JOHN SYM PLANEMAKER
John Sym, a prolific producer of wooden planes, also made some of the first English metal mitre planes. John Sym apprenticed to David Lucas, a joiner, in 1753. He was admitted to the Freedom of Joiners’ Company, and took on his own apprentices, including James Higgs (1772), and John Davies (1784).
W. Simms must have been related to John Sym, with an alternative spelling of their surname. These surname spelling variations were common in the 18th century.
Tax assessments were made for John Sym throughout his entire working life, and he was universally levied the “poor rate” for all of them. These assessments ranged from 1762 to 1801. Almonry, Little Almonry, New Tothill street (a short two block street running perpendicular to Tothill St.), and Dean Street West, were given for Sym’s workshop.
“City and Liberty
in the County of
An Inquisition Indented, taken for our Sovereign Lord the
King at the Parish of Saint Margaret
within the Liberty of the Dean and Chapter of the Collegiate Church of St. Peter, Westminster ,
in the County of Middlesex , the Twenty fourth day of July in the Twenty second Year
of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord GEORGE the Third, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain,
France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, and so forth, before Thomas Prickard , Gentleman,
Coroner of our said Lord the King for the said City and Liberty, on View of the Body of
Edward Steele then and there lying dead, upon the Oath of John
Sym , William Denny , William Baldwin , Job Birch
John Gillcot , Hygh Payne Robert Bradfield George Livesay
William Brooks , Thomas Scott , Edward Taylor and
John Hayman good and lawful Men of the said Liberty, duly
chosen, who being then and there duly sworn and charged to enquire for our said Lord the
King, when, how, and by what Means the said Edward Steele came to
h is Death, do upon their Oath say, That the said Edward Steele on the
said Twenty fourth day of July in the Year aforesaid died
Suddenly in a Hackney Coach in Mill Bank Street in
the Parish of St. John the Evangelist within the Liberty
and County aforesaid, That no Marks of violence appeared
on the Body, and that the said Edward Steele departed this Life
in a natural Way, and not by any hurt or injury from
any Person to the Knowledge of the said Jurors
In Witness whereof as well the said Coroner
as the said John Sym Foreman of the said Jurors,
on the behalf of himself and the rest of his Fellows,
in their presence have to this Inquisition set their
Hands and Seals the Day Year and Place abovewritten,
Tho. Prickard [mark] Coroner
John Sym [mark] Foreman”
24th July, 1782.
John Ames took over John Sym’s planemaking business in 1800. Ames was born to John Ames Sr. and Elizabeth, on 2 September, 1776, and was baptised at St. James, Westminster, on 16 September, 1776.
|Roland AMES||LONDON (U.K.)|
|25 Tothill St., Westminster||1852|
“Son of planemaker John Ames. This business was the continuation of John Sym [starting in 1800]. The business was varied, as evidenced by the 1837 and 1842 P.O. directories which noted “Saw mills for Brush-Board, Cartridge Boxes etc.” at the Great Almonry premises and “Plane, saw and general tool manufacturer” at the Tothill St. address. In 1859 James Syme is recorded as being at 25 Tothill St.
It appears that the business of Joseph Sims was incorporated into the firm around 1834 and there are also a few planes with the additional mark of J. Davis. Both these firms were later acquired by A. Aitkin & Sons. Planes from this maker are common.” –From “British Planemakers from 1700,” by W. L. Goodman; 3rd Edition by Jane and Mark Rees.
Joseph Sims and James Syme were almost certainly related to John Sym, and their names were variations of spelling the surname. This practice was common for the period.
Speculation about the relatedness of these three planemakers. At this point, I am not ready to drill down and figure out how they were related exactly. But it does make me wonder if production of metal planes was continued after John Sym’s death in 1801.
James Syme did not produce large quantities of metal infill planes, but he was at the forefront of their development during the 1850s. Syme produced some of the earliest shoulder, chariot, and bullnose planes before that decade came to a close. A Syme bullnose plane in gunmetal (no. 830) is shown in “Antique Woodworking Tools,” by David R. Russell.
An 1853 assessment tax for James Syme at 25 Tothill St. gave him the “poor rate.” In 1869, another assessment was levied to Syme, 25 Tothill St., for “general, sewer, and special rates.”
