The Silver Mouse Trap

Founded 1690

Founded in 1690, the oldest jeweller in London, it has a remarkably interesting history.  During the life of the shop, it has known over ten different owners, many brothers, sons, and apprentices but a few times it was passed as an asset.

During its unbroken 330 years of trade, London has changed a lot, as has the jewellery industry itself. In this article we will try cover the more interesting points of our history. Click the names for more info.

Haldanby Langley: 1690 – 1730

Haldanby Langley opened the shop in 1690. He was one of six brothers and his own father was Sir William Langley. Two of his brothers held titles and it was up to him to create his own fortune. This was the first goldsmith, silversmith, jeweller in London and quite different from what we see in shops now. They focused heavily on silver serving trays, candle sticks, swords and storing goods for clients. The first gold smiths were also the first banks, they held money and goods for customers in their own safe.

Haldanby was a deeply religious man and in 1708 he married his wife Mary Pegg. She gave birth to two sons and the eldest Gilbert was intended to inherit the business. He was sent to the “Blackfriars”, the Franciscan monks to board, in France until age of 12, when his mother’s pleading finally brought him home. Her father and her were at cross purpose to his education and when she died in 1710, he took Gilbert and Thomas Gilpin as his apprentices.

Facts:

Burial ledger – Haldanby Langely – 2nd june 1728-
  • Father: William Langley Esquire (1645-1689)
  • Mother: Isabella Griffith (1650 – 1706)
  • Born: 1665 , London
  • Lived/employment: 1 Feb, st clement danes, middlesex, england
  • Married: Mary pegg, all hallows, Lombard st
  • Children: Gilbert, James
  • Died: 2 may 1728

Jewellery of the period: Georgian

The Langley’s ran the business through the start and middle of the Georgian period. England was run and controlled by four successive kings George I – IV. Jewellery of the time could be characterized by a sense of abundance while staying elegant. Gemstones became popular. As was acrostic jewellery that spelled out things in stone type, such as regard. Georgian morning rings, with human hair and death dates engraved inside still sell at a high price over 300 years later.

The business boomed in its time. The area of Lincolns Inn, as an inn of court, was filled with judges, barristers, the early aristocracy. Haldanby died on 2 May 1728 and left in his will (Below) over £500 and control of the shop to his first-born son Gilbert.

Will of Haldaby:

Gilbert Langley: 1730 – 1739

While the business was successful, and £500 was at the time a fortune. Gilbert was already vastly in debt, by reading his book one can see he was already living a life of excess and debauchery and using stolen funds (from the shop) to pay for it.Even at the age of 14 -15 he was stealing money and goods from the store to pay from woman and drink.

A lot is known about Gilbert’s life, but given the account is from himself one can question the reliability of the narration. That being true his account of his own life and failures cast him in a very poor light and he doesn’t seem to alter the facts to paint himself in a better light. His tale is one that high-light the life of many at the time.

Gilbert was a victim of his own flawed nature and access to wealth with no guidance One can easily imagine a life for him where he was as he appeared to London society, son of a well respected Goldsmith.

During this time, he wrote his own story, while in Maidstone jail for the crime of highway robbery. He later died on the ship the “Vernon” under a sentence of eight years transport. His death is unrecorded and one imagines the poor man was buried in a unmarked grave for criminals. His death recorded in the Old Bailey records of prisioner last words.

“Tom Barnes, Tom the Sailor, and I, after this, robbed a Pedlar at Blackheath-Fair of his Pack. For this Fact I was apprehended and try’d at Maidstone Assizes, where I received Sentence of Death, and was ordered for Execution, but just as I got into the Cart, I receiv’d a Pardon. There were two other Persons that received Reprieves with me, Gilbert Langley and Mr. Hill, who both died in their Passage to Virginia.” 1740

Facts:

  • Father: Haldanby Langley (1665-1728)
  • Mother: Mary Pegg
  • Born: 1710
  • Lived/employment: “life and adventures of gilbert Langley”
  • Married: unknown but did marry
  • Children: Gilbert, plus other son
  • Died: 1741, abroad “Vernon”

The book he wrote while in Maidstone can be purchase as a hardcover via amazon, or is free here.

