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The Willaume Family

This article was written by Chris Schuster

David Willaume was born into a family of goldsmiths in 1658 in Metz, France and he became a master goldsmith in 1680. However, the introduction of heavy taxes on the sale of plate in the 1670s followed by the revocation of the edict of Nantes in 1685 (which had allowed Huguenots to practise their Protestant religion without persecution), and the prohibition of the manufacture of gold items and massive pieces of silver, emptied Metz of most of its goldsmiths. Unable to practise his religion or his profession, Willaume left France for England.

He became one of the emerging class of ‘gentlemen’ goldsmith bankers during the late 17th and early 18th centuries.  Goldsmiths had fortified premises and/or workshops to protect their stock, bullion and takings.  They employed round-the-clock security and spent time and money establishing relationships with their clients. They took in large sums, and so had money to lend. By 1696, David Willaume is recorded as 'running cashes’ at his shop near the Savoy Chapel. Running cashes meant taking in money or silver/gold/jewellery and issuing a 'cash note’ to the client. The cash note was of course, no more than a piece of paper, like a receipt quoting figures, so it was imperative that the goldsmith was a man of impeccable integrity.

David Willaume’s acceptance into the English establishment was confirmed in 1698 with his promotion to the livery of the Goldsmiths' Company. His first confirmed hallmark, which harks back to the land of his birth with the inclusion of a fleur de lys, was registered about the same time with his address at the sign of the Golden Ball, Pall Mall. By 1714, still using the same hallmark and shop sign, he had moved again to premises on the west side of Saint James's Street, Mayfair, where the business, which by then included banking, remained until 1746.

There is no doubt, on the evidence of his surviving pieces, which are engraved with armorials that record his eminent clients, that David Willaume enjoyed the patronage of the wealthiest clients in England from the latter part of the reign of William III (1688-1702) to the end of the reign of George I (1714-1727).

Silver cup and cover

The Victoria and Albert Museum has the following information on this piece and its maker:

Between 1719 and 1758 a duty of 6d per ounce was levied on plate. For substantial presentation plate of considerable weight this was a large amount of money. Silversmiths went to great lengths to avoid paying this duty. One way of doing this was to remove the area stamped with the marks from a small item, such as a bowl or cream jug, and solder it into the base of a large, heavy vessel. This would then appear to be fully marked, implying that the correct duty had been paid. Since the inset marks are contemporary with the item in which they were soldered, these altered wares are quite difficult to detect. 

On the recommendation of the Antique Plate Committee at Goldsmiths' Hall, the false plate inserted at the junction of the bowl and foot on this cup was removed in 1969. The committee has statutory powers to seize plate that contravenes the law. On this occasion it allowed the cup to be exhibited provided the false plate were removed.

The maker of this cup, David Willaume, was one of the most successful London goldsmiths of his time and enjoyed the patronage of wealthy clients. It is interesting to note that even such a prominent silversmith should engage in the dishonest practice of duty-dodging.

The cup was presented to the Royal Archery Society as a prize by William IV.

David Willaume’s son and daughter followed him into the business. He bought Tingrith Manor for his retirement and when he died in 1741 he was buried at Saint Nicholas's Church.  In his will he left £105 to be divided between his daughter Anne, son-in-law David Tanqueray (his former pupil and fellow silversmith), and the poor of Saintt Martin-in-the-Fields [Middlesex], with all the unquantified goods and chattels and remainder of the estate passing to his son David Willaume.

The younger David Willaume (1693–1761) was apprenticed to his father at the age of fourteen and was promoted to the livery of the Goldsmiths' Company in 1727, taking over the family business in about 1728, when he entered his own hallmarks.

In 1733, already a widower, he married Elizabeth, daughter of attorney Charles Dymoke of Ampthill.  As his involvement in the affairs of the county grew with his appointment as High Sheriff of Bedfordshire in 1737, his direct connection with the family business lessened, and at the time of his last hallmark, entered in 1739, he described himself as a ‘gent of Tingrith’. Both David Willaume and his second wife were buried in Tingrith.

