Early English Mitre Planes, Part III: Towell, Smith, and Tremain

ROBERT TOWELL

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Towell mitre plane, dovetailed, with two inch Sorby iron. Marked and sold by John Moseley.

Towell worked in the early 1800s, from c 1810, until as late as 1863. Robert Towell is generally recognized as the first full time maker of infill planes, first mitre planes, and then later some rabbet planes, and a handful of panel planes.

Moseley operated a posh tool shop at 17-18 New Street, in a retail district of Covent Garden during the 1830s.

John Moseley married Elizabeth Kingdon, at Saint Petrock, Devon, England, 17 November, 1792.

John Moseley married Elizabeth Kingdon, at Saint Petrock, Exeter, England, 17 November, 1792.

 

John Moseley was probably not a “Tea Dealer” in London, but rather a Tool Dealer.  One of Elizabeth Kingdon’s brothers may have been a business partner with John Moseley, possibly Zachary Kingdon, who died 16 May, 1795.  Witness Samuel Kingdon Jr., (1779-1854) was an ironfounder in Exeter.

 

Roger Wakefield’s Merchants and Tradesman’s General Directory for London, 1794.

Moseley advertised an establishment date of 1730, but evidence pointed to the 1790s as a more realistic time frame.  This 1794 entry for Kingdon & Moseley was one of the earliest.

Dissolution of partnership between George Mutter and John Richards.  London Gazette, 10 September, 1793.

 

Perhaps John Richards was a silent partner of Kingdon & Moseley, at 16 New Street, Covent Garden.

John Moseley, 16 New Street, Covent Garden, 1797 Kent’s London Trade Directory.

John Moseley, 16 New Street, Covent Garden, 1820 London Trade Directory.

 

 

 

By 1820, as evidenced in this trade directory, the Moseley firm was branching out and supplying a more broad range of tools and supplies.

 

Max Ott Obituary, from Switzerland in the U.K.” March, 2009.

Max Ott, whose name is stamped on the Moseley/Towell mitre plane shown above, was a 20th century cabinet maker and collector who was born in Switzerland but worked in England. Ott stamped most of his tools in the old style.  Other planes that came through the hands of Max Ott, and included in my page on George Buck are a Holland mitre plane, which was pictured, and a Norris custom mitre plane.  The Norris custom mitre was purchased by Ott at auction in 1989, and written about by Maurice Fraser in “Fine Woodworking” Magazine.

 

 

 

Towell Mitre plane, with 2 inch Newbould iron. “Rt. TOWELL LONDON” on bridge.

A few salient characteristics of Towell mitre planes:

  1. Consistently long rosewood front infill, with the lip of moulding directly over the mouth.
  2. Cupid’s bow cut more deeply into bridge–often at 45 degrees–than contemporaries (exceptions exist).
  3. At the heel, there are two bends (corners), rather than one large horseshoe bend, as with Gabriel mitres.
  4. Sidewalls 3/16″ thick compared to Gabriel mitres at around 5/32″.
  5. Two dovetails in front of the mouth, three dovetails behind the mouth, on each side.
  6. Bridge attached to cheeks with two pins, on each side.
  7. Front and rear sole pieces dovetailed together at the mouth.
  8. Front flange has ~3/8″ long straight section protruding from the front plate before making the curve at the extreme toe.
  9. Rear infill variations: some examples with rosewood; some have matching rosewood lamination over a stained hardwood bed.  Other rear infills are beech.

Towell gunmetal mitre plane, very rare. Photo from D. Stanley Auctions, U.K., March 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because little has been known about Robert Towell (Born March 28, 1790–died November 17, 1871) generally, I have included the following information on his life.   Robert Towell’s vital documentation has been known to a handful of genealogists for a number of years, but within the antique tool arena, an absence of information on Towell was noted in “British Planemakers from 1700,” by Goodman and Rees, Third edition, 1993, as well as in “Antique Woodworking Tools,” by David Russell, in 2010.  As recently as as 2016, a major collector who has done research, wrote an email to me regarding a lack of documentation for Robert Towell.  Information was sourced from the websites, familysearch.org, findmypast.com, and ancestry.com, as well as various other sources.

Robert Towell’s father and grandfather were cabinetmakers.  Grandfather Robert Towell was born in Diss, Norfolk in 1732 and baptized on 2 January, 1733.  Robert married Mary Butcher (1734-1806) on 9 November 1758, in Suffolk, England.  The young Robert Towell and his family moved to Stepney, Mile End, Old Town, London, sometime after the birth of his son John in 1762 in Diss, and before 1768, when he was taxed in London.

Robert Towell Sr. and Jr., cabinetmakers, Crown Row, Mile End, Old Town, London.  Richard Horwood’s c. 1792 map of London.

 

Towell’s location was provided in a Sun Insurance document from 1774.  Mile End Road was surrounded by fields in the 1790s.

 

 

 

 

Robert Towell (grandfather) Land Tax, 1768, Mile End, London.

Robert Towell (grandfather) land tax record, Mile End, 1780.

 

 

 

Robert Towell’s will (beginning) 15 July, 1791.

