St James’s Piccadilly

22. Joseph Backler x 2: the fall from fortunes of an artistic duo

In which we take a further look at what is known about the later years of Joseph Backler Snr, and introduce events surrounding the eventual transportation to Australia of his son Joseph Jnr.

In the previous blog-post, we left Joseph Snr having completed his window for Hereford Cathedral, but with doubts about funding for the proposed window at St James’s Piccadilly.  This window – or, rather, a version of it – was to feature in the first sighting of events involving his son Joseph Jnr, born sometime around 1813 (no record of his christening has been traced), and evidently artistically trained under the tutelage of his father.

A model window on display: On 25 September 1830, in the Morning Post, we find notice of showings by Mr. Backler of ‘the Model Window of the [Raphael] Transfiguration, in stained glass, together with the whole of the Altar below the Window (which at considerable pains and great expense he has at length completed)’, including illuminations, presumably for the evening showings from ‘Seven until Twelve o’Clock’, at 28, Old Bond Street. On 27 September, the Morning Post further reported:

“The Transfiuration in Glass”: On Saturday Mr. Backler afforded to the patrons and votaries of art a very high treat, in the exhibition of his model for a copy of RAPHAEL’S immortal work, in stained glass, intended to form an altar-piece in the east window of St. James’s Church, Westminster.  This is in every respect a noble and most praise-worthy object; and if carried into effect, as we trust it will be, we have no doubt of Mr. Backler’s entire success.

Further praise was lavished on Backler by Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser, Dublin Ireland, on 28 September:

An exact model of the grand altar window for St. James’s Church has been executed in stained glass by Mr. Backler.  The subject is that of the “Transfiguration” from the famous picture by Raphael, now in the Vatican, at Rome, and the effect produced by Mr. Backler is of the most sublime description.  Nothing can exceed the richness of the colouring, and the admirable expression of the figures.  It is understood that the work itself will not be completed before two years, and that the expense will be 2,500l.

28 Old Bond Street is now the entrance to The Royal Arcade, built in the late 19th century.  However, nearby on present-day Bond Street are properties which date from earlier in the century, when the street already had a reputation as a fashionable shopping centre.

Theft of the model:  We know that the window never came to fruition.  However, the model was to figure in the ensuing disastrous year (1831) for Joseph Backler Snr. and his son. (During this same year, to be described in a future blog, Joseph Snr’s brother Samuel Backler, my 3x g. grandfather, was undergoing proceedings for bankruptcy.)  The Morning Post of 25 December 1830 hints at disasters to come:

Police Intelligence.  Marlborough Street. – Stephen Hudson, a man about 30 years of age, was yesterday placed at the bar for re-examination, before J.E. Conant, Esq., charged with stealing the model of a stained window, intended for St James’s Church, value five hundred guineas.  It appeared that Mr. Backler, an artist, left town about three weeks since, and on returning discovered that the model, which represented the Transfiguration, in six departments, after Raphael, was gone.  He immediately suspected the Prisoner, who was in his service as porter, and had him apprehended by Schofield, an officer of this establishment, when the Prisoner accounted for the loss of the model by saying that it had been taken away by Mr. Backler’s son, and he had not seen it for a fortnight.

The story unfolded in an account in The Morning Chronicle on 1 January 1831 from Marlborough Street Police: A man named Haines claimed he had met Hudson, who was carrying a brown paper parcel, in St James’s Park. They came across Joseph Backler Jnr, and in the ensuing conversation, Backler was said to have exclaimed: ‘If you do not give it to me, I will break it’, whereupon the parcel was given to Backler, ‘and after the whole of the parties had partaken of something to drink, they separated’.  At this hearing, the magistrate said that Hudson had no case to answer, and Joseph Backler Snr said he would charge his son with the theft.  The Officer Schofield was charged with apprehending Joseph Jnr.

On 21 January 1831, The Morning Post and the Morning Chronicle reported that Schofield had found the missing model in a ‘house of ill-fame’ in Westminster, where Joseph Backler Jnr lived and was taken into custody.  No further record of this affair is to be found, until reference is made to it in far more serious events which unfolded from 26 May 1831.

