No serious study of British orders and medals issued for the Napoleonic Wars would be complete without the story behind the various gold & silversmiths who produced them. Standing above all others in the Napoleonic-era was Rundell Bridge & Rundell, the iconic London-based jeweller for orders, medals and other objects of vertu for Their Majesties, the Royal Family and rich patrons.
Rundell & Bridge: A New Partnership
Our story begins with Philip Rundell who was born at Norton near Bath in 1746 and got his start as an apprentice to Mr. Rogers, a gold and silversmith in the same city. Philip remained with Mr. Rogers until he turned twenty-one and moved to London to further his career. In one of those twists of fate, John Bridge had also joined Mr. Roger’s firm as Philip’s replacement in the months before Philip’s departure. Thus, the seeds were sown for one of the greatest and most successful partnerships in the history of London commerce (1).
Soon after Philip arrived in London, he went to work for Mr. Alderman Pickett who had an establishment at 32 Ludgate Hill in London. Ludgate Hill, with St. Paul’s Cathedral in the background, was a bustling center for shopping as shown in Figure 1. Philip would become a partner with Mr. Pickett in 1769, forming the partnership of Pickett and Rundell. Philip would later buy out the business from Pickett’s daughter in exchange for an annuity after Pickett’s death in 1786. John Bridge had also come to London as an assistant in Pickett’s firm some years before. Thus, one year after Pickett’s passing, Philip would form a partnership with John Bridge and the firm Rundell & Bridge was born in 1787. It has been stated in many sources and here in Philip Rundell’s obituary that it was a unique partnership of two very different men (1):
It has been observed by those who were acquainted with them, that perhaps two partners never met, whose tempers, though in many respects different, accorded so well in the prosecution of their common pursuits. Mr. Rundell was a man of first rate talent in his business, of resolute opinion, high mind, and irritable temper, but with a disposition always ready to do a kind or generous action. Mr. Bridge was a man of equal talent, but mild and affable in his deportment, possessing great equality of temper, and a very engaging suavity of manners. The personal respect by which the late King, and, indeed, all the members of the Royal Family, condescended to distinguish Mr. Bridge may be adduced as a convincing proof of his possessing those qualities.
As England entered the new century and celebrated great naval victories such as Nelson’s Battle of the Nile (1798) and Trafalgar (1805), the spirits within the country were lifted and with it a growing feeling of exuberance throughout London. Lavish spending as well as an increase in commerce driven by the War with France helped propel London as a financial center of wealth. The timing of the formation of Rundell & Bridge was impeccable for taking advantage of the indulging mood within the country.
With a strong partnership well in hand, the appointment of Rundell & Bridge as goldsmith and jeweler to King George III and the Royal Family was the ultimate catalyst to propel the firm to greatness. The Rundell Bridge partnership expanded in 1804 when Philip Rundell’s nephew Edmond Waller Rundell joined the firm and the firm name was changed to Rundell Bridge & Rundell. The nurtured relationship between the Royal Family and Rundell Bridge is well illustrated from excerpts from Robert Southy’s memoirs of George III (2).
Ever since the (George III) Jubilee, the princess Amelia, who had long been indisposed, was declared to be in a dangerous state. When her royal highness received the awful communication, from her physicians, of her impending danger, she expressed a wish to have a very valuable and choice stone, in the possession of her royal highness, put to a ring for the king, for him to wear in remembrance of her; and to complete her wishes, she desired it might be manufactured without delay, that she might have herself the pleasure of presenting, and putting it on the finger of her beloved father, previous to departure from life. To satisfy her wishes, a person from Rundell and Bridges, jewellers to the royal family, Ludgate Street, was sent for to London, and dispatched from them by express. On his arrival at Windsor, he was shown into the chamber of her royal highness, and she gave him the necessary instructions herself for the immediate manufacture of the ring. It was executed immediately, and the man who furnished it had a handsome present for his punctuality. Her royal highness had on the following day the wished for felicity of placing the ring on her royal father’s finger, as he affectionately squeezed her hand at parting. The scene of the ring, for which the king had received no previous preparation, was observed to affect his majesty deeply. Her royal highness died a short time after, November the 3d.
It would be the Prince Regent (Figure 2) who would fuel vast expenditures with Rundell Bridge & Rundell. Such exuberance would peak in 1816, the high point of the firm’s fortunes one year after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Robert Huish in his book Memoirs of George the Fourth expresses harsh criticism regarding the spending habits of the Prince Regent (3).