 

 

 

Robert Towell was buried 7 September, 1791, at St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney Tower Hamlets, Middlesex, England.

 

Robert Towell’s parents were Robert Towell (1759-1825) and Elizabeth Wilson (1765- ).

Robert Towell married Elizabeth Wilson at Saint Margaret Pattens Church, 6 June, 1784.

Robert Towell’s burial, Spa Fields, Islington, 27 October, 1825.

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Towell’s Christening.

 

Robert Towell was born 28 March, 1790, and Christened 25 April, 1790 at Cambridge Road, Independent Meeting, Bethnal Green, London, England.

 

Robert Towell had an older brother, also named Robert, who did not survive.  Robert, 21 days old, was baptized on 24 June 1787, at Saint Stephen’s, Stepney.  In some cases, this has resulted in giving Robert Towell, the planemaker, an earlier, incorrect birthdate.  Robert and Elizabeth repeated this pattern of renaming a child who died, with Elizabeth, born 23 July, 1794 and died 12 November, 1794.  Their next daughter, also Elizabeth Towell, was born 8 March 1796 and died 24 November, 1870, in Saint Leonard’s Workhouse, Kingsland Road, Shoreditch..

Robert Towell married Ann Gray (b. Kenton, Devon 1790-1859 London) on 28 January, 1816.  Robert and Ann had a number of children, including the following: Robert Jr., b 29 November, 1816-d 17 August, 1863 Shoreditch, London;  Elizabeth b 17 September, 1819-1893; Ann Frances, b 11 Sept 1820; Martha, b 01 October, 1822; Joseph, b 18 January, 1824; Anna Maria b 8 Dec 1826-1848; Eliza Caroline b 12 Nov 1830-1869.

Robert Towell married Ann Gray 28 January 1816 at St. Marylebone.

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Towell and Ann lived in Marylebone, and their childrens’ Christenings took place at St. Mary’s, St. Marylebone Road until 21 June 1824, when Joseph was baptized there.  The next recorded Towell baptism took place  for Eliza Caroline, at Saint Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch on 19 December, 1830 (Eliza Caroline was born 12 November, 1830).  Ann Maria was born 8 December, 1826, but she did not receive a a baptism until 30 June, 1837, at Saint John the Baptist Church, Shoreditch, on 30 June 1837.  During the period around 1826, the Towell family was likely preoccupied with moving from Saint Marylebone to Shoreditch.

Robert Towell Jr., born 29 November, 1816, baptized 22 December. at St. Marylebone.

Robert Towell, tool maker, Edward St., Shoreditch, in the 1841 U.K. census.

Robert Towell Jr. joined his father in the business of making planes.  Robert Jr. did not marry.

 

Robert Towell, 51, lived on Edward St. in Shoreditch in 1841, and he stated his trade as “tool maker.”   For the remainder of his long life, Robert Towell remained in Shoreditch.

 

The census enumerator made a mistake on the spelling of Towell (not “Powell”).  It was one of the reasons that Towell was so hard to find for years.  A census enumerator made another mistake in the 1851 census “Iron Plane Maker,” not Iron ‘Plate maker’.  Enumerators were often under time constraints, and not always carefully hired. It is important not to repeat the mistakes of an enumerator by looking for patterns when in doubt.

 

Robert Towell’s location on Edward St. in 1841; Tyzack’s  8 Old St. 1861-67; 347, 343, 341 & 345 Old St. (various numbers given at different times for the same buildings), 1872-1975. Gabriel’s earlier addresses, were just west of  map section.  Map from Edward Weller’s 1868 map of London.

1851 census. Robert Towell, “Iron Plane Maker,” address 12B Martha St. Shoreditch.

“Iron Plane Maker,” not Iron Plate Maker. It was not outside the realm of possibility that Towell gave the enumerator the “Iron Plate Maker” description because “platemaker” was more commonly understood than “planemaker.”   This was less likely than the enumerator having made a recording error, however.  Towell’s work created a finished product (iron planes), consisting of 3 iron plates and two steel plates.

Iron plate worker ; iron plater; cuts iron plates on table of power shears; bends, in bending machine or with hammer on block shape; rivets and fits up iron plates generally in connection with constructional iron work; cf. plater. From “A Dictionary of Occupational Terms Based on the Classification of Occupations used in the Census of Population,” 1921. Compiled by the Ministry of Labour and published by HMSO, 1927.

Shoreditch was an area where Robert Towell would have had an excellent customer base, with many highly skilled craftspeople needing the fine planes that he produced.  Here is a description of Shoreditch during the period of Robert Towell’s productive years, circa 1810 to 1863:

“In Shoreditch artisans operated from small workshops where they lived. Tailors, ironworkers, leather workers such as saddlers and cordwainers (shoe and boot makers) were all common. Printing and furniture makers were another two predominant industries in this area, particularly in the later period. The furniture industry boomed in the south Hackney area when the Regents Canal was completed in 1820, as this eased the transport of heavy goods and materials. The furniture trade provided work for many small specialist trades such as french polishing and veneering, likewise with printing there was work for bookbinders and stationers.