David’s son Edward Willaume had been been the curate in Tingrith, but on the death of his father in 1761 not only did he become Lord of the Manor, but he also inherited the advowson for the parish of Tingrith.  So when Thomas Tanqueray, the Rector and also his cousin, died in 1783, Edward made himself Rector of Tingrith and remained so until his death in 1788. An inventory of the household furniture, china and glass at the manor was taken in 1772, a detailed 16 page document of a large residence with bedchambers, breakfast room, parlours, hall, dressing room, gallery, maids room, butler’s pantry, scullery, dairy, brewhouse, laundry, stables barn and cellar. The inventory records Edward’s collection of "china, glass and Delfe with 28 plates, dessert plates, butter boats, pudding dishes and egg cups.  Also 7 and a half dozen wine glasses and 4 decanters.  There is good furniture, a japanned India cabinet, a pair of 12 inch globes, 16 yards of new Wilton carpet, and a marble slab with carved bracket".

Around 1775, Edward bought Dixwell’s Manor and the two manors of Tingrith were combined. In 1790 when a Court Leet was advertised to be held at the Manor House Tingrith, Essex Willaume, Edward’s widow, is referred to as the Lady of the Manors of Tingrith and Dixwell’s.  (The Court Leet was held on her behalf so that her steward, John Rotherham, could collect rents and arrears.)

Monument to Edward Willaume in the church
Monument to Edward Willaume in the church

The monument to Edward Willaume in St Nicholas Church erected by “His afflicted Widow” describes him as “a kind, tender, and indulgent Husband” and says his death was “sincerely and justly regretted by all who knew him”. The inscription concludes with: 

Learn, Reader,
To imitate his Example,
Be virtuous, & be happy.

In his will Edward left his estates to his wife Essex for life, then to his brother Charles Dymoke Willaume for life and to his male heirs, and in default to his brother John Williams Willaume. He also referred to a debt of £4,000 which he owed to his brother John, secured by mortgage on the estate at Tingrith.

It seems that Edward’s will was disputed and on his widow’s death, his brother Charles, who had married a Mary Hamilton of Tingrith and had one daughter but no sons,  held the Manor until his own death in 1807 as tenant for life from his younger brother John Williams Willaume, who had taken over the estate on Edward’s death.

John initially lived in Mayfair [Middlesex] but obviously took a keen interest in the land, consulting Dr Pearson of the Board of Agriculture on the efficacy of a saline solution derived from peat to be used as manure, a process he claimed was successfully used in neighbouring farms. At some point Charles moved to Fulham [MIddlesex] and John moved to Tingrith.  He was listed as present at the Woburn Sheepshearing of 1800. This great agricultural show was started in 1797 by Frances Russell who established a model farm at Woburn with 'every convenience that could be desired for the breeding of cattle and experiments in farming'. This included valuable experiments upon the respective merits of the various breeds of sheep. The sheep shearing exhibitions lasted for days and the whole English agricultural world was invited to this splendid event, the week concluding with banquets for the Duke's numerous guests staying at Woburn Abbey. 

John Williams Willaume was also the unfortunate subject of a military case. In 1781, he and a fellow captain of the Bedfordshire Militia reported a senior officer for embezzling funds. The Colonel of the Regiment, the 2nd Earl of Upper Ossory, of Ampthill, suppressed the investigation and the two captains were imprisoned, threatened with court martial and eventually resigned their commissions. The narrative of the case, which has been published in several languages, makes clear that Lord Ossory encouraged a cover-up operation that was used to discredit the two young men.

In 1803 he was nominated as Sheriff of Bedfordshire, but by 1806 he had left Tingrith and moved to Grosvenor Square, London. He died in 1810, with no children, but just before his death he sold the entire Tingrith estate to Robert Trevor.

The Willaume name did not die with John though. In 1848, John’s great nephew Thomas Butts Tanqueray (grandson of John’s sister Mary Willaume and son of Edward Tanqueray, Rector of Tingrith) took the surname of Willaume in addition to Tanqueray. The Rev. Charles Dymoke Willaume, a Dymoke cousin, had himself taken on the Willaume name when the three Willaume uncles died without heirs, but as Charles also had no heir, it fell to Thomas to take the name. In 1848 he became Thomas Butts Tanqueray-Willaume by royal warrant. There was probably some money involved to make it an attractive proposition and the name carried on, certainly well into the 20th century.