Barbara Anne Townshend, this book was first published in 1808 when Charlotte was seven years old. A further edition retitled Introduction to the Art of Cutting Groups of Figures, Flowers, Birds, Etc. in Black Paper was published in 1815 when Charlotte was fourteen years old.

The text advised would-be cutters not to draw out their design beforehand but to cut it freehand – ‘by drawing the designs first it takes greatly from the merit of cutting …’. Another influence may have been the genre cuttings made by Princess Elizabeth. Although these were cut in the 1790s, before Charlotte was born, she may have had access to them at Windsor Castle.

Born in 1801, Charlotte was the sixth child of Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth and his wife Ursula Mary Hammond. Her grandfather was physician to William Pitt the Elder and so her father became a lifelong friend of William Pitt the Younger. It may have been their influence that drew Addington into politics. He served as British Prime Minister between 1801 and 1804 and then as Home Secretary.

Whilst Prime Minister, King George III gifted Addington the use of White Lodge in Richmond Park and this is where Charlotte and her siblings grew up and where Charlotte cut this silhouette. The silhouette is undated but is estimated to have been cut around 1815-1820.

Cut silhouette by Charlotte Addington

Charlotte was 37 years old when she married the Rev. Horace Gore Currie in May 1838. The couple continued to live at White Lodge until Henry Addington’s death in 1844 whereupon they moved to Sevenoaks where Charlotte died in 1870. They had no children. White Lodge subsequently became home to various members of the Royal Family until in 1855 Sadler’s Wells was granted permanent use of the building to house the Royal Ballet School.


Mrs Hudson – A Lady of Many Parts

2nd January 2022

The discovery of hitherto unknown newspaper advertisements placed by Mrs Hudson between 1779 and 1802 has revealed the diversity of her career.

Born in Bath in 1753, Elizabeth was the first child of Henry and Ann Chilcot. Her sisters, Harriet and Ann, were born in 1754 and 1755 respectively. Their father (bap. 1730) was apprenticed to a jeweller and goldsmith before being taken on as a ‘principal workman’ for James Bellis, jeweller and toyman of Pall Mall.

By 1773 Henry Chilcot had his own jewellery business that he advertised in the Bath Chronicle. What set his business apart from his rivals was the ‘inimitable hair work’ offered courtesy of his daughter, Elizabeth. Accomplished in the art, Elizabeth created portraits and landscapes in chopped hair as well as pieces with urns, altars and trees for mourning miniatures. The adverts proclaimed her ‘a genius far superior to any who ever yet attempted that ingenious art’. Given the proliferation of miniature painters working in Bath at that time, Elizabeth would not have been short of work.

It was previously believed that Elizabeth’s mother was the Mrs Chilcot who ran a boarding school for young ladies but this was actually her aunt by marriage. Her mother, Ann Chilcot, died in 1775 and was buried in Bath Abbey ‘near ye Pillar at end of ye Charity School Girls Seat’. Her father’s death has not been traced but he possibly died in 1777, the latest advert for his jewellery shop having appeared in December 1776.

On 7 October 1777 Elizabeth Chilcot married William Hudson of a neighbouring parish by special license obtained that same day with a bond of £200. Given that Elizabeth was 24 years old, the license may have been required for expediency if she was pregnant. Alternatively her family may have opposed the marriage or there may have been a large age gap between the couple. Significantly the marriage was not witnessed by either family but by John Dover, a local innkeeper, and his mother. On the licence application William gave his occupation as ‘apothecary & surgeon’ yet no record of him working in that profession has been traced. Indeed no biographical details for William Hudson can be verified whilst later evidence suggests his occupation may have been quite different.

The newly weds’ immediate movements are obscure. Mrs Hudson’s first known advert appeared two years later in Aris’s Birmingham Gazette (23 September 1779) when ‘Mrs Hudson (late Miss Chilcot) from Bath’ is offering ‘striking likenesses’ in the sitter’s own hair that are ‘superior to those in colours’. What prompted her return to hair work is unclear. If her husband truly was an apothecary-surgeon there should have been no need for her to work. No further adverts have been traced until January 1882 when she has returned to Birmingham from having created ‘upwards of sixty’ likenesses in hair over four months spent in Gloucester. By February 1783 she has ventured to Oxford before moving on to Reading and Winchester. The following Spring she is offering her hair work in Gosport and Portsmouth.

Around this time Mrs Hudson’s career took a surprising turn as in 1787 she appeared on stage alongside a Mrs Gibbs in a short piece entitled ‘Muses in Motion’ at the Royalty Theatre in Wellclose Square, Whitechapel. Opened in 1787, the Royalty Theatre could accommodate an audience of 2,594 so it would have taken a lot of self-confidence to have performed there especially as a debut. The General Magazine were not enamoured of her performance but when she returned in September with ‘Sketches from Nature, or, Beaux and Belles Have at Ye’ they praised her ‘genius and animation’ in what was ‘an elegant and lively trifle’. The review went on to applaud Mrs Hudson’s good domestic character and claimed that ‘the benefit of her husband led her again to the stage’. This surely suggests that Mr Hudson was a thespian and not an apothecary-surgeon and that it was his influence that led Mrs Hudson to her new career.

The Royal Brunswick Theatre, Wellclose Square which replaced the Royalty Theatre in 1828 after it burned down (The Mirror, 1828).

In late 1789, Mrs Hudson was on tour in Herefordshire with a new routine, ‘Exhibition, Dramatic Brush &c’. According to the Hereford Journal (18 November 1789), Mrs Hudson played to a crowded house with a ‘witty and pointed’ lecture delivered with ‘genius and animation’ with ‘excellent’ songs, ‘good poetry and music’. No mention is made of Mr Hudson so it may have been a one-woman show.

