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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.

Edward Venn


Edward Venn (1717—1780) was a doctor in Ipswich. His father, Richard Venn (1691—1739) was a vicar, as was his father before him and so on in “an unbroken succession of clergymen from the time of the Reformation”, as the DNB puts it. The Venn family “for generations produced parsons for the Anglican church one after the other like eggs from a hen” in James Hamilton’s delightful phrasing [1].

But not Edward, although as the eldest son he might have been expected to, and his brother Henry (1725—1797) carried on the family tradition and was a prominent Victorian theologian.  Henry was also the great-grandfather of the Rev. John Venn (1834—1923) of Venn diagram fame.

What of Edward? He began by following the usual course, going up to Cambridge in 1737 and taking BA in 1740 and MA in 1744 as a first step towards a clerical career, but at some point he veered off course. Perhaps he had a little more leeway as his father had died (of smallpox) in 1739. Instead of the church he went to Leiden to study medicine and then moved to Ipswich to practice as a physician.

The only discussion I have found of Edward’s change of heart is in the Venn family history, Annals of a Clerical Family, which records:

He studied at Cambridge with great diligence, intending to have taken orders.  But, having passed his degrees, some obstacles presented themselves to his mind with regards to subscribing to the Articles of the Church of England.  By this I do not mean that he actually left her Communion and attached himself to any other sect, but only insomuch as related to his becoming a minister. He therefore devoted himself to the study of medicine, and became a pupil of the famous Dr. Heberden.

No further particulars are given of his religious scruples.

At Ipswich Edward Venn led the quiet life of a provincial doctor and is largely absent from the record until his brief obituary in the local paper, the Ipswich Journal, “On Sunday last died Dr. Edward Venn, an eminent physician in this town, universally regarded(?) for his amiable character in private life, as well as for his abilities in his profession”. Apart from that, he at one point owned a dog called Sappho, and he subscribed to the first edition of Joshua Kirby’s Method of Perspective.

Edward Venn married Mary Beaumont (1716—1796) of Witnesham and they had two children, a daughter Mary (1750—1811) and a son Edward (1752—1830).


[1] Hamilton, J. A Strange Business, p. 25.

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.



Of Tartary

The Universal Pocket Companion (3rd edition, 1760), mostly comprises ready-reckoner type tables as well as information on weights, measures, and currencies, and a lengthy listing of London merchants.  All good practical information.


The book also includes brief summaries of history and geography. Here we see what those who were commoditizing information felt should be part of the mental furniture of the mildly-educated mid-eighteenth century Londoner.  From the geography section, here is the one-paragraph summary of Tartary.

OF TARTARY—The Air of this Country is very different by Reason of its vast Extent from North to South: The most Southern Parts having the same Latitude with the middle Provinces of Spain and the most Northern reaching beyond the arctick polar Circle. The longest Day in the North is about two Months, and the shortest in the South nine Hours and three Quarters.  The Manners of the People are very rude and barbarous; their ordinary Food is Horse-Flesh, and they live in Tents and open Fields. The Religion is Paganism in the North and towards the South Mahometism prevails.  The Great Cham of Tartar is an absolute Monarch, and assumes such a proud Superiority over his Subjects as never to be spoke to but upon their Knee with their Faces towards the Ground. His Subjects stile him the Shadow of God; he looks upon himself as the Monarch of the whole World; and every Day after he has dined, he causes the Trumpets to sound, thereby giving Leave to all the Kings and Princes of the Earth to go to Dinner. The chief Commodities of this Country are Sable, Martins, Silk, Camblets, Flax, Musk, Cinnamon, and great Quantities of Rhubarb.

Now you know all that it was deemed necessary for you to know about Tartary.

Back in the day, this book would have set you back three shillings.  If you missed your chance at the time, you can now get a look at it free with an internet connection through the magic of Google Books.


Thomas Howlett, Bricklayer

The first George Warren, master carpenter at Kew, married local girl Elizabeth Howlett (1703—1766), daughter of a bricklayer. However, this description is a little misleading.

The Warrens and Howletts both owned land around Kew Green and as the royal family became more interested in Kew and Richmond and expanded their building works, the Howletts prospered.  Elizabeth’s father, Thomas Howlett (1678—1759) became bricklayer to the Prince of Wales and, in 1736, together with Joseph Pratt, he was appointed Master Bricklayer of His Majesty’s Works. Thomas Howlett and Joseph Pratt were thus in charge of all brickwork in the royal residences.

