General Metalware and Holloware

Henry Fearncombe & Co Ltd

Henry Fearncombe 
(1791 - 1856)

We have a good deal of personal information about Henry Fearncombe, thanks to the extensive and excellent research of Lauren Brockman. Lauren is a great-great-great-grandniece of Henry Fearncombe and now lives in Atlanta, Georgia. The following information about Henry comes from her work.  You can find all her work on the Fearncombe family here and you can email Lauren here.

Henry Fearncombe was born on 13th January 1791 and baptised the same day at St. Mary Magdalene’s Church, Taunton. Henry’s father married twice. Henry was the son of his first wife, Elizabeth. His full-blood brothers and sisters were Susan, Elizabeth, Samuel and Sarah. His father’s second marriage was to Mary and Henry’s half-brothers were John and James.

In 1824 Henry married Mary Graetely, who had been married before, possibly twice.

At some time Henry moved to Wolverhampton. Why and when he did so, and how he got his start in the japanning business, is not known. Jones says that "he came originally from London". Clearly this is wrong but perhaps there is a possibility that he was in London after leaving Taunton and before coming to Wolverhampton. He is recorded here, in a trade directory of 1828/29, as being at 105 Walsall Street and as being a japanner and tin plate worker. Jones also says that "at one time he was a journeyman tinman at the Old Hall". Of course, very many people worked there and this statement has more chance of being accurate than Jones’ one about Fearncombe’s origins. It does not tell us where he was apprenticed but it does suggest that his background was in the metal working rather than the japanning side.

This page is illustrated with engravings from the Art Journal catalogue of the Great Exhibition of 1851.  The Art Journal illustrated only what it thought best designed.  This includes four "coal-boxes, to use the only term that seems applicable to their purpose, although it is inappropriate, when the form of these objects is regarded".  

Jones describes him as "a jolly-looking, stout man, with strongly marked features". Jones also says that he was "a first class workman. This practical knowledge was an advantage to him in his early struggles". This does not necessarily mean that his early struggles were any more difficult than those of any young man trying to make his way. Also "He was known as a keen buyer and an active pushing commercial man; his enterprise and industry placed him in the front rank".

The Art Journal says that the shape of the coal box above "assimilates to that of a tureen, is ornamented in the Italian style, and is worthy of being imitated in silver."  Of the coal boxes, left and below, it says they "are of the form of vases; both are very elegantly designed, especially in their pedestals".

They are all by Henry Loveridge, at a time when he was in sole charge of the firm.  All the boxes are designed by Mr. F. Wright but it is not known if he was an employee of Fearncombes' or an independent designer.

Henry is recorded as being an active Congregationalist and to have donated largely to the building of the Snow Hill Congregational chapel. He also became a town councillor and died in office. Jones says that "like other japan masters he was a liberal in politics".

Henry and Mary had no children of their own but Henry’s will shows the close relationship he had with members of his own and his wife’s families. Apart from a number of legacies, he left his estate, including the business, to "Ann Dalton, otherwise Ann McMann, the daughter of my late wife by her second husband or reputed husband McMann [who] now resides with me"; and to "my nephew, John Oaten, now in my employ".  John Oaten was the son of his sister, Susan.

This is the second coal vase referred to by the Art Journal.   With a great increase in the number of coal fires, there was considerable interest in designing a container for coal which was fit to be seen in the drawing room. 

These items are Henry Fearncombe's response and they seem to be early, and successful examples of the genre. 

The individual legacies also record that Margaret Fearncombe, the widow of his late brother, Samuel, was also residing with him, as was her daughter Elisabeth. Samuel had been in the Somerset Light Infantry and, after seventeen years with them in India, was drowned in the Ganges. Margaret came back to England where, as Lauren Brockman (her great-great-great granddaughter) put it: "Henry generously offered to take in this widowed and orphaned family ... and Henry was to Elizabeth the father she no longer had and Elizabeth was to him the daughter he never had". Henry’s will also shows a largeness of family spirit as he left respectable legacies to all his nieces and nephews, his surviving brothers and sister of the whole and half blood, as well as to his stepmother, his cousins and even to the children of his wife’s first marriage. Indeed he must have been on close terms with his step-children as he appointed one of them as an executor of his will.

Henry’s wife, Mary, had died, of breast cancer, on the 1st September, at Dudley Road. As Henry’s business premises were on Dudley Road they either lived on the premises (which would have been usual at the time) or near by.

The last coal box the Art Journal illustrated "represents a nautilus shell, set upon a piece of coral rock; the handle of the lid represents a sea-horse.

The novelty and beauty of this design must challenge approbation; indeed the entire set quite merits being devoted to a more honourable, though not more useful, purpose than that for which each is intended."

In Christies South Kensington sale catalogue of Fireplace Furniture and Light Fittings, 8th December 1999, this item appears.  It is described by Christies as: "A Victorian japanned iron coal box, probably by Fearncombe of Wolverhampton, after a design by F. Wright, mid 19th century".  This seems to Christies (and to us!) to be the coal box exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851. This lot was knocked down for £2,990.   

Photo copyright Christies Images Ltd., 2000, reproduced here by their kind permission.

Henry’s own death took place on 18th April 1856. The Wolverhampton Chronicle recorded it thus: "Deaths: April 18, very suddenly, at Admaston Spa, near Wellington, whither he had repaired for a short time for the benefit of his health, Mr. Henry Fearncombe, japanner, of this town. The deceased had been in business in the town about thirty years, and was latterly a member of the Town Council."

One gets a picture of Henry Fearncombe as a great hearted man. As a japanner he was not only successful in business, but committed not only to the trade but also to the art, being an exhibitor at industrial art exhibitions, notably the Great Exhibition of 1851. He was equally committed to all his extended family, to his church and to the public life of the town.

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