This document flitted across my research radar nearly ten years ago, mentioned in a footnote in one of those superior books on the history of jewelery written by Diana Scarisbrick. She very kindly noted where the document was archived, and I was delighted to discover that it was held in an academic library in the greater Boston area, only a few miles from my home. However, due to a number of circumstances beyond my control, it was only recently that I finally had the opportunity to visit the special collections room of that library and view this fascinating piece of first-hand Regency history.
When George Fox worked at Rundell, Bridge and Rundell . . .
George Fox was born, in the year 1779, somewhere in Britain. Nothing more is known of his early life, his family, or even the region of Britain in which he was born. It is known that, in July of 1806, at the age of twenty-seven, he took a job with the firm of Rundell, Bridge and Rundell. Over time, he worked his way up to become superintendent of the shop and workrooms, which were located at No. 32, Ludgate Hill, for the duration of his employment there. Fox would continue in that important position with the firm until the partnership was dissolved, and the shop closed its doors, in March of 1843.
It seems that there were plans to continue the business with new partners, but those plans fell through, early in 1843. The result was that all the employees, including George Fox, found themselves out of a job, with very little warning, in the spring of 1843. Regardless of their years of service, they each received wages for only one quarter (three months) when the shop was closed. Fox was sixty-four years old when the firm of Rundell, Bridge and Rundell was dissolved. He had apparently made some provision for his retirement, but did not believe he had enough in savings to support himself though the remainder of his life. Therefore, he decided that he might be able to supplement his savings by writing a book about the famous firm for which he had worked. He began writing in 1843, and continued until just a few weeks before his death, in 1846. Sadly, Fox died before he had completed the revisions he was making to his book about the prestigious London goldsmiths and jewelers.
[Author’s Note: George Fox may have gotten the idea of writing a book to make some extra money from one of the sisters-in-law of Philip Rundell, the senior partner in the firm where he worked. Maria Rundell first published her book, A New System of Domestic Cookery: Formed Upon Principles of Economy; and Adapted to the Use of Private Families, in 1806, the same year that Fox joined Rundell, Bridge and Rundell. Mrs. Rundell’s book was a tremendous success when it was published, and it remained in print for decades, long after her death, in 1828.]
George Fox married at some point in his life and had a family. Apparently, someone in his family valued his manuscript after his death, enough to put it away in a safe place. For more than a century, the manuscript appears to have been handed down though the descendants of the Fox family. In the 1940s, one of George Fox’s great-granddaughters, Mrs. Lydia Burgess Brownson, donated his handwritten manuscript to the Baker Library of the Harvard Business School. The Baker Library was delighted to receive this donation and consider it one of the earliest company histories ever written. It must be noted that Fox’s work is not the typical type of company history which is written today. Rather, he essentially wrote a series of anecdotes about the workings of the firm which were not widely known to the general public. It was his intention that his tale be entertaining to the "Nobility, Gentry and the Public in general," in order to encourage the highest number of sales when the book was published.
George Fox’s manuscript runs to well over one hundred pages. It consists of more than fifty sheets of good quality, laid rag paper, the first few sheets about 9 1/2 x 15 inches in size. But most of the manuscript is actually comprised of sheets which were 19 by 15 inches and were folded down to 9 1/2 x 15 inches. The single sheets were folded in half, lengthwise, while the folded sheets were then folded in half again, also lengthwise, into the gutter. All the secondary folds were then smoothed flat again, in order to create two columns to all of the pages, which Fox could use as a guide as he wrote. The single and folded sheets are not bound together. Rather, they are simply stacked, in order, based on the numbers he wrote in the top left corner of each column.
Fox wrote the story of his time at Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, which he often abbreviated "RBR," by hand. Quill pens had been replaced by steel nibs more than a decade before he lost his job at RBR, so it is likely he used a steel-nibbed dip pen, considering the pattens of thick to thinner lines of dark ink which cover the pages. His cursive handwriting fills the left and then the right column on each page, before moving on to the top of the next column, on the next page. He writes in what amounts to a stream-of-consciousness style, setting down events as they came to him. His handwriting is rather thin and spidery, and is not always easy to read. However, it is worth the effort to do so, in order to learn about his years with Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, and his personal views of the partners for whom he worked for over thirty years.
