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William Southwell (1768–1852), cabinet maker, Liverpool

The author’s investigation into the Southwell connections with the Liverpool area revealed the existence of a prosperous firm of cabinet makers in that city, established in the closing years of the 18th century, by one William Southwell who was joined by Jonathan Wilson at 12, Ranelagh-street. They remained in business together until 1810, when their partnership was dissolved. It is worthy of note that this William married a lady named Ellen Fazakerley in Liverpool in 1793 – the same surname as that of Nicholas Southwell’s1 wife, Martha, whose family have been confirmed as originating from this area.

The famous sculptor John Gibson was initially apprenticed to this firm, described as ‘wood carvers and cabinet makers’, before deciding that his interest lay in another medium and with some difficulty persuading his masters to allow him to transfer to Messrs. Francis [or Franceys], a Liverpool firm of sculptors.2

An exploration of this William’s parentage yielded intriguing results. The information for his place of birth given in the 1851 census (taken with other sources) enabled the author to trace his birth to Ormskirk, Lancashire (near to Liverpool) ca. 1768 where the baptism of a child named William is recorded in the neighbouring parish of Halsall to Mary and William Southall [sic] in 1768.

Further investigation revealed a marriage between a William Southwell and Mary Balshaw on 8 April 1765 in the church of St Peter and St Paul Ormskirk, a likely match to have been his parents. A witness at this ceremony was John Balshaw, a relative of the bride, whose sons are later recorded in Ormskirk as joiners in 1811.

This connection with the Liverpool area led the author to consider the possibility that this might have been an early marriage of our William Southwell (1736/7–1825). If, for example, he had completed an apprenticeship in cabinet making with one of the major London furniture makers, it would be entirely feasible that he might have been deployed as a journeyman to work on the interiors of stately homes in other parts of the kingdom. For example, the estate of Knowsley, home of Lord Derby lies very close to the parish of Halsall, as does Rufford Hall. However, we encounter immediate difficulties with this scenario, since four additional children of the marriage may be identified from the baptismal register of St Peter and St Paul, Ormskirk, these being Margaret (30 March 1766), Mary (17 April 1777), Charles Southwall [sic] (30 January 1774), and Henry, (8 December 1776). Since the birth year of William’s known son Francis in Dublin can be established as ca. 17743 and his older brother John must have been born even earlier, it is only if we allow the possibility that he may have maintained relationships on both sides of the Irish sea simultaneously during his early years in Dublin, either formally (but illegally) contracting a bigamous marriage or informally having a mistress in Dublin that this becomes tenable. Unlikely perhaps – however, given the evidence of William’s eye for the ladies, not to be discounted entirely. In the light of the cabinet making connection it seems more likely that the William who married Mary Balshaw may have been in some way (as yet undiscovered) related to our William.

As an aid for future research, the known history of this Liverpool branch of the Southwell family is presented in outline in the timeline below:
1768 Baptism of William Southall [sic], Halsall, near Ormkirk, Lancashire, 31 May 1768.
1793 Marriage of William Southwell (cabinet maker) and Ellen Fazakerley, 4 April 1793 at Holy Trinity Church, Liverpool.
1796 William Southwell began trading as a cabinet maker at 1, Coventry-street, Liverpool.4
1797 September 1797. Baptism of Mary, born 24 May 1779, daughter of William Southell [sic] and Ellen Fazakerley, of 49 Thomas-street, cabinet maker, at Christchurch, Hunter-street, Liverpool. The adjacent entry is for the baptism of William Southell, born 1 November 1794, son of the same parents. It seems this latter child must have later died young, since William and Ellen used the name William again for a son baptised in 1811.
1800 By 1800 this William Southwell had formed a partnership with ‘a man called Wilson’.5
1803 ‘Southel’ & Wilson, Liverpool, subscribed to Sheraton’s Cabinet Makers Directory.6
1804 A number of articles provide evidence that John Gibson (later to become a renowned sculptor) was apprenticed to Southwell and Wilson, cabinet makers, portrait and miniature painters in Liverpool.

