Antique Furniture Makers: Ince & Mayhew

Ince and Mayhew was a successful and prominent firm of cabinet makers, established in London by John Mayhew (1736 – 1811) and William Ince (1737 – 1804) during the Georgian Era. They produced some of the finest furniture of the era, following the current fashions and design trends of the day, such as Rococo, Gothic, and later, Neo-classical.

However their work leaned slightly more towards classical, French and traditional design, than that of their well known contemporaries.  Ince and Mayhew’s  superb and intricate, classical marquetry and upholstery design, is particularly noteworthy.

They were fierce competitors of Chippendale, a contemporary and rival. Tussling for patronage and favour in the eyes of the upper classes. Who they most likely found it easier to win over, coming from a more salubrious background themselves, especially John Mayhew.

In 1768 John Mayhew, inherited a number of properties, which enabled them to use rental incomes to further grow their firm and buy land around Crouch End and Hornsey, North London.

They went on to increase their rental property portfolio, expanding their furniture and interior design business into the world of property.

So for a large part of their careers, they themselves were upper middle class / part of the property owning, landed upper class. Unlike a number of cabinet makers and firms of the day, who would have been considered to be upwardly mobile artisanal trades people.

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Ince & Mayhew Marquetry

Marquetry came back into vogue around the time of  Neo-classicism, and their marquetry from this period is simply breath taking in its artistry.

They collaborated with architects of the Neo- classical era such as Robert Adams and William Chambers, and a number of their fine pieces are to this day to be found in the stately homes and castle of the United Kingdom.

Their fine marquetry can also be founded in the Met Museum in New York, and at the V&A in London. Some of it, such as this fine music related commode, has an almost three dimensional quality.

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Ince and Mayhew took pride in sourcing quite unusual woods for their marquetry, and thought outside of the box so to speak.

Alongside the favoured Satinwood of the day, you might find not only exotic woods, but some overlooked woods found at the time in the British Isles and in France, such as Holly, Box and Plum.

They even used Yew, a beautiful wood often used for turning today due to its attractive patina.

Ince and Mayhew also used Mahogany, and would use Oak and Deal for the foundations of their commodes, as was the practise at the time.

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Ince & Mayhew Commissions

They receive a large number of commissions from the aristocracy; and were masters of maintaining good client relationships.  Their records show substantial repeat custom, and on going work over a number of years.

The Earl of Coventry, Duke of Malborough and Duchess of Bedford, were amongst their clientele.

Ince and Mayhew created pieces, and complete design themes, for a number of castles from Powys to Sherborne, and a number of stately homes in between. Especially those is the burgeoning Neo-classical style.

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The Universal System of Household Furniture

This was a catalogue and book of designs published by Ince and Mayhew, in parts from 1759 until 1763. It was dedicated to the Duke of Malborough, displaying their long standing devotion to one of their wealthy clients.

Essentially it was a copycat exercise, in imitation and rivalry with Chippendale, who had originally conceived the idea. Indeed, Ince was a subscriber to the first edition of Chippendale’s ‘Director’.

Something which has led Ince and Mayhew to live in the mighty Chippendale shadow in a sense. The rivalry must have been fierce, with both outfits located within a stones throw of one another in London’s, then artisanal, Soho district.

Ince was responsible for the designs of the publications, and took the more creative role in the partnership. Mayhew kept the accounts, managing the business side, and maintained relationships with their wealthy clients.

In todays language, Ince would have been the Creative  and Operation Director, Mayhew the Business and Marketing Manager.

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Civic Duty

Little is known about their personal moral philosophy. However they seemed to have a strong sense of civic duty, or to engender a strong sense of noblesse oblige, before the term had even come into common parlance in our isles.

Both Ince and Mayhew served as directors of The Westminster Fire Office, more than once. And were active members of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).

They were both openly Freemasons. John Mayhew was a member of the Lodge of Antiquity. William Ince was a member of the Lodge of Felicity.

Personal Lives and Disputes

It appears that in their own life times, they were firm friends and worked extremely well together.

They even married sisters Isabella and Ann Stephenson in a joint wedding in 1762. Setting up homes near to one another, and in close proximity of their Central London workshop. Later both moving out to Crouch End, then in the countryside north of London, as their fortune expanded.

William and Ann Ince had thirteen children, of which only 6 outlived their parents, a sadly common occurrence at the time. However Isabella died early into her marriage to John Mayhew, leaving behind only one child.

So Mayhew remarried, his second wife bearing him 10 children, of which only 5 outlived him.

When Ince died in 1804 quite suddenly, his widow requested an injunction, preventing John Mayhew from selling any property. In retaliation, Mayhew claimed for five times the value of the shared assets, as he had originally financed a great deal of the business.

This dispute ran on for another 20 years, with both families fighting their respective corners. In his will, Mayhew requested strongly that his executors come to an agreement with the Ince family.

The Ince & Mayhew Legacy

Despite criticisms over their imitation of Chippendales director and similarity of design, their place in the history of antique furniture cannot be denied.

Their own publication was of great merit, and they met the needs of a slightly more traditional, perhaps more conservative crowd than Chippendale et al. They embraced a subtly safer take on the classical style. Although their clientele did cross over, causing a bitter rivalry.

A rivalry which in some ways brought misfortunes to both firms, as it led both to extended a little too much credit to their wealthy patrons in the quest to win contracts.