The marriage of the Princess Charlotte had scarcely taken place, when the public attention was again drawn to the expensive habits of the Prince of Wales, through whose profusion the Civil List was constantly in arrear. His rage for the interior decoration of the palaces appeared to bid defiance to every principle of economy or of prudence. If his eyes were dazzled by the splendor of his gewgaws – if he could behold his Adonis-like form reflected from a hundred mirrors – if he could lie entranced in the lap of some meretricious dame, or brutalize himself with his nocturnal potations of the most stimulating liquors – what were to him the distresses of the country, the impoverished state of its finances, the depression of its commerce, or the starving condition of the People? Heedless of all but the gratification of his own inordinate desires, he persisted in a system of extravagance, profuse as it was vicious – immoral as it was ruinous.
The Prince Regent’s brother, Frederick, Duke of York (Figure 3) was perhaps the most troubled free-spending patron of Rundell Bridge & Rundell. John Watkins in his biography of the Duke of York relates a story about the Duke’s mounting debts (4):
The Duke of York was inattentive to his pecuniary affairs, in consequence of which, he fell into many difficulties, and in some instances his name stood deep on tradesmen’s books. This was the case particularly with Messrs. Rundell and Bridge, the silversmiths and jewellers, on Ludgate Hill. His Royal Highness calling one day at the shop, was waited upon, in the absence of Mr. Bridge, by the principal, when the Duke, among other things, said, “Mr. Rundell, you must be very rich.” The old gentleman replied, ” Bless your Royal Highness, quite the contrary : nobody thinks of paying us what they owe, which keeps us poor : but if we could get in our just debts, we might be rich.” The Duke made no answer, but put down a gold box he had been viewing, and, after desiring that Mr. Bridge would call upon him, went away. The next day a check for five hundred pounds was sent, with an order to place it to-his account. This so pleased Rundell, that he exclaimed, he knew Mr. Bridge could make people pay if he would only speak out as plainly as he did.
This was just the beginning of the Duke of York’s debt problems, particularly to Rundell Bridge & Rundell. To help resolve this debt, his brother, the newly crowned King George IV, would grant the Duke of York the mining rights to Nova Scotia for a period of sixty years. The motivation behind this grant and its relationship to Rundell Bridge & Rundell is best summarized in Frank Leslie’s American Magazine, Volume X (5).
The Duke of York, by his extreme profligacy, had become so utterly and disgracefully involved in debt, that it became necessary for the Government to take cognizance of his situation, out of respect to the majesty of the crown. So this scheme was hit upon to pay off the duke’s indebtedness with the property of the Nova Scotians. The grant was made August 25th, 1826, and on the 12th of September of the same year the Duke of York transferred all the rights and titles belonging to it to Messrs. Rundell, Bridge & Rundell, the well-known jewelers and bankers of London, whose money had for so long a time passed through the pockets of his Grace of York, and whose jewels had glistened on the persons of his favorites. In January of the following year, Frederic, Duke of York and Albany, paid his last debt—that of nature—leaving behind him, as a bequest to the Nova Scotians, the fruits of this most infamous robbery for a most vile purpose. Messrs. Rundell, Bridge & Rundell next proceeded to form a company known as the ” General Mining Association,” which company presently gobbled up, on one pretense or another, all the mining interests of the province. This proprietorship lasted until 1856, when the Nova Scotia Legislature sent a commission to London to confer with the jewelers, who presently disgorged, and the interest in their possession passed into the hands of the Government of Nova Scotia, excepting the ” Albion ” coal mines of Pictou, and certain others at Cape Breton, which they retain until 1886. The result of this change was that the mineral wealth of the province was thrown open to the world. American capital was to some extent engaged in its development.
The End of an Era
The end of the Napoleonic Wars was the beginning of the end of the vast fortunes made by Rundell Bridge and Rundell for many reasons. First, the cessation of hostilities meant less commissions for dinner services, honours and the like to commemorate Napoleonic victories. Second, a post-war recession had an economic impact in London in the years following the end of the conflict. Other rising competitors such as Storr & Motimer, Garrard’s as well as some French firms also started to nibble away at Rundell Bridge & Rundell’s commissions for an ever shrinking market.
