And What Did They Do?


St Stephen’s, from across the Walbrook
Photo by N. Cohen

If you helped with the recent fieldwork at Rotherhithe, you may have noticed that we were working in the shadow of Brandram’s Wharf. I’d never given it much thought, but it’s a very distinctive name, and it caught my eye on a memorial in St Stephen’s Church, Walbrook, which I visited during Open House weekend. It’s a lovely Christopher Wren church, much nicer than St Paul’s, and on the wall is a memorial to Samuel Brandram, Merchant, who died in 1808. When I looked on Google, I found his name on the National Portait Gallery’s website, described as an artists’ colourman, and a member of the Wax Chandler’s Company. He was born around 1743, and manufactured and sold paints, based in Sise Lane, Walbrook, just around the corner from St Stephen’s. The NPG website refers to various artists who bought colours from him. It also list a series of firms with Brandram in the name, from 1782 down to 1841 or later. I suspect that he had offices and perhaps a shop in Sise Lane, while the importing and manufacturing happened elsewhere.

Also online is a picture of him, a handsome portrait by John Hoppner of a typical 18th cent. gentleman in a dark coat with gilt buttons, against a red background. Maybe he sold Hoppner the paints! Hoppner was a prolific painter of portraits of the great and good at this period. I couldn’t find out where this portait is. Samuel Brandram lived at Lee in Kent, he bought a house there called Lee Grove, with “charming country views”, which he enlarged and improved, planting shrubberies, cedars, and making a lake. His heir was Thomas Brandram, who died in 1855, unmarried, and whose obituary in the Illustrated London News said he had been head of the old-established firm of Brandram, Brothers & Co for nearly fifty years. I don’t know who took on the firm after this.


My next big discovery was that the firm of Brandrams had much more in Rotherhithe than just a warehouse. On the Ordnance Survey map of Rotherhithe in 1868 is giant complex labelled “Whitelead, Sulphur and Saltpetre Works”, and Stuart Rankin’s helpful booklet Maritime Rotherhithe History Walk A confirms that this was Brandrams Brothers factory. The details he gives are slightly different from the ones on the NPG website. He says there were two factories on the site, from the late 18th century, one belonging to Brandrams, and the other to James Dummelow, which eventually amalgamated. The website gives different names for the firms, I don’t know who is right on this. But it was a very large enterprise indeed, and long-lasting, the chemical works were not demolished until 1958. Rankin’s booklet has an aerial photo of it in the 1920s which gives a good idea of how big it was. The 1868 map shows reservoirs in the grounds which presumably were part of the manufacturing process. The blocks of flats by Canada Water station were built on the site.

Brandram’s Wharf was built in 1870, and apparently was only used by the firm for 10 years. It’s now a Grade II listed building, although only the facade is old. Confusingly, Rankin has a photo of the building damaged by fire, but doesn’t give a date. There are several barges jumbled together in the foreground of the picture. Presumably the name just stuck, I don’t know who used the warehouse after 1880.

I can see there is a lot more that I need to find out, particularly about what Brandrams needed to import to make paints, and what these other chemicals that they made were used for. In the course of the 19th century, paints altered from being natural, mostly mineral, pigments, to synthetic dyes, which were much cheaper than natural pigments. Presumably the Brandrams adapted to or perhaps led this change. If anyone can add to what I’ve found out, I’ll be really grateful, but it was fascinating to get this far.