Both of the senior partners, Philip Rundell and John Bridge, who ran the firm during the Regency, retired as very wealthy men and lived out their remaining years in comfort and financial security. Edmund Waller Rundell, one of Philip’s nephews, bought into the partnership in 1803, at which time the firm became Rundell, Bridge and Rundell. Edmund Rundell seems to have been regarded as a junior partner, who brought needed capital to the firm, but little expertise. He does not seem to have been as deeply involved with the running of the business and it does not appear that he was as well off financially when the firm was dissolved as had been the two principal partners. Though George Fox seems to have admired Rundell or Bridge for their great success, it seems clear that he felt he had the right to be thoroughly honest with regard to his former employers when he wrote of them in his book. Both senior partners were deceased by then, so he may well have supposed the truth would do them no harm. He does seem to have believed that they worked him rather hard, as he wrote that there was a need " . . . to slave in order to supply the Necessities of himself and his Family." However, it appears he may have reconsidered that statement, since that phrase was crossed out during the course of the revisions which Fox completed before his death.
Of the senior partner, Philip Rundell, Fox wrote:
Mr. Rundell was naturally of a violent disposition, very sly, cunning and capricious in the extreme and Avarice, Covetousness, and meanness were so deeply rooted in him that it affected every feature of his face and entered into every action of his life.
George Fox’s view of John Bridge, the other principal partner in the firm, was hardly more flattering:
Mr. Bridge was . . . quite a different man. He was naturally of a timid, quiet disposition and he had Philosophically learned to keep down any violent tempers he might have had and he would bear any insult or brook any imposition rather than he would contest against his more violent partner, and this he did not more from the love of peace and quietness than from a strong desire to carry on the business in such a manner as eventually to produce for him the large fortune which he, in the process of time, obtained.
According to George Fox, there was a fairly clear division of labor between the two principal partners. Philip Rundell was responsible for buying most of the stock which was used to make the items sold in the shop. He was a hard-headed businessman, a tenacious negotiator and an excellent judge of fine jewels. It was he who had purchased many of the jewels which had been brought to England by French émigrés fleeing the horrors of the French Revolution, at the end of the eighteenth century. By the time that source had mostly played out, Rundell had developed other sources for the precious and semi-precious stones which were essential to his business. Several dealers in fine gemstones made it a habit to show their wares to Philip Rundell first. Though he would haggle until he got the price down as low as possible, most of the gem and precious metal dealers preferred to sell to him, since he always paid in ready money, "cash on the spot." Though some of the other London jewellers might offer better prices, they would often take their time to pay, pay by dubious bank drafts, or not pay at all. Though Philip Rundell was a tough negotiator, he also knew and appreciated truly fine gemstones. In addition, he paid immediately, in cash, for any gems or precious metals which he purchased for the shop. Therefore, most of the top dealers preferred to do business with him.
By the Regency, Rundell, Bridge and Rundell had begun to import a large number of diamonds from India. However, it seems they preferred to cut and polish the stones themselves, rather than leaving the work to Indian craftsmen. Fox explained that when the rough stones came from the mines, the Indian diamond merchants carefully sorted and weighed them. A few of the smaller stones were packaged together, tightly wrapped up in cotton cloth which was rolled into a parcel which looked like a large ball which was tied at the center with string or twine. Though the bundles might vary in size, each merchant would apply their seal to the middle of the cord around each of their parcels. Fox also noted that any stone which weighed more than four grains, or about one and a third carats, would packaged separately, to ensure it arrived with no damage. These cotton parcels containing rough Indian diamonds would be opened in shop of Rundell, Bridge and Rundell once they arrived in Britain and were delivered to the firm. They would be inventoried and checked against their respective shipping manifests before they were again sorted by size and quality, in preparation for the process of cutting and polishing in the workrooms.
Philip Rundell was what, today, we would call a workaholic. According to Fox, Rundell arrived at the shop by eight o’clock each morning and remained there most days until nine o’clock at night, or sometimes, even later. He worked those same hours just about everyday, even Sundays, and expected his staff to do the same. Rundell was not a religious man, and Fox wrote of him:
Mr. Rundell was so great a slave to business and had so little regard for God that he generally forgot it was the Lord’s Day and not only attended to the affairs of business himself but compelled most of his people to do the same and would generally keep them fully employed till 2 o’clock each Sunday.