Another impact was the inevitable aging of the partners Philip Rundell and John Bridge. Philip Rundell retired from the firm in 1823 and with it an exit of capital necessary to grow the business. Philip died three years later in 1827. As John Bridge aged, he delegated much of his duties to his nephew who in turn lost significant Royal patronage to Garrard’s. Exasperating this was the death of the Duke of York in 1827 and King George IV in 1830, ending an era of unprecedented spending.
While Rundell Bridge & Rundell continued to do business throughout the 1830’s, they would have to rely on doing business in the “middle market” to survive. John Bridge’s passing in 1834 would also mark a milestone and with different partners (many related) coming on board, the firm’s name would change for the last time to Rundell Bridge & Co. for the remainder of its existence.
The sale of Rundell Bridge & Co.’s assets would take place at Christie’s in 1842, the shop would close its doors in 1843 and the firm’s partnership would be dissolved in 1845. Thus ended one of the most successful firms in the history of English commerce.
Orders of Chivalry
During its tenure with the Royal Family, Rundell Bridge & Rundell made a variety of orders of chivalry for the Crown as well as for private clients. While this blog is limited in its scope, I have included several examples of beautiful stars to illustrate the variety of their offerings and workmanship over a 30-year time frame.
Order of the Garter
An Order of the Garter Knight Grand Cross (KG) star by Rundell Bridge & Rundell is shown in Figure 4. The reverse of the star is engraved “RUNDELL BRIDGE & RUNDELL, JEWELLERS TO HIS MAJESTY, and THE ROYAL FAMILY, LONDON”. I believe this star dates to the reign of King George IV due to the similar style of the tooled rim around the motto of this star as compared to the Order of St. Michael and St. George Knight’s Grand Cross Star in Figure 7.
Order of St. Patrick
An Order of St. Patrick Knight Grand Cross (KP) star by Rundell Bridge & Rundell is shown in Figure 5. The obverse of this star is a rather ornate example with the motto set with diamonds. The reverse of the star is engraved “Rundell Bridge & Rundell Jewellers to their Majesties London”. This star probably dates between 1804 when the firm’s name changed from Rundell Bridge to Rundell Bridge & Rundell and 1811 when the son of King George III was named Prince Regent. I mention this as it was typical of this firm to include the Prince Regent’s name in the engraving after 1811. An interesting feature of this star is its eight “hinged articulating rays” typical for early stars of various orders between 1800 and 1810. These steel-sprung hinged rays allow the star to conform to the curvature of the garment they are attached to. In addition, there is a small gold eyelet attached to the tip of each of the eight articulating rays for sewing onto the coat.
Order of the Bath
Rundell Bridge & Rundell also manufactured Order of the Bath stars and badges to supply the increased demand after the expansion of the order to three classes in 1815.
An Order of the Bath Knight Grand Cross (GCB) star by Rundell Bridge & Rundell is shown in Figure 6. The reverse of this star is engraved “Rundell Bridge & Rundell, Jewellers TO THEIR MAJESTIES, His Royal Highness the PRINCE REGENT AND THE ROYAL FAMILY”. The star dates between 1815 when the order was extended to three classes and 1820 when the Prince Regent was crowned King George IV. This star is of the type a Knight Companion of the Bath (K.B) would have switched to in 1815 or what a newly created GCB Knight would have worn after the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars.
Regarding the manufacture of Order of the Bath Knight Grand Cross badges, I was able to find several references below regarding thier manufacture in Parliamentary Papers for the Account of the Extraordinary Expenses of the Army (6):
July 22 1819 – To Messrs. Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, for Military Badges furnished by them, by order of H.R.H. the Commander in Chief——–£3,099 and 14 shillings
December 3 1819 – To Messrs. Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, for eight Military Badges furnished by them, by order of His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief, to the Foreign Aides-de-Camp to Field Marshall his Grace the Duke of Wellington, on their nomination to the Order of the Bath——–£220 and 14 shillings
Order of St. Michael & St. George
An Order of St. Michael & St. George Knight Grand Cross (GCMG) star by Rundell Bridge & Rundell is shown in Figure 7. The reverse of the star is engraved “RUNDELL BRIDGE & RUNDELL, JEWELLERS TO THEIR MAJESTIES, His Royal Highness the PRINCE REGENT AND THE ROYAL FAMILY”. This particular star dates between the founding of the order in