Syme, having introduced the shoulder plane, brought this form to an elegant and refined state. Symmetry was a fundamental component of this elegance. Examples such as this plane served as inspiration for makers on the other side of the Atlantic, such as Joseph Popping in New York during the early 1870s. Gunmetal body and rosewood infill.
MOON MITRE PLANES
Thomas Moon (1763~1821), and later, son John Thomas Moon (Born 1 Mar 1791- died 12 Sept 1829) made planes and other tools from around 1795 to at least 1829. After John Thomas’ death, his wife Ann Moon, née Aldam (1794-1851) ran the retail operation located on 4 Little Queen St. from 1831 to her death in 1851. Along with John Moseley & Son, the Moon business was one of the few tool warehouses in London that presented their tools in a true retail setting.
By 1795 Thomas Moon set up his original shop here at no. 145. The Moon Tool Warehouse remained at 145 St. Martin’s Lane until the area was razed in 1830. Earlier, Thomas Chippendale & Son also had a shop on this street, no 60-62 from 1754 until 1813 (bankruptcy). Chippendale wrote the influential book, “The Gentleman and Cabinet-maker’s Director,” which was a collection of furniture designs in Gothic, Chinese, and Rococo styles as well as domestic pieces. It was published in 1754. Chances that Moon and Thomas Chippendale Jr. never met would be close to none.
John Thomas Moon, 28, traveled to Sheffield to marry Ann Aldam (born 14 March 1794) of Upperthorpe, Yorkshire, on 13 July 1819 (license procured 24 June). John Thomas brought Ann back to London with him. Ann and John Thomas had the following children: Henry, b. 10 June, 1820; Sarah, b. 19 Dec., 1821; George Washington, b., 15 June, 1823; Martha, b., 29 Dec., 1825; Charles, b., 15 Aug., 1827; John Thomas, b., 10 Feb., 1829.
William and Sarah Aldam, of Sheffield, Yorkshire, were Quakers.
Until 1821, the Moon business was listed in the London Directories under Thomas Moon. Thomas Moon may have been dead, or at least indisposed by early 1819. Because on 15 March 1819, John Thomas Moon, “Warehouseman, 145 St. Martin’s Lane” signed a fire insurance policy with the Sun Insurance Company (MS 11936/482/953224 London Metropolitan Archives). From 1822 through 1828, John T. Moon, or just John Moon was listed at 145 St. Martin’s Lane.
This was in a Quaker cemetery near Long Lane, Bermondsey St. in Southwark. John Thomas’ residence was on Holywell St, which used to run parallel to the Strand, a short walk from 145 St. Martin’s Lane.
Apparently, Ann Aldam Moon remained at Holywell St., and kept her home under John Thomas’ name. Ann passed away in early 1851, and John Thomas Jr. remained at 8 Holywell St. until 1858. In 1860, John Thomas Jr. was living at 36 Holywell St., and 1862 was his last listing that I have found to date–also 36 Holywell St. This could have been renumbering rather than a move.
Ann Aldam Moon maintained some ties with the Quakers even though the Moon family were members of the Anglican Church. John Thomas and Ann’s daughter, Martha, was born in the Westminster Quaker Meeting House on 29 December, 1825.
Widowed in 1829, with six children to raise, Ann Moon needed to continue the tool business to support her family. Ann’s youngest child, John Thomas Jr., was just six months old when his father died. For the 1831 through 1850 listings at 4 Little Queen Street, John Moon’s name was omitted from the London Directory listings and sometimes Ann Moon’s name was added.
Sometime before 1841, Ann hired Benjamin Huntsman, a young wooden planemaker and toolmaker. Benjamin continued to work for Ann until at least 1848, presumably making wooden planes and various other tools for the Moon Warehouse.
Some wooden planes with his mark read “HUNTSMAN LATE MOON 8 KING ST. HOLBORN.” This mark could have been made after Ann Moon died in early 1851, as Benjamin’s wife Mary was listed at 8 King Street from 1850 until 1863. From 1867 to 1876, Mary Huntsman’s tool business was listed at 16 Southampton Row.
Other contributions to Moon’s line of tool merchandise at 4 Little Queen St. could have come from their son Henry (born 10 June, 1820) after 1835. Expensive mitre planes may have been bought in and rebadged from Edward Cox, who was a close neighbor, at 26 Little Queen St. in the 1830s, and 15 Great Queen St. in the 1840s and early 1850s.