When he was not negotiating with dealers in gems and precious metals, Philip Rundell spent most of the remainder of his time handling the accounts or moving through the workrooms, stopping here and there to oversee the work being done by his craftsmen. In his youth, he had been apprenticed to a jeweller in Bath, before he came to London. When he arrived in the metropolis, he took a job in the shop of a Mr. Pickett. Upon Pickett’s retirement, Philip Rundell bought him out, thereby acquiring the firm which became Rundell, Bridge and Rundell. Therefore, he was well able to oversee and supervise the work of the jewellers and goldsmiths he employed in order to ensure they produced the best quality work. Rundell preferred employees who worked as hard as he did. According to Fox, Rundell often said, "We want no Fops or Gentlemen here, what we want is plain jog trot Men of business."
Despite the fact that he was running a business which catered to the higher echelons of society, it seems that Mr. Rundell was very serious in not wanting any "Fops or Gentlemen" in his business. He was usually quite disheveled in his own appearance, even while he was working in the shop. Fox tells us that:
Mr. Rundell was generally a great sloven himself and might mostly be seen in his shop til after the middle of the day with his shoes down at heel, the knees of his breeches unbuttoned, his hands and face unwashed and his hair matted with Pomatum.
Though he worked very hard, perhaps because of his "violent disposition" and foul temper, or, more likely because he was so slovenly in his dress, George Fox reports that Philip Rundell generally disliked having to wait on customers in the shop. Though the reason is not clear, he particularly disliked dealing with ladies. Rundell was slightly deaf, though he could hear well enough when it suited him. However, he would often pretend to magnify his disability as an excuse to ignore customers outright, pass them off to another clerk, or cause them to become so frustrated with him that they would seek out another clerk to help them.
Of course, Philip Rundell’s lack of interest in the customers who actually came into his shop may also be due to the fact that the majority of those customers were not the firm’s most affluent or acquisitive clients. The street named Ludgate Hill, along the north side of which the shop and workrooms of Rundell, Bridge and Rundell were situated, ran east and west, north of the Thames, past St. Paul’s Cathedral and into the City of London. It was a bustling commercial area, located quite some distance east of the well-to-do neighborhood of Mayfair and the more exclusive and upscale shops which were to be found along Bond Street. As had been the case since the last decades of the eighteenth century, affluent clients who wished to purchase items from Rundell, Bridge and Rundell had no need to make the effort to travel across the city to the shop at No. 32, Ludgate Hill. Rather, Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, in the person of Mr. John Bridge, was very happy to come to them.
As it happened, John Bridge had been apprenticed to the same jeweller in Bath who trained Philip Rundell. When he came to London, he also took a job with Mr. Pickett, who owned the shop in which Rundell was already working. When Rundell bought out Pickett, John Bridge worked for him for a time. When Rundell needed additional capital to expand the business, Bridge borrowed some money from a cousin who was a prosperous farmer. With that money, he bought into a full partnership with Rundell. In addition to more funds, Bridge brought something even more valuable to the firm. His cousin, the farmer, was acquainted with King George III through their mutual interest in agriculture. Once he learned about Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, the King began to patronize the firm frequently, thereby bringing the jewellers to the attention of the nobility and the gentry as well. It was not long before the firm was awarded the King’s Warrant. According to George Fox, it was from this time that the firm became steadily and increasingly prosperous.
Considering Philip Rundell’s less than pleasant disposition, John Bridge may well have been quite pleased to carry on the bulk of his share of the business outside of the shop and away from his partner. Bridge’s personality was essentially the opposite of that of Rundell. He seems to have liked people, understood them, and knew how to treat them in the way most calculated to result in a sale of his fine wares. George Fox wrote of John Bridge:
. . . he was a complete Courtier and was highly respected both in the Palaces of Princes, and the Halls of Servants, for his deep humility in the former and his great condescension in the latter. He well knew it was of great importance to him to stand well with the servants in a great House and he had learned (as he often expressed it) that the nearest way to My Lady’s Boudoir was down the few steps through the Servant’s Hall and from thence to the Housekeeper’s Room and so upstairs to My Lady.
