John Brogden, Jeweller

Article by Kate Morris,

Created 20/09/2021

John Brogden, jeweller, served his apprenticeship under William Presant, silversmith, of Goswell Street under the auspices of the Goldsmiths Company. The indenture of 1787 shows him to be the son of John Brogden perukemaker of Whitecross Street. This John Brogden’s will proved 1789 shows that his wife Elizabeth was the widow of a Mr Presant and that she had a son, William, by him. There seems to be no baptismal record surviving for John Brogden jr, but his two brothers Thomas and Benjamin Heath were baptised at St Luke’s Finsbury in 1776 and 1778 respectively. Assuming an age of thirteen, which was typical, John Brogden would have been born in 1774.

In 1790 John Brogden jr’s apprenticeship was turned over to Thomas Blake, jeweller, of the Old Bailey, citizen and scrivener, suggesting difficulties in both the Brogden and Presant families. Whatever the interconnections between them, we do see later, in 1831, that two members of the Presant family were employed by Brogden, one as clerk and the other as workman. Brogden would have gained his freedom of the City of London, allowing him to trade, in 1794. His first mark was entered with the Goldsmith’s Company on 4th January 1796. He gave his address then as number 4 Ironmonger Row. Later that year he moved to an apartment in the house of Messrs Thomas and Evans, merchants at 16 Staining Lane, through whom he sold his work. The building also housed the furnituremakers John and James Guest’s wholesale japan warehouse. Brogden already had at least three workmen at that time.

Still in Staining Lane in 1799 Brogden gave evidence in a Court case unrelated to his own business identifying himself as at that address. However, in 1800 he married Elizabeth Brown and apparently moved soon after to a house in Bridgewater Square, a rather better and more salubrious address. On 25th January 1805, when he entered his second mark, he gave that address and the following year took the Livery in the Goldsmiths Company, so involving himself in public affairs, in 1816 being elected to the Common Council. The house in Bridgewater Square faced the enclosed space which had previously formed the gardens of the mansion of the Earls of Bridgewater. The square is still there as a public open space in the Barbican complex. The couple’s son John was born in 1803 and son James three years later, in 1806. James was baptised that year at St Giles Cripplegate.

Brogden built a two storey workshop in the walled yard behind the accommodation. This housed two shops with a privy and dusthouse on the ground floor and a counting house in the upper shop.

The business and Brogden himself were very successful and Brogden was serving a term as Prime Warden of the Goldsmiths Company in 1830, when, on the death of the King, George IV, the Jury of the Pix was called to regulate a new coinage.

However crime was rife in those days and such a business often a victim. Already in 1796, whilst still at Staining Lane, he brought a case against one of his men whom he believed had defrauded him of some gold by stretching the material to ten rings instead of the proposed nine. Despite the evidence of his good character from other jewellers for whom the man also worked, 56 year old Samuel Holemberg was found guilty and sentenced to seven years transportation. A few months later there was a happy outcome for the unfortunate man following the intervention of the Swedish consul on his behalf and he was granted a King’s pardon against a seven year surety to be lodged with the Recorder of London.

Apparently by then less cautious, in 1805 he was duped into purchasing some trinkets which proved to be part of a package of jewellery valued at £200 which had been stolen from the Shrewsbury coach some months earlier. In 1823 he was again caught out, when a John Holyland convinced him of his creditworthiness by referring to his earlier apprenticeship with a colleague, Thomas Mayfield. Brogden and others in the trade were persuaded to give him gold seals and watches, supposedly on approval for his brother, whom he claimed was keen to buy. Holyland was found guilty and sentenced to seven years transportation. He had stolen from Mayfield and been similarly sentenced in 1818. One has to assume that his sentence was commuted, or perhaps that he had found a way of either avoiding the transportation or returning from the Antipodes, for him to be committing crimes again in London after only five years! However, on the second occasion, we do see him recorded as arriving on the good ship Henry in New South Wales on 26th August 1823.

Brogden shared the Bridgewater Square workshops with another jeweller, Somerset born James William Garland, a man somewhat younger than Brogden. The partners employed up to twenty men at benches in the shops. They kept an iron safe in the counting house where the men kept the padlocked tin cans with their individual materials. A foreman and a clerk looked after the business, which was usually concluded at eight o’clock every evening. A boy, one of the learners, would collect the numbered cans, and they would be locked in the safe. Sometimes overhours were worked which would disrupt this pattern.

Brogden entered yet another mark in March 1820 just a year before his wife Elizabeth died, aged just 40, on June 3rd 1821. It was in that year that he was embroiled in a fracas which cost him dear. It was rumoured that some jewellers were making and selling mourning rings, a lucrative volume business, without the Hall stamp, thus avoiding the consequent fee. On hearing of the concern of the wardens of the Company about this practice, a group of jewellers, who had many such rings in their stock, met on 31st May, to discuss who might have brought this to the Company’s attention. One man called ‘Brogden’. A friend of Brogden’s queried what had been said and a John Stephens replied ‘Brogden’.

