Tag Archives: Subscribers

A Supplement to the St. Martin’s Lane Academy Membership

In 1988, Ilaria Bagnamini published a very useful check-list of members of the St. Martin’s Lane Academy in Volume 54 of the Walpole Society. Bagnamini’s list is compiled from Vertue’s notebooks, the subscribers to first edition of Kirby’s Method of Perspective, and Wine and Walnuts (1823). Kirby’s second edition, published in 1755, contains many more subscribers, including more members of the Academy. Here is a supplemental list of names indicated in the second edition that did not make it onto Bagnamini’s list.

Mr. Allen, Painter

Mr. Thomas Carter, Statuary

Mr. Francis Coates, Painter

Mr. John Eccardt, Painter

Mr. Thomas Gainsborough, Painter (Bagnamini does include Gainsborough, but says he is on `no list’)

Mr. Thomas Major, 2 Books

Mr. Benjamin Radcliffe (this is presumably the R. Ratcliffe from 1823)

Mr. Peter Roberts, Chaser

Mr. Benjamin Wilson, Painter and F.R.S. 4 Books


Bagnamini, I. 1988. George Vertue, art historian and art institutions in London, 1689-1768: A study of clubs and Academies. The Volume of the Walpole Society, Vol. 54, 1—148.

John Kirby

Joshua Kirby was one of a dozen children of John Kirby (c. 1690 – 1753) and Alice (Brown) Kirby (ca. 1685—1766). Not much is known about Kirby’s father’s background. He is supposed to have been a schoolmaster at some point, and when Kirby was growing up was a miller in Wickham Market, Suffolk. More importantly for Joshua Kirby’s future development was his father’s sideline as a topographer, drawing up plans of estates for the local gentry. This business took him around the county and developed his contacts with the wealthier members of society.

John Kirby by Gainsborough

In the 1730s, John Kirby made a survey of the whole of Suffolk, which resulted in a large-scale map of the county (at a scale of 1″ to a mile), and accompanying book, the Suffolk Traveller, describing all the towns and important places of the county together with the distances by road between each place.

The map, engraved on four large plates, cost 10 shillings, and the book came free with the map. To help cover the costs of the survey and production of the book and map, which took several years, Kirby raised money by subscription, building a large network of agents who could take in subscriptions for him. A subscriber put half the money down, and paid the balance on receipt of the map and book. Another device Kirby used to gain interest and subscriptions was to engrave the coats of arms of local nobility and gentry on the map – eventually he had over 120 arms depicted.

The contacts John Kirby made in Suffolk, and the technique of raising money though subscription, were subsequently used by Joshua Kirby in furthering his own career.

Kirby Live Again!

I am giving a talk at MathFest in Hartford on August 1.  Intended for a wide audience, this talk will show how Kirby’s networks of subscribers evolved over the publication of his series of books between 1748 and 1754 to trace the patronage circles that ended with Kirby’s appointment as tutor in perspective to the then Prince of Wales.

Here’s the abstract:

How Brook Taylor Got Joshua Kirby a Position

In 1748, Joshua Kirby was a provincial coach-painter in Ipswich, Suffolk. By 1755 he was tutor in perspective to the Prince of Wales (the future George III). In between, he published Dr. Brook Taylor’s Method of Perspective Made Easy, a book that aimed to explain Brook Taylor’s notoriously difficult Linear Perspective. Using the subscription lists of the three works he published during this period, we trace how Kirby’s expanding social networks brought him to the notice of those in power.