Between October 1789 and September 1791, Mrs Hudson continued to tour the provinces with her ‘Exhibition & Dramatic Brush’ with the addition of a popular new sketch, ‘Royal Procession to St Paul’s’, in celebration of the King’s recovery and his going to St Paul’s on St George’s Day. The performance now included songs by Mr Hudson. Following upwards of 50 nights at the Royalty Theatre they performed in Worcester, Monmouth, Hereford, Gloucester, Cheltenham, Nottingham, Derby, Lincoln and Stamford sometimes to coincide with a Race Meet or an annual Mart. The Stamford Mercury (22 October 1790) gave Mrs Hudson a glowing review –

© The British Library

Between September 1791 and May 1793, no advertisements have been traced so this appears to be the period when she was engaged by Secard’s Gallery in London. Lewis Secard was a well-known picture dealer with a gallery on Pall Mall where, in addition to his art dealing, he liked to hold exhibitions and entertainments. He advertised, for instance, an intriguing show of ‘Philosophical Fireworks (produced from inflammable air)’ to be accompanied by a performance on musical glasses! Perhaps Mrs Hudson was talent-spotted by Secard and invited to perform her ‘Exhibition’ at his gallery. Being surrounded by fine art may have been the prompt for her to try her hand at painting profiles for the first time and to experiment with wax modelling.

Lewis Secard died suddenly in March 1793; the following month Elizabeth Hudson was back on the road with her ‘Exhibition’. But now she had new skills and for the first time, advertising herself as ‘Mrs Hudson (from the late Secard’s Pall-Mall, and Cavendish Street)’, she offered wax modelling and ‘likenesses in miniature profile painted on glass’ (Oxford Journal, 29 March 1794). Proud of her association with Secard’s Gallery she commissioned her first trade label.

It was the Oxford advert that proved beyond doubt that the performing Mrs Hudson and the silhouette artist were one and the same person –

© The British Library

Over the next couple of years Mrs Hudson added wax modelling, colour miniatures on ivory and profiles for bracelets and lockets to her repertoire. Significantly in 1796 she was joined in her art business by her son. His details though remain obscure.

In 1797 the business took a new turn when Mr and Mrs Hudson ‘from the theatres, London and last of Cambridge’ appeared for one night only at the Theatre Royal in Manchester with ‘As You Like It, or, A Laughable Exhibition’ that included an address by Mrs Hudson with songs by her husband and a selection from Mr Collins’s* ‘Evening Brush’. Afterwards Mrs Hudson was to ‘draw the pictures of the audience . . . in such a style that the outlines shall not offend nor the colouring afford a shadow of disgust’. It’s difficult to see how this would have worked in a large and crowded theatre but it was certainly a novel way to engage with the audience.

This is the last known advert for Mr and Mrs Hudson’s theatrical career; perhaps Mr Hudson died around this time. Now in her mid-forties, Mrs Hudson moved to Liverpool where, from 1798, she and her son continued to offer wax modelling as well as likenesses in miniature and miniature profile in a ‘new and elegant style’ from Paradise Street with the enticing strapline – ‘the tide of fashion still flows towards their habitation’. Centrally located, Paradise Street was indeed a desirable address though not their only one as the Hudsons also had a house in Christleton near Chester where specimens of their work could be viewed.

But Elizabeth Hudson was not quite ready to disappear into retirement and had one last surprising venture to try: 21 July 1802 was the proposed opening date for Mrs Hudson’s School for young ladies. Based at her home in Christleton, she planned to have twelve boarders who, for 18 Guineas a year, would be taught English grammar and needlework. Writing, accounts, music, French and dancing were offered as extras. It’s not known whether her venture came to fruition as no further adverts for her school have been traced.

Regrettably Mrs Hudson’s trail goes cold at this point. No record of her death or burial can be found. Just as Mr Hudson disappeared, so too does Elizabeth and her son. Nor can any information be found to link her to the C.H. Hudson who was painting charming silhouettes on glass between 1811 and 1821 in the Bath/Cirencester area.

*Mr Collins, author of ‘Evening Brush’ was married to Mrs Collins, the silhouette artist but that’s a whole other story!

John Woodhouse, Tradesman

31st July 2021

John Woodhouse is best known for his full-length profiles reverse painted on flat glass with ethereal scenic backgrounds set in deep wooden frames. Many of these were painted from memory following the death of old friends. But portrait painting was not always John’s main occupation as proved by the tagline ‘House Painter, Glazier’ on his only printed trade label.

John Woodhouse trade label

Found on the trio below ©Wigs on the Green

John Woodhouse was born around 1773 in Northumberland to John and Appalina/Appaline (née Elliot). Born in 1750/51, John Senior was apprenticed in 1763 to Thomas Harrison, a plumber in Alnwick. He subsequently moved to London briefly, as an advert he placed in the Newcastle Chronicle (1st June 1771) ‘begs leave to acquaint his Friends and the Public, that he just arrived from London, and has opened Shop at Alnwick’ as a plumber, glazier and tinman. Whilst plumbing was his main line, he was also proficient at making engines and pumps out of brass and lead. Records show that he married Appalina that same year so perhaps she was the lure that brought him back to Alnwick.

Several children were born over the next few years. The family were non-Conformist. Individual birth records have not been traced and several children were baptised at the same time: the boys, John and Thomas, in May 1779; the girls, Appaline, Maria, Elizabeth and Ann, in January 1789.

John Woodhouse silhouette

© Wigs on the Green

John Sr. hired various apprentices but the business struggled as in 1794 he found himself in Morpeth Prison for debt. His younger son Thomas followed his father into plumbing being consistently listed in the trade directories as a Tin-Plate Worker and Plumber in Alnwick. John Jr on the other hand was of a more artistic bent and traded as a house painter and glazier. The Newcastle Courant records the death of John Sr. in 1824 at the age of 74. At this point his son dropped the suffix ‘Junior’.

The earliest known record of John’s trade as a ‘Painter & Glazier, Stainer &c.’ is a flyer dated 14 April 1817 –

The season for Painting having commenced, J.W. respectfully solicits the support of his Friends and the Public in general; and takes the opportunity of returning his grateful thanks for the many favours conferred upon him since his commencement in Business.
N.B. An Apprentice Wanted

A further flyer dated 18 January 1819 adds Gilding to his list of trades and informs the public that he has ‘resumed his situation’, suggesting there had been an hiatus of some sort.

