Kemble Whatley, Carpenter

When George Warren died, he was replaced as carpenter at Kew by Kemble Whatley. Their situations were quite different. The Warrens were a local family with extensive ties to the area and a modest carpentry business.  Kemble Whatley was a wealthy man, well-known to the Office of Works, and with a history of government employment stretching back decades.

Kemble Whatley’s early life is unknown and even his date of birth in unclear; it was somewhere in the 1714—1718 period. His father, Joseph Whatley was a Somerset man who married Elizabeth Kemble.  The Kembles had some money and could support the young family, especially Elizabeth’s uncle Richard Kemble, a prosperous lawyer who helped launch Kemble’s older brother George and died childless in 1734, leaving bequests to the brothers.

Kemble Whatley was apprenticed to James Dowding, a joiner in Trowbridge, a town not far away from the family home in Mells, Somerset. Thus began his career in carpentry. After serving his apprenticeship, Kemble made his way to London where he next appears, somewhat improbably, as a witness to the will of John Theophilus Desaguliers, grand master mason, cleric, and Fellow of the Royal Society.

By 1747, he was able to execute a substantial covenant in connection with his marriage to Elizabeth Marsh (1718—1748), a member of a prominent family of merchants in Salisbury and London. The couple were married in April, but sadly Elizabeth died the following January after giving birth to their son Richard Kemble Whatley (1748—1793). A year later, Kemble remarried to Elizabeth Dare (1730—1793), who, like himself, was from Somerset.  They had one son, George Kemble Whatley (1753—1833).

By this time Kemble had built up a substantial carpentry and timber-trading business based in Millbank. In 1750, he appears in the Richmond Lodge accounts for carpentry work. Meanwhile, his brother George became a governor of the Foundling Hospital and maintained a close connection with the institution for the rest of his life.

In 1756, Kemble Whatley was appointed Deputy Surveyor of Forests with responsibility for the Forests of Alice Holt and Woolmer. The deputy surveyor chose how many and which trees were to be felled each year with the wood sold at auction and much it, oak especially, destined for the Navy. While there is no suggestion Kemble Whatley abused his position during his four-year tenure, a later government commission decided that the practice of having timber merchants who made substantial purchases at the auctions also deciding the supply was perhaps unwise.

With his increasing success in business, Kemble Whatley acquired property in Westminster, Lambeth across the river and small estates at Hartfield in Sussex and Hingham and Binfield in Berkshire. In 1763 he was steward of Westminster Hospital and in 1767 steward for the Asylum for Female Orphans in Westminster. In 1765 he was admitted to the Freemasons, by this time styling himself as “Esquire”, and in 1773 he was High Sheriff of Sussex. No mere handyman, Kemble Whatley was at the height of his profession when the position of carpenter at Kew came open in 1774.

By the 1770s, his elder son Richard was set up with the life of a country gentleman in Sussex, while the younger son George went up to Cambridge and in due course became a clergyman, residing on the Berkshire property. Kemble Whatley died in 1780, having made a substantial success in his trade and leaving a good provision for his family.

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