The following day, Brogden sent a note to Stephens requesting him to call on him. They were both creditors of a man recently declared bankrupt, so had a common interest. Stephens duly visited Brogden, but on entering the counting house, Brogden closed the door, drew a whip, and assaulted Stephens, causing wounds to his head. Brogden shouted " And so, Mr. Stephens, you called me an informer before 18 persons last night". Clearly Brogden was in no mood to be branded thus, but the outraged Stephens brought a case before the court and sued for damages. The £1000 award was a severe penalty for such a hasty reaction, which Brogden clearly regretted after the event. The award seemed unnecessarily punishing and his partner Garland penned a letter to the Morning Chronicle in his support and complaining that no evidence in Brogden’s defence had been called, despite the presence of witnesses to the event.

The detailed description we have of Brogden’s property is to be found in the record of the court case following the arrest of William Green, one of the men employed in the firm. In January 1831, Brogden accused Green of stealing 4 ozs of gold valued at £12, 9 tin boxes worth 9s and 2 padlocks at 10s but Green was acquitted of the alleged crime.

In 1824 Brogden had struck a formal contract with Garland extending the partnership for seven years. It is not clear why this was done, perhaps it was a simple renewal, but Brogden was apparently in poor health and two years later felt the need to stand down from his role as Common Councillor for the ward of Cripplegate Without. His decade long service in that role was recognised effusively at a Wardmote meeting on 1st December 1826. Business continued but in 1827 Brogden wrote his will. In 1829 he wrote a codicil detailing annuities to be paid to twenty relatives and colleagues to be paid from the proceeds of a life insurance policy he had taken out. On 24th March 1831 he felt the need to review and re-sign his will and make a duplicate copy of it, adding a further codicil in which he bequeathed a Wiltshire estate he had recently purchased to his recently graduated, and now only surviving, son, James and then a third document which replaced his now ex-partner Garland as his executor with his brother. On 20th August yet another codicil explained his situation in respect of the business. The capital he had invested in the business should no longer remain with the new partnership of Garland and Watherston as he perceived their future to be bright and so the business self-supporting. He felt his son James should benefit directly from an inheritance of unencumbered capital. This latter edict was pronounced on a visit to Margate, he apparently having withdrawn from the business and the document being witnessed by his coachman James Crouch, the landlady of his lodgings there, and a Mrs Sophia Perks.

On 23rd August, yet another codicil was added to the sequence requesting his son James and brother Thomas to purchase £500 stock on his death, the interest of which should be paid to this Mrs Perks half yearly, in recognition of the kindness and attention she had shown him especially during what he feared to be his final illness, with further instruction for the same interest to be paid to her daughter, Brogden knew as Matilda, on the death of Mrs Perks. Matilda should not be at liberty to sell, nor expect interference in the money from any future husband she may have, but on her death half the capital should go to his son, James and half to his brother Thomas.

On 31st December, apparently by then in Paris, a final codicil or memorandum of settlement was drawn up in which was explained the financial relationship existing between Brogden and Madame Perks. Property in the South of France owned by the lady and her late husband Col William Perks had been assigned to him as security for a sum of 10,000 francs plus interest as mortgage on the property. He confirmed that he had now received a sum of 13,000 francs to pay the mortgage and that, should he not repay this sum before his death, that his son would in honour do so, to whom is not exactly clear; perhaps this was the capital withdrawn from the business.

Having left this rather cryptic explanation of his relationship with Mrs Perks, on 3rd January Brogden succumbed to those final ailments, and died. He was fifty eight years old. Though his death occurred in Paris, his burial is recorded as St Giles Cripplegate apparently on the same date as his death, 3rd January 1832. Any memorial inscription might clarify these dates. His will was proved on the 10th February following.

The dissolution of his partnership with Garland had been confirmed as June 30th 1831 in the London Gazette, which seems to be the date Brogden left the business, perhaps withdrawing his capital shortly after, on setting off for France with Mrs Perks and her daughter. Garland continued the business, now in partnership with James Henderson Watherston, the son of Brogden’s sister Elizabeth, taking as apprentice the son of Brogden’s brother, Thomas, another John. As Garland retired, continuing alone as a jewellery wholesaler, from his address in Cross Street, Islington, this nephew John Brogden became a partner in the business, later working on his own account and becoming very well recorded for his designs throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century.

Brogden’s son James married ‘Matilda’ or Ernestine Matilda Sophia Perks at the house of the British Ambassador in Paris in August that year. Matilda was probably still only 17 years of age, but had her mother’s consent to the marriage. Her father had been brutally murdered in a mutiny of the troops he was leading in Central America on behalf of one faction aiming for control following the withdrawal of the Spanish authorities. Since Ernestine was born in Paris in 1815 or thereabouts, it seems likely Perks saw service following the battle of Waterloo, but no record of that seems to survive. James would later refer to his wife as the granddaughter of a Marquis, apparently with a heritage in the South of France. Brogden junior’s marriage in Paris coincided with the aftermath of the June Rebellion there, which, unsuccessfully, had sought to overthrow the liberal monarchy of Louis Philippe. Those were troubling times, which were witnessed by and would be made famous by Victor Hugo in his novel Les Miserables.