By Victorian times, although the industrial revolution had resulted in most industry moving from areas around the City walls to places where land was cheaper and goods could be produced on a large scale, some craftsmen had escaped the threat of mass production. These were people working in the finishing trades and with high value artifacts. Being close to fashionable markets, Shoreditch was ideally placed and traditionally the area had a pool of semi-skilled labour. The furniture trade’s centre was Shoreditch and it flourished partly because of the Regents Canal, built in 1820, which was utilized for transporting the heavy hardwoods needed. Piano makers and showrooms abounded too. By 1901 there were over five thousand piano, cabinet and other furniture makers in Hackney and they had spread out from Shoreditch as far as Homerton.”    From http://www.bonsonhistory.co.uk/html/hoxton___shoreditch.html

Robert Towell Sr. and Robert Towell Jr., both “Iron Plane Makers,” 1861 U.K. census.

 

 

 

At the time of the 1861 UK census, Robert Towell, 71, widower, was living at 10 Clarence Terrace East in Shoreditch. Robert Towell still reported his occupation as “Iron Plane Maker,” and that he was working with assistance of his son Robert Jr., born 1816.

From Edward Weller’s 1868 map of London, detail of Haggerston.  Robert Towell was located at 12B Martha St. in 1851, and at 10 Clarence Terrace East in 1861.

Note the Regents canal, which was essential for the local piano and furniture making industry and their ancillary trades in the 19th century.

Early 20th century photo on Regent’s Canal.

 

The Regent’s Canal was especially important from 1820, it’s year of completion, to the 1840s, after which the railroad began  to predominate.  Even so, the canal was used commercially into the 1960s.

Horse pulling a barge along the towing path on the Regent’s Canal.  Somewhat overlooked today, Regent’s Canal is still used for recreation and boating.

Regent’s Canal, between Haggerston bridge, and Queen’s Road bridge. Photo by Richard Croft, geograph.org.uk

This is the block that included Clarence Terrace, Robert Towell’s final address before admission to Saint Leonard’s Shoreditch Workhouse.  Clarence Terrace has since been renamed to Denne Terrace.  The photograph was taken on the north side of Regent’s Canal, looking east, towards Queen’s Road bridge.  Therefore, Clarence Terrace (now Denne) would be off to the left of the image.  Large apartment buildings presently on Denne Terrace appear to date from the 20th century.

 

 

Death certificate of Robert Towell Jr., 17 August.1863.

In August 1863, Robert Jr. died, and Robert Sr., a widower since 1859, went into the St. Leonard’s Workhouse at 213 Kingsland Road.  Robert Sr. was admitted to the Workhouse on 23 July, 1863, while Robert Jr. was sick and presumably incapacitated.  Plisithis was an early term for tuberculosis.

 

By the 1871 UK census, Robert Towell, 81, widower, was a retired “cabinet maker,” and presumably an infirm “inmate” at St. Leonard’s workhouse in Shoreditch, London.  Robert was most likely destitute in old age.

Robert Towell, retired “cabinet maker,” 1871 U.K.Census.

 

 

St. Leonard’s Shoreditch Workhouse, 213 Kingsland Rd. ; Robert Towell, admitted July 23, 1863, the same year as the death of his son Robert Jr.; discharged (death) November 17, 1871.  Cause of death was accidental, due to shock following a fall, according to the coroner’s report.  He lived an unusually long life for the period.

 

 

 

 

 

One of the Saint Leonard’s buildings today.

Robert Towell, death certificate. “Violent shock from a fall. Accidental.”

St. Leonard’s Workhouse. Map from Edward Weller’s 1868 map of London.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Towell smooth plane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While on the subject of Towell, here is a photo of a Towell smooth plane. It was sold in the UK through thesaleroom.com some time ago. Panel planes and rabbet planes are known to be made by Towell, but this smoother was a revelation.

 

 

 

 

Another Towell smooth plane (even earlier) was observed by Mark Rees, who wrote about it in the TATHS newsletter no. 65 (Summer, 1999) and illustrated in TATHS newsletter no. 66.  This Towell smoother had all the features of a classic wooden coffin smooth plane, but with some substitutions in metal: a steel sole, with dovetailed wrought iron sides.  The toe and heel had rosewood infills that were left open.  The inner cheeks had lugs for retaining the wedge.  Many details were retained, such as chamfers at the corners, and the ‘turn out’ at the corners of the mouth.  Rees thought it must have been an expensive plane to produce.

Towell panel plane. Photo from ebay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Towell panel plane. Photo from ebay.

Towell panel plane (unmarked), Bob Funnell collection.  Photo from D.Stanley Auctions, September, 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Towell panel plane bridge with extensions on the inner cheeks.  Ebay photo.

Same Towell panel plane with iron and wedge removed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Towell panel plane, from the Bob Funnell collection. Photo by D. Stanley Auctions September, 2014.

This Towell panel plane was pictured in Mark Rees’ article on Robert Towell, in TATHS newsletter no. 65, summer, 1999.  Plane was 13 1/4″ long, 2 3/4″ wide, and had an I & H Sorby parallel iron and an Ibbotson & Co. cap iron (replacements).