Unlike his brother, John did not stay in Alnwick but from 1821 onwards moved about within Northumberland. This may have been for economic reasons as Alnwick was a small town and there may not have been enough work for him or it may have been for personal reasons as it is known from probate records that he was a widower when he died. A John Woodhouse married Mary Edwards at Christ Church Tynemouth in March 1796 so a move south may have been at the behest of his wife.

Although access to local trade directories has been limited to four editions, they, coupled with other resources, provide a rough timeline to Woodhouse’s movements:

  • 1821-23 – Painter, Bondgate Street, Alnwick
  • 1822 – dated silhouette taken in Newcastle
  • 1827-29 – Painter in Shade, 9 Blackett Street, Newcastle
  • Pigot’s 1829 – Portrait Painter, 9 Blackett Street, Newcastle
  • Pigot’s 1834 – Portrait Painter, Lower Pearson Street, North Shields
  • May 1835 – Newcastle Courant notice to creditors of ‘John Woodhouse late of Newcastle upon Tyne, painter’
  • 1841 Census – living in Back Street, Tynemouth along with 53-year old Anna Woodhouse who may have been his sister or his wife
  • 1850 – Newcastle Courant announces his death at Alnwick ‘on 27th [May], aged 77, Mr John Woodhouse, artist, formerly of Newcastle’

What prompted John Woodhouse to paint silhouettes is debatable. Being a glazier he had ready access to suitable glass and likely worked on stained glass projects; being a house painter he had ready access to paint. Perhaps the loss of a close friend prompted him to capture an image as a lasting tribute. His earliest known profile is dated 1821 though the majority of his work was completed during the 1830s and 1840s. Unlike other silhouette and portrait artists, Woodhouse did not paint from live sittings but from recollection. A contemporary account praised his remarkable ‘faculty of retaining the exact forms of objects for a length of time after he has seen them’.1

Woodhouse’s surviving body of work is small. Amongst his named sitters were: Thomas Fell, Tynemouth (died 183*), Mr Thorburn (died 1833), Charles & Samuel Dixon, boot & shoe makers, Newcastle upon Tyne (1840), Walter Dixon, corn merchant & miller, Archibald Reed, six times Mayor of Newcastle, Rev Christopher Reed, vicar of Christ Church Tynemouth (1842), Matthew Plummer Newcastle upon Tyne (1842), Robert Ridley, supervisor of excise (died 1842), John Charlton (on horseback), Dr Thomas Masterman Winterbottom (dated 1821; d.1859), & Col. Reid.

The Dixon Brothers – Private Collection

The majority of his sitters were middle-aged and elderly men mostly painted ‘from recollection’, some posthumously. He did though paint the occasional mature lady but no examples of children are recorded.

Private Collection

Only one example of Woodhouse’s printed label has so far been recorded. His full-length work is usually backed with a hand-written label that includes hanging instructions for optimal positioning of the work –

… to be placed upon a back or side light not exceeding 4 ft 6 in. in height from the ground floor

© Wigs on the Green

This particular label also priced the silhouette including the frame at £2 12s 6d.

Family details are sparse for John Woodhouse. His father died in February 1824, his mother in May 1826. Of his siblings Appaline died in 1800 and was buried in Corbridge suggesting she had left home; Thomas retired from plumbing to join his widowed sister as an innkeeper until his death in 1843; in 1831 Maria married a local widower George Hindmarsh, a boot and shoemaker, who subsequently took over the running of The George Inn in Alnwick until his death in 1838 when Maria took over as a ‘spirit-merchant’ until her own death in 1844. No trace of John’s wife’s death has been discovered nor any records of children born to the couple. John himself died of “water on the chest” back home at Bondgate, Alnwick on 27 August 1850.

1. Eneas Mackenzie, ‘Institutions for the Arts & Amusement: The Northumberland Institution’, in Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827), pp. 575-590. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/newcastle-historical-account/pp575-590 [accessed 31 July 2021].

Thomas London: Art with Tea

3rd March 2021

Thomas London’s silhouettes are stylistically distinctive: neatly painted on an ivory base in shades of grey watercolour with Chinese white highlights, the profiles are always beautifully detailed and are typically set against a lightly hatched background. He was painting around the turn of the 19th century, his latest known profile is dated 1817, a period of elegance and streamlined fashion that lent itself well to the profilist’s artform.

Silhouette painted on ivory by Thomas London

© Private Collection

London used two trade labels: his earliest pieces were painted whilst in Kidderminster –

Trade label for Thomas London

© Private Collection

his later pieces at 26 Cross, Worcester –

Trade label on the reverse of a silhouette by T. London

© Private Collection

Personal Life

Research has revealed that Thomas London was born in 1780/1, most likely in Worcester. His parents or siblings have not been traced. On 12 July 1803 at St Nicholas’s Worcester, Thomas married Frances (Fanny) Yarnoll (1776-1868), the daughter of a local shoemaker; it was a double ceremony shared with her sister Sarah. Thomas and Fanny had at least six children though four died young including a boy who died a couple months prior to their wedding.


Despite having his own printed trade labels, Thomas London was not a prolific artist. While most silhouettists advertised a sitting time of just one or two minutes, London asked for five minutes. His work was painstaking with particular attention being paid to the costume details including the delicate fabric patterns.

Silhouette painted on ivory by Thomas London

© Private Collection

Men were probably quicker for him to paint though he still took care to render the texture of the wigs to good effect.

Silhouette painted on ivory by Thomas London

© Private Collection

Each silhouette must have taken many hours or even days to complete yet the cost to the sitter was no more than ten shillings, equating to about £40 in today’s money. That was clearly not a great living for a man with a young family. No advertisements have been traced for London’s silhouette business so sitters may also have been thin on the ground.