Forged cheques:  The Morning Chronicle, 26 May 1831:

Marlborough Street – Forged Cheques – A fashionably-dressed young man, named BACKLER, who is respectably connected, was yesterday charge at this office with uttering a number of forged cheques. It appeared that he had left his home, taking with him his father’s cheque-book, and having filled up a number of blanks, he had put them into circulation and obtained cash for them.  He had been living in the first style of fashion, changing his residence as often as he issued fresh cheques, and had, till yesterday, avoided detection, when he was accidentally met by one of the parties he had defrauded.  He was remanded.

Food, glorious food! One of those defrauded was Mr. Thomas Blackwell, of 11 King Street, Soho Square. What prompted the young Joseph to present himself to Mr Blackwell, with a cheque

‘purporting to be drawn by a Mr. Andrews, payable to Mr. Newman, of Soho-Square, or the bearer.  On presenting the cheque to Mr. Blackwell, he told him that he was in Newman’s employ, and that gentleman would be much obliged to Mr. B. if he would favour him with cash for it’ (The Standard 2 June 1831).

Canny Mr. B detained Backler while checking out this story with Mr Newman, who knew nothing of the cheque or Backler, who was ‘immediately given into custody’.  The name of James Newman was presumably known to Backler, as he was a noted art supplier at the time. More famously, though, Thomas Blackwell had in 1829 or 1830 founded Crosse & Blackwell with Edmund Crosse. Both men had started their working lives as apprentices to a company called West and Wyatt, which they bought out and re-named.  Originally situated at 11 King Street, the firm eventually had its headquarters at 20 Soho Square.  Others whom Backler attempted to defraud were Eden Bowler and Matthias Robinson, whom I can’t specifically identify. The sheer cheek of young Joseph in trying to defraud such well-known people was to be carried through to his early years as a transported convict in Australia – but we get ahead of ourselves!

Old Bailey: The Morning Post of 4 July 1831 reported that the facts were fully proved in the indictment for uttering forged orders with the intent to defraud Thomas Blackwell and Eden Bowler.  The third indictment was not tried.  Backler was Guilty and sentenced to death.  In my next blog I will recount the efforts made by his family and others to have his sentence commuted.  Suffice it to say that later that year, Joseph Jnr was transported to Australia.

Joseph Snr – a lonely end: And what of young Joseph’s once-renowned father, Joseph Backler Snr, artist in stained glass?  I can find no further reference to artistic works.  His commissions seem to have dried up completely, but there is no apparent reason as to why.  In the next blog we will learn a bit more about his wife and daughter, who had apparently left him in the early 1820s.  I believe he is to be found twice in the 1841 Census, as follows:

  • 146 Aldersgate Street: Here we find in a place of multiple occupation, Joseph Buckle [sic], 52, Glass Painter, born in Middlesex; and Sarah Buckle [sic], 50, also born in Middlesex.  I speculate that this is Joseph Backler Snr, living with his sister Sarah, although her age is rather far out for someone born around 1783.  I have not been able to find her otherwise in the 1841 Census.  Ten years later she was living in the Geffrye’s Almshouses.  I am sure this is ‘our’ Joseph, so if Sarah is not his sister, it is perhaps someone he was living with, at least part-time, since there is another entry for ‘our’ Joseph at:
  • St Chadd’s Row (off Gray’s Inn Road): Joseph Backler, 60 [this could possibly – and more logically – be 50], Artist in Glass, not born in County [this is a discrepancy!].

Death on 13 January 1848. Joseph died of acute bronchitis, 3 months, at 9 Middleton Buildings, not far from his former premises at Newman Street.  His death was reported by James Stean, present at the death, of Butlers Alley, City.   I cannot find out anything more about who he was.  Joseph was buried on 18 January 1848, in St Marylebone.  I wonder who saw him off?  His wife and children were nowhere near.  He had a number of siblings who could have attended – but did they?  Despite his earlier prominence as a stained glass artist, his final days appear to have passed unmarked and uncelebrated.  In the next blog we will see an inkling of the traumas of 1831 for Joseph and his son.  Perhaps those events had broken both his spirit and his artistic talents.