Towell panel planes shown here are all transitionial, showing both mitre plane and bench plane characteristics.  These panel planes have a two part sole, dovetailed at the mouth, the sides are a single iron plate, bent around the heel, and the toe is a separate plate.  All mitre plane features.

 

Moseley (Towell) panel plane with cupid’s bow bridge.  Photo from D.Stanley Auctions, 2019.

Towell panel plane from D.Stanley Auctions, February, 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Towell panel plane marked and sold by John Moseley.  John Moseley & Son tapered iron/cap, 12 1/2″ long, 2 3/4″ wide.

Towell  panel plane (Moseley), with closed heel. like a mitre plane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unlike his mitre or rebate planes, Robert Towell never arrived at a standard design for his panel planes.  There are at least three panel plane versions with different side profiles–that third version can be seen in Russell’s “Antique Woodworking Tools,” no. 1360.  The cheeks of no. 1360 consisted of a straight line at the top, with no deviation, and had a front infill that was an overstuffed block, rather than a tote.  It therefore appeared more like a mitre plane, and may have been earlier than the examples shown here.  Towell also changed the bridges on his panel planes, with the type shown above, his cupid’s bow, and a simple arch.  There are likely more variations.

A unique feature of at least several Towell panel planes was the use of two bed angles under the iron.  Like a mitre plane, the bed angle at the sole was 20 degrees.  –Then the bed angle was changed to the more typical 48 degrees found in later bevel down metal planes.  In the Moseley plane shown directly above, there is a thick steel plate, or frog covering the lower 1 1/2 inches of the 48 degree part of the bed.  The Towell panel plane owned by R.C. Funnell and written about by Mark Rees in TATHS Newsletter #65 also had this metal frog.  Not all Towell panel planes have this frog, but at least one other Towell panel plane has a two part wooden bed, with the lower wooden part and sole at 20 degrees, and the majority upper part of the bed at around 45 degrees.

Moseley/Towell panel plane, stepped bed, with metal frog.

Towell panel plane, stepped wooden bed. Photo from Joel Moskowitz.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of the earliest Spiers smoothers and panel planes also included a steel plate at the lower part of the bed, as noted by Nigel Lampert in “Through Much Tribulation: Stewart Spiers and the Planemakers of Ayr.”  (pp. 33-34).  Spiers did not use a stepped bed, however–Spiers’ beds were around 47 degrees all the way through.

One of the complaints about using mitre planes was difficulty in holding them for longer tasks. This plane was likely an experiment by Towell to address that issue. Body of this mitre is a little different as well: sidewalls bent at the front instead of dovetailed, and a brazed joint is placed at the rear of the the plane, making the sides one continuous piece. This would have created a weakness if users rapped the back of the plane.

Towell mitre plane with auxiliary handles.  Photo from Ebay, 2018.

This Towell mitre made quite a splash when it came to auction, in January 1986. At the time, Towell was extremely rare, and it was not known that he had a fairly prolific output spanning five decades.  There may be only two or three of this variation in existence.  Photo by Bill Carter.

Late Towell mitre plane, with lever cap and curved front. Photo from Ebay UK.

 

 

Towell lever cap.  Photo from Ebay UK.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was not necessarily the earliest lever cap.  Fenn’s Lever cap was patented in 1844, and this Towell mitre could have been made as late as 1863.

Born in 1790, Towell would have commenced work around 1810, but until late in his working life, Towell likely confined his efforts to traditional box mitre planes, rebate planes, and a few panel planes.   In 1861, Robert Towell still declared himself as an “Iron Planemaker” in the U.K. census, with the help of his son Robert Jr.  With that assistance and support,  Robert Sr. would have plausibly worked right up to the 1863 death of his son.  All told, its at least a dozen years longer than having stopped working before 1850 as previously thought.  In late career, Robert Towell  worked contemporaneously with iron planemakers such as Spiers, Kerr, Syme, Cox, Badger, and others.  It is inferable that Towell’s innovations shown above–iron smoother plane, iron panel plane, lever cap, and experimental mitre plane– were introduced in the 1840s, 1850s, even early 1860s.  This would have been around the same time that other makers began making lever caps and iron bench planes.  Influence between makers was manifested in the 1850s: for example, Joseph Fenn’s November 12, 1844 patent lever cap was adopted in various forms relatively quickly and widely.

Towell mitre and rabbet planes. Towell rabbets that I have seen, do not have a metal keeper or bridge, like later rabbet planes do, such as Spiers.

Incredibly small mouths on these Towell planes. Robert Towell was one of the best planemakers, ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I. (John) Smith mitre planes:

 

I. Smith mitre plane. This example is relatively small at 8 inches long with a 1 3/4 inch iron.

 

John Smith was born in 1782, eight years before Robert Towell, which placed him as one of the earliest makers of English metal planes.

 

 

 

 

Ward iron.