Removal to Bath

At some point between 1818 and 1824, the London family upped sticks and moved south to Bath. Why they made the move is unclear: perhaps Thomas hoped to attract a better clientele for his art, though there is no record that he painted profiles whilst there; perhaps he was seeking the health benefits of the spa waters; or perhaps a new and more lucrative business opportunity had presented itself.

His new career was actually as a tea merchant. The Worcestershire General and Commercial Directory (1820) lists a Thomas Harris, agent to the East India Tea Company living at what was London’s address, 26 Cross in Worcester. It seems likely that Harris not only inspired this new venture but that he also managed the supply of tea direct from the East India warehouses to Thomas London’s own warehouse at No. 3 Walks, as advertised by London in the Bath Chronicle (February-March 1824).

No. 3 Walks was a central location situated opposite the newly opened Literary Institute. It was to remain their abode for the next two to three decades.

Fancy Cabinet Painting

For a man of Thomas London’s artistic talents, tea dealing must have seemed rather dull so that might explain why he now turned his hand to painting furniture and small boxes such as tea caddies and jewellery cases. London used one of his tea adverts in the Bath Chronicle to invite the public to view a ‘magnificent cabinet of Chinese characters’, the admission charge being one shilling for two people. It must surely have been a masterful piece to justify an admission charge. Years later in 1837, long after Thomas London’s death, his widow was to advertise this cabinet for sale along with a second one. She valued them at a princely £300 each though was prepared to accept less! Fanny London and her son were still very much in business during the 1830s continuing to produce fancy cabinets to order − Thomas junior, having inherited his father’s artistic skills. Thomas was also offering instruction in the Chinese style of painting, presumably to include the fashionable art of japanning. His sister Elizabeth meanwhile had taken up miniature painting and so she too would have helped with the ongoing business.

His Legacy

The Bath Chronicle announced the death of Thomas London on 5 September 1826 at the age of 45. His widow was to outlive him by 42 years passing away at her son’s house in 1868 at the age of 93. The couple were reunited in the Argyll Chapel burying ground at Bathampton, Bath.

It is though Thomas London’s attractive and distinctive silhouette work that remains his enduring legacy.

© Private Collection

© Wigs on the Green
Research assistance by B. Wellings

The Rich Old Lady of Stamford Street

13th February 2021

Cordelia Angelina Read was born in 1801 into an artistic family. Her grandfather, Edward Beetham, was an inventor whilst her grandmother, Isabella Beetham, was a successful silhouette artist as was her mother Jane. Her father, John Read, was a wealthy solicitor with a property portfolio that included eight houses in Stamford Street, Blackfriars, houses on Skinner Street in Holborn and an inn on Old Coventry Street (now Piccadilly).

John Read ran his practice initially from Lamb’s Conduit Street but in 1827 the family moved to 22 Stamford Street. Read was clearly eccentric as he did not let or maintain his properties: the 1841 Census shows seven of his houses in Stamford Street were without tenants. The houses were allowed to fall into disrepair though it is said that Cordelia kept a watchful eye on them often letting herself in, candle in hand, late at night. This earned her the nickname ‘The Ghost of Stamford Street’ and, believing the houses to be haunted, people would gather outside to watch the ghostly figure gliding around the empty rooms. Tensions sometimes ran high and The Morning Post (28 October 1846) reported how on one occasion a young man named James Fling broke into one of Read’s houses intending to steal a copper boiler and lead piping. Caught in the act by a passing policeman, he attempted to escape over the roof. When apprehended, he was found to have a large knife for stripping out the lead and so was found guilty and sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment.

When he died in 1847, John Read left his personal estate to his wife and his real estate to Cordelia, his only child. He was worth £18,000 (the equivalent of 1.8 million in today’s money). Cordelia followed in her father’s footsteps by determining not to let out her houses. Presumably she and her mother already had enough cash in hand to more than meet their daily needs. The 1851 Census shows them still living at 22 Stamford Street with a 21-year-old house servant.

Cordelia’s mother died in 1857. The 1861 Census shows Cordelia living in the same house with an older house servant, Mary Lacey and her husband. Meantime Cordelia had sold the lease on the Old Coventry Street inn for £600 + £100 per year. She had also sold her properties in Holborn to the London, Chatham & Dover Railway Company who quickly demolished them to make way for the Holborn Viaduct.

Cordelia would therefore have been extremely wealthy at this point but all was not well. She had long been estranged from her family and now her neighbours were feeling resentful. The London papers of January 1863 report how a lady claiming title to at least one of Cordelia’s Stamford Street houses broke in one evening with some hired heavies to take possession of the house and change the padlock on the front door. Cordelia retaliated by hiring her own locksmith to reverse this. Returning to the house with a carpenter, Cordelia found herself surrounded by an angry mob demanding that she prove ownership of her properties. Taking fright, Cordelia retreated upstairs and escaped with her carpenter over the roof. Not bad for a 62 year-old lady in long skirts! Such details would certainly have made for an entertaining session at the subsequent court hearing. In the end the defendants were bound over to keep the peace.

Another dispute arose in August 1871 when a Mrs Baker, an ex-tenant of her father’s, claimed that Cordelia owed her the sum of £38 5s 6d for residual contents of a house on Skinner Street that she and her now deceased husband had vacated over thirty years previously. In an attempt to exact the money she took to throwing mud and stones at Cordelia’s house inciting a mob to gather. Reporting on the case the London Evening Standard (4 August 1871) described Cordelia as ‘an old shrivelled up but rather active lady’. She counter-claimed that the Bakers  had moved out owing her father a year’s rent. The house having since been demolished the judgment once again went in Cordelia’s favour.

The 1871 Census shows Cordelia, now 70 years of age, living at 43 Stamford Street along with Susan Goring, a house servant, and her baby. Susan’s husband and 6-year-old son were living next door.

Cordelia died peacefully in her chair in December 1871, the cause of death at the inquest being given as ‘affection of the heart and congestion of the lungs’. It was initially believed that she died intestate but a will was apparently discovered tucked into the wires of her grandfather’s old harpsichord. Cordelia bequeathed her personal estate, including all ready money held in the bank and in securities, to the Hospital for the Cure of Consumption at Brompton.