Along with his daughter Elizabeth, Thomas Howlett also had a son, Thomas (1704—1737), but these are the only children of his that I know about.  Thomas junior was also a bricklayer, continuing the family line of work.  When Thomas died, he left a house “in the Occupation of Lady Judith Coote” to his father for life and then to his sister and his brother-in-law George Warren.  George Warren died in 1755 and the next year his father-in-law made a will with provisions for the children of his sister and for his grandchildren.  The eldest, George, was given £100 and three of his siblings £200 each.  However, George and Elizabeth had wisely named one of their children Thomas Howlett Warren (1733—1777); he got the bulk of the estate.  While the younger George was a carpenter, and his brother William a carpenter and wheelwright, Thomas Howlett became a gentleman.  By the time of his death in 1777 his estate included at least 15 buildings at Kew, including the Rose and Crown pub and, rather charmingly, “a large workshop adjoining the stable, occupied by his Majesty, now in the possession of Mrs. Warren”.

George Warren, Carpenter at Kew

Those who secured a craftsman position with the government typically had a position for life, and possibly for generations.  Such was the case with George Warren, carpenter at Kew.

The first of the Warren family to appear was George Warren (1698—1755). He married Elizabeth Howlett, daughter of a local bricklayer and became master carpenter at Kew. Little is known about his life, but he makes a brief appearance in the 1730s when Frederick, Prince of Wales, acquired the White House at Kew and began extensive renovations under the direction of architect William Kent. George Warren was the carpenter and his name appears in the accounts.


White House at Kew

George and Elizabeth had at least nine children, although five of them died young.  However, the second son, George (1731—1774) continued in the family line of work, and after his father died in 1755, he became carpenter and joiner at Kew. George Warren junior was thus the head carpenter at Kew when Kirby was appointed Clerk of the Works. The younger George Warren is best known nowadays for building the spiral staircase for the pagoda at Kew Gardens.

Pagoda (interior)

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

George Warren married Anne Stringer (1734—1784) of Richmond in 1759 and together they had four children at Kew, where he was also churchwarden. However, when George Warren died in 1774 (just a month after Kirby), his eldest son, George Thomas Warren (1765—1823) was not yet ten and too young to succeed the position. The Board of Works recorded in its laconic way:

August 5th 1774

The Board being acquainted that Mr. George Warren late Carpenter and Joiner at Kew House is dead

Order’d that Kemble Whatley do succeed him as Carpenter and James Arrow as Joiner at Kew House.

George’s widow Anne kept on the carpentry business in Kew Green and on her death in 1784 it passed down to her son George. George Thomas Warren appears in the Office of Works accounts as a joiner doing various work around Kew, including repairs to the Pagoda in 1811 and 1813.  George Thomas went into partnership with his brother Henry and they expanded as builders and carpenters based in Grosvenor Square as well as Kew, but it seems they expanded too much for they went bankrupt in 1815 and the case was still rumbling on in 1829, long after George’s death.


Thomas Worsley’s Letters Patent

The warrant appointing Joshua Kirby and his son William joint Clerk of the Works at Richmond and Kew was a comparatively modest affair. The more senior the position, the fancier the document. The Hogarth Trust has a copy of the Letters Patent appointing William Hogarth Sergeant Painter, and has published a transcription of the text. Soon after his accession to the throne George III began his reorganization of the Office of Works with the appointment of Thomas Worsley to Surveyor General, the senior position in the department. The text granting his appointment on December 15 1760 was suitably florid:

George the third by the Grace of God of Great Britain France & Ireland King, Defender of the Faith &c. To all to whom these Presents shall come Greeting. Whereas Our late Royal Grandfather George the Second of Glorious and happy Memory did by his Letters Patent under his Great Seal of Great Britain bearing the date at Westmr. 30th day of December in the 17th Year of his Reign; Give and Grant unto his trusty and wellbeloved Henry Finch Esqr. the Office of Surveyor of his Works within his Tower of London and in all and singular his Honours Castles Lordships and Manors which his said late Majesty usually reserved for his Repair and abode or which he should in time then to come Appoint for his Repair and Abode. To hold the same by himself or his sufficient Deputy or Deputys, such Deputy or Deputys to be first Approved of by the Commissioners of his said late Majesty’s Treasury or High Treasurer for the time being together with the Wages & Fee of 2s. by the day for himself and sixpence by the day for the Wages and fee of one Clerk and also 4s by the day for the diet Boathire & Riding Charges of the said Henry Finch & of his Deputys & Assigns for every day which he or his Deputy or Deputys should be actually Employ’d in the said Service and likewise an Additional yearly fee or Salary of £400. And all other Rights, Powers, Priviledges, Profits and Advantages whatsoever thereunto belonging during his said late Majesty’s Pleasure as by the said recited Letters Patent (relation being thereunto had) may more at large Appear; In which said Office according to the Form of the Statute in such Case made and provided he is continued for the Space of 6 mo.ths from the time of the demise of his said late Majesty unless he shall by Us be sooner Removed & Discharged from the said Office Now know ye that We have revoked & determined and by these Presents do Revoke and Determine the said recited Letters Patent and every Clause Article & thing therein Contained, and him the said Henry Finch We do remove and discharge from the said Office by these Presents And further know ye that We of Our Especial Grace certain knowledge and meer Motion Have Given & Granted & by these Presents Do Give and Grant unto Our Trusty & Wellbeloved Thomas Worsley Esqr. the Office of Surveyor of Our Works within Our Tower of London and in all and singular Our Honours, Castles, Lordships and Manors which We usually reserve for Our Repair and Abode or which We in time to come shall Appoint for Our Repair and Abode; and him the said Thomas Worsley Surveyor of all and singular Our aforesaid Works We do make ordain & constitute by these Presents To have hold Exercise & Enjoy the said Office unto the said Thomas Worsley by himself or his sufficient Deputy or Deputys (such Deputy of Deputys to be first Approved of by the Commrs. of Our Treasury or Our High Treasurer for the time being) together with all & singular Rights Powers Priviledges, Profits Commodities Wages Fees Salaries and Advantages whatsoever to the said Office of Surveyor of the Works aforesaid belonging or on any wise Appertaining during Our Pleasure in as ample manner & form as he the said Henry Finch or any other Person or Persons have or hath held exercised or enjoy’d or ought to have held Exercised or Enjoyed the same And We do also by these Presents of Our further especial Grace, Give and Grant unto the said Thomas Worsley in and for Exercising the Office aforesaid the Wages & Fee of 2s. by the day for himself, and for the Wages & Fees of one Clerk to serve in the said under him the said Thomas Worsley sixpence by the day To have and Yearly receive & take the sd. Wages and Fee of 2s. by the day for himself and sixpence a day for his Clerk to the said Thomas Worsley or his Assigns during Our Pleasure out of the Treasure remaining or being from time to time in the Receipts of Our Exchequer applicable to the Uses of Our Civil Government by the hands of the Commrs. of Our Treasury or Our High Treasurer Chancr and under Treasurer of Our Exchequer now and for the time being at the four most usual Feasts or Terms in the Year that is to say the Feasts of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist; St Michael the Archangel; yhe birth of Our Lord Christ; And the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary: The first Payment thereof to commence & be Computed from the date of these Our Letters Patent unto and for the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary next ensuing & from thence the subsequent Payments to be made Quarterly at the Feasts Aforesaid during Our Pleasure. And We have also Given and Granted and by these Presents Do give and grant unto the said Thomas Worsley for the Diet Boathire & Riding Charges of him the said Thoms. Worsley his Deputies & Assigns as hath been accustomed four shillings of lawfull Money of Great Britain by the day for every day he or his Deputy or Deputies shall be actually Employed in the said Service To have hold and yearly receive the same unto the said Thomas Worsley his Deputy or Deputies or Assigns & to be Paid by the hands of the Paymaster for the time being that shall pay the Books of the Works during Our Pleasure And for the further Encouragement of the said Thomas Worsley diligently to attend the Execution of the said Office of Surveyor and to inspect regulate & reform the Business in Our Office of the Works for Our Profit and Advantage of Our further and especial Grace certain knowledge and meer Motion We have Given & Granted and by these Presents Do Give and Grant unto the said Thoms. Worsley the yearly Fee or Salary of £400 being the same as was Granted to the said henry Finch by the above recited Letters Patent in Addition to the several Wages, Fees, Salaries and the other Advantages which he is to have and receive; The said additional yearly Fee or Salary of £400 to be paid and payable unto hi by the hands of the Paymaster of Our Works for the time being during Our Pleasure & to be inserted and paid from the day of the date of these Our Letters patent in the monthly Books of the Expence of Our said Office of Works in like manner as other the Salaries to Officers of Our Works are in the said Books inserted and paid And Our further Will and Pleasure is and We do hereby direct Require & Demand the said Thomas Worsley from time to time to follow and obey such good Orders as are already made or as shall be thought meet hereafter to be Established by Us or the Commrs. of Our Treasury or Our High Treasurer for the time being for Reformation of Disorders and Surcharges in the Office of the said Works and for the Order of all other Our Officers appertaining to the said Works And lastly We do by these Presents Declare & Grant that these Our Lettters Patent or the Inrollment or Exemplification thereof shall be in and by all Things good firm valid and Sufficient and effectual in the Law according to the true intent and meaning thereof notwithstanding the not fully or truly reciting the said recited Letters Patent or the date thereof or any other Omission Imperfection Defect matter cause of thing whatsoever to the Contrary thereof in any wise notwithstanding. In Witness whereof We have caused these Our Letters to be made Patent Witness Our Self at Westminster 15th day of Decr. In the 1st Year of Our Reign.

By Writt of Privy Seal – Cocks