As a trained jeweler, Bridge was fully capable of understanding his clients’ needs and was able to work with them in order to design and create the pieces they wanted. By the Regency, he had cultivated relationships with most of the wealthy clients of Rundell, Bridge and Rundell. During the Season, when most of affluent Society was in London, Bridge developed a schedule by which he made the rounds of the homes of the firm’s best clients on a regular basis. Though a large majority of his clients were ladies, there were also a number of gentlemen who made regular purchases. At the gentleman’s preference, Bridge might also meet with them at another location outside their home, such as a coffee house, or even the man’s club, if the purchase was to be a surprise for the lady who shared his home. John Bridge was so successful in his efforts as the outside "contact man," that Rundell, Bridge and Rundell had all of the orders they could handle throughout the Regency period.
Due primarily to the early patronage of King George III, by the Regency, Rundell, Bridge and Rundell held the King’s Warrant and was considered the premier jeweler in Britain. There was so much demand for their products that they set up a manufactory in Greenwich where some of their best craftsmen had more space in which to work on the larger pieces which were commissioned from them. It appears that most of the work done in the Greenwich manufactory was plate, that is, bowls, cups, plates, tankards and other service items, usually executed in silver, silver-gilt, or, even occasionally, gold. The largest of these pieces was created after the Regency, an enormous ornate silver-gilt wine cooler which was made as part of the Grand Service for Carlton House. This huge silver-gilt dining service was commissioned by King George IV, for use at the sumptuous and extravagant banquets he liked to host. This wine cooler, which Queen Victoria eventually had converted into a giant punch bowl, is believed to be the largest single object of wrought English plate which has ever been produced. It took over two years to make, it weighs over 500 pounds and originally cost £8500. The story is told that two men could sit comfortably inside it. This huge piece is still extant and is still part of the British Royal Collection.
Though the plate and other large objects were usually made in the manufactory in Greenwich, most of the smaller items produced by Rundell, Bridge and Rundell were generally made in the workrooms at the Ludgate Hill premises. In particular, items such as jewelery, snuff and comfit boxes, as well as any other elegant trinkets which were set with precious or semi-precious gems, were made in the workrooms on Ludgate Hill. One of their most important group of clients was the diplomatic corps, who routinely ordered elegant gem-studded snuff boxes as gifts for fellow diplomats. Another important group of clients were army and navy officers, who ordered various presentation pieces for fellow officers or for their regiments. The orders from both of these groups substantially increased during the years 1814 and 1815. Between the Peace Celebrations in the summer of 1814, and the celebrations following the victory at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, Rundell, Bridge and Rundell had more orders for diplomatic gifts and presentation pieces than they could handle.
In addition to making a number of fine plate items for the celebrations of 1814 and 1815, Rundell, Bridge and Rundell also made a tidy profit by loaning much of the plate needed for the more prominent celebrations. In particular, they loaned the plate used at the two largest celebratory dinners held in Britain, at Oxford University and at the Guildhall, in London. George Fox was in attendance at both dinners, as he had been charged with ensuring the delivery, the set up and the safe return of the plate lent by Rundell, Bridge and Rundell at both dinners. Oxford paid £600 for the loan of the plate they used, while the charge for the plate used at the Guildhall dinner was £1200. At the Guildhall dinner, Fox took pity on the very busy Earl of Yarmouth, who was serving that night as the Prince Regent’s Lord in Waiting, and provided him with a quick snack of cold turtle soup and a glass of East India Madeira. As might be expected, Fox was quite taken by the many fine jewels which were worn by those in attendance. Of the dinner at the Guildhall, he wrote:
The whole Building was so well illumined that it appeared a complete blaze of continuous light, and heightened the Magic effect of the splendid dresses of the Male and Female Guests who had on this occasion decked themselves with such a profusion of Diamonds and other superb jewels as to be quite beyond the power of description. The ladies were almost dazzling to behold whilst the Flashing of diamond Stars Garters Epaulettes on the Gentlemen quite overpowered the senses of every one who beheld them.
After the dinner, the ornate plate was left on display in the Guildhall for three days, while crowds of the public flocked through to view it. It appears that George Fox was also responsible for managing this display and ensuring the security of the valuable plate owned by Rundell, Bridge and Rundell while it was on exhibit, until it was returned safely to the firm.