The Press loved the story – the Chepstow Weekly Advertiser described how a room in her house was filled of caps and bonnets, and how a canvas bag was stuffed with coins to the tune of £500. Others reported that upwards of £20,000 was found hidden in out-of-the-way places all over the house. In total, the Hospital stood to benefit by £100,000 equating to over 10 million in today’s money. The Dublin Evening Telegraph wondered how the hospital could possibly spend that much money given that the recommended treatment for consumptives was cod liver oil, snail broth and asses’ milk. Ever helpful though, they suggested that the ‘army of doctors’ could help out by indulging in ‘fine old port and golden sherry’ and that by ‘sitting firmly together shoulder by shoulder at the banquet board’ they might thereby spend the money before the end of the year!

In the event, the Brompton Hospital used Cordelia’s money to build a new wing to accommodate 137 additional beds. The extension was officially opened in June 1882 by Lord Derby with a commemorative slab that read – In Memoriam Cordelia Read 1879.

Thomas Pole – Doctor, Preacher & Artist

28th December 2020

Thomas and Elizabeth Pole aged 42 and 40 respectively © Private Collection

Primarily remembered as a physician and a Quaker minister, Thomas Pole was also a talented artist and draughtsman who enjoyed sketching local buildings and painting silhouettes of his friends and family.

Thomas Pole’s ancestors came from Wiveliscombe in Somerset. His father, John Pole (1705-1755), was a tailor but financial difficulties prompted him to emigrate to Philadelphia where he established a new business and in time married Rachel Smith.

Born in 1753, Thomas was their youngest child. His father died when he was just one year old, his mother when he was six. As a child he made small boxes out of wood and aspired to be a carpenter. At the age of nineteen though he was drawn towards Quakerism and became an itinerant preacher. In 1775 he travelled to England to meet his father’s family. There he continued to preach but he also apprenticed himself to a fellow Friend Joseph Rickman, a Maidenhead apothecary and surgeon and so began to study and practice medicine.

By 1781 Thomas Pole was settled in London where he was to spend the next twenty years practising obstetrics and lecturing on midwifery. In 1784 he married Elizabeth Barrett of Cheltenham, ‘a young woman of serious character’, and the couple went on to have five children.

Painted profile of Elizabeth Pole

Thomas’s wife, Elizabeth, in watercolour profile © Private Collection

Failing health and overwork eventually drove Thomas to relocate his family to Bristol in 1802. There he became a prominent member of the Quaker community, actively promoting adult education and continuing to lecture on medicine.

His Silhouettes

Thomas Pole was a talented draughtsman and always had his drawing materials to hand using them not only to illustrate his lectures but also to draw portraits of family and personal friends as well as architectural sketches. His preferred medium of portraiture was the silhouette: its plainness suited the Quaker rejection of personal vanity. These drawings were held in albums and rarely dispersed outside the family.

Pole favoured bust-length silhouettes which he painted sometimes in plain black and sometimes with transparency and the addition of Chinese white for costume details. Unless intended for a locket, they were usually finished with a watercolour wash border. His most attractive works are the profiles that he placed within octagonal borders surrounded by finely painted foliage in monotint with classical urns, follies, houses and churches in the background. These were not intended as obituary portraits as is sometimes suggested.

Thomas Pole, painted silhouette of Ann Payne

Ann Payne aged 70, dated July 1824 © Private Collection

His profile of Eliza Barrett (see below) is a particularly fine and touching example. Eliza was Thomas’s niece, the daughter of Edmund Barrett of Cheltenham, a corn merchant. Painted in 1822, she is shown wearing a Quaker bonnet, the background with a river and village scene. Tragically Eliza died in 1835 as a result of severe burns.

Thomas Pole, painted silhouette of Eliza Barrett

The artist’s niece, Eliza Barrett © Private Collection

Later Life

The last few years of Thomas’s life were not easy ones. His wife died in 1823 having suffered painfully with cancer for some time. He also endured financial difficulties after bailing out his youngest son. His own health was poor too: he had a stroke in 1821. His final years were lived quietly in meditation; he passed away in his chair in September 1829 at the age of 75.


Thomas Pole, silhouettes of his daughters

The artist’s youngest daughters: Rachel and Eliza © Private Collection

© Wigs on the Green

William Hamlet the Elder

20th October 2020

Private Collection

The chance discovery of an article published in the first Afro-American newspaper Freedom’s Journal (28 March 1829) has prompted new research into William Hamlet’s background and family. The article concerned the arrest in Norfolk, Virginia of William Hamlet’s third son, George. George was living in New York but, whilst travelling, he was ‘arrested and cast into a loathsome prison’ as he did not have the necessary documents to prove that he was a free man. The article goes on to state that ‘the father of the individual … is Mr. William HAMLET, of London, a man of colour, who is profile painter to his Britannic Majesty and the Royal family, and his mother, is a white subject of the same government: so that if the “righteous judges” of Norfolk, are desirous of seeing the body of George HAMLET sold to the highest bidder in the market place of the aforesaid republican city they will find themselves most sadly mistaken’.

An advertisement in Jackson’s Oxford Journal in 1785 stated that William Hamlet was ‘From Abroad’.  His birthplace remains a mystery but the Bath Abbey Register has revealed that ‘William Hamlet a Negro’ was baptized on 11 November 1772. His parents are not recorded nor did he have a sponsor. He would by then have been in his early twenties; several similar baptisms are recorded around that time. Perhaps William arrived on these shores from somewhere like Bermuda after serving time in the Royal Navy.

The next official record for Hamlet is his marriage on 17 April 1779 at St Thomas’s Salisbury to eighteen year old Elizabeth Morgan (bapt. 1761). Elizabeth was illiterate so the register was signed with her mark. Presumably Hamlet had in the interim moved from Bath to Salisbury.

