[dropcap]J[/dropcap]oseph Manton was my 3x great grandfather. Born in 1766 to John Manton and Mary Gildon in Grantham Lincolnshire he was baptised at St Wulfram’s Grantham Lincolnshire on 29th April 1766.
Both his paternal Manton, and maternal Gildon lines can be traced back to c.1640 living near Lincoln.
Henry Gildon, Joseph’s maternal grandfather was a yeoman of St Swithin’s Lincoln, who in 1754 bequeathed a messuage, close and waterwheel in Houghton, Walton and Spittlegate near Grantham to his wife Ann. He also left Joseph and his brother John silver cups.
John Manton, Joseph’s paternal grandfather, was a landowner and farmer of Spittlegate.
Joseph’s father, also John, married Mary Gildon, Henry Gildon’s daughter on 22 April 1747 at St Margaret’s in the Close Lincoln. After her death in 1769 John Manton married Ann Peak. John was a farmer and corn miller who led an unsophisticated life becoming bankrupt in 1820.
As a result of being raised in rural isolation Joseph’s life was unpromising and his future uncertain.
He was however fortunate to live in Grantham where Edward Newton, a provincial gun-maker also resided, and to whom Joseph was apprenticed to at the age of 16. As well as Joseph and his brother John, two other Georgian gun-makers of note, John Twigg and Robert Wogdon also learnt some of their skills in Grantham.
Later Joseph became apprentice to his older brother John who was 14 years his senior, and who had by 1781 established himself at 6 Dover Street, London. By 1789 Joseph was branching out on his own and in 1790 at the age of twenty-four he applied for his first patent. Both the King and the Duke of Richmond, then the Master of Ordinance, were involved. It took until 1793 for the patent to be allowed.
Neal and Back stated “Perhaps if Joe Manton had managed to co-operate more closely with Major Bloomfield instead of antagonizing with the authourities, he would have met with more success. However, this he was not prepared to do – he had already developed those characteristics of doggedness and determination that were to colour his whole life.”
On 5th July 1792 he had taken out a patent covering an anti rattle spring for use in triggers that were still being used in 1966.
On 17th January 1792 Joseph married Mary Ann Aitkens at St George’s Church Hanover Square and was living at 23 Davies Street Hanover Square.
Between 1794 and 1809 Joseph and Mary Ann had nine children – Susanna, named after Mary Ann’s mother, John Aitkens, named after Mary Ann’s father, then Joseph, Henry, Frederick, Mary Ann, Caroline, Charles and the youngest John Augustus.
Mary Ann’s father, John Aitkens, had been appointed executor of his mother in law, Ann Benyon’s, will in 1773. It was the property mentioned in this will that would eventually filter down to the Manton family.
When John Aitkens died it was made quite clear in his will that his estate, divided between his two daughters, was to for their own use and ‘not to be subjected to the debt power or control of her present or future husband’.
John Aitkens’ estate included a parcel of land in Brompton Lane of 2 acres. The land was under cultivation and assigned to John Aitkens under a 99year lease dating from 1724. This was for Mary Ann Manton alone during her life and then to her children as tenants in common.
However Mary Ann’s husband certainly benefited!
Between 1794 and 1796 Joseph was producing 100 guns annually and 1796 saw him appointed Gunmaker to the East India Company.
In1806 Joseph produced 300 guns. Between 1807 and 1810 Joseph was at the peak of his fame as a gunmaker. It was during this time that he turned his attention to clocks and chronometers. However on his presenting his invention to the Board of Longitude, the board was of the opinion that it did not deserve their attention.
Joseph was not deterred and in 1807 took out a patent on his invention. By 1810 he had taken out a patent for the “Improvement in Telescopes”.
Not satisfied to be admired for his craftsmanship in the making of guns and clocks he also designed improvements for shoeing horses!
Between 1814-15 a shooting gallery in Davies Street was a favourite amongst the aristocracy and sportsmen. It was an indication of the great esteem in which that Joe Manton was held, that he was allowed to participate with the gentry. Lord Bryon frequented the gallery and considered himself to be the best shot in London, only to be told by Joe “No my Lord not the best, but your shooting today was respectable” Joseph was described as having a glib tongue!
With his family growing up Joseph had problems. Jacques Stiger wanted to marry Joseph and Mary Ann’s eldest daughter Susanna. Jacques was the son of a Parisian Merchant who had agreed to give his son a partnership prior to handing his business to him in a couple of years. Joseph seemed quite pleased initially stating that he had no objection to the union and further saying in a letter to Monsieur Stiger that “I shall not give my daughter any fortune at present; I consider her a fortune to any man being so good and accomplished. I intend to give her for her own use £150 per year”
However not long after Joseph withdrew his permission for Susanna to marry Jacques as his father had decided not to share his business with him.