Several columns in Fox’s manuscript were devoted to the story of the great Pigot Diamond, at the time, the largest diamond known in Europe. In order to share the enormous cost, Rundell and Bridge, in partnership with Mr. Parker, of the firm Parker and Birketts, bought the Pigot Diamond at auction, through Christie’s, in 1802. Since it was the largest and therefore, the most expensive diamond in Europe, there were few buyers for the famous stone. In 1804, Rundell, Bridge and Parker, decided to offer the diamond to Napoleon Bonaparte, who had recently made himself Emperor of France. The new emperor was believed to have unlimited funds and a fondness for diamonds. The diamond was smuggled into France, since there was still a blockade against the import of British goods, and an agent for the partnership offered it to Bonaparte. It is believed that Napoleon knew the diamond had come from England, a country with which he was still at war, and he refused to purchase it.
Unfortunately for the owners, it was not possible to get the Pigot Diamond out of France and back to Britain. In 1814, after Napoleon’s first abdication, Edmund Rundell was sent to France to retrieve the Pigot Diamond. However, there were others who claimed a share or that they owned the diamond outright, and Edmund had to file a lawsuit in order to recover the diamond. Unfortunately, the lawsuit had not made it through the courts when Napoleon escaped from Elba in February of 1815, and the suit was never adjudicated. Edmund was forced to return to Britain without it. The stone remained in France until after the final fall of Napoleon, at the Battle of Waterloo. Finally,when the governmental and legal situation in France had stabilized, in 1816, Rundell, Bridge and Parker filed another lawsuit in France and were finally able to recover the diamond. Parker had lost patience with the investment and wanted to have the diamond cut up in order to recover at least some of his money. To avoid that, Rundell and Bridge bought him out, hoping to find a buyer who would keep the great stone intact. The Pigot Diamond remained in the inventory of Rundell, Bridge and Rundell through the rest of the Regency. It was not sold until 1822, when it was purchased by the Pascha of Egypt, for £30,000.
Fox tells us that the middle years of the Regency were quite profitable for Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, with the peak of their prosperity coming in 1816. It was not until the following year that they were to suffer any significant loss. In 1817, jewels valued in excess of £22,000 were stolen from the firm. The junior partner, Edmund Rundell, was the victim of a swindle by a pair of con artists who had convinced him that they were emissaries of the King of Bavaria. By the clever employment of a set of substitute jewel boxes, the thieves were able to make off with a vast number of very fine jewels. According to Fox, when Philip Rundell learned of the theft, he said, "Now let us go to work again and get some more money." However, the thieves’ accomplices were caught in London, and the thieves themselves were then chased over half of Europe and eventually caught. In the end, Rundell, Bridge and Rundell suffered a final loss totalling about £8000. It was the only significant loss by theft in the history of the firm.
Early in 1818, Richard Rush, the newly-appointed United States Ambassador to Great Britain, paid a visit to the shop of Rundell, Bridge and Rundell on Ludgate Hill. In his diary, he noted that the outside of the shop was very plain, but inside, silver objects were piled everywhere, on tables and even on the floor. Fox makes no mention of this clutter of silver in his own manuscript, but that may be because he was so used to it. Rush also mentioned that the "proprietors" of the shop were extremely civil to him, which suggests that he did not encounter Philip Rundell during his visit. It is known that, as Richard Rush noted, the exterior of the Ludgate Hill shop of Rundell, Bridge and Rundell was quite plain. The only distinctive feature of the exterior was a pair of golden salmon, leaning against each other. This shop sign remained hanging over the door of the shop in Ludgate Hill until the firm of Rundell, Bridge and Rundell was dissolved and the assets of the business were liquidated, in 1843.
Thanks to George Fox, we know why the shop sign of Rundell, Bridge and Rundell was a pair of golden salmon. The shop had its origins in the mid-eighteenth century, in the business of one Mr. Hart, who was a dealer in toys and fishing tackle, at the sign of the golden salmon, in St. Paul’s Churchyard. When he became more successful, Hart added boxes, combs and inexpensive jewelery to his inventory. Soon thereafter, he moved his shop to No. 32, Ludgate Hill, taking his shop sign with him. Apparently, to ensure that his sign was visible from all directions, he added a second golden salmon above his door. Hart sold out to a Mr. Theed, who later sold out to Mr. Picket, who then sold out to Philip Rundell. None of the succeeding owners of the shop felt the need to change the shop sign. Therefore, even in the Regency, when Rundell, Bridge and Rundell no longer sold fishing tackle, the shop sign for the firm remained a pair of golden salmon.
