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John Raphael Smith

(1752-1812), Portrait painter, engraver and pastellist

Regency Portraits Catalogue Entry

Sitter in 1 portrait
Artist associated with 186 portraits
Portrait-painter, mezzotint engraver and print publisher. He was known especially for his small-scale pastel portraits.

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John Rowley

30 August 2018, 08:20

For the last fifteen years, I have been searching to find out who Benjamin Fayle really was. Many people are aware that he had built South West England’s first railway in Purbeck, linking Norden to Middlebere, for the export of Purbeck Ball Clay. Local history author, Rodney Legg, described him as a London Potter, but that left the question “How does a potter finance the building of what today would be the equivalent to a motorway?”
My search started with a google search on the name “Benjamin Fayle” and surprisingly I discovered that Sydney Art Gallery had a portrait of him. I contacted them and asked about it. It had never been on display or even photographed. I paid to have it photographed and the art Gallery sent me a copy along with a portrait of his mother-in-law. Also provided was the providence of how it came to be in an Australian Art Gallery. It had been passed down through the family to a Brigadier Richard Cunningham Foot. He had married his third wife Elaine Huxley (an Australian Artist) She realised that the portraits having been painted by John Raphael Smith (a Royal portrait painter) should be in a controlled atmosphere of an Art Gallery.
From the provenance, I was able to contact a living relative of Benjamin Fayle – the now late MRD Foot- an ex wartime SAS member and then a Manchester University Historian. He had been given government permission to access the records of the SOE and the right the official history. He was able to confirm to me that Benjamin Fayle had been a Dublin Merchant who had come to London to trade and had married his great 4 times Grandmother – Charlotte Adams.
The late MRD Foot then put the cat amongst the pigeons by saying that there was a family rumour that Charlotte had been pregnant by George 111 at the time of her marriage to Benjamin. The fact that a Royal portrait painter had been involved in the portraits of Benjamin at the time of the marriage seemed to add weight to the family rumour. I then read his book “Memories of a SOE Historian” and in it, MRD Foot made a conflicting statement, that it was George 11 that had a very brief affair with Charlotte’s mother and Charlotte was the outcome.
I searched and searched, and everything was against the rumours. Benjamin and Charlotte’s first child, Henry, was christened 14 months after the wedding. I discovered that Charlotte’s father had been William Adams – a Master Tailor – on 17 Southampton Street, London. Derby born John Raphael Smith had started his career as an apprentice tailor and had come to London to further his career but found he could make more money from his hobby as an artist.
Further internet searching established at a much later that John Raphael Smith’s daughter Mrs Elizabeth Aders, threw “Blue stocking parties” at which both Benjamin Fayle’s daughter (Charlotte Fayle) and son-in-law (Dr Benjamin Guy Babington) attended. This seems to have confirmed that the Royal Portrait painter was a friend of the family and nothing to do with George 111 family rumour.
This left the George 11 rumour and extensive searching provided no clues to prove or disprove that rumour and so it remains just a rumour.
Benjamin Fayle had his offices at 4 Dove Court just off Lombard Street next to the important Coffee House network of information. He was trading in Silk, Flax, Hemp, Linseed, and Indigo (known as “blue gold” at the time) and was a voting member of “The United Company of Merchants of England, Trading to the East-Indies”
All these imported materials would have been used by a Master Tailor and a reason to meet and marry his daughter. His brother-in-law was the Port of London tax commissioner, a useful contact to a Merchant importing goods through the port.
Benjamin had met and become friends with ThomasByerley – Josiah Wedgwood’s Nephew who after the death of Josiah and at the time of the building of the Middlebere Tramway was running the Wedgwood company. The Wedgwood sons at that time were “playing country Gentlemen”. Josiah Wedgwood 11 was living just outside Blandford Forum at Tarrant Gunville and was for a period High Sheriff of Dorset.
Benjamin had borrowed Thomas Byerley’s horse on at least one occasion to ride from London to Dulwich. Benjamin was executor to Byerley’s will. All this pointing to a strong friendship that had lasted over twenty years. With a secured and timely supply of clay requirement needed for Wedgwoods continued success, Thomas Byerley turned to his friend Benjamin Fayle to build the Tramway. With a brother-in-law (Alexander Jaffray) who had founded the Bank of Ireland, finance for the project was not a problem. Just a few years later in Purbeck the Middlebere Tramway was in action securing a timely supply of clay, just one more of the canals and railways requested by Wedgwoods to transport materials and goods to and from the Potteries. The tramway was in use for a hundred years.

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