 

This Ward iron has a rebate style sneck cut into the side. It could have been done at any point in time that the plane was used.  For a while, I had a replacement iron in this Smith mitre plane, without altering the wedge, having been somewhat turned off by this unusual ‘feature.’  After some time, I came around to the fact that the sneck is part of the history of this mitre, so I put it back in for good.

 

 

 

 

During the last decade, I have observed more than half a dozen I. Smith mitre planes, two of which were in the Russell Collection, nos. 886 and 887.  All of those Smith mitre planes had a classic mitre plane profile, with dovetailed construction. Most I. Smith mitres had an early style bridge like the example shown above, but two I’ve observed had a shallow cupid’s bow cut into the bridge.  One Smith mitre with cupid’s bow was depicted in David Russell’s “Antique Woodworking Tools,” no. 887, and the other sold on Ebay U.K.   In addition to smaller mitres such as the 8 inch model, Smith made full sized mitres ranging 9 to 10 inches long, with two inch irons.

I. Smith mitre plane, 9 3/4″ long, with a 2″ wide throat.  Photo from ebay UK July 2018.

I. Smith mitre plane bridge. A rusty find. Photo from Ebay UK 07/2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the heel, the sidewalls have two bends compared to one on the smaller Smith plane shown above. Another full sized I. Smith mitre plane came up for sale on Ebay in April 2019.

An indication regarding John Smith’s age, was his use of “I” for “J” (John) for his proprietary stamp on his iron planes.  Using “I” in this context was a practice that was ending by the beginning of the 19th century.  For example, the spelling of  edgetool maker “I. Sorby” (John) on their Sheffield plane irons was implemented in the late 18th century, and then retained in later stamps, as a tradition.

John Smith mitres, made in the early to mid-19th century, were  somewhat old-fashioned when they were new.  Smith also made iron rabbet planes.  Nigel Lampert in “Through Much Tribulation  Stewart Spiers and the Planemakers of Ayr” estimated I. Smith’s rabbet planes to have been made during the 1840s and ’50s. That estimation has been borne out after uncovering a random 1849 article on a fireworks accident in the London-based “Evening Mail.”

“John Smith, of 1, Holland-Place, metal plane maker…”  from the “Evening Mail” on  14 September, 1849

In this fireworks accident, 59 year old Martha Jones was killed “at the 11th instant,” and her husband William Jones was grievously injured.  A  jury was assembled at the New Workhouse in Kensington.  William Jones was involved in making firecrackers, and many of the rockets were set off in the fire, which took place at No. 1 Duckmanton Yard, Market Court, Kensington.  Metal planemaker John Smith, was also partner with William Jones in fireworks making, as a sideline.  Serving as witness, John Smith stated that William Jones was actively involved in making the explosives when the accident occurred.  Jones denied that he was working with gunpowder just before the firestorm.  Just five minutes before the explosion, John Smith had been in the house where the tragedy occurred.  The jury returned a verdict of “Accidental death, resulting from the explosion of a large quantity of gunpowder.”

Original article from the “London Evening Mail,” 14 September, 1849.  Other coverage included the “Hampton Advertiser,” and “The Mechanics’ Magazine Museum, Register Journal and Gazette,” 5 January, 1850.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ward Iron, from the same plane, also marked “Fletcher Leader St. Chelsea.”

Unmarked 9″ mitre plane with Smith features.  Rear infill creosote treated beech, a cost saving decision.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

William A. Fletcher, sawmaker, was located at 16 Leader St., Chelsea in the 1851 U.K. census.  He remained there until his death in 1872.  Chelsea adjoins Kensington on the south side.

John Smith was born to Peter and Jane Smith in the small town of Bickerstaff, located in West Lancashire in 1782.  Lathom, the place of baptism, was just a few miles from Bickerstaffe, and this was the only John Smith recorded as baptized in the immediate locale during 1782.  Considering the sparse population of the area, this is likely the correct John Smith.

Baptism of John Smith 8 November, 1782, Lathom, Lancashire.

Duplicate recording of John Smith’s baptism 10 November, 1782. Bishop’s transcript at Ormskirk, Lancashire..

 

 

 

 

Bickerstaffe has had a population of around 1,100 in recent years.  Based on the following description, Bickerstaffe was not a difficult place to leave:

“Bickerstaffe may be described as an unpicturesque open country bare of woodland, with the exception of a few plantations mostly composed of birch tree, characteristic of moss land.  Fields, divided by low hawthorn hedges are mostly cultivated.  The country is waterless, with the exception of two small streams on the south,  The farms and houses are considerably scattered and nowhere can be said to form a settlement of any size,  The western half of the the township consists geologically of the upper mottled sandstone of the bunter series of the new red sandstone.  By a fault running due north and south the middle coal measures are thrust up in the eastern half.”  –“A History of the County of Lancaster:Volume 3,”  Farrer and Brownbill, London, 1907.

Bickerstaffe scene.  Photo from gunsonpegs.

 

Hunters in the Bickerstaffe area, which appears considerably more bucolic than the 1907 account.  Perhaps a lot of trees have grown up in the last century.

In any case, it must have been difficult to make a living in Bickerstaffe in the early 1800s.