Susanna and Jacques secretly married at St George’s Church Hanover Square on the 8 June 1818 without Joseph’s knowledge.
This caused consternation and even after eight years Joseph remained adamant that he would not be satisfied with the marriage and never would be!
However he did give Susanna £250 in 1820 but his promise to give her £150 per year was to come back to bite him when he suffered financial difficulties in coming years.
Ever confident Joe was quoted as saying about another of his inventions that he was “about to bring out a new waterproof lock which would eclipse everything of the kind that hitherto appeared. It will fire under water; indeed as long as you keep the muzzle out of the water, you may, if you like, use the stock as an oar in pushing your shooting punt forwards; the gun will still go off for certain!”
At the age of twenty-four Joseph Manton had stood up to the Duke of Richmond over one of his patents and at the age of sixty he was still prepared to stand up for himself against the world.
He had spent years taking legal action against fellow gunmakers including his brother John but what was his undoing was to spend more than a decade arguing unsuccessfully with the Board of Ordinance that eventually was to see him crash and burn.
By 1824, with the fall in demand for his guns and ever increasing legal expenses, he was in serious financial difficulties. To try and solve the situation he had found himself, he formed an agreement with his wife, son Henry, and solicitor Edward Plomer to develop the Brompton market garden left to Mary Ann by her father. From this development Joseph was to receive £420 per annum. However if Joseph thought that this would help his financial position he was sadly mistaken.
During 1825 at least ten actions were taken against him in the Court of King’s Bench, Westminster to recover debts. Mortgaging Mary Ann’s property in Brighton raised £2,000 and another £2,000 was lent to him by Sir Richard Sutton.
In 1826, despite being declared Bankrupt, and his possessions being auctioned he made the announcement that he was planning to recommence his business. It was also in 1826 that Joseph sent his son Frederick to India to start a branch of his gunmaking firm in Calcutta. Frederick returned in 1828 and John Augustus replaced him in India
Mary Ann Manton had lost her home in Hanover Square and moved to her house in Brighton, the Bankruptcy Commissioners allowing her a sum of £4 per week. By Christmas 1826 Joseph had joined his wife in Brighton, obtaining his discharge from bankruptcy in January 1827.
Back in London it soon became apparent that Joseph’s attempt to re establish his business had failed and in 1828 he was living in rooms in Oxford Street, his landlord being James Purdy, his former employee.
By late 1828, Mary Ann left never to return. Previously, in 1825 she had sold a dozen large silver folks, some tablespoons, a pair of candlesticks and a cream pot raising £ 40 as Joseph had left her ‘without’. To make things worse Joseph benefited from his father in law’s estate meant to be for Mary Ann’s use.
His debt ever unsustainable, he was again declared bankrupt in 1828 and imprisoned in the Kings Bench Prison where he paid 7s. rent and was attended by a man named Galworthy. Another inmate at the same time was Joseph’s solicitor and accountant. He obtained his discharge under the Insolvency act on 19 September 1831.
It was at this time that his daughter Susanna sought legal advise wanting to claim the annuity valued at £1895 that had been promised to her by her father. On the 5 November, 1828 the Vice Chancellor state:
It appears to me that the Commissioners have erred in their judgement. The substance of the agreement, as stated in the letters, cannot be mistaken: they say “I will not immediately pay a gross sum but I will pay an annuity”. The marriage was solemnized and the annuity, for a considerable time paid. I am, therefore, of the opinion that the prayer of the petition must be granted.
On the 18 February Susanna received a cheque for £ 322.8s.9d being the value of her annuity at 2s.9d in the pound.
Again in 1829 he was in financial difficulty. The London times reported “ upon receiving his certificate, he entered business again, having been assisted with the sum of £700 by a Mrs Wilkinson (described as a widow), who had formally lived, as a nursemaid, with the family.”
At this time he was living with Dinah at 6 Hollis Street Cavendish Square.
Joseph had been in a relationship with Dinah for some time Dinah having three daughters, two Caroline born 1809 and Charlotte born 1811 that were baptized with the father being named ‘Joseph Manton’. Another daughter, Mary Ann was later to follow her sisters to Australia. Caroline married Joseph’s son Charles in 1827 at St Mary Le Bone and Charlotte married John Augustus in 1831 at St Mary’s Lambeth.
On the 19 January 1832 all proceedings concerning his bankruptcy were terminated but typically Joseph decided to set up business again, however this only lasted 14 months.
