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BENJAMIN GODFREY WINDUS ( 1790 - 1867 )

TOTTENHAM GREEN - COLLECTOR OF ARTS & FINE ANTIQUITIES

 

FAMILY BACKGROUND

Benjamin Godfrey Windus was born in Bishopsgate, London on 15th January 1790 the son of Edward William and Mary Windus. The Windus family were well known as makers of high class carriages and harness makers and were prominent members of The Worshipful Company of Coach Makers which was one of the Livery companies of the City of London. The Company received its royal charter from Charles II in 1677. Under this charter no one could lawfully carry out the trade of coachmaker or coach harness maker within 20 miles of London without being a member of the Company.

The Winduses were particularly successful and highly respected in their business, being the company engaged in to keep the Lord Mayor of London’s coach in good repair and to maintain its appearance with fresh crimson velvet for public display. The family provided four Winduses as Master of the Worshipful Guild of Coachmakers from 1794 to 1826, when Benjamin had that honour.

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BENJAMIN WINDUS -LIVERY COMPANY MEDALLION

Benjamin Windus’s inheritance was not solely derived from his family’s coach-building business, however. His mother’s father, Benjamin Godfrey, had built up a fortune making and selling ‘Godfrey’s Cordial’, a mixture of opium, treacle and spices which was marketed all over the country. Benjamin Windus was later to sell his grandfather’s cordial business and thus he made his fortune from the proceeds of both cordials and carriages and from his directorship of Globe Insurance.

 

In September 1814 Benjamin married his first wife Mary Row, the daughter of William Row of Page Green Tottenham, at All Hallows Church in  Tottenham. They were to have two children William Edward Windus (B c1828) and Mary Windus (B c 1830 Tottenham). It is not known if his wife Mary died in childbirth but she died in January 1830 aged 36 years and there is a memorial dedicated to her in Holy Trinity Church. In 1831 Benjamin Windus married his second wife Margaret Armiger, the first cousin of his late wife, at St Botolph’s Church in Bishopsgate at a ceremony conducted by the Revd George Hodgson Thompson the Minister of Holy Trinity Church, Tottenham. Margaret Windus died in Tottenham in 1842.

 

ART COLLECTIONS

From his father, the owner of the coachbuilding company in Bishopsgate, Benjamin Windus inherited in 1832 a ‘unique and elegant cottage residence’, or as John Ruskin was later to call it, a ‘cheerful little villa’ in Tottenham. One of his first actions on moving in was to add a library to the side of the house where he shelved his books and displayed his growing collection of pictures. In 1835 Benjamin Windus commissioned a watercolour from John Scarlett Davis to celebrate the delights of his picture room which displayed many of his collection of fine watercolours

 

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A collection of paintings and books is the focus of this interior composition. Paintings in large gold frames occupy the walls on three sides of this long room. Appearing to be landscapes, the paintings are evenly spaced and reach the height of the door mouldings. Two paintings rest on red upholstered chairs placed alongside the right wall. The two children pictured are believed to be William and Mary Windus.

Benjamin Windus was well known as a leading art collector of his time, with a large and important collection of Turner watercolours and David Wilkie drawings amongst his collection. He was also a supporter of the Pre-Raphaelites and had many paintings by Millais, Holman Hunt and Rossetti’s tutor Ford Maddox Brown.

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THE HOUSE OF B.G WINDUS WAS ONCE SITUATED ON THE APEX SEPERATING PHILIP LANE AND CLYDE ROAD

THIS EXTRACT FROM AN 1864 MAP ALSO SHOWS HOLY TRINITY CHURCH ON TOTTENHAM GREEN

 

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Benjamin’s uncle, Thomas Windus, (1778-1854) was also a renowned collector of art and a particularly active partner in the family coachbuilding business. Thomas Windus lived nearby at Gothic Hall in Stamford Hill where he accommodated his museum of antiquities in a new wing which may well have been the inspiration for Benjamin’s library.

 



Pictured right is a hand drawn map showing the ‘Treasures of Hackney’. Regrettably we are unable to display the full size map here but ‘Gothic Hall’ is shown at the top centre where the junction of Amherst Road and Clapton Common Road meets at Stamford Hill

 

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A regular visor to the home of Benjamin in Windus was the artist John Ruskin who would immerse himself in the Windus collection. However by far the most prominent of visitors to the house on Tottenham Green was J.M.W Turner and Benjamin Windus was an avid collector of his works. His collection in 1840 contained over 200 of Turner’s works with some 40 of the picturesque views in England and Wales.
Windus was a man of his time and knew the art market well. He had a dealer’s instinct and knew when to buy and when to sell.

Benjamin Windus was very generous in allowing visitors to see his library and his art collection. Entry was by ticket only and always on Tuesday.


WORKS BY J.M.W TURNER (1775-1851)
It is known that Benjamin Windus was one of the chief collectors of Turner’s work and that he commissioned many paintings by him and he was believed to have the largest and finest collection of his works. Here are just two examples that have some tenuous but unproven Tottenham connections that could possibly have influenced Turner.

 

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This picture was painted in 1824 and is of BRIGHTHELMSTONE in Sussex which is now called Brighton. It depicts the old chain pier and shows the Prince Regents pavilion in the centre.
In the 1841 UK Census B.G Windus and his family are to be found at an address in Marine Parade Brighthelmstone which is the area to the right of this scene. It is known that B.G Windus was the owner of this painting and also that Turner was a regular visitor to nearby Petworth House in Sussex.

By coincidence Petworth House was once an estate owned by the Percy Family who also owned considerable estates in Tottenham. Another frequent visitor to Petworth House was the artist John Constable.

 

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This painting by Turner in 1808 shows the ‘Martello Towers’ on the south coast close to Bexhill in Sussex. The Martello Towers were a defence against attack by Napoleon and had been constructed by William Hobson of Tottenham. At a much later date than this picture, William Hobson was a visitor to the house of Benjamin Windus at Tottenham Green.

William Hobson was also an acquaintance of John Constable who painted several portraits of the Hobson family. It is believed that William Hobson introduced Constable to fellow Quaker and Tottenham resident Luke Howard who held a lifelong fascination with clouds and is responsible for the names given to cloud formations to this day. Both J.M.W Turner and John Constable have produced many works that depict clouds and are famous for their compositions.

 

DEATH OF BENJAMIN WINDUS
Benjamin Windus died on the 8th July 1867. His death is registered in the Tottenham district but he was buried at the Church of St Peter, Rodmell near Lewes in Sussex. There is a plaque to commemorate his death displayed at Holy Trinity Church in Tottenham

 

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ST PETER – RODMELL – LEWES - EAST SUSSEX

Pictured above is the Church of St Peter, Rodmell which is the final resting place of Benjamin Godfrey Windus. His son-in-law, the Rev Pierre de Putron, was the vicar at St Peterís Rodmell
By coincidence this is very close to the spot where the writer Virginia Woolf committed suicide in 1941, She was not allowed to be buried in the Church because hers was a suicidal death.

 

AUCTION AT CHRISTIES

The collection of works of arts and antiquities of B.G Windus were auctioned in London after his death. When looking at the extensive list of items that were made available for auction it is hard to imagine just how much they would be worth today.

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Article prepared by Alan Swain - July 2015

Background Image- Lord Mayor of London's Coach- At one time maintained by Windus & Co, Bishopsgate

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