This Moon mitre plane is visually similar to a Towell mitre until one lines the Moon up next to some Towells to see that they do not match. It is not known who made the mitre planes from 1829 to 1851, even whether or not they were made in-house by employees or bought in. Moon mitres also featured a Cupid’s bow on the bridge, as did many English makers of wrought iron mitre planes in the early 19th century.
Number 878 in “Antique Woodworking Tools,” by David R. Russell. 10 1/8″ long, with a 2″ iron by James Cam, set at 23 degrees. Dovetailed body, and two piece sole joined by tongue and groove. Typical metal plane construction of the period. Looks like a former owner used a screwdriver on the wedge when adjusting the iron.
EDWARD COX PLANE AND LATHE MANUFACTURER
Edward Cox made some first rate planes, and he was an innovator: Cox was an early maker of lever caps. Additionally, Edward Cox experimented with eliminating the nut on cap irons and threading the cap iron itself, in order to clear the underside of the lever cap on his bevel down planes. Cox was was not a well known lathe maker. I contacted lathe expert Tony Griffiths in the U.K., regarding Cox, and he was not familiar with Cox lathes. A small number of Cox planes survive, and an even smaller number of pictures of them are available.
The gunmetal bridge, with its ‘oversized’ cupid’s bow, is remarkably similar to same on the 8″ Moon mitre shown earlier.
Edward Cox was born in Godmanchester, Huntingdonshire, on 11 June 1806 to Edward and Elizabeth Cox. Godmanchester is a small town about 17 miles northwest of Cambridge, U.K.
By 1833, Edward and his wife Sarah moved to London and Edward established his tool making business at 26 Little Queen St., just down the block from Ann Moon’s Tool Warehouse.
With a cupid’s bow bridge in iron, rather than gunmetal, I would estimate this example could have been made as early as the 1830s. The wedge is similar in shape to the 10 1/2″ inch long Moon mitre plane.
It is true that so many cupid’s bow bridges look similar, and while these two are not identical, they are both ‘undersized’ for their spaces in a like manner. It is also important to look at the entire construction of the plane to do a fair comparison. But there are really not enough examples of these two rare makers in order to establish clear attributes for each. Was there a Moon and Cox connection?
15 Great Queen St. was right around the corner from Ann Moon’s Tool Warehouse at 4 Little Queen St. Having been in the right place at the right time, Edward Cox may have been a supplier of mitre planes and other tools to the Moon tool warehouse. In several legal publication entries, Cox was described as a “chapman,” (i.e., cheap) which was an archaic English term for a merchant who bargains. Such a description was indicative of a willingness to sell his tool products wholesale to the trade. Indeed, the death of Ann Moon and loss of business from the closing of the Moon Tool Warehouse circa 1851, may have played a role in forcing the bankruptcy of Edward Cox in 1853.
“Improved planes” were likely the new models featuring a lever cap. Along with Holtzapffel, Cox was listed under “Lathe and Toolmakers,” in Kelly’s London Trade Directory for 1851.
With four employees and a notable address, Cox must have had a fairly high overhead. In subsequent years, 15 Great Queen St. was home to prominent lawyer, Charles S. Parker, the Arliss Printing Company, and the Masonic Depot.
1833 represented the year of establishment for the business. This is based on the numbers given for a multitude of listing entries.
After his bankruptcy in 1854, Edward Cox moved to Sheffield.
By the time Edward Cox arrived in Sheffield, with his recent bankruptcy, he was probably done with trying to run his own business. There were any number of factory shops that could have employed him as “Manager of machinery for Tool Maker (Plane Making).” Because of its proximity and prominence, I have pointed out the large “Spital Hill Works” of the Sorby edgetool making dynasty.
Brightside, Sheffield. Heavily industrial at the time.
At the end of his life, 20 years after leaving London, Cox still referred to himself as a London tool manufacturer in his daughter Matilda’s 1873 wedding announcement. Edward’s widow, Sarah, age 71, was buried next to him in Burngreave Cemetery (grave no. 3, sect. Y2), on 6 June, 1876.
GEORGE KERR MITRE PLANES
In “Antique Woodworking Tools,” published 2010, David Russell wrote that “very little is known about Kerr.”
