David Willaume 1 – goldsmith/metalworker; banker/financier

Born on 7 June 1658 on the Pont des Morts (the Bridge of the Dead), in Metz France, he was the third of six children of Adam Willaume and Anne Phillipe who had married in 1651. This somewhat unglamorous sounding birthplace – The Bridge of the Dead – allegedly owes its name to the origin of its construction. The bridge was built in 1282 by the hospital  of St. Nicholas who took and sold the best piece of clothes of every dead person in Metz in order to pay for it.  The Willaume family presumably lived nearby. Today there still exits a Street of the Bridge of the Dead in Metz.

David, having been born into a family of goldsmiths was probably apprenticed to his father and became a Master Goldsmith on 18 April 1680. There is no record of him having established a hallmark in Metz and his name is not in the list of goldsmiths in Metz for 1684.  At this point in time, three events  contributed to David’s decision to leave Metz, a Protestant stronghold.  Firstly, punitive taxes had been introduced on the sale of plate, the Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685 and the manufacture of gold items and large pieces of silver were prohibited. It is not certain when he arrived in London, but he was endenizened on the 16 December 1687. He married Maria Mettayer in the French Chapel in Spitalfields on the 9th October 1688 and they had four children of whom only two survived – Anne and David II.

David Willaume I was a successful man setting up business at the sign of Windsor Castle near Charing Cross and selling jewellery as well. His first registered hallmark was not until November 1698, but with a different address – the sign of the Golden Ball, Pall Mall. By 1714 he had moved again to premises on the west side of St James Street, Mayfair where the business remained with the same sign until 1746 (although he retired in 1728 when his son David Willaume II succeeded him). He enjoyed the patronage of the wealthiest clients in England probably attracted by his grand designs in the French fashion and his use of heavy metal and fine casting techniques.   

Some goldsmiths at this time, including David Willaume I, also started a form of banking and the phrase ‘running-cashes’ came into place. They were in effect providing banking facilities prior to the establishment of banks at the beginning of the 18th century.  These merchants had enough assets to issue cash loans, bills of exchange (similar to cheques) and to exchange cash for plate taken from customers who wished to liquidate or borrow money against their plate. 

During his 30 years of working life, David trained 17 apprentices, 12 of whom went on to have their own marks, including David Tanqueray who married his master’s daughter Anne Willaume.

David Willaume I does not seem to have been hugely fond of his son-in-law David Tanqueray as in his will drawn up in 1720, he leaves only £20 to David, £5 to the poor of the parish of St Martin’s in the Fields (where he was living), his goods and chattels and remaining estate to his beloved son David II, and £80 to his daughter Ann with the clear instruction that the money be given directly to her for her own use and implying that Tanqueray should not get his hands on it!

David Willaume’s precise date of death is not certain, but his will was proved on 26 January 1741 and he was buried at St Nicholas Church, in Tingrith, Bedfordshire on the 27 April 1741, some 2 months after probate was granted.  Perhaps the weather had been bad that year and travelling to Bedfordshire with a coffin in mid-winter may have been difficult. 

David Willaume’s work can be seen in the V&A and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

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