Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Francois Frederick Louis Blaise

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Francois Frederick Louis Blaise (1822-1877) of Philp and Whicker, later Blaise and Co

1822 Born in Hildesheim, Germany (French nationality). His father had been a Captain in Napoleon's army.

1846 Married(1) to Emily Nowell

1861 Living at 67 St. James Square, Westminster: Louis Blaise (age 39 born Hanover - Naturalised British subject), Cutler and Surgical Instrument Maker employing 30 men and 3 boys. With his wife Emily Blaise (age 39 born Bath). Also his niece Sarah Beauchamp (age 15 born Bath). One servant.[1]

1871 Living at Sharon Villas, Mortlake: Francis F. L. Blaise (age 49 born Hanover Hilderstone), Surgical Instrument Maker. With his wife Emily Blaise (age 50 born Bath). Two servants.[2]

1871 Inventions advertised in the Patents section of the London Gazette: - "2594. To Louis Blaise, of Number 67, Saint James'-street, in the county of Middlesex, Surgical Instrument Maker, for the invention of "improvements in uriuometers, saccharometers, alcohometers, and other measures of density of fluids or liquids."[3]

1877 Q1. Married (2) to Louisa Thomas Pearce

1877 June 25th. Died. Surgical Instrument Maker. Probate was not granted to his widow Louisa Thomas Blaise. The case of Louis Blaise was being considered in Chancery in 1878 a year after his death.

Francois Frederic Louis Blaise - by Rosemary Blaise [4]

Francois Frederic Louis Blaise was French and born in Hildesheim in 1822. His father had been a Captain in Napoleon's army. According to Wikipedia, "In 1813, after the Napoleonic Wars, the medieval town of Hildesheim became part of the Kingdom of Hannover, which was annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia as a province after the Austro-Prussian War in 1866".

It was bombed in 1945 by the RAF as part of the Area Bombing Directive which targeted several German towns and cities including Dresden. Hildesheim was very badly damaged - levelled. The cathedral and three quarters of the town was destroyed with tens of thousands of civilian deaths. It had no military significance. It seems Churchill was looking for wooden Medieval towns to destroy. It is just as well they moved because otherwise the Blaise family would not have survived.

Hildesheim, when it was under Frederick of Prussia, became a safe home for French Huguenots. He considered them useful because so many of them were highly trained craftsmen. In respect for him, the Blaises were called Francois Frederic and then their own name, such as Louis or Theophile. Blaise is a very rare surname in the UK, but there are hundreds of them in Belgium, Luxembourg and the USA.

Louis Blaise naturalised and became British in order to own property and to form a partnership for his business. His application papers make it clear that he considered himself French and crossed out the clerk's incorrect entry saying he was German.

Francois Frederic Louis Blaise had a brother, Frederic Theophile (or Frederick Gottlieb in German), also born in Hildesheim in 1820, who was my great-great grandfather. They were Hugenots. They came to London together in the 1840s. Louis was a silversmith and Theophile was a bootmaker with a shop in Burlington Arcade off Piccadilly, and later another shop in Jermyn Street. They were not poor immigrants. Both were entrepreneurs. Rather like the Delius family arriving from a neighbouring town in Germany to promote their very successful wool business in Yorkshire.

Theophile's father-in-law, Georg Koenig, was a piano maker for Steinway, which had a factory in Hamburg, and opened a London office to repair Steinway pianos for the English market. The Koenigs were a famous family of German organ builders dating back to 1685.

Your Grace Guide entry mentions the machine made by Lord Willoughby de Erseby. 1839. "Messrs. Philp and Whicker (Late Savigny and Co.), of 67 St. Jame’s-street, having continued their experiments in the manufacture of cutlery, with the use of peat compressed by the machine invented by Lord Willougby de Eresby, instead of coal, deem themselves called upon to announce the perfect success which has attended them."

Of course, he did not make it himself personally, but he was very interested in steam engines and even had his own railway on his country estate in Lincolnshire. His family had royal connections and became Deputy Lord High Chancellor in 1820, looking after the monarch's interests in Parliament, attending Coronations and the State Opening Of Parliament. His London home was in Piccadilly. St James's Palace is only a few yards away from 67 St James's and the first two kings (George I and George II) of the House of Hannover resided there.

I was unaware of the Willoughby de Erseby connection because the family story was that Louis imported a lot of the silver and stainless steel he needed for the surgical knives and surgical instruments, and assembled them in his London Factory, which had been in Wilton Road, off Vauxhall Bridge Road, but then moved to larger premises on the south side of Westminster Bridge. The census refers to 30 men and 3 boys working for him. Presumably a surgeon's knife with a silver handle made by Louis Blaise himself for a well respected surgeon came more expensive! The very best surgeons of the day used his surgical instruments which were made with silver handles. He sold them like canteens of cutlery.

His address at 67 St James's was a five-storey house with the shop on the ground floor and close to White's Club. The story goes, when it was being redecorated, the members of White's were entertained in Louis Blaise's house.

Louis died in 1877 at the age of 55. The family story was he was poisoned by this second wife, Louise Pearce, whom he had married three months previously. I do not know how true this is, but she certainly was committed to the lunatic asylum at Bedlam for a while.

His Will shows he left £12,000 which in today's money is probably worth about £1 million, but after his death, solicitors stepped in to pay off any creditors and sell his stock. His brother Theophile was supposed to benefit from Louis' Will, but it was changed on his death bed where Louis' signature was replaced with a "X" because he was too ill to do anything else and everything went to his second wife. By 1878, she was in Bedlam. Theophile did not witness the change in his brother's Will and his name was not spelt correctly.

The property at 67 St James's was part of the Crown Estate. His payments were shown in the Land Tax Records. Louis bought a freehold property Sharon Villa, in the parish of Mortlake, near Barnes. It was a large brick house set in a couple of acres of land with a garden and a paddock - in those days that would have been his country retreat.

Note: 67 St James's had been a shop with goldsmiths, silver smiths and jewellers for many years. According to Boswell's Life of Johnson, Dr Johnson (as in Dictionary) bought his silver shoe buckles from 67 St James's in 1778 - "In April 1778 James Boswell accompanied Dr. Johnson in a hackney coach to buy a pair of silver shoe buckles. They had some difficulty in finding the shop, for, as Johnson complained, ' "To direct one only to a corner shop is toying with one." . . . This choosing of silver buckles was a negotiation: "Sir, (said he,) I will not have the ridiculous large ones now in fashion; and I will give no more than a guinea for a pair." Such were the principles of the business; and, after some examination he was fitted." [5]

Precision instrument making continues in the Blaise family.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 1861 Census
  2. 1871 Census
  3. London Gazette in 1871
  4. An account from Rosemary Blaise (Family Member).
  5. Boswell's Life of Johnson, ed. G. Birkbeck Hill