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Art supplies in London: the colour shops of Elizabeth Moseley and Anna Barnes

Painting in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries required the careful preparation of tools and materials. Pigments were ground and mixed with oils or other mediums such as gum arabic to create a wide array of colours for painting. But what was a Colour Maker or Seller? It is worth quoting the entry in Joseph Collyer’s 1761 trade guide to provide a better picture of what the trade entailed:

Those of this trade prepare and sell all sorts of colours, paints, oils, and varnishes, for the use of Painters, Japanners, &c. for which purpose some of them keep large shops and warehouses. The Colour-man buys the simple colours, compounds some of them, and grinds such as require it. This is a very profitable branch of trade, though hazardous to the health, especially if the boy is not particularly careful to keep himself clean; and therefore it is not at all fit for weakly constitutions. The Colour-man ought to have a very good eye, and to make himself a complete judge of colours, to know all their properties, and the common tricks used to sophisticate them; not to impose upon his customers; but that he may guard against the imposition of those who would impose upon him in the goods they sell to him.

The Colour-men confine themselves to what relates to painting: But they not only serve the house-painters with all their colours and brushes, but the liberal painters with their fine colours, pencils, brushes, and canvas fit for drawing upon. They take with an apprentice from 10 to 30 l. and give a journeyman who understands the business of a shop 20 or 25 l. a year and his board. But the grinding of their colours is performed by labourers at 10 or 12 s. a week; and some of the more common sorts, as white lead, are usually ground by a mill: From hence it happens, that most of the apprentices, bred up in these shops, not being able to set up in their own business, which would require at least 200 l. turn journeymen house-painters.

J. Collyer, The parent’s and guardian’s directory (London, 1761), pp. 111-112.

As Collyer’s description shows, artists and a whole host of other tradespeople could buy their pigments and materials from colour shops in early modern London, and colour sellers required a significant amount – £200 or more – in order to set up in trade.[1] This blog post offers new information about two such colour shops run by women in the early eighteenth century, namely the shops of Elizabeth Moseley and Company, and Anna Barnes.

Elizabeth Moseley and Company was trading from a shop called the Lamb in Budge Row, as recorded in a Sun Fire Office insurance policy dated 12 May 1720. The name of the shop was a reference to the previous trade that proliferated in Budge Row, as ‘Boge’ or ‘Budge’ refers to lambskin fleece, indicating that the street was originally dominated by skinners. However, by the eighteenth century, a greater mix of trades was present and Moseley and Co ran a ‘Colourshopp’ with all goods and merchandise kept ‘in their Warehouse against their Said Dwelling House’, suggesting that the business was operating on a grander scale.[2]

Elizabeth Moseley was the widow of Nicholas Moseley, a Citizen and Waxchandler. In 1712, Nicholas Moseley bound a youth named John Lancashire apprentice for a large premium of £129 but Nicholas died the following year, as shown by burial records for the church of St Swithin, London Stone. Elizabeth ran a colour shop after her husband’s death, continuing to train John Lancashire as a colour seller in her household. Lancashire completed his seven-year apprenticeship and was admitted free of the Waxchandlers’ Company by servitude in 1719.[3]

A further search for documents relating to Elizabeth Moseley reveals that she entered into a co-partnership with John Lancashire and a man named Samuel Sandeforth who was also a Citizen and Waxchandler probably just before she took out her insurance policy in 1720. Though I have not been able to view the document in person, the description of ‘Samuel Sandeforth’s covenant’ dated 24 January 1744/5 in the Kent Archive and History Centre provides enough details to show that it is relevant and it is therefore quoted below:

‘Samuel Sandeforth’s covenant, 24th Jan. 1744/5, to his former partner, John Lancashire, both citizens and wax chandlers of London.

That he would pay his respective part of any claims made on the remaining cash balance of the partnership and on a debt owed to them by a bankrupt, following the break up of their partnership as colour sellers, carried on by them for several years on their own and prior to that together with Elizabeth Mosley, widow’.

Kent Archive and History Centre, U908/B6, 1745.

Remarkably, a plan made for the Mercers’ Company in 1734 that is now in the British Library appears to depict the shop at the sign of the Lamb that Elizabeth Moseley and Company occupied from around 1717 onwards. In the plan, the shop is labelled as in the possession of ‘Mr Sandeforth’, sandwiched between ‘Mrs Colebrook’ to the East and ‘Mr Brownsword’ to the West. Moreover, tax records for Cordwainer Ward in London offer corroborating evidence that this was Elizabeth Moseley’s shop. For example, in 1722, the records list ‘Mrs Colebrook’, ‘Mrs Moseley & Co’, and ‘Ellis Brownsword’, seemingly indicating the order in which the shops were arranged from east to west.[4] In 1723, it reads ‘Mrs Colebrooke’, ‘Mrs Moseley & Compa’, with ‘Samll Sandiford’ and ‘Jno Lancashire’ described as ‘Lodgers’, followed by ‘Ellis Brownsword’. In 1725, the entry reads ‘Madm Moseley, Mr Lancashire & Sandiford’.[5] By 1729, there are entries for ‘Madm Colebrook’, ‘John Lancashire & Co’, and ‘Madm Brownsword’, which shows a progression of owners as retailers died but their family and associates retained the business premises.[6] Elizabeth Moseley may have retired as head of the business in the late 1720s given that John Lancashire’s name was recorded first in the tax records of 1729. She was buried with or very near to her husband, in the middle aisle of the church of St Swithin, London Stone, on 19 January 1732.[7]

