Monthly Archives: January 2017

George Mercer (1723-1799)

In 1751, Elizabeth Pratt (1728—1759), the daughter of Joseph Pratt (1697—1768), Master Bricklayer to His Majesty’s Works, and Elizabeth Churchill (1707—1768), daughter of Thomas Churchill, who had also been Master Bricklayer of His Majesty’s Works, married George Mercer (1723—1799). George Mercer was a master mason and the son of another George Mercer (1696—1776), himself also a master mason.

Elizabeth Pratt’s background was in the social milieu of elite London craftsmen, and that of her husband was similar.  The Mercers were of Scottish background, but in the 18th century were firmly situated in London and, as masons, George Mercer, father and son, were well-placed to participate in the building boom in Westminster. George Mercer, along with Walter Lee, another local mason to whom he apprenticed his son George, were major developers of Great Titchfield Street and other places around Marylebone. George Mercer Sr. worked closely with Marylebone-based Scottish architect James Gibbs, building Marylebone Court House and Oxford Market House, as well as 16 Arlington Street (the townhouse of the Duchess of Norfolk).

George Mercer was one of five (adult) siblings and, as the eldest son, he continued in the profession of his father. I know little of his brother John, although John’s son William became a successful Blackwell Hall factor, a dealer in cloth in the central market in London, a position that required considerable capital. In gaining that capital the younger William may have been aided by his uncle William Mercer (1732—1789). The elder William was described as the captain of and East India ship and seems to have retired to London shortly before his death. In his will he makes provision for the wife he had recently married, but the bulk of his estate went to his nephew.

George’s two sisters, Mary and Margaret, both married into London Scottish families.  Mary married Andrew Douglas who was then a wine-merchant, but rose to become Paymaster of the Royal Navy. Margaret married James Colhoun.  On his death in 1790, the Gentleman’s Magazine described him as “many years ago an eminent shoe-maker, but retired from business”.

George himself prospered.  He was apprenticed as mason to Walter Lee in 1739, becoming free in 1746. In 1763 he achieved Master Mason and becoming Father of the Company of Masons in 1791, on which occasion he donated the ceremonial mace that is still in use.  A Justice of the Peace for Middlesex, like his father before him, he became a wealthy and successful businessman continuing the speculative development of the prosperous West End. He died in 1799 leaving a long will with a complicated collection of annuities and legacies for his extended family.


George Mercer, 1781

After their marriage in 1751, George and Elizabeth had six children in rapid succession: Elizabeth (1752); George (1754); Joseph (1755); James (1756); Douglas (1757), and Thomas (1759).  Sadly, Elizabeth did not long survive the last birth, and nor did baby Thomas.  Mother and child were buried together on 2 June 1759 at St. Marylebone church.

The children were well provided for.  Douglas was articled to train as a lawyer to John Benson, then County Treasurer for Middlesex, in 1773 for a period of five and a half years.  Launched into the world, he joined the Freemasons in 1779, but died in 1780. Joseph Mercer is more elusive.  He is mentioned in tax records as being co-owner of a house in Queen Anne Street in 1780, but he is otherwise invisible and is not mentioned in his father’s will written in 1797, so presumably he also died relatively young.  The three children who did outlive their father were the daughter, Elizabeth, and sons George and James.

James (1756-1810) carried on property development in and around Marylebone. He became a freemason in 1779 and was a director if the Westminster Fire Office in the 1780s. In 1807, when he was 51, he married Elizabeth Wood, who had been a servant of his father and to whom George had left a small annuity.  James then died in 1810 and in his will he made comfortable provision for his wife for life and his by then widowed sister and her children (they received a total of £4000, a house and some other property). The residue and reversion went to his elder brother George.  Elizabeth Mercer (1752—1829) had married John Ainslie (1747—1784) in 1774; they lived in Bolsover Street and had three children before John died in 1784. Thereafter, the Mercer family took the widow and her small children under their wing and provided for their future.

What of George, the eldest son?  The first George had made a fortune as a mason and property developer; his son had increased the fortune and consolidated it.  As substantial and wealthy property owners, it was clearly time to move up the social scale.  For young George (1754—1822), it was the army.  First commissioned into the Dragoons, he seems to have pursued a largely undistinguished military career, although he did manage to end up as a Lieutenant-Colonel in the 1st Life Guards and along the way marry Jean Henderson (1760—1814), the daughter of a Scottish Baronet, a catch which eventually led to the inheritance of a minor estate in Scotland and the later generations adding the surname Henderson.  Their three sons were all military, with the youngest, Douglas Mercer-Henderson (1785—1854), having a particularly glittering career.