Just over eight months later on 21 December 1780 their first child, William, was baptised in the same church. They went on to have four more children: Thomas (baptised 29 October 1783), Elizabeth and George, presumably twins (baptised 31 August 1788) and Charles (baptised 27 December 1792).

The earliest recorded silhouette by Hamlet is dated 1785 and depicts an Oxford scholar. The first known reference to him as an artist is an advertisement in Jackson’s Oxford Journal midway through 1785. By then he was married with two children.

From the advert it appears that Hamlet was now using two new devices: a hard to envisage ‘methodical Model of Amusement’ small enough to fit into a pocket book and designed to take two quick likenesses; and, a ‘Profile Reflector’, a larger mechanical device using mirrors that Hamlet had launched in Bath where he took 400 drawings. A few months later the device was on show in Birmingham by which time it had clocked up 1,000 drawings. Presumably he and his device continued to tour during the following few years.

1788 was a propitious year for Hamlet as not only did he become a father again (to twins) but he was also granted a sitting at Cheltenham Spa by King George III. This was for a full-length profile of which copies were subsequently painted to order. The King was clearly pleased with his portrait as he paid Hamlet generously for it and then went on to grant him further commissions of himself and his family over the following two decades. Hamlet was quick to capitalise on the royal patronage in advertisements placed in the Salisbury and Winchester Journal in the autumn of 1788.

© British Library Board

The following year found Hamlet working in Oxford. He advertised in the Oxford Journal (21 November 1789) using the strapline ‘Encouraged by their Majesties’. It is interesting that he was still only charging 2s. 6d. for a basic silhouette on card and 10s. 6d. for a full-length silhouette on glass.

Silhouette of HRH Princess Mary painted by William Hamlet the Elder

HRH Princess Mary. Private Collection

Apart from the birth in Salisbury of his youngest child in 1792, William Hamlet effectively disappears from public life during the 1790s. There are no known examples of silhouettes from this period and no advertisements have been traced. Did he take up a more regular position in order to support his growing family? Might he have focused on teaching drawing? Maybe he travelled abroad?

At some point the family moved from Salisbury to Bath. Hamlet’s eldest son, also named William, was married at St Michael’s Church in Bath on 10 August 1801. (The Abbey Church was being repaired at this time.) William Jnr’s wife, Jane Fox, came from Salisbury: presumably the couple had met and courted there before the family’s removal to Bath? Like her mother-in-law, Jane was illiterate. It was in Bath that Hamlet’s career as a silhouettist revived. Indeed the majority of surviving silhouettes by Hamlet were painted during the period 1805 to 1816.

Major Sir Robert Bruce Kingsmill, Bristol Light Cavalry. Private Collection

During these years Bath was at the height of its popularity with a steady influx of well-heeled visitors arriving to take the waters, and all seeking diversions to while away their days. Capitalising on this, Hamlet ran a busy studio in Union Street, within easy walking distance of the Roman Baths and the Abbey.

This coincided with the new streamlined female fashion of high-waisted dresses and dainty slippers that lent themselves to elegant silhouettes.

Mary Hobbyn. Private Collection

William Hamlet Jnr, who had joined his father in the business, died in 1815 whilst in his mid-thirties. His widow (possibly still illiterate) was left with five children aged between 2 and 13 years of age with a sixth child born three months later. Presumably her father-in-law would have done his best to support the young family but it was around this time that Hamlet Snr’s career as an artist ceased perhaps brought about his advancing years and possible infirmity, but undoubtedly affected also by his grief at losing his eldest child.

William Hamlet died in 1822, seven years after the death of his son, and was buried on 19 September. If his recorded age of 73 on the burial record was correct, it would place his birth in 1748 or 1749. He was living at No. 79 Avon Street, an area of Bath that was filled with boarding houses during the 1800s and was described as ‘a desperate and impoverished place’. Church burial records stand as mute testimony not only to its multiple occupancy but to its being disease-ridden with consistently high death rates.

This was a sad and lowly end to a career that had peaked with Royal patronage but which was clearly driven by hard work and a talent that manifested itself in precise and neat work coupled with an eye for detail.

© Wigs on the Green
Research assistance by B. Wellings

John Church Dempsey, Street Artist

23rd September 2020

John Church Dempsey spent over twenty years as an itinerant artist starting out during the 1820s, known not only for his silhouettes but also for his fascinating character studies of the street people that he encountered on his travels. He himself came from a lowly background: his father, originally from Ireland, was in service so the family would have lived modestly. His background would have made Dempsey sympathetic to the characters he chose to portray: he befriended and painted blind beggars, match sellers, lunatics, street sweepers, bellmen, and disabled veterans amongst others. He had a raw talent for creating engaging likenesses and is unlikely to have benefitted from any formal training.

John Church Dempsey watercolour street character

© Private Collection

Early Life

John Church Dempsey was born on 2 May 1802 and christened at Monmouth Street Chapel in Bath. Curiously one of the ministers at the church was named ‘John Church’ so the child may have been named as a tribute to him. His father, Edward, was from Stradbally in Waterford (b.1756); his mother, Martha (née Payne), was from Sherborne in Dorset (b.1765). Records show that they were married in St Swithen’s, Bath in 1786.

Edward & Martha later became Moravians being received into the Episcopal Church of the United Brethren in October 1798. The register shows that Martha became a communicant in March 1799, Edward five months later.

John had an older sister, Esther, born in October 1789. She too was received into the Moravian Church, taking communion ‘on her sick and death-bed’ just three days shy of her twenty-second birthday in 1811. Within the month she had ‘happily departed’.

© Private Collection


John Church Dempsey married at least twice, firstly in 1819 when just seventeen. His bride, Hagar Maber, was eleven years older and may have been a family friend as, like Dempsey’s mother, she grew up in Dorset.

Records show the birth of a child, Edward John, to a John Church and Sabina Elizabeth Dempsey in Bath in 1822. Given that this is within three years of Dempsey’s first marriage and that no record of Hagar’s death has been traced, it remains unproven this is the same ‘John Church Dempsey’. The child died when he was nine years old.

