In which I introduce the somewhat-famous Joseph Backler [Sr], who for a time was a well-known painter on glass, but who fell on hard times and died a rather inconspicuous death. In this blog I focus his family, his early career, and on the premises he used at the height of his reputation, at 18 Newman Street, near Oxford Street, London.
Searching old newspapers, as one does, on the name ‘Backler’, it is hard to avoid the name of Joseph Backler, active self-promoter and sometime well-known painter on glass, whose premises at 18 Newman Street, just off Oxford Street, featured in the many adverts for his work which he placed in The Times in the second and third decades of the 19th century.
Joseph Backler was christened at St Ann Blackfriars on 24 January 1788, son of Sotherton and Hannah (OSBORNE) BACKLER.
Marriage and children: Joseph (said in the Times notice to be an ‘enamel painter’) married on 1 February 1810 at St Mary’s Marylebone, to Jane COWIE, daughter of John Cowie, Refiner, and his wife Jean, of Falcon Square . Witnesses were his father Sotherton Backler, Sotherton Backler Jr [to become Rev Sotherton Backler – see a future blog], and his sister Mary Backler (who would become the wife of John James Joseph Sudlow). Joseph and Jane Cowie Backler produced five known children:
- Jane Cowie BACKLER, born 16 April 1811; married to John BROWN in Kilmarnock, Scotland in 1833, and died in Australia in 1855 (shown in the Victoria death index). They had six children.
- Joseph BACKLER, 9 November 1812 – 1895. Well known Australian convict artist, whose story will feature in a future blog.
- Mary Cowie BACKLER, 1814-1820. The Times on 20 March 1820 reported: Death on 16th, Mary Cowie, 2nd daughter of Mr Joseph Backler of Newman Street, aged 5 years and 9 months.
- Hannah BACKLER, 1818 – ?1922 in Caulfield, Victoria Australia. Married on 28 October 1854 at St Peter’s Hill, Melbourne, to Henry George REGAN. They had three children, Daniel Joseph REGAN (1857-1942); William John REGAN (1860 – ); Sarah Jane Cowie REGAN (1855-1932, married to Herbert Henry COULSON, 1888; son Harry William Oliver COULSON, 1882-1944, married Florence Mabel MARSHALL, 1909).
- Sarah Cowie Mitchell BACKLER, 1823-1824, who is buried at Bunhill Fields Burial Ground.
Early artistic career: The Glass Painters Journal (Vol VIII No. 1, 1959) suggests that Backler studied under Chas. [sic] MUSS (1779-1824), who was a well-known enamalist, and later a painter on glass. Glass painting was distinguished from stained glass made of separately coloured leaded panes, and had something of a revival in England in the later 18th and early 19th centuries.
The London Gazette of 20 October 1812, reported that a partnership was dissolved on 22 September between Joseph Backler, of Newman-Street Oxford-Street, Painter and Stainer on Glass, and William Silk, of Newman-Street aforesaid, Painter and Stainer on Glass. I cannot find out any further information about this partnership, or about William Silk.
Bankruptcy: We further learn from the London Gazette of 26 October 1819, that a Commission of Bankrupt had been awarded against Joseph Backler, stained glass, dealer, of Newman-Street. He was to present himself to the Commissioners at the Guildhall on specified dates in November and December, declaring his estate and effects. Those indebted to him should declare this to Solicitors Messrs. Fisher and Sudlow, Thavies Inn, Holborn (Sudlow being Joseph’s brother-in-law). Bankruptcies were not uncommon among artisans and traders. While Joseph carried on his business, the bankruptcy proceedings apparently took place, as the London Gazette of 1 March 1823 reports that the Commissioners intended to meet on 22 March to make a final dividend to creditors. This perhaps sealed Joseph’s fate, as we will see in the next blog that a proposed window for St James’s Piccadilly church never came to fruition, and perhaps his commissions dried up. (In a later blog we will look in some detail at the bankruptcy in 1831 of Joseph’s brother Samuel.)
Premises at 18 Newman Street: In what must have been Joseph Backler’s prime years, numerous adverts in The Times and other newspapers invited the public to view his works at his premises off Oxford Street, at 18 Newman Street. In the next blog, I will look at many of his works, but as an example, see this early advert of 1813 in The Times of London:
18 Newman Street, Oxford Street: Newman Street and nearby Berners Street (on which lived for a time Joseph’s brother and my 3x g. grandfather Samuel Backler, who will feature in a future blog) housed many well known artists, including Constable and Benjamin West. In 2012, inspired by the impending visit of a very distant Backler cousin (and descendant of Joseph Backler) from Australia, I decided to search out records of deeds at the London Metropolitan Archives for these premises, uncovering a series of documents (E/BN/16-34) in the papers of the sculptor John Bacon, about his property at 17 Newman Street, the rental of next-door 18 Newman Street to Joseph Backler, and Backler’s subsequent surrender of the lease in the mid-1820s when he fell on hard times. The papers were a fascinating collection of information about the Bacon family (father and son famous sculptors) and included drawings of the 17/18 Newman Street premises, which remain in their original configuration today. (Google Street View image, right above, shows the frontage of today – almost certainly dating from the mid-19th century, but perhaps in tune with the previous incarnation as Backler’s studio and showroom.)