 

 

John Smith, 68,  “Plane Maker,” at 4 James Place, Kensington in the 1851 U.K. census. Born in Bickerstaffe.

John Smith, “Plane Maker,” was living and working at 4 James Place, Kensington, during the time of the 1851 U.K. census.  John Smith, 68, was living with his wife Elizabeth, 65, and son John Jr., 28.

 

A note on researching for John Smith.  Honestly, there couldn’t be a more difficult name to research, and the information that I have rejected for lack of validation is voluminous.  An example of this is the search for John Smith’s marriage to Elizabeth.  John’s wife Elizabeth was born in Birmingham around 1786.  Birmingham is halfway to London in a direct line between Bickerstaffe and London, and John Smith could have spent enough time in Birmingham to have married Elizabeth.  There are a number of marriages between a John Smith and Elizabeth between 1802 and 1821 in Birmingham, but the omnipresence of both their names preclude selecting a document that is verifiable.  John and Elizabeth could have also married in Lancashire, or London, and a myriad marriages between John Smith and Elizabeth are possible.

John Smith married Elizabeth Iscum at St. Mary Abbots Church, Kensington, 17 January, 1808.  Unconfirmed document.

 

This marriage was at the right place at the right time.  John would have been 26, and Elizabeth would have been 22.  Saint Mary Abbots Church was right across Kensington High Street (on the North side) from Market Court.  It is visible in Weller’s 1868 map shown below.

 

Similar research issues exist for a John Smith in the trade directories as well as the 1841 U.K. census.  None of the entries are sufficiently definitive to warrant inclusion at this time.  One ‘John E. Smith,’ age 20, “Planemaker (Apprentice)” appeared in the 1881 U.K. census at 11 Brighton St., Saint Pancras.  In a current reference book, John E. Smith was identified as the same John Smith, previously located at 4 James Place in 1851.  There is no known connection between these two planemakers.

John and Elizabeth Smith’s son John Jr. was born in London circa 1823.  Based on Smith’s early style dovetailed mitre and rabbet planes, his metal planemaking began around 1823 or earlier.

Kensington section of Edward Weller’s 1868 map of London

 

After arriving in London, John Smith did not appear to wander far from his familiar corner of Kensington.  Section of Edward Weller’s 1868 map of London, showing 1 Holland Place and 4 James Place in Kensington, where metal planemaker John Smith was based in 1849 and 1851 respectively.  Before 1860, metal planemaking was still limited to a handful of makers, so there is no doubt that this John Smith is the individual who made the rabbet and mitre planes considered here.

From Map of Kensington, by T. Starling, in 1822.

 

 

 

 

In Kensington, as late as the 1820s, many open fields were farmed.  Market Court was already densely populated then.

 

Market Court, Kensington scene, circa 1860s, shortly before it was razed.  Photo from pinterest.

 

“Kensington Improvements” was the site of No. 1 Duckmanton Yard, Market Court. Market Court was a Dickensian slum full of fire hazards and extreme poverty, quite the opposite of the upscale tony neighborhood that it is today.  Building code violations abounded, including exposed wood siding over internal wood framing. Overcrowding led to many tuberculosis and cholera deaths.

 

 

 

Kensington High Street, circa 1865, looking west from Young St., showing tight corner before reconstruction.

 

 

Residential courts south of Kensington High Street were torn down.  Kensington High Street was widened at that spot, to address the injury accidents caused by the narrow turn in this busy section. Stores were built along the throroughfare, establishing the foundation for Kensington as a shopping destination.

Planemaker John Smith had been gone for ten years before this picture was taken.  He belonged to an earlier era.  Photo from British History Online.

 

John Smith’s death certificate, 6 February, 1855.

The 13 February 1855 burial of John Smith, age 73, in the Brompton Cemetery.  Smith was still living at 4 James Place, Kensington at the time of his death.

John Smith Jr., 32, was present at the death of his father at James Place, Kensington.

 

 

Brompton Cemetery is on the South side of Kensington, bordering Chelsea.  You can view the location of John Smith’s grave in Brompton Cemetery.

 

 

Entrance to Brompton Cemetery in 1880. Postcard.

 

 

While on the long search for metal planemaker John Smith, I came across Joseph Smith, author of “Key to the Various Manufactories of Sheffield.” a tool catalogue published in 1816.  Joseph Smith was the engraver of the catalogue, which was used by various salesmen to represent several Sheffield maker’s product lines to customers. The early catalogue is well worth a look.

 

I. Smith mitre plane bridge. Photo from internet source, circa 2010.

 

I. TREMAIN PLANEMAKER, BRIGHTON AND LONDON

I. Tremain mitre plane, heel.

I. Tremain was included in British Planemakers Since 1700 Vol. 3 by Goodman and Rees, and  BPM4.  In those volumes, a mark was recorded for this maker: “I. TREMAIN; BRIGHTON.”  No dates were given.  Presumably the stamp was on a wooden plane.

John George Tremain, baptism,2 June, 1805, St.Mary’s Church, Portsea.