20. Joseph Backler Snr – the works of a painter on glass

In which we look in a little more detail at the works of Joseph Backler Snr, apparently in his heyday from about 1813 to the mid 1820s, after which his name recedes into history and his fortunes appear to plummet, for a variety of reasons which will become more clear when we look in the next blog at events unfolding around his wayward son, Joseph Backler Jr.

At the height of his fame, the following article – almost certainly penned by a friend – appeared about Joseph Backler (The Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol 121, April 1817, p. 315):

‘Among the present existing artists and there are several of great merit where superiority is so generally allowed, it can scarcely be thought invidious to elect the name of Joseph Backler, who in the few years he has practised it has, by his talent and genius, extended the powers of the art of glass-staining almost beyond hope of its eventual perfection, and whose industry and unassuming manners promise a continued excellence, and deserve a correspondent encouragement.  A view of his exhibition in Newman Street, now open to the public, will supply a proof that friendship has not overrated his praise.’

Praise indeed!  The catalogue for this exhibition listed a number of works, principally featuring the ‘Great Norfolk Window’ – King John signing Magna Carta – to be placed in the Baron’s Hall of Arundel Castle, commissioned by the Duke of Norfolk.  Alas, this along with most other Backler windows, no longer exists.

Magna Carta ancestryimages dot com

Newman street catalogue 2016-04-29 001

Some idea of the look of the window can be seen from the image on the right. (  It depicts ‘Signing of the Magna Carta by King John’, anonymous engraver after a picture by Lonsdale from a painting by Backler, published in James Barclay’s Complete and Universal Dictionary … about 1850.

On the left below is the cover of the catalogue for the 1817 exhibition, in which we find more detail about the art of glass painting, as opposed to stained glass:

The window for Arundel Castle was begun under the immediate direction and management of  his Grace the late DUKE OF NORFOLK, who delighted particularly in this effective and elegant Art.  It is presumed that the present Work may vie in all respects with most attempts, in modern days, toward the advancement of the art of Painting upon Glass, as the panes are considerably larger than perhaps in any Work of the same magnitude in Europe; and when it is seen that throughout the whole Window there is not a single piece of what is termed “pot metal glass”, that is, glass formed into one colour in its making, the difficulty of producing the brilliancy of tone apparent in this Picture will be duly appreciated…’ [Referring then to the ancient art of leaded stained glass, the catalogue goes on to say]:  The mosaic here spoken of was the mode pursued by all the ancient glass-painters, and consisted of pieces of coloured glass leaded together.  To form their draperies, &. they were unable, as in modern glass-painting, to execute a picture without the aid of lead-work and pot metal glass; nor had they, as some persons supposed, near so many colours on the palette as modern Artists of this Art are able to produce; consequently, ancient glass, though beautiful as to colour and effect, yet in respect to anything like picture and outline must leave the judicious observer much to regret, from a total disregard of drawing and perspective.’

Modestly [!], the catalogue concludes: ‘In giving publicity to this performance, Mr. BACKLER had no intention of indulging personal gratification: but several Artists of high talent, and others conversant in the Art itself, having earnestly recommended its exhibition; and his Grace THE DUKE OF NORFOLK having kindly acceded to the proposition; he has ventured to submit his effort to public candour and discernment.’  The cast of characters in this window features the Duke of Norfolk as King John, in addition to whom, the Catalogue tells us: ‘The resemblance of the Mayor of London to Harvey Christian Combe, Esq.; of Almeric, the Master of the Knights Templars, to Captain Morris; and of the Page, to the Son of Howard Molyneux, M.P. will be readily discovered.’

