Artists and craftsmen in Hooke’s London (part 2)

In my previous post on this subject I talked about Hooke’s dealings with some of London’s artists. This time I’m going to talk about craftsmen (broadly defined). To set the scene I’d like to share a conversation Hooke had at Garraway’s coffehouse on Boxing Day December 1673 with Andrew Yarranton and ‘Captain Hamden’. These two gentlemen had been to Germany to see some ‘Lattin making works’ – ie. factories producing tin plate – and they described to Hooke what they had seen. This is how Hooke recorded it:

‘many plates beat under ye Hammer at once like leaf gold or tinfoyle. the great difficulty is how to turne it under ye hammer quick enough. much discourse about ye great cast iron rowles softned turned & graven for stuffs. one of six foot long & six foot about. cast iron pillars for bridges. hardning iron into steel quite through. pressing of cloth &c’

I love this conversation because you can smell the Industrial Revolution in the air – but I’m quoting it here because of the reference to cast iron rollers engraved for printing patterns on cloth (‘stuffs’). The first English patent for printing on cloth was taken out a few years later, in 1676, by the artist William Sherwin.

Mezzotint of Charles II by William Sherwin

Mezzotint of Charles II by William Sherwin (1669). © Trustees of the British Museum.

Sherwin is an interesting figure with whom Hooke kept in intermittent contact. He was a leading engraver – this is his portrait of Charles II produced in 1669, the first datable English mezzotint. Although Sherwin states here that Prince Rupert helped him with the new process historians believe he discovered it independently. In 1676 Sherwin patented a new method of ‘printing of broad calico and Scotish cloath with a double necked rowling press . . . the only true way of East India printing & stayning such kind of goods’. Hooke recorded in August 1676 ‘saw Sherwins new invented way of staining calico’.

Printing cloth was new in England, but Sherwin was not the only person working on the process and Hooke had discussed methods of staining calico with Theodore Haak FRS earlier in the year. Interestingly, Hooke also made some trials himself. In 1672 he recorded ‘Mr Barret shewd me his flowered printed cloth’. Unfortunately I’ve not been able to identify Barret but he was clearly a craftsman of some kind, possibly a metal-worker, and Hooke had regular contact with him. In August 1673 he ‘Saw new stuff at Barrets and new printers Black’, and shortly afterwards ‘harry at Barrets carryd pattern to be cast.’ This raises the tantalising possibility that Hooke had designed a fabric print (but of course it may have been something else). In March 1674 he wrote ‘at Barrets made tryall of Golding flowerd Shift wch succeeded.’ – which (I think!) means that they tried applying gold leaf to a shift already printed with a flower pattern. As late as 1679 Hooke was still discussing cloth printing with Barrett: ‘At Barrets, with him to Garways [ie. Garraway’s coffeehouse]. Discoursd to him the way of staining Sattin with Lead moulds and copper plates.’

This is just one of the points at which the world of Restoration art overlaps with the world of craft, or manufacturing. If anything, Hooke and his Royal Society colleagues were more interested in the latter. Hooke records very many conversations in coffeehouses and elsewhere with people who are keepers of trade secrets or innovators in fields related to manufacturing. In my previous post I mentioned the Royal Society’s interest in dyeing and colours, which Hooke shared; Hooke also discussed methods of transferring painted or printed images; staining marble; glass-painting; making marbled paper; enamelling of tiles; recipes for varnish; and even ‘a paint not to be washed from the face with wett’ (a longstanding desideratum of the cosmetics industry!).

I will single out just one more of these connections for further discussion. Hooke several times mentions John Dwight, a well-known potter who took out a patent in 1672 for ‘making transparent earthenware, commonly known by the names of porcelane or China and Persian ware, and also the mistery of making the stone ware vulgarly called Collogne ware’. Dwight opened a pottery at Fulham, and attempted to make all the types of ceramics imported into England at the time. Like many others he was particularly keen to make porcelain, and excavations at his pottery show that he conducted experimental trials with clays and glazes. Dwight studied at Oxford where he apparently met Hooke and Robert Boyle, and he later said that these two men supported his endeavours. In 1673 he confided to Hooke his secret for making salt-glazed stoneware: ‘he told me he used salt to throw into his fire as the Dutch’; and in 1674 Hooke saw some of the results and was impressed: ‘Saw Mr Dwights english china. Dr Willis his head. a little boye wth a hauke on his fist. severall little jarrs of severall colours all exceeding hard as a flint very light of very good shape. the performance very admirable and outdoing any European potters.’

Bust of Mrs Lydia Dwight

Bust of Mrs Lydia Dwight, by John Dwight (17th C) © Trustees of the British Museum

Dwight was unusual in that his figures were modelled rather than cast from moulds. Early in 1675 Hooke showed one at a meeting of the Royal Society: ‘Mr Hooke brought in an artifical head resembling china, made in England, of English clay, so hard and solid, that he said, that nothing would fasten on it, except a diamond; and that it received its polish in the fire’. This durability was possibily of interest to Hooke because of his various architectural commissions. Dwight was able to make life-sized portrait busts, and Hooke seems to have thought of him in connection with a bust of Dr Baldwin Hamey the younger for the Royal College of Physicians, whose Anatomy Theatre Hooke designed.

Hooke’s association with Dwight shows how connections between the scientific and arts/crafts communities in Restoration London could be mutually beneficial. Dwight’s methodical experiments with chemicals and materials at his pottery may have been influenced by his knowledge of Boyle and Hooke’s experimental methods in Oxford, and his success brought him to the attention of the Royal Society (full of wealthy gentlemen who were potential patrons). Hooke and the other Fellows were interested in Dwight’s work for its scientific value in investigating different types of clays and glazes. This is just one example of this kind of relationship, but I’m hoping to find others as I continue working on Hooke’s diary.

Author’s note: These two posts on Hooke’s relationships with artists and craftsmen were taken from a conference paper I delivered at ICHSTM Manchester (July 2013) in a session organised by Dr Sachiko Kusukawa as part of her research network ‘The Origins of Science as a Visual Pursuit‘. I would like to thank Sachiko for inviting me to take part. I would also like to thank (and congratulate) the Trustees of the British Museum for allowing members of the public to use the Museum’s images on non-profit websites without special permission.


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