 

 

John George Tremain was baptised on 2 June 1805, at Saint Mary’s Church, Portsea, Hampshire, and his parents were John Tremain (1775-1836) and Jane (Jenny) Gillard (1785-1863).

 

 

John was the eldest of at least 10 children of this couple.  Jenny Gillard and her family were from the Portsmouth area on the South coast of England, while John Tremain Sr. and his family were from London.  John and Jenny lived in Portsmouth until 1819, when the Tremain family moved to Mile End, Old Town, London.  John George likely moved with the family as he was only 14 at the time.

John Tremain Sr was a cabinetmaker, and almost all of his sons became cabinetmakers as well.  Plying that trade did not necessarily shelter John and his family from hardship, however.  The Tremains were recorded in the Bethnal Green Poor Law Removal and Settlement Records on 11 November, 1831:

John Tremain, age 55, in Bethnal Green Poor Law Removal and Settlement Records, 11 November, 1831.

 

Because John George, age 26, was no longer living with his parents in 1831, it was fairly likely that he had already left for planemaking work in Brighton.

 

 

 

 

By the time John George was an adult, and had finished his apprenticeship, John George moved back to the South coast, settling in Brighton. Most likely, John George set up shop as a planemaker in Brighton in the late 1820s.  On 2 October, 1835, John George Tremain married Sarah Best in Hove (Brighton) Sussex.  At the time of the 1841 U.K. Census, John and Sarah were living on Upper Edward Street in Brighton, and John George was working as a “Planemaker.”

John Tremain, “Planemaker,” Upper Edward St., Brighton, 1841.U.K. Census.

Sarah Tremain, and Charlotte Carew (niece), Upper Edward St., Brighton, 1841.U.K. Census.

 

 

 

 

John Tremain, “Planemaker,” Upper Edward St., Brighton, 1842 Electoral Register.

 

For the years 1840, 1841, and 1842, John Tremain was listed on Upper Edward Street in Brighton in the Electoral Register.

The Chain Pier, in Brighton, England, 1845. R. H. Nibbs, printed by C. Moody, 25 High Holborn circa 1845.

 

 

Edward Street was a couple blocks from the ocean, running parallel to the shoreline. 1888 Brighton Ordnance Survey.

 

 

 

I. Tremain mitre plane, in gunmetal.

 

 

This mitre plane was owned by John George’s brother, Frederick Tremain (1828-1908).  Frederick was a cabinetmaker for all of his working life.

Frederick Tremain, cabinetmaker, London.

 

 

 

 

 

Frederick Tremain, cabinetmaker, married Fannie (Francis) Doy, on 23 December, 1854 at Christ Church, Middlesex, London.

 

 

 

John Tremain Sr., deceased, had been a “cabinetmaker.”

 

Frederick Tremain, Cabinetmaker, 9 Hall St., Mile End, Old Town. 1901 U.K. Census.

 

I. Tremain mitre plane, front infill, with F. (Frederick) Tremain stamp.

 

 

Max Ott (1926-2009) also possessed this plane, and that is a good detail to spot at auction. He had impeccable taste.

William Ash iron, early.  Tremain mitre plane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometime before 1851, Edward, Sarah and Charlotte left Brighton, and moved to Kentish Town (Saint Pancras), London.  John George made a career switch from planemaking to pianomaking and started work at Collard & Collard Piano Company.

Collard & Collard grand piano, circa 1864.

It is unknown whether or not John George Tremain continued to make planes while in London, but if this mitre was created new for Frederick, he would have finished his apprenticeship around 1850.   The plane could have been made from as early as the late 1820s and as late as 1850.  The features of the mitre plane, and the one line stamp of William Ash on the iron suggest earlier manufacture.

I suspect that John George kept this mitre plane for his own use at Collard & Collard, and when he passed away in 1882, the plane went to Frederick, who continued to work right up to 1908.

 

John Tremain, “Pianoforte Case Maker,” 3 Upper Hartland Rd., Kentish Town. 1861 U.K. Census.

John Tremain, “Pianoforte Case Maker,” 12 George St., Saint Pancras, 1851 U.K. Census.

 

 

 

 

Collard & Collard piano factory, rebuilt 1852, 12 Oval Rd., Camden Town.

 

John George Tremain likely started working on pianos in the newly constructed Collard & Collard Piano Factory at 12 Oval Road, Kentish Town (Camden Town) only to see it burn down less than one year after it was built.

The windows were typically large and numerous, in order to take advantage of as much natural lighting as possible.

 

 

Oval Road, Kentish Town. 1893 London Ordnance Survey.

Collard & Collard is the circular building at the corner of Oval Road and Gloucester Crescent.

The other buildings, marked “Pianoforte Manufactory,” were also part of Collard and Collard.  They were used for timber and veneer storage, wood turning, glue boiling, fret cutting, key weigh-off, and stringing.