Working Life

At this time Dempsey was travelling the length and breadth of the country, painting as he went. His earliest known portrait is thought to have been painted in 1820 in London. Over the next two decades he travelled extensively journeying up the east coast via Great Yarmouth, Bridlington and York, as far north as Kilmarnock, west to Manchester and Liverpool, across the sea to Ireland and south again to Portsmouth stopping at many, many places to record social history with his brush and colours.

Signature of John Church Dempsey

© Private Collection

In the 1841 Census Dempsey is listed as sharing an abode in Bristol with “Sarah Dempsey” who presumably is the same Sarah Neal Muirhead (1808/9-1901) whom he marries in May 1844. By now he is supplementing his income teaching drawing as well as dealing in artists’ materials, pictures and even lamps. But he has clearly over-stretched himself as a year later he is made bankrupt. Nonetheless, Dempsey continues to be listed regularly in directories as an artist.

Dempsey rarely signed his work making attribution of his silhouettes especially tricky. When he did sign, he used ‘Jno Dempsey’, ‘J. Dempsey’ or simply ‘J.D.’. At least two printed trade labels, both using more or less the same text, have been seen: one used whilst in Liverpool, the other later when he was settled in Bristol.

John Church Dempsey trade label

© Private Collection

© Private Collection

By the 1851 Census, Dempsey has diversified yet again and is supplementing his income by tinplate working and employing two men. He and his wife are lodging with a retired tinplate worker who, it must be assumed, had initiated him in this new trade. Success was short-lived, however, as by 1853 he is once again listed in the directories simply as an artist.

His Later Years

The advent of photography would have inevitably impacted his trade but, rather than be defeated by it, Dempsey embraced the new technology and re-invented himself yet again as a photographic artist (over-painting photographs probably) before finally getting behind the camera as a photographer.

Dempsey’s final Census appearance in 1871 sees him re-listed as an artist / landscape painter.

John Church Dempsey’s death on 9 February 1877, at the age of 75, is announced in the Western Daily Press. His widow was thrown on hard times but outlived him by over twenty years being 92 when she died as an almswoman in Bristol in 1901.

For a man of humble beginnings, John Church Dempsey left a rich legacy of portraiture giving a rare insight into an often-overlooked class of society.

A more in-depth study of Dempsey’s watercolour portraits is to be found in ‘Dempsey’s People’ by David Hansen (Australian National Portrait Gallery, 2017).

Dempsey's People

© Wigs on the Green
Research assistance by B. Wellings

Hinton Gibbs & Miss Gibbs

20th June 2020

Silhouette collectors will be familiar with the name Hinton Gibbs and his distinctive profiles reverse painted on glass and backed with wax. But apart from his service in the Bedfordshire Militia, little else has been known about his background and family.

Similarly, Miss Gibbs who was recorded by Sue McKechnie as a cutter of silhouettes on the strength of two advertisements in the West Briton in June 1824. No examples of her work had been seen by her nor had the relationship between Hinton and Miss Gibbs been confirmed.

Recent research in public records and other sources has brought some new evidence to light, allowing the following chronology to be constructed:

  • 31 December 1783 – Baptism of Hinton born to John & Sarah Gibbs, alehouse keepers in Bedford
  • 1786 – Birth of sister Sarah (There was possibly a second son, John, who went on to be a sadler.)
  • February 1793 – Re-embodiment of the Bedfordshire Militia under the command of Colonel The Earl of Upper Ossory; Hinton Gibbs is listed in the Militia Rolls as a drummer. He would have been ten years old.

Between 1793 and 1799 the militia was based in Essex and East Anglia before marching south to Kent and then on to Sussex and the south coast where they operated until September 1798. In 1796 Hinton is listed as a Private. They are then sent to Ireland where they remain for a year before returning to Bedford in the autumn of 1799. By now Hinton has been away from home for nearly seven years.

  • 1800-01 – Hinton is listed as a Corporal in 1800. In May the Militia march to Taunton where they are stationed until September. They then spend a month near Exeter before being posted to Plymouth. In November 1801 the men are ordered back to Bedford where the Militia are to be disbanded. They march a total of 254 miles in 17 days in what was the severest winter on record.

Hinton’s earliest known works as a profilist date from this period, so he was likely using his skills to supplement his income as evidenced by one of his early trade labels “By H. Gibbs, Beds. Militia”.

  • 1803-04 – In March, amid fears of a new attempt at invasion by Napoleon, the Bedford Militia is re-embodied and Hinton reverts to the rank of Private. In May they march to Bristol where they stay a year, then to Taunton where they rest before going on to Aylesbeare and moving into winter quarters in Exeter.

On 3rd December 1804 Hinton marries Eliza Sanders in the church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Exeter. The 1851 census gives her birthplace as Exeter but no record of her birth has been traced.

  • 1805-07 – Quartered at Exeter until March, the militia subsequently moves around South Devon spending the winter and spring at Ottery St. Mary before being sent to Gosport. In August 1806 a detachment that includes Hinton is sent to the Isle of Wight. Hinton’s wife accompanies them and the couple’s first child, Sarah, is born in Freshwater in January 1807. Hinton may have been recalled to Gosport before the birth as by October 1806 the garrison is stationed at Fort Monckton.
  • 1808 – The militia is stationed at Winchester for duty during the Assizes before being sent to Weedon in Northamptonshire where they are quartered in newly built barracks.
  • 1810-12 – Ordered to Hastings; during August 1810 they participate in a Review at Brighton in the presence of the Prince of Wales (later George IV). In December the regiment go to Horsham Barracks for the winter and then to Littlehampton until April 1812.

Hinton & Eliza’s second child, named Eliza, is born during 1810 and christened at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Harpur Street, Bedford.

  • April 1812 – the militia make a speedy journey from Littlehampton to Norman Cross near Peterborough where their main duty is guarding French prisoners.
  • 1813-14 – With things kicking off in Ireland, they are ordered to make their way to Bristol with utmost speed for embarkation.