After a year he moved into the carving branch of the business, involving the carvings with which the firm’s furniture was ornamented. After another year he became interested in working in marble and entreated his Masters to release him to another firm, Francis of Liverpool, who specialised in this business. When they refused he staged a strike, came to work each day but did no work. Eventually after an offer of £70 from the other firm his apprenticeship was transferred. Later he was to go to Rome and was trained by Canova.7
1806 In addition to their cabinet making activities the firm was also selling ‘carpets, printed furniture, papers and Feathers, as well as every other article in the Upholstery trade.’ They are also said to have maintained a timber yard at Great Charlotte Street, which was still in their possession in 1810.8

5 November 1806: Sarah Southell [sic] (date of birth recorded as 4 October 1806), daughter of William Southell and Ellen Fazakerley, was baptised at Bethesda Chapel, Duncan-street East, Liverpool.
1810 The partnership between William Southell [sic] and Jonathan Wilson was dissolved on 3 November 1810.9

The Dictionary of English Furniture cites addresses in Lime-street for William Southwell 1810–1813.
1811 3 August 1811: William Southell (date of birth 29 June 1811), son of William Southell and Ellen Fazakerley, was baptised at Bethesda Chapel, Duncan-street East, Liverpool.
1813 A notice of a dress shop opened by an E Johnstone and M Southell in Lime-street, near Ranlagh Place appeared in The Liverpool Mercury.10
1817 On 1 March 1817 a notice of the bankruptcy of William Southell [sic], Late of Liverpool, Cabinet-Maker, Dealer and Chapman, was announced in The London Gazette.11
1820 An advertisement in The Liverpool Mercury announced the re-opening of ‘The Misses Southwell’s School’ at No. 37, Brownlow-street.12
1825–33 William Southell was in business again at Rusholme Road, Manchester between 1825 and 1833, also at No. 27, Rusholme Road in 1825 and from 1829–33 at No. 42.13
1841 The 1841 census shows William and Ellen Southell living at Brook Street, Hulme, Manchester living with Mary Southell, governess aged 40. [Note: Ages in the 1841 census can be slightly misleading as they were permitted to be approximated to the nearest five years].

Pigots Directory for Manchester in this year shows Mary Southell [sic], Ladies School, 5, Worcester Terrace, Hulme.
1847 5 February 1847: The Liverpool Mercury announced: Jan, 28, at the house of her daughter, Mrs. Thomas Bostock of Montgomery, in her 84th year, Ellen, wife of Mr. Wm. Southwell, formerly of this town.14
1851 The 1851 census lists William Southwell, aged 84, born Ormskirk, Liverpool living in Montgomery, Wales at the house of Thomas Soley (71) and his wife Elizabeth Ann Soley (49), born Liverpool. His relationship to the Head of Household is erroneously given as ‘brother in law’ instead of ‘father in law’.
1852 A death notice placed in Manchester records the death of William Southwell: ‘On the 18th inst. At Montgomery, North Wales, aged 85 years, Mr William Southwell, formerly of Liverpool, and father to Mr. Wm. Southwell, of this town’.15

1 Brother of William Southwell (1736/7–1825), pianoforte inventor.
2 T Mathews, The Biography of John Gibson – Sculptor (Read Books, 2006), 8.
The Men of the time: or Sketches of living notables (Redfield, 1852), 227.
Gibson, John (1790–1866) Dictionary of National Biography 1885–1900, vol. 21.
3 Identified by Terry de Valera from Francis’ age given in a surviving fragment of the 1821 Dublin census; Terry de Valera, ‘Two Eighteenth Century Musical Instrument Makers’, Dublin Historical Record (1982/2), 36/41.
4 G Beard: Dictionary of English Furniture Makers (Leeds: 1986), 840. In some directory entries and other records his surname is given as ‘Southell’, which reflects the received pronunciation of the name ‘Suthell’ at this time [as, for example, in Southwark, which to this day is pronounced ‘Suthark’].
5 According to The Dictionary of English Furniture, 840, this lasted until 1813. However, see 1810 for evidence it was dissolved in that year.
6 Ibid p840.
7 See note 2.
8 Directory of English Furniture Makers.
9 The London Gazette (16424), 13 November 1810, 1813.
10 The Liverpool Mercury (125), 19 November 1813.
11 The London Gazette, 1 March 1817, 509.
12 The Liverpool Mercury (478), 4 August 1820.
13 The Dictionary of English Furniture Makers.
14 Though her baptismal record has not been located, further research has revealed that Mrs Thomas Bostock was formerly Elizabeth Ann Southwell, who went on to marry a Mr Soley by 1851, after being widowed. Her age is given as 59 in the 1861 census (therefore born 1802) and her place of birth as Liverpool. Her first husband, Thomas Bostock, died aged 32 and was buried in Rusholme, Manchester on 28 August 1850. (Manchester Burials and Deaths, Manchester Archives).
15 The Manchester Examiner and Times, 21 January 1852. From later genealogical records, the author has been able to identify the William Southwell who placed this advertisement as the William born in Liverpool in 1811 to William Southwell and Ellen Fazackerley.
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