 

“Camden Town established itself as a major piano manufacturing centre in the nineteenth century, drawing industry away from Fitzrovia, because of the ease of transporting timber by canal, rail and road. It was said that every street in north London contained a piano works, and in many parts of Camden this was literally true. Between 1870 and 1914 Camden was the centre of the world’s manufacture of pianos which were sent around the globe. There were around one hundred in total. None now remain, although Heckscher & Company – which only in recent months moved out of 75 Bayham Street in Camden – has been supplying piano parts since 1883 and still does.

The most magnificent piano warehouse is to be seen at 12 Oval Road. It is the circular building constructed for Collard & Collard in 1852. This building replaced a similarly shaped one, which was destroyed by fire a year after it was built.

With fifty-two bays, it was built around a central open well, to allow pianos to be hoisted from floor to floor during manufacture. The lowest floor was used for drying, the next for upright pianos, the second floor for cleaning, the third for polishing the cases and those above for ‘belly’ manufacture and finishing off. Collard & Collard were the oldest of the piano manufacturing firms of the St Pancras area, having patented a form of upright ‘square’ piano in 1811. Today their former manufactory houses offices.”

From “Curious Kentish Town” (Five Leaves Publications, £9.95) by Martin Plaut and Andrew Whitehead.

John Tremain, “Pianoforte Case Maker,” 14 Lewis St., Kentish Town., 1871.U.K. Census.

John George Tremain, Hawley Rd., Kentish Town, 1880 Electoral Register.

 

 

 

Kentish town street locations for J. Tremain: Hartland Rd (formerly Upper Hartland Rd), 1861; Lewis St., 1871; Hawley Rd., 1880.  London 1893 Ordnance Survey.

John and Sarah did not move from their familiar neighborhood in Kentish town from at least 1861 until they left London in 1881.

The round building in the upper right was the Rotunda Organ Works, built 1866, where Henry Willis and his artisans made organs, including “The Voice of Jupiter”  for the Royal Albert Hall.

 

 

John Tremain, “Pensioner of Collard & Collard, Pianoforte Makers, 55 Albert St., Portsea Island. 1881 U.K. Census.

Shortly before the time of the 1881 U.K. census, John George and Sarah moved to Portsea Island, close to their respective birthplaces, Hants, Portsea, and Arundel, Sussex.

 

John George Tremain, 77, died 1 April 1882, on Portsea Island.

 

In order to be eligible as a pensioner, John George Tremain must have worked a long time for Collard & Collard–most likely he worked there for his entire stay in London, 1851 to 1880.

 

The Common Hard, 1834, with The Victory in harbour.

 

Portsea Island was called The Common until 1792.  The area was full of crime, and there was much disease as well, especially cholera.  Portsea’s economy was dependent on the British Navy, and went through boom and bust cycles, depending on whether it was wartime or not.  Especially war with France.  Regardless of John George and Sarah’s decision to move to Portsea near the end of their lives, they were probably (marginally) better off for living in Kentish Town all of those years.

 

 

UNMARKED MITRE PLANES

Gunmetal mitre plane.

2 9/16″ iron by George Wilkinson, of Birmingham.

Large English gunmetal mitre plane, with 15 dovetails and one tenon, circa 1830. Towards the mid 19th century, mitre planes in England trended larger, and this mitre, featuring a 2 9/16″ Wilkinson tapered iron, is an example. Most of the larger mitre planes in this 1840-1860 period were cast iron, however.  Many early mitre planes were unmarked, some of them were one-off amateur efforts, and others were done professionally within the trade at a high level of craftsmanship.  While I generally prefer marked tools, this one caught my eye.  The ogee arch on the bridge, was a design developed in ancient Persian and Moroccan architecture.  In the Gothic Period, around the 14th and 15th centuries, the ogee arch spread to the British Isles.  Quite popular in architecture, the full ogee arch never caught on in Western tool making, as compared to the ogee moulding.  Full ogee arches can be seen in the 1865 photo of Kensington High Street in the section on John Smith.

Mitre plane in gunmetal, early English, with Iohn Green Sheffield iron.

The gunmetal body of this mitre plane is dark, and has never been polished.  The bridge has a cupid’s bow on the top, while most mitre planes place the cupid’s bow at the bottom.  There is an “X” signature engraved into the bridge, probably done by an illiterate owner.  Many early wills and other documents were signed with a similar “X.”  This example has some similarities with no. 866 in “Antique Woodworking Tools,” by David Russell.  Similar features include the bridge, front infill, and front flange.

Iohn Green iron, round top, Cast Steel, in unmarked gunmetal mitre plane.

David Russell’s no. 866 was an iron bodied mitre plane with beech infill, however.

The gunmetal sides of this plane are unusually hard and do not scratch or mar at all.  It is interesting to observe the wide range of densities of various copper based alloys.

The early Green iron features a fleur de lis logo.  The entire inscription could have been made with as many as 4 different stamps.

 

Three gunmetal mitre planes, showing heels.

 

The large mitre plane in the middle still shows file marks at the bend which probably occurred while making it.

 

 

 

EARLY LISTINGS FOR LONDON PLANEMAKERS

Pigot’s London City Directory for Tool makers. 1826.

Pigot’s London City Directory for Planemakers, 1826.

Pigot’s London City Directory for Planemakers, 1839.