Sunday 14 July 2019

The Parsons of Bath - 18th Century Stone Carvers. Part 1.

The Parsons of Widcombe, Bath.

18th Century Stone Carvers.

Part 1.

Robert Parsons (1717 - 1790).

Thomas Parsons (1744 - 1813).

Some notes and photographs with particular reference to the pocketbook collection of drawings of designs by Thomas Parsons - A Collection of Vases Terms etc, Bath Central Library, B731.7 PAR 38:18

I am very grateful to the archivists at Bath Archives for allowing me access and to take the photograph here of this manuscript.

I have posted previously at some length on the 18th Century stone carvers of Widcombe, Bath, Somerset see:

For the Journal of Thomas Parsons see:  An Artisan in Polite Culture: Thomas Parsons, Stone Carver, of Bath, 1744–1813 Lawrence E. Klein, Huntington Library Quarterly Vol. 75, No. 1 (March 2012), pp. 27-51 (see link above).

Robert and Thomas Parsons.

Robert Parsons was chiefly known for his garden vases and ornaments carved from Bath stone, which he sent all over England. He was born in November 1718, the youngest son of Thomas and Hester Parsons. In 1742 he married Mary Caerleon, the first of his three wives. He was employed in 1744 by John Wood the Elder as a free stone-mason and one of the house-carvers for the building of the Bristol Exchange.

In Parsons’s manuscript commonplace book (private coll) is an account of how he went in 1764 to see Ralph Allen on the day before the latter’s death, to show him designs for tombstones and memorials. Parsons, therefore, is presumably responsible for the pyramid in Claverton churchyard under which Allen lies buried (2). Parsons was responsible for at least one monument in partnership with John Ford I, the large architectural tablet to Winchcombe Packer, which is signed by both men (1).

His work in Bath stone clearly began to define his reputation, as in 1753 Parsons placed an advertisement in the Bath Journal reassuring clients that, contrary to rumour, he had not stopped working in marble. He stated that he still produced chimneypieces and monuments in Italian, Irish and English marble, as well as 'his other business of making Bath Stone ornaments and fine chimnies' examples of which could be seen at his yards 'between the Bridge and Gibbs Mill' (quoted in Sloman 2006/7, 6).

In 1754-5 John Ivory Talbot employed the architect, Sanderson Miller, on work in the new gothic great hall at Lacock Abbey, Wilts. He wrote to Miller shortly beforehand stating that he intended to have the chimneypiece and doorcases ‘finished [by Parsons] in the Painswick stone, having lately seen one done by him for Lord Egmont [at Enmore Castle, Somerset] in the Gothick Taste, which pleased me greatly’ (Miller of Radway archives, Warks RO CR 125B/394).

He was baptised as an adult on 27 June 1742 in Bedminster, Bristol, and in 1751 was invited to be minister to the Bath Baptists. The following year he co-built a 'meeting' in Southgate Street, which was to be superseded by a new Bristol Chapel in Gerrard Street in 1768' cut the sentence. According to a local historian: ‘from the congregation he received no remuneration for his services and never relinquished his business as a stone-carver. 

He was removed to the Eternal World, February, 1790, and was buried in the Baptist Chapel at Walcot’ (Cater 1834 , 292-3). His obituary in the Bath Chronicle of 4 March 1790 states that ‘for forty [sic] years he had been Pastor of the Baptist Congregation in Garrard Street, and it is to his disinterested zeal that the Society owed its origin and establishment’ (p 3, col 2). 

In 1772 he published Letters of the Rev. Mr. Fletcher of Madely on the differences subsisting between him and the Hon. and Rev. Mr. Shirley.

Thomas Parsons was the son of Robert and Mary Parsons, born in April 1744. He married Hannah Frances Best in Colchester on 18 September 1770. He received a liberal education, before taking over the family business. He was, like his father, a carver of stone vases and chimney-pieces. His book of designs in Bath municipal library shows that he copied his vases from drawings by Hoare, Cipriani, Kent, Wedgwood, Eleanor Coade and others. 

He made the famous vase for Mrs Miller into which verses were dropped by the wits of Bath. These she would pick out and read to her assembled guests, an amusement which terminated on the unfortunate day when a most indelicate ode polluted the urn (15).

 Like his father, Thomas Parsons was a Baptist minister, and took over the leadership of the Bath Baptists for a year after his father's death. His published works include Effusions of Paternal Affection on the Death of a Lovely Daughter (1799) and High Church Claims Exposed (1808).
His diary, recently identified by Anne Sloman, records eight months of his life in 1769. It shows him to be engaged in literary and scientific pursuits, including poetry and teaching grammar.

He also records the often dangerous life in his workshop: in the space of two months he crushed his fingers underneath a stone block, and was stabbed in the foot by the point of a turning machine. Thomas estimated that he made only £40 or £50 per year, complaining that he worked far harder than his father ever did, and starved his mind in the process.

Literary References: Gunnis 1968, 292-3; Colvin 1995, 654 (Lacock Abbey); 
Sloman 2006/7, 4-13

Archival References: Thomas Parsons, A Collection of Vases Terms etc, Bath Central Library, B731.7 PAR 38:18, Sloman 2006/7, passim (repr); Diary of Thomas Parsons, January-August 1769, Huntington Library, San Marino, California, HM52593 (Sloman 2006/7, 4-13)

Will: Robert Parsons, 16 June 1790, PROB 11/1193, copy in Bath Record Office 0050/2/4

This biog lifted entirely from


A Collection of Vases Terms Etc.
Thomas Parsons Carver
Title page and Index


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