British Library Maps Crace IX Plan of property on Budge Row 120B, 1734
© The British Library

The plan of the shop labelled as in the occupation of Mr Sandeforth in 1734 depicts its layout, with the shop front facing Budge Row and measuring just over 18 feet. There was a ‘Compting House’, Yard and Kitchen on the ground floor and the upper floors would have provided living accommodation for Elizabeth Moseley and her lodgers/co-partners. Though the partnership between Sandeforth and Lancashire was dissolved in the 1740s, Sandeforth remained on Budge Row until the late 1750s. He appears to have still been on good terms with John Lancashire, judging from his will. He bequeathed £50 to ‘my late Partner Mr John Lancashire’ for mourning ‘and desire he will advise my Wife in her Affairs’. John Lancashire still had close ties to the colour trade just before his death in the late 1760s. He left mourning rings worth twenty shillings to ‘each of the Gentlemen of the Colour Trade that meet Monthly at the Sun Tavern in Milk Street who are of the Club which I belong’.[8] This reference to an informal company or ‘club’ of colour sellers and makers suggests that it included freemen from several livery companies, united by their trade.

Benjamin Cole, Portsoken Ward with its division into parishes according to a new survey, 1755
Heal,Topography.225 © The Trustees of the British Museum.

The colour shop run by Anna Barnes was located ‘next the 7 Starrs in the Minories’ in the parish of St Botolph Aldgate. Her policy was dated 19 May 1720.[9] Whilst it has not been possible to uncover the same level of detail about Barnes’ shop (finding a floor plan is quite unusual!), her will shows that she was a widow and that she left the remainder of her estate to ‘my loveing Friend Mrs Susanna Ferribe Widow of Mr Edmond Ferribee’, indicating that she did not have any surviving children or close relatives.[10] The map above shows the Minories in greater detail. It is likely that the Seven Stars was an inn, providing a useful landmark. There was a Star Court and Star Alley on the Minories in the eighteenth century near Vine Street, which may give an indication as to the location of Anna Barnes’ shop.

A trade card for Crook Wilson, an ‘Indico Maker and Oilman At the Blue Dog in the Minories’ shows that there were still colour shops on this street in the later eighteenth century.

Trade card of Crook Wilson, oil & colourmen
Heal,89.174 © The Trustees of the British Museum

By exploring records relating to the businesses of Elizabeth Moseley and Company, and Anna Barnes, it is possible to illuminate some of the ways in which women contributed towards the production of art in early eighteenth-century London. Their colour shops would also likely have supplied all manner of tradespeople engaged in furniture making, house painting, sign painting, scenery painting and other forms of interior decoration and the decorative arts. The example of Elizabeth Moseley in particular shows how the widows of livery company freemen continued to provide training for the apprentices within their households and formed business co-partnerships in their respective trades.


[1] Jacob Simon’s online database ‘British artists’ suppliers, 1650-1950′ expands our knowledge of colour shops and related businesses such as Winsor & Newton, which was founded in 1832.

[2] London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) CLC/B/192/F/001/MS11936/011.

[3] The National Archives (TNA) IR1/1, f. 113; LMA P69/SWI/A/008/MS04314, Register of Burials for St Swithin London Stone and St Mary Bothaw, 1678 – 1812; LMA COL/CHD/FR/02/0381, Freedom Admission Papers, September 1719.

[4] LMA CLC/525/MS11316/070, Assessment Book, 1722-3.

[5] LMA CLC/525/MS11316/073, Assessment Book, 1723-4; LMA CLC/525/MS11316/079, Assessment Book, 1725-6.

[6] LMA CLC/525/MS11316/091, Assessment Book, 1729-30.

[7] LMA P69/SWI/A/008/MS04314.

[8] TNA PROB 11/863/198, Will of Samuel Sandeforth, Wax Chandler of Wandsworth, Surrey, 18 February 1761; TNA PROB 11/941/270, Will of John Lancashire, Wax Chandler of Saint Thomas the Apostle, City of London, 11 August 1768.

[9] LMA CLC/B/192/F/001/MS11936/011.

[10] LMA DL/AL/C/003/MS09052/044, Number 11, Will of Anna Barnes, St Botolph’s Aldgate, 26 July 1731.


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