HESTER BATEMAN: The Finest Silversmithing Woman

Examples of the Bateman family's work at the Birmingham Museum of Art - photo by Wikipedia

Hester Bateman was born in 1709, in Clerkenwell, London, England and died in September, 16th 1794. During her life, she happened to be the most famous English female silversmith of the 18th century. Hester was the daughter of John and Elizabeth Neden or Needham. She got married to the goldsmith John Bateman in 1732 at the Church of St. Botolph’s, Aldergate, in the City of London. The couple met in a small silversmith business where they both worked. After marriage, the family stayed at 107 Bunhill Row in the St. Luke in North London, for over a century. Their sons, John and Peter, later purchased the houses on both sides of theirs, and two of the children occupied those homes in later years.

Hester Bateman berry spoons – photo by Leopard Antiques Antique Silver

Many historians believe John Bateman never got any formal apprenticeship from anyone and Hester had no education- she was illiterate, hence, explains her ‘X’ signature and why many of Bateman pieces had been outsourced elsewhere from talented craftsmen. Despite this, Hester was an adept businesswoman who learnt the smithing trade from her husband. There is no single known Hester workpiece after 1760; most of Hester’s pieces are over-stamped with their marks, meaning they were from other artists.

The Bateman family had a catalogue of various silverwares that included flatware, serving dishes, inkwells and horse-racing trophies. Due to their quality, any antique silver made by Hester Bateman and her family is still very collectable today. The combination of the history of a successful 18th-century businesswoman and the quality of their silverware makes them very popular with modern collectors.

Sterling Silver Teapot by Hester Bateman – photo by Kamm Teapot Foundation

John Bates Snr. was a Chain maker, a branch of the silversmiths’ art. He died on November 13, 1760, leaving in his will, the business, to Hester in a note that said: “unto my loving wife, Hester Bateman, all my household goods and implements”. This indicated that Hester was now an accomplished silversmith and she had just a task ahead of her to continue the business; during this period, women-owned businesses were generally not repulsed, and the trade was highly competitive. But without hesitation, she henceforth took over the management of the family business till her retirement in 1790.

By the time of her husband’s death in 1760 from tuberculosis, Hester had given birth to six children: John Joseph (Joss), Jonathan, William, Peter, Letitia and Ann. At the time, John had been well connected with the business than others, although he is only seen as a watch and clock-maker. However, only Peter, John, Letitia and Ann were alive. Their daughter Letitia was married to Richard Clark.

The changing Hallmarks of the Bateman

Antique Sterling Silver Water Wine Jug, circa 1780, by Hester Bateman – photo by 1stDibs

Hester registered her mark of scroll HB at Goldsmith’s Hall, April 16, 1761, as Hester Bateman in Bunhill Row which was used until 1790. She died in 1794, in the Parish of St. Andrew, where she was living with her daughter Letitia; she was buried at St Luke’s, Old Street, London. She left the family business in the hands of her sons, daughter in law, a grandson and a great-grandson. The business continued to thrive till the mid 19th century when it closed.

Just after her retirement from actively running of the business in 1790, her sons, Peter and Jonathan Bateman, registered their mark. Before going into retirement, Hester left the business in the hands of Jonathan, Peter and Ann Downlinff. Unfortunately, their partnership was of short-lived as Jonathan, who married Ann Downlinff, died in 1791.

In 1791, the mark was changed again to Peter and Ann Bateman. This Ann was Jonathan’s widow or the daughter-in-law and not Peter’s wife; his wife was Alice Beauvoir, and not Hester’s daughter, Ann Bateman, who married Richard Cottrill.

A George III Silver Cream Jug,
circa 1779, by Hester Bateman – photo by Scottish Antiques

Later in 1800, the mark was registered under Peter, Ann and William (I) Bateman. William (I) Bateman was the son of Jonathan and Ann Bateman who in 1800, joined the partnership with his uncle Peter and his mother Ann.

In 1805, after the retirement of Ann, it was registered under Peter and William (I) Bateman.

Between 1815 and 1840, the mark was registered under William (I) Bateman alone.

And between 1839 and 1843, the mark was registered under William (II) Bateman the son of William (I) and Daniell Ball.

What made Bateman’s family business thrive for long?

In between the period of 1760 and Hester’s retirement in 1790, she had recruited many silversmiths to work for her, including her two sons Jonathan and Peter, Peter’s wife Ann Dowling, and their son William (I). Most of the family’s work from 1760 to 1774 was outsourced from other silversmiths who would stamp their mark on the pieces.

Antique Silver Lided Box Sugar Basket, circa 1789, by Hester Bateman – photo by Raritet Antique Gallery

In contrast to what most silversmiths did, specialised in just a single area of production, the Batemans were masters in many areas, hence, produced fine wares right across the board. The main source of their success was due to Hester’s attention to design, detail and quality. All the pieces from the workshop were inspected for the highest standards prior to release to customers and with this attitude, the business grew tremendously. Almost all pieces of Hester Bateman’s silver show identical characteristics such as bead detailed edges and fine designs of bright-cut engraving. The pieces received many commissions from The City Guilds, various religious organs, and private citizens.

After 1774, Hester worked to build up the business at 107 Bunhill Row, London with her sons Jonathan (1747-1791) and Peter (1740-1825). They used the latest technology to produce their silverware cheaply and compete stiffly with other companies using Sheffield Plate. They specialised in the use of thin gauge sheet silver and machines to punch and pierce it. The family dealt in household silverware in a neoclassical style and expanded their range to include many goods such as tea caddies, jugs, salvers, salt cellars, wine labels, trays and ink wells.

Hester’s Legacy

The business that Hester Bateman had built up and ran for thirty years was taken over by her sons Peter and Jonathan after her retirement. They registered a hallmark with their initials “PB” over “IB” in December 1790, but Jonathan died in April 1791. Jonathan’s widow, Ann-Olympe Dowling (1748–1813), entered a hallmark with her brother-in-law Peter, “PB” over “AB”, and worked for the company until 1805. When Peter Bateman retired in 1815, he passed the company to his nephew William (1774–1850), son of Jonathan and Ann Bateman. His son, also called William Bateman, took over from 1839 to 1843 when the Bateman family company closed. Bateman silverware continues to be popular, and Hester Bateman is considered as the finest queen of English silversmiths.