Thomas Gilpin: 1739 – 1777

Gilbert had deeply hurt the Langley name and stolen goods from customers (£20,000). The event to save the shop was the lowly apprentice. Thomas Gilpin who had been bought by Haldanby for £40 was now the executor. He kept the shop running and in 1739 ownership of it was transferred to him. Thomas Gilpin lived a quiet life, but he is credited as one of the masters of silver.

Gilpin apprenticeship record

It is fair to say that his artwork, skill, and trustworthiness brought the business back to its previous standing in London. He died in 1780, having run the store for over 40 years and becoming a master of the Rocco style, his work is still for sale at Christies.

Rocco style

For sale, 300 years later.

“Renowned 18th century English silversmith Thomas Gilpin, regarded as one of the great Rococo silversmiths and a contemporary of Paul de Lamerie, created this highly important silver epergne. A lasting symbol of dining elegance and social status for over 300 years, the crafting of an epergne was considered to be the truest test of skill for a silversmith. The quality and workmanship of this grand example make it clear why the epergne was considered much more than a dining accessory, but rather a status symbol of influence and taste”

FACTS

  • Father: Robert gilpin
  • Mother: unknown
  • Born/christened: 25th sept 1692
  • Lived/employment: Goldsmith, apprentice to Haldanby
  • Married: Margaret Gilpin
  • Children: Richard
  • Died: 1779

It is unknown why Gilpin sold the busines to the Makepeace family. Instead of passing it to his son, Richard. I like to imagine it was because he loved the store and passed it on to the best people to run it well into the future.

The Makepeace Family: 1777 – 1837

The son of Thomas, Robert Makepeace (senior) ran the business with his partner Richard Carter. One can see from the UK Poll records at the time in 1768, Robert Makepeace senior is listed as a Goldsmith living in Serle St. Later in 1798 Poll he is listed, along with his son Robert junior. In this he

To be a Goldsmith one had to apprentice for many years. Make your mark in the book and be accepted by the correct trade guilds. The Makepeace family seemed strong in training the new generation and in their 60 years at the helm, 6 Makepeace fathers, sons, grandfathers and Cousins, worked in the busines.

In 1806 we can see that Robert Henry Makepeace was admitted entry to the Goldsmith guild, through the sponsorship of his father, when he retired 30 years later. The business was run by his son and his business partner, under the name “Makepeace and Walford,”

Jewellery of the period: Late Georgian

The UK, England, and London itself was still under the guidance and control of the man line of kings. In this time the Memento Mori tradition began to wane, but morning jewellery was extremely popular. For woman one could often see silver charm bracelets. Featuring miniature household items such as scissors, thimbles, tweezers, and for men jewelled buttons and shoe buckles became the height of fashion. Possibly one of the most quintessential of Georgian jewels was the suite or parure as it was known. Typically made in gold and often showcasing techniques such as repoussé and later cannetille work, they would be set with gems such as topaz, amethyst and aquamarine which were frequently foiled in the same manner as the paste jewels either to enhance their colour or just to add brightness.

Thomas Makepeace and George Walford Ensured the business had reclaimed anything it had lost in trust and prestige. Their name is well known today, and they supplied many good to the upper class, such as the Sibley family. One must imagine doing well in the world of jewellery, certainly at the time, reputation was especially important. One thing that occurred showed the firm in an exceptionally good light and gave them a lot of free promotion was the hidden horde discovery.

17th oct 1837, a tradesman digging in a backyard discovered a horde of coin. In a particularly good piece of free publicity, the crown employed the firm of Makepeace to verify its value.

Mr George Walford, of the firm of Makepeace and Walford of Serle Street, Lincoln’s-inn-fields, silversmiths, and jewellers, stated that he attended on behalf of the crown, for the purpose of examining the coins in question, which he had done, and found it to weigh 118 ounces, one pennyweight, and one grain, the value of it being £454 10s. 6d

This goes to show the firm and the business had been fully restored in reputation and standing by the steady hand of the Makepeace family.

Gilliam 1849 – 1912

By the time John Gilliam and his two sons took over running the business of the Silver Mouse Trap. 160 years had passed for the shop. Where the business had been the first jeweller in London, now it was one of many. With others focussing on different sub-sets of trade. Some became bankers, some focused-on jewellery, and some weapons. Any research into the people of the time has them listed as Goldsmith, Silver smiths and jewellers. They sold many items to the public and did not limit themselves to one field.