Joseph Backler’s other works – major and minor:  As early as March 1813, Backler was advertising his works at ‘Backler’s Gallery of painted and stained glass, 18, Newman Street’ (see for instance, The Times, 23 March 1813, which claimed: ‘Church windows of every description or architecture executed in a superior manner’).  Whether through word of mouth, adverts, self-promotion, family ties or other means, Backler subsequently executed and exhibited windows for, among others:

Limehouse Church (described in ‘The Examiner’, Sunday 19 December, 1813), like many others of Backler’s windows, based on a painting by Benjamin West, who lived near to Backler in Newman Street.

Woodford Church, Essex, 1819.  I suspect this was St Mary’s Woodford, for which an Act of Parliament was passed in 1816 for enlarging, improving and repairing.  If this was the case, the window most likely was destroyed in the fire of 9 February 1969. (  – accessed 18 May 2016)

surrey-princess-charlotte-s-mausoleum-claremont-antique-print-1882-249264-pMausoleum, Claremont:  On 11 June 1818, The Times reported that His Royal Highness the Prince Leopold went ‘by appointment’ to Mr. Backler’s premises at 18 Newman Street, remaining for an hour, to ‘make suitable arrangements for the stained glass intended to be placed in the Mausoleum, which has been erected at Claremont, with much taste, in Gothic architecture, by Mr Hiort, under the immediate direction of his Royal Highness, to be devoted to the memory of our late much lamented Princess [Charlotte of Wales, 1796-1817, who died after giving birth to a stillborn son, leaving her husband distraught after fewer than two years of married life].  The whole of the windows are to be filled with the armorial bearings of Her Royal Highness, in conjunction with those of Prince Leopold’s.’  The windows were advertised for viewing in April 1819.  The image is of the Mausoleum, which was converted from a summer house, and demolished in the 1920s. On 24 April 1819, a report in The Times wrote of a private viewing, that Mr. Backler’s productions ‘unite the greatest riches and variety of ornament with great breadth and simplicity of effect.  The arms on the mausoleum windows are painted with exquisite richness and brilliancy…’   In July 1819, Prince Leopold and the Duke and Duchess of Kent visited Mr Backler’s studios to view the windows, which were also seen by the Duke and Duchess of York.  Perhaps somewhere, in some archives, there hides an image of these windows?

St Thomas’ Church, Dudley (1821, east window – this window has been seen by my distant Backler cousin from Australia, but I have not made the journey to see it – on my do-do list!); at this time Backler also advertised viewings for altar windows ‘for the churches of .. Southwell, and Macclesfield‘.  I have not been able to identify which churches these were for.

???Stansted Park Chapel, Stansted Park House, Sussex: The following extract is self explanatory. I have never seen a reference to this place in anything I have seen about Joseph Backler, leading me to think he was not the artist: International expert Mark Bambrough of specialist Scottish Glass studios carried out restoration work to the East Window, which had previously been repaired following bombing during WW2, but in recent years it became clear the repairs were failing. The glass was cleaned and fragments painstakingly re-assembled before being housed in protective panes and re-installed. It is painted, not stained, with a delicate enamel technique. The original artist is thought to have been either Joseph Backler or James Edwards, but no documentation survives. (

Hereford Cathedral: the ‘Grand painted window’ for the altar of Hereford Cathedral, viewed by the Duke of York on 15 June, 1823, and by ‘His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, Lady Elizabeth Murray and several other ladies of distinction’. I have a photo of this window supplied to me by Hereford Cathedral – I am happy to forward it to any enquirer. The window was relatively shortlived, being removed in the 1840s with the re-design of that part of the Cathedral.  Further information about this window was supplied to me by the archivist at Hereford Cathedral, as follows (and leaving open the fate of the window):

The east window, 40 feet high and 20 feet wide, representing the Lord’s Supper, is considered the largest in this branch of the art since its revival in England; the figures are 15 feet high, and beautifully painted by Mr. Backler, from West’s picture of the Lord’s Supper, at an expense of £2000, towards defraying which Dr. Cope, canon residentiary, bequeathed £500.  (From: ‘Henstridge – Herringby’, A Topographical Dictionary of England (1848), pp. 482-491. URL:  Date accessed: 23 October 2009.)