Henry Legge

Another colorful subscriber to Kirby’s Historical Account was Henry Legge. Styled in the subscriber list as “Hon. Henry Legge, Esq.” he was at the time the other MP for Orford. Orford was a pocket borough in the gift of the Treasury, with few, and carefully-chosen voters. According to the Parliamentary History Online in 1764 only six out of 21 [voters] were resident in Orford, and 18 held places under Government. Its expenses were paid from secret service funds. Henry Legge (1708—1764) was the fourth son of the 1st Earl of Dartmouth. He later added the surname Bilson as the result of a bequest. Horace Walpole (a not-unbiased observer) said of him that “[his father] had early turned him into the world to make his fortune, which he pursued with an uncommon assiduity of duty. Avarice or flattery, application or ingratitude, nothing came amiss that might raise him on the ruins of either friends or enemies”. In fact, his father had early sent him to Christ Church in Oxford, from whence he disappeared to join the Navy, taking a berth as an ordinary seaman on a convoy protecting the Newfoundland fishing fleet. He repeated the voyage as a midshipman, before returning to land. He apparently never went to sea again, although this did not prevent him obtaining a later position as Lord of the Admiralty. As a young man he entered the circle around the Walpoles, becoming secretary to Sir Robert Walpole in 1736, then at the peak of his power. Legge was awarded a seat in the House of Commons first for Looe in Cornwall in 1740, and then for Orford from 1741 onwards, shortly after he was appointed Treasury Secretary. Also in 1741, he seems to have made an unfortunate attempt to woo Maria Walpole, which did not go down well with the family, but then Walpole fell spectacularly the following year. Dismissed from his post in the purge of Walpole’s followers, he promptly acquired a position as Surveyor-General of Woods and Forests in 1742, and joining the Admiralty Board in 1745. In 1748 he was sent off to Berlin as envoy to Frederick the Great, taking the blame for the failure of negotiations. Perhaps the appearance of Kirby’s book was a consolation. Returning to England, he married, and pursued his hobby of shooting, then became Chancellor of the Exchequer three times in the 1750s. He died in 1764. Portrait by William Hoare As noted above, Horace Walpole was not particularly enamored of Legge. Another choice quote is the Legge “wormed himself into every intrigue where his industry and subservience could recommend him”. The DNB article on him, written by P. J. Kulisheck (who wrote her dissertation on Legge), rehabilitates him, noting “his character and actions have in the past been judged unfavourably primarily on the basis of statements, now known to be biased, in Horace Walpole’s writings. Legge’s letters reveal a man no better or worse than other younger sons who made their fortune through holding office under the crown, but one with a better sense of humour and less vindictiveness than his contemporaries”.

Charles and Robert Beaumont

The brothers Revs. Charles (1710—1758) and Robert (1724—1792) Beaumont came from one strand of the large and complicated Beaumont family in Suffolk. Their father Robert (1683—1737) was educated at Queen’s College Cambridge, and became Rector of Witnesham in 1708 and later Vicar of Henley and Vicar of St. Lawrence in Ipswich. The extended family included several other members of the clergy, including Charles Beaumont, DD (1660—1726), Fellow of Peterhouse College who left land and money to his cousin the elder Robert and thence to his godson, Charles.

Of the brothers, I know less about Robert. He would still have been only about thirteen when his father died. He did go on to Cambridge and was ordained in 1746, being appointed Rector of Helmingham and vicar of Framsden in 1760, posts which he retained for the rest of his life. His subscription to Kirby’s Historical Account is the only subscription of his I know.

Charles, the eldest son, has left more of a record. He went to Peterhouse, gaining his BA in 1731 and MA in 1734, was ordained in 1735 and succeeded his father as Rector of Witnesham in 1736.

Charles continued his father’s practice of giving sermons in support of the Charity Schools, the Grey-Coat boys and Blue-Coat girls of Ipswich, and seems to have resided, at least some of the time, in Ipswich. Witnesham is only about four miles from Ipswich, so this hardly counts as not living in the living.

It is presumably Charles, rather than Robert, who provides the link with Kirby. Witnesham Hall was owned by the Meadows family (and had been it its hands for several centuries) and Joshua Kirby’s brother William, a lawyer by training, married Lucy Meadows and lived at Witnesham Hall administering the family property. Charles subscribed to both the Historical Account and the first edition of the Method of Perspective.

Charles married Elizabeth Vesey and they had three children, although the first died young. The middle daughter, Elizabeth, married Philip Broke and their son, Sir Philip Bowes Vere Broke, was captain of HMS Shannon when she captured the USS Chesapeake in the War of 1812.