Lease dated 9 August 1817 between Joseph Backler Glass Enameller and John Bacon Esquire both of Newman Street for the premises at 18 Newman Street:
Consisting of two rooms the lower one measuring 19 feet and 9 inches more or less on the west side [fronting Newman Street]; and the upper room measuring 26 feet and 8 inches or thereabouts and exceeding the dimensions of the lower room in length from north to south as well on the east as on the south sides thereof fifteen feet or thereabouts and overhanging the premises of the said John Bacon to such extent and also all that narrow slip of ground lying on the east side of the said premises and running in a straight line from south to north on the west side thereof towards the Mews or Stable Yard in Newman Passage thirty five feet and eight inches or thereabouts and containing in breadth from west to east towards the said Mews on the north eight feet or thereabouts then running from north to south on the east side thereof thirty two feet eight inches or thereabouts and afterwards in an oblique line home to the east end of the said erection or building eight feet three inches or thereabouts of which slip of ground a carriage road or way is intended to be made from the same erection or building into the aforesaid Mews or Stable Yard all which premises are more particularly delineated and described in the plan or ground plot thereof drawn on the margin of these present together with all ways passages commodities and appurtenances to the said Ground, Erection and Premises or any part thereof belonging To hold unto the said Joseph Backler his heirs [etc] [for twenty five years and one quarter of another year from the date of this lease at an annual rent of £75, paid through equal and half yearly payments on the ninth day of February and the ninth day of August]
The lease was carried out under the auspices of Joseph’s brother in law, John James Joseph Sudlow but sadly, the 25 years of the lease was nowhere near reached, as his letter to Bacon on 8August 1826 reveals:
Mr Bacon: Sir – Herewith you will receive the key of the Premises lately occupied by me at the back of No 18 Newman Street I being now exonerated from any claim for Rent due therefrom and also from further liability to retain [?] the said premises – I am Sir Ys … J Backler Tuesday Aug 8 1826
A letter of 19 September 1826 (Backler’s signature above) describes his difficulties in recovering a copy of the lease for the ‘back premises’ from a Mr Ives, having mislaid his own copy. This letter gives an address for Backler of 40 Dean Street, this taking place perhaps after his wife and daughters had left him to return to her native Scotland, as he descended into penurious circumstances.
An Old Bailey trial on 18 September 1816 refers to the Backlers at Newman Street, and to Joseph’s links with the Duke of Norfolk, arising from his execution of the Great Norfolk Window for the Baron’s Hall at Arundel Castle – see the next blog: WILLIAM ASHLIN was indicted for obtaining money on false pretences .
REBECCA MOORE. On the day in the indictment the prisoner came to the shop. I had known that he was the servant of Mr. Backler, the celebrated glass stainer, of Newman-street. He asked me if Mrs. Taylor was within. I told him she was, and he asked me to lend him eleven shillings for Mr. Backler, to pay the carriage of goods, lying at Wood-street, which had come from the Duke of Norfolk’s. I lent him eleven shillings upon that. Mrs. Backler was a customer of ours, and we knew her. He came again on Thursday the 25th of July, bringing with him a paper, apparently a bill for the carriage of goods. The amount was one pound nine shillings and a penny, and underneath was written in pencil, “received one pound,” and he asked me to lend him nine shillings and a penny, to pay for the carriage of goods lying at Wood-street, and I did so; fearing that it might not have been right, I wrote to Mrs. Backler, and she sent a verbal message. On Monday the 29th, the prisoner came to the house again, and asked for a one pound note for Mr. Backler, who, he said, was waiting in Gracechurch-street for it. I did not let him have it, but I gave an alarm, and he was laid hold of immediately.
JOSEPH BACKLER. The prisoner was formerly in my employment. I had no goods come to London from the Duke of Norfolk. I expected no such goods. I never authorised the prisoner to get this money.
GUILTY . Confined six months , and fined 1s . London jury, before Mr. Common Serjeant.
And with that bit of colour, we will leave Joseph for the moment, looking in the next blog at his heyday in producing painted glass windows.