The firm of Rundell, Bridge and Rundell continued to be reasonably profitable through the Regency and into the reign of King George IV. They were able to realize a significant profit from all of the ceremonial pomp and circumstance with surrounded the coronation of the new king. George IV spent more than £8200 just on snuff boxes as gifts for the foreign ministers who attended his coronation. In total, the firm was paid in excess of £30,000 to refurbish and/or remake a number of items to fill out the Crown jewels to the satisfaction of George IV. After that, the fortunes of the firm gradually began to fall. The first blow came when Philip Rundell retired, in 1823. Despite his unpleasant disposition, he had always ensured the craftsman in the workshops had all the materials they needed, at a very reasonable cost. There was no one who could equal that skill among the remaining staff. In addition, Philip Rundell had routinely invested most of his profits in the business. Upon his retirement, the remaining partners were obligated to buy him out, by a substantial annual payment each year. Money that would no longer be re-invested in the business. The firm had long held a monopoly to supply the jewellery and plate needs for most of the royal family. During the 1820s, several important members of the royal family passed away, significantly reducing the ranks of the best clients of Rundell, Bridge and Rundell. Nor were the firm’s fortunes improved by the coronation of George IV’s successor, King William IV. By then, Parliament had become even more frugal and required that more than one firm of jewelers and goldsmiths submit bids for the contract to make the objects needed for the coronation. Another firm underbid Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, depriving them of all of that work. Perhaps the final blow came in 1834, when John Bridge passed away. No one else on the staff had his contacts among fashionable society, making it increasingly difficult to maintain a steady flow of orders for fine work.
The business dragged on for several more years, but it was never really prominent or fully profitable again. Finally, in 1842, much of the inventory was auctioned off and talks began with other jewelers who were interested in taking over the once-famous firm. In the end, those negotiations fell through, and George Fox and some of his co-workers were offered a chance to purchase the company. However, by that time, most of the fashionable trade, particularly in jewelry and plate, was moving west into Mayfair. Under the circumstances, Fox and his colleagues felt the asking price was too high and decided not to purchase the firm. With no other offers, the firm of Rundell, Bridge and Rundell was dissolved and the shop closed its doors for the last time in March of 1843.
[Author’s Note: More than once, while reading through this remarkable manuscript, I was struck by the fact that the man who had written the words on the physical pages I was handling had actually worked for the prestigious firm of Rundell, Bridge and Rundell throughout the Regency. And he had most certainly been present for the majority of the events which he recorded in his spidery cursive script. And the course of those events he had not witnessed first-hand had been conveyed to him by colleagues who had been there at the time. So far as I am concerned, this is the closest I have ever come to a glimpse of real life inside a busy firm in Regency London. And Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, no less. It was a great pleasure to have had the chance to see and read this manuscript.]
Dear Regency Authors, will this "inside information" about the prestigious firm of jewelers and goldsmiths, Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, enable you to add an extra touch of historical accuracy to one or more scenes in an upcoming romance? Perhaps the heroine’s father or brother is an employee of the firm of Rundell, Bridge and Rundell and they have to work on Sunday, leaving the young lady to attend church on her own. Might that be when she encounters the hero? Or, mayhap the hero of a story is tracking a theft of Indian diamonds taken from the Customs House in London. When he finds a fellow in possession of several cotton-wrapped parcels tied in the center by twine, to which is attached a merchant’s seal, will he know he has found the culprit? Then again, perhaps a gentleman whose financial circumstances are in peril, has ordered his wife, or mother, not to make any further purchases from Rundell, Bridge and Rundell. What will happen if Mr. Bridge pays a call and, due to his excellent relationship with the housekeeper, is able to make his way to the lady of the house? Are there other ways in which this first-hand information about the pre-eminent jewellers and goldsmiths of Regency London can be used to embellish a tale of romance set in our favorite decade?