Since Kerr’s planes were stamped without his first initial, not even that was known, which posed an obstacle to research. In 2015, one James Kerr was floated as the possible planemaker. In Goodman’s “British Planemakers,” 3rd edition, 1993, only four Kerr metal planes had been reported. Russell’s collection of Kerr planes included a dovetailed panel plane, a smooth plane, a rebate plane, and two thumb planes.
Williams London Trade Directory 1864. With this directory, a firm working location, date, and given name for George Kerr, planemaker has been established.
George Kerr did not live and work in isolation; he was influenced by his contemporaries, and he influenced makers who followed. Kerr’s early lever cap has an outline which is similar to that of Robert Towell, and his lever cap screw is octagonal, like that of Edward Cox. The original owner carved a crucifix into the front infill. It is part of the tool’s history.
By process of elimination, the maker of this thumb plane can also be attributed to George Kerr, although creation by an unknown craftsman cannot be ruled out. There were only a handful of makers who produced thumb planes, and only three makers used dovetailing rather than casting to build them. They would be Stewart Spiers, George Kerr, and very early Thomas Norris (Thumb plane No. 12). Of these, only Kerr made them with a separate heel plate, like the one shown here. Making this separate heel plate with the extra dovetails increased the amount of labor for each plane. On the thumb plane, the dovetails were practically invisible on the sides, and only apparent at the back, probably as a result of heel strikes. There are other shared similarities between these two planes: 1. unusually long rear flanges, 2. thin head on strike buttons (damaged original on thumb plane was thin also), 3. half round housing for lever cap/bridge fulcrum of similar diameters, and 4. sidewalls made of atypically thin (for the period) wrought iron.
George Ker (original spelling) was born to Andrew Ker and Jane Wright, in Aberdeen. Scotland, and was baptized at Saint Nicholas’ Church, Aberdeen, on 19 March, 1805.
A personal note: I was the frustrated underbidder on this Kerr mitre plane in the 2016 Wright Marshall Auction!
These two documents are in chronological conflict, but they may both be for our George Kerr. The City/Trade Directory staff did not always do a great job keeping up with the moves of their inhabitants. This 1827 Aberdeen listing could have been a carry-over from 1825 or early 1826. Since his second marriage was also celebrated at St. George, Hanover Square, and since Saint George, Hanover Square was the district ward for George Kerr in the 1841 U.K. census, it lends credibility to the likelihood that this was a valid document for George Kerr, metal planemaker.
Grace and George lived on Francis Street in 1831.
During the time of the 1841 census, George and a number of his younger siblings or cousins lived at Neat House Row, in the Millbank area of London. Neat House Gardens were a source of fresh cauliflowers, cabbage, artichokes, asparagus, beans, spinach and radishes for London in the 17th and 18th centuries. Fruit was also cultivated. With alluvial soil, a high water table, and plenty of manure, the land was very arable. By 1841, however, development was encroaching on this area, and market gardeners were force to move further from London.
The letter “S” represents place of birth: Scotland.
George Kerr’s father was Andrew which agreed with the baptism transcript.
Collard & Collard piano; the factory was located at 194-196 Tottenham Court Road, London at the time of researching for Tallis’ Street Views of London (1838-40). Pianos were previously called Clementi, for the former factory co-owner, famous pianist and composer, Muzio Clementi (1752-1832). Clementi sonatinas are still much used by piano teachers today.
Here is an example of Clementi’s later work:
Didone Abbandonata – Piano Sonata in G minor, Op. 50, No.3 was the last sonata published by Muzio Clementi in 1821. It was titled after Metastasio‘s often-set opera libretto of the same name, and Clementi sought to tell the tragic story of Virgil‘s heroine through the voice of the piano. Pianist Maria Tipo is one of the greatest performing artists of our time.
In the 1861 UK census, the Kerrs were still living in 24 Buckingham Place in Marylebone, and had a ten year old son, Frederick. George Kerr described his job as “Gunmetal manufacturer” in 1861.
Ten years later, in the 1871 census, George Kerr was an “Iron plane maker,” with assistance from his son Frederick.
Shown below are two Kerr rebate planes, and one Kerr panel plane, owned by collectors George Anderson and D. S. Orr.