Tag Archives: John Barrett

John Barrett, Wax-chandler

Ann Pratt was the only one of Joseph Pratt’s (1697—1768) children to outlive him. She married John Barrett, a wax-chandler with a shop in the Haymarket, London. Although she lived on until 1790, dying “of a lingering illness” (Whitehall Evening Post, August 26, 1790), they appear to have had only one (surviving) child, Isaac Bryant Barrett (1764—1802).

John Barrett was the grandson of Nicholas Barrett (d. 1721), himself a wax-chandler, and Letitia Hancock (d. 1749). Nicholas and Letitia had two children that survived, Isaac Barrett (ca. 1707—1792), John’s father, and Bryant Barrett (1715—1790). As the children were minors when he died, Nicholas Barrett left specific legacies in his will for each of them when they should attain majority before giving the residue to his wife.

In due course Isaac followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming an eminent wax-chandler.  Following an apprenticeship, he became free of the Worshipful Company of Wax-Chandlers in 1730 and eventually rose to become Master of the Company in 1762.  Along the way he gained a royal patent, thus supplying the royal palaces with wax candles (wax was more of a luxury item than tallow). This was doubtless a steady and lucrative contract.

The younger son, Bryant Barrett, followed a different, and somewhat more colorful, trajectory. In 1730, he was apprenticed to William Basnett, a laceman, and then pursued that career.  In the context of the times, a lacemaker, or wire drawer, was someone who made luxury items from gold and silver wire, such as braids, buttons, fringes, etc.  Bryant, too, rose to the top of his trade, becoming “lacemaker to his Majesty”. Lacemaking was a lucrative, but chancy business.  As a purveyor of élite luxury items, one could charge high prices, but the only people who could afford them were those who didn’t pay their debts. According to (Murphy 2010, 111) in 1761, “the combined debts to Barrett’s firm of the King, the Princess of Wales, the Master of the Horse, the Duke of York, and Princes William and Henry amounted to over £18000”. A tradesman needed a deep pocket to stay solvent.

Bryant Barrett’s life was also complicated by being an inordinate bibliophile (an expensive hobby at the best of times), and a Catholic, which closed many avenues to him in England at the time. Nevertheless, he bought a country house, Milton Manor in Berkshire, extending it with two wings (one for a library) designed by Stephen Wright of the Board of Works. Bryant Barrett’s nephew’s brother-in-law (i.e., Ann Pratt’s brother Thomas) had recently married Stephen Wright’s daughter. Bryant Barrett married twice, had a number of children and managed to hold his precarious finances together for his long life, although possibly not by much.  After he died, his brother Isaac made a codicil in his will giving £100 to the widow and children.

Meanwhile, Isaac Barrett had two sons that survived: John Barrett, and his younger brother, another Bryant Barrett (1743—1809). John Barrett succeeded his father in running the business in the Haymarket, making much of his Royal contract in his newspaper advertisements in the 1780’s. He also received a patent in 1784 for a dripless chandelier.

Barrett ad

John’s brother Bryant was also in the wax business, usually referred to as a “wax-bleacher”.  He married Elizabeth Tyers (1759—1834), granddaughter, and eventual heiress, of Jonathan Tyers (1702—1767), the developer of Vauxhall Gardens, and so Bryant Barrett took over that business after the death of his father-in-law  in 1792.

Vauxhall_Gardens_by_Samuel_Wale_c1751

Sources

Murphy, M. ‘The King’s laceman and the bishop’s friend: Bryant Barrett (c. 1715—1790), merchant and squire’, Recusant History 30 (1), (2010), 107—119.