References in the Dean and Chapter Act Book of Hereford Cathedral indicated that there were difficulties in raising the funds to pay for the window. Could these difficulties be related to Backler’s change of fortunes in the mid-1820s, resulting in his giving up the lease on 18 Newman Street, and also filing for bankruptcy?  It is interesting that Backler’s mother-in-law, Jean Cowie (the mother of Jane Cowie, of both of whom little is known) had to join in a bond for the advance paid to Backler in 1822, a time when he was clearly in financial difficulties:

26 Feb 1822: Notice of a legacy of £500 0 0 from Dr Cope towards a painted glass window in the east end of the cathedral.  Mr Backler’s of London design taken from West’s Last Supper approved by the bishop with a subscription of £100 0 0; the dean and residentiaries to subscribe £100 0 0 each.  Although the estimate may amount to £100 0 0 more they flatter themselves there will be no necessity to apply to any but the members of the cathedral and such as derive emolument from it to contribute to this very desirable ornament to the church.  Proposed to have the window completed by the ensuing music meeting.  Letters to this effect to be sent to the various officials [pp. 189-190]

15 Oct 1822:  A further advance of £200 0 0 to Mr Backler provided his mother-in-law join in a bond for that amount and the the amount previously advanced [p. 199]

25 Feb 1823: Further advance of £50 0 0 if sufficient in the bank [p. 203].

10 Nov 1825: £235 4 6 still due to the bankers exclusive of interest.  New dignitaries to be approached for subscriptions [p. 230].

26 Nov 1825: The bank overdraft to be paid from the Shinfield fine by loan at 4% [p. 232]

3 Oct 1826: List of subscriptions amounting to £1792.15.0 recorded [p. 240]

8 Nov 1827: Dignitaries who have not subscribed to be approached [p. 256]

8 Dec 1845: Advertisement to be inserted in a London paper intimating that the dean and chapter will dispose of the painted window in the east end of the choir provided it be re-erected in a church [p. 53]

25 June 1846: The dean read letters from Mr Evans of Shrewsbury and the Rev Guthrie of …. as to the east window of the choir.  Ordered that it be advertised for sale [p. 77]

17 Oct 1846: Painted window offered to Leominster church as a gift if put in the east window there and the organ removed from that situation.  This was owing to the necessity of removing the window to effect the restoration ‘of that portion of the church to its original form.  The parishioners of Leominster being anxious to adorn their church.  Matters left in the hands of the dean to arrange [p. 81]

1 Sept 1849: Announcement that £150 0 0 had been placed in the hand of a London banker for a stained glass window at the east end of the choir [p. 176]

St James’s Piccadilly: This window never came to fruition, though a model was constructed for it, about which we will read in the next blog about Joseph Snr’s ill-fated son, Joseph Jnr. No doubt the inability to raise sufficient funds for the window’s execution contributed to Backler’s general ill-fortunes in the 1820s:

In 1810 several ‘respectable’ inhabitants suggested that the east window should be filled with painted or stained glass. The vestry did not object, provided it was paid for by voluntary subscription, but only sufficient funds to pay for the upper part of the window were promised. The subject chosen was the ‘whole History of the Transfiguration’, and in 1813 Joseph Backler agreed to execute the work and fix ground glass in the lower part of the window for a sum of not more than £1250, or to complete the whole window for £2000, subject to the satisfaction of Benjamin West and Thomas Hardwick.

Backler was given permission to solicit for subscriptions in 1819, and in 1821 the vestry also instructed one of the rate collectors to ask for subscriptions and issued a printed appeal. Promises of funds were so slow in coming, however, that it was not until 1845 that The Builder reported, accurately, a rumour that a Gothic stained-glass window was to be put up. (

Here we will leave Joseph Backler Snr, tracing his later years in the next blog, which introduces his son Joseph Jnr.  I have found no reference to further works by Joseph Backler.  He just seems to have ground to a halt, and how he occupied his later years, in an artistic sense, until his death in 1848 remains a mystery.  However, any number of misfortunes were to befall him, including his separation from his wife, the bankruptcy of his brother Samuel Backler, and the death sentence, commuted to transportation, on his son Joseph.