In 1834, at Joseph’s request, John Augustus returned from India. Joseph began business as Joseph Manton & Son at 6 Hollis Street, Cavendish Square. A new patent was taken out and Joseph stated it would “take the shine out of anything hitherto invented, and show what fools all the gunmakers have been”.
Charles, Joseph’s son at this time was the Master Furbisher at the Tower of London. It would appear that he was the only one who was enthusiastic about the invention.
Dinah died 11 October 1834 and was buried in a grave purchased by Joseph the day before for £3.3.3d.
Extremely vain and egocentric he had been described as being a genius. Dying virtually penniless at noon on 6 July 1835 the records of Kensal Green Cemetery show that he was buried with his mistress in lot 189 at Kensal Green Cemetery.
His death notice in The Times read: “On the 29th Ult., at his residence Maida Hill, in the 70th year of his age. Mr Manton deeply lamented by his family and a large circle of noblemen and gentlemen.” Several epitaphs were prepared by his later patrons at the request of his family and sporting friends and the following was chosen: “In memory of Mr Joseph Manton, who died on the 29th day of June, 1835, aged 69 years. This humble tablet is placed here by his afflicted family merely to mark where are deposited his material remains. But an everlasting monument to his unrivalled genius is already established in every quarter of the globe by his celebrity as the greatest artist of fire-arms that ever the world has produced; as the father and founder of the modern gun trade, and as a most scientific inventor in other departments, not only for the benefit of his friends and sporting world, but for the good of his King and country.”
Joseph Manton’s legacy as a gunmaker lives on. His guns are coveted fetching large amounts at auction.
Joseph Manton had made his name as a Master Gun-maker making guns for English and French Royalty and Nobility. But in fact he was more than a simple gun-maker he was an inventor and became known as the King of the Gunmakers.
Joe would take no apprentices, only employed the most skilled workmen, supervising every detail and discarding anything that did not please his critical eye.
Much has been written about the Gun Maker Joseph Manton.
Keith Neal and D.H. L. Back wrote The Mantons: Gunmakers, a very detailed book about both Joseph and his brother John’s gunmaking achievements.
In 2012 The History Channel had an episode in their Masters series – Joseph Manton, Master Gunmaker. The producer of this series was asked which of the masters he perhaps admired the most and he replied “Joseph Manton. It was remarkable how the two experts we interviewed spoke of him with real warmth and affection…. like an old friend… and constantly referred to him as Joe. Manton was something of a mad genius, but by all accounts a kind and generous character too. It says something that a group of London gunsmiths got together a few years ago to clean up his neglected tombstone in Kensal Green Cemetery.”
In an article in the Melbourne newspaper The Argus dated 23 Feb 1935 titled ‘King of Gunmakers Joe Mantons Centenary” by William E. J. Cole he quotes Colonel Hawker’s book Hawker on Shooting (8th ed. 1838) “Another great revolution has taken place among the gunmakers. Poor Joe Manton once the life and soul of the trade is no more”. He was the younger brother of John Manton, who was the leading and fashionable gunmaker until eclipsed by Joe. W.W. Greener in “The gun and its development” wrote” The flintlock reached its zenith about 1815 when the renown gunmaker Joseph Manton, the ‘King of Gunmakers’ had so improved and added to its mechanism as to make a first rate sporting gun veritably an engine…… This wonderful maker appears to have led the fashion everything relating to guns, and his pattern, locks, stocks, and furniture were minutely copied by gunmakers of less note.”
Cole added, “In addition to being a gunmaker, Joe Manton was an inventive genius. Among his many patents are those for airtight tubes for telescopic slides, a tool for boring holes for screws instead of nails for horses shoes, a chronograph to work in a vacuum”
Another excerpt from The Gun and its Development, 9th ed. by W.W. Greener – ” The name best remembered among the gunmakers of this period is that of Joseph Manton, who was not only clever and talented gunsmith, but an inventor not devoid of genius. His guns were deservedly popular, and extraordinarily high prices were given for them, seventy guineas being his usual price. He produced the best of flint-locks, and fitted them with numerous improvements. ………. He lost much money in litigation, and died poor at the age of sixty nine.”
The 1841 census showed that Mary Ann Manton, Joseph’s widow, was living Robert Street Middlesex with her son Joseph and daughter Caroline, as well as a servant. It was here that she died in August 1845, living for ten years after her unfaithful husband died.
She was buried at St Giles in the Field London. She died with only £300 remaining from what was a large inheritance clearly meant to be for her own use and not for the benefit of her husband.