By now Eliza is heavily pregnant again so she remains in Bedford where she gives birth on 7 July 1813 to their first son christened Hinton on 30 August at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Harpur Street, Bedford.
Meanwhile, the Bedford Militia arrive in Roscommon in August 1813 and remain until July 1814 when they return to Colchester. In December 1814 they move to Ipswich.

  • 1815 – The militia are ordered back to Bedford where they are disembodied on 1 February 1815.

When Hinton is discharged his eldest daughter Sarah would have just celebrated her eighth birthday and baby Hinton would have been eighteen months old. It is at this point that Hinton becomes a full-time profilist working from various addresses in London but also touring (with his family) as evidenced by an advertisement on 1 November 1815 in the Bury and Norwich Post. Based at Sudbury. Hinton acknowledges “the friendly, hospitable and generous treatment” he and his family have received.

  • 1816 – The couple’s second son is born on 4 January and baptised James on 12 April at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Harpur Street, Bedford. Hinton’s profession is given as ‘limner’.
  • 1819 – A third son is born on 26 June and baptised John at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Scarborough.

Presumably Hinton was now working in Yorkshire though no adverts have yet been traced. An ‘H Gibbs’ is paying Land Tax during this year as the occupier of a house in Green Man Lane, Islington.

  • 1821 – A third daughter, Harriet Emma, is born.

Hinton is working in Oxford as evidenced by a lengthy (and somewhat boastful) advertisement in the Oxford University & City Herald (27 October 1821). At this point he is charging 15s. for a framed profile. A further brief notice appears in the same newspaper on 17 May 1823.

  • 1824 – Hinton is working in Cornwall and is for the first time actively promoting the work of his daughter (presumably 17 year old Sarah rather than 14 year old Eliza) who, unlike her father, is cutting silhouettes as shown by an advert placed in the Royal Cornwall Gazette (26 June 1824).


A further notice appears in the same newspaper on 23 October 1824 when she is working in Falmouth.

  • 1825 – During this year there are four known adverts for Miss Gibbs:
    North Devon Journal (27 May, 3 June, 10 June)
    Taunton Courier (21 Sept)

The advert of 3 June includes a price list and indicates the range of cut work now offered by Miss Gibbs from plain busts for 1s 6d through to conversation pieces. Interestingly, profiles on glass are also offered though it seems likely that these were still being painted by Hinton who was by then still in his early forties.

  • 1829 – No further adverts have been traced until the Huntingdon, Bedford & Peterborough Gazette (1 August 1829).

This is the advert that finally confirms that Miss Gibbs is the daughter of Hinton Gibbs. She is now back in her father’s home town of Bedford and has diversified into Oriental Tinting, a fashionable painting technique that involved transferring a drawing with oriental (aka tracing) paper to velvet, paper or other surface, and working up the colours to the desired brilliancy. Because the design was traced, it appealed to talented amateurs.

  • 1839 – Hinton Gibbs dies in Astbury, Cheshire on 27 March aged 56. He may have travelled there to visit family. There is a record of a Susannah Gibbs born in Astbury in 1827; other Gibbs born there subsequently moved a few miles north to Stockport.
  • 1841 – Hinton’s sister, Sarah, is living in Mercer Street, Long Acre along with her recently widowed nephew, John, and his daughter Helen Hinton Gibbs, aged 4.
    Hinton’s wife, Eliza (Betsy), is living in Chapman Street, Islington with four of her six children: Hinton Jr (a clerk), Eliza, James (a clerk) and Harriet.
  • 1845 – Hinton’s daughter Harriet Emma marries W. H. Smith, a newsagent (not that one!)
  • 1847 – Hinton & Eliza’s daughter Eliza marries the boy next door, A. J. Wright, a clerk, who is ten years younger than her.
  • 1851 – Hinton’s wife Eliza, aged 67, is living at 33 Freeling St with a female servant; her daughter Eliza is living in the same street at no. 18 with her husband, his two brothers, and his mother.
  • 1853 – Hinton Jr. emigrates with his family to Australia where he dies in 1877.

Miss Gibbs & Her Work

It would appear that, unlike her father, Miss Gibbs did not use a trade label though she did print hand bills to advertise her presence as she toured, and her work. An example of a handbill used in Barnstaple in 1825 has come to light offering a variety of styles from plain bust silhouettes for 1s 6d up to coloured work on glass starting at 10s 6d and rising to £1 11s 6d. In all likelihood these more expensive options would have been executed by Sarah’s father.

Handbill for Miss Gibbs

No example of her work has hitherto been recorded. A second incomplete handbill used in Bath shows that cut paper landscapes had been added to her repertoire!

Two loose silhouettes accompanied the handbill but as they differ in style they appear to be cut by different hands. It’s therefore unclear which of the two was actually cut by Miss Gibbs.









Sarah’s body of work was probably quite small as she ceased working as a silhouettist upon her marriage to Bedford-born Francis Herbert in December 1830. Herbert was a solicitor with a thriving practice in London. The couple resided at Chelsea and had a large family of four daughters and six sons. Sarah died in 1864 whilst still only in her fifties; her husband outlived her by eleven years.

© Wigs on the Green

Henry Readhead (Redhead)

26th May 2020

Little is known about the silhouette artist Henry Readhead who was working during the 1790s. His style of painting is distinctive but yet there are only a handful of known examples of his work. Where there has been provenance or sitters have been named, there is a link to Yorkshire so it’s possible that he may have had northern connections.

His profiles are reverse painted on convex glass in an accomplished and detailed style. The face is painted in solid black with the hair and attire painted in transparency with individual brush strokes visible. The bracketed bust-line is a consistent feature. When he signed his work, Readhead added his studio address –  54 Upper Norton St, Fitzroy Square, London. Norton Street was popular with painters and sculptors — Richard Wilson, the landscape painter and Sir David Wilkie, the Scottish painter both has studios there during the 1770s and 80s. … (show more)