HATFIELDS – a brief history
John Ayres Hatfield founded his company in 1834, referring to himself as a ‘bronzist.’ His workshop was at 20 Cumberland Street in the London parish of St. Pancras and he lived next door at number 21. His brother Henry Charles, eight years younger, worked as John’s bronze chaser, and it was his son Henry John who continued the business in 1881, being granted a Royal Warrant by Queen Victoria in 1882. However, Hatfield’s had been working at Windsor Castle from November 1850. Among hundreds of invoices in the Windsor Archives, one letter-heading of the 1850s, the time that the present lot was made, serves to underline the company’s capabilities: ‘J. Hatfield, Bronze & Ormolu Manufacturer, Groups-Statues…and all kinds of Works of Art from Models, Designs or Originals cast and executed to the Antique.
Probably coincidentally, Hatfield’s were employed to restore metalwork at the Wallace Collection when it was opened to the public in 1901. From the very beginning, one receives the impression of Hatfield’s conforming very much to the Victorian ideal of the family firm, the census taken on the night of 30 March 1851, shows J.A.H to be living with his wife Hannah at 21 Cumberland Street (next door to if not above the shop) and to be sharing this address with his brother, the latter’s wife and three sons. His brother, Henry Charles Hatfield, some eight years his junior, worked within the firm as a bronze chaser and encouraged his own children to follow the family profession. J.A.H’s marriage proving childless, he took on his eldest nephew, Henry John Hatfield (b.1844), as his apprentice and the 1881 St. Pancras Rate Book shows that when the former died in the last quarter of that year, it was H.J.H who assumed the ownership and management of the firm.
H.J.H seems to have combined a talent for bronze-making with a profound business acumen and within six months of his accession, the firm was renamed, transformed into a limited company and granted its first Royal Warrant by Queen Victoria in spring 1882. In some ways it is surprising that the appointment had not been given earlier, since there was already a long established connection between Hatfield’s and the Royal Family.
Hatfields restored the mounts for this 18th Century Side Table now in the Frick collection, NYC
The Monthly Abstract of Tradesmen’s invoices in the Royal Archives as Windsor castle, shows Hatfield’s to have been first employed at Windsor in November 1850, replacing Mr Dance, as ormolu manufacturer to the Queen. For their first commission, they received the less than princely sum of £4.15, yet at the same time they forged the links of a relationship that lasted over one hundred years and culminated in several Royal Visits to the firm. It is a tribute to J.A.H’s success, that the firm should have been employed by the Royal family barely six years after the company’s inception, a fact which emphasises not only the quality of their workmanship but equally the rarity of their craft. If one examines Kelly’s Post Office and Trade Directories, throughout the nineteenth century there are never more than a handful of bronzists listed in London. Bronze foundries, commonplace in France and on the continent, were highly unusual in Britain which is one of the reasons why Hatfield’s bonzes have become increasingly interesting and rather than being rejected as 19th century fakes are today considered as works of art in their own right. The latter reaction reflects the spirit in which they were made. The term reproduction has only become pejorative in the 20th century and the Victorian craftsman was justly proud of his ability to revive the lost arts and recreate antique crafts in an industrial age.
Pierre Verlet, who was the curator and chief conservator of the furniture collection at The Louvre at the beginning of the 20th century and possibly the world expert on Louis XV and XVI furniture wrote of Hatfields that of “copies of bronzes in the Louis XV and XVI styles made in the 19th century by talented bronze manufacturers such as Beurdley, Dasson, Deniere, Milletpere and Hatfields of London. These copies are sometimes so good that only after a detailed examination made ideally in conjunction with a documented 18th century version is it possible to distinguish the copy from the original.” The Hatfield family was given an apartment in the Louvre and employed to work on the bronzes. We continue to produce bronze, ormolu and brass objects and specialise in working with brass marquetry (boulle) and the care and cleaning