Because the shop was based in Lincolns Inn fields, it was next door to the Court house, the Inn of court and the early University of London. This informed the type of customer bought into the shop. While London jewellery was becoming more and more accessible. Gilliam still had very tight dealing with the upper class of London.

Jewellery of the period: Victorian

London was changing and jewellery tastes changed and became more accessible. This was during the reign of Queen Victoria and the growing industrial revolution in the UK. This meant more and more people could afford jewellery and sought to emulate the young queen who often wore jewels. At the time snakes we are a popular motif, as well as the ouroboros, the snake biting its own tail as a sign of eternal love.

At this time diamonds we are becoming cheaper and the jewellery industry became more mainstream. Much jewellery from the time is set in 15ct gold and often has a strong nature theme. Flowers, fauna, bird, insects, and animals feature heavily.

During his time John Gilliam was called to the Old Bailey as witness in a criminal case and we can see through his testimony is support of MRS. White, as an honest trader, what kind of business they did.

I am a jeweller, of 36, Serle Street, Lincoln’s Inn—I know Mrs. White—on 26th October I bought this bracelet (produced) of her for 100l.—a month afterwards I sold it to a private customer on credit for 160l., and since these proceedings I have got it back—on 29th October I bought a diamond brooch of Mrs. White for 200l. and sold it to Messrs. Field for 250l. on 22nd November—that is the brooch produced by Mr. Field.

Gilliam inherited a strong business but by a focus on the new field of printing, they made tens of price lists, which still survive today, one can see they focused on hiring silver plate and services to the wealthy. They also produced printed catalogues of antiques in stock, as early as 1907, which paints a vivid picture of the stock the shop carried at the time.

They manufactured and carried many items of antique silver “old Sheffield plate” and antique bijouterie. Such as items and sets for ladies, such as an empire ladies’ companion. George Gilliam ran the business until 1912 when he passed the reigns to the well-known jeweller, Woodhouse.

Woodhouse Family 1912 – 1980

In 1901 Albert Wallhauser was 27. In the UK census he has his job listed as silver and Goldsmith but then they are crossed out and shop assistant is written. In 1912 he took over the Silver Mouse trap with his son.

In 1916 like many people with clearly German names they changed it to the anglicised Woodhouse and the shop co-branded to A. Woodhouse and son. Once again, the world of jewellery was changing to the one we know. No longer was the business in silver plate, gold and even weapons. Now De beers diamonds had flooded the UK. Tiffany was well known. As were names like Boucheron, Cartier, Rolex and Patek.

Where the Mouse trap had been one jeweller shop in London. Now there we are hundreds and hundreds. Also, by this time the upper class of London was beginning to weaken and the middle-class growing. No longer did people need an 18-person silver service for dinner parties. Great houses like downtown abbey were no more and the world was changing fast.

Jewellery of the period: Art Nouveau, Edwardian, Art Deco

The Art Nouveau style was in part a backlash against the dominance of diamonds being heavily used and an emerging interest is Japanese design, social thinking, and design. A piece was more value for the skill in making it rather than the price of its component parts. In Art Nouveau diamonds have a rare appearance and much more likely were fewer common materials such as Moonstone, coral, Ivory, horn, and enamel. Common motifs at the time were beetles, insects, dragon flies and often winged female forms.

Edwardian, this short period was again a throwback to formality and highlighted the rise of Platinum in jewellery making. Designs and cuts that we not possible now were and setting that allowed the stone to take centre stage came forward.

Art Deco, for many people deco is linked strongly to the roaring twenties, live jazz, flapper girls and fashion. Deco was an all-embracing style and informed architecture, print, and jewellery. In 1922 the tomb of the pharaoh, Tutankhamun, was discovered and sparked an “Egyptian revival” which can be found in the jewellery of the time, featuring scrabs, sphinx and more.

During this exciting time of rapidly changing tastes and designs. Many brands themselves we are expanding and funding their own expansion. Brands like Rolex, tiffany, Kutchinsky, became well known and were sold in their won store and the growing second-hand market.

It is clear to the student of history, the History of the Oldest jewellery shop in London is also the history of jewellery itself. Any jewellery dealer across the world knows the different eras of jewellery. The Georgian period is named after a series of English kings, not French kings, or American ones. Little did Haldanby know when he was first planning to open his store in the actual field of Lincolns Inn, he was creating a business that would change and grow with London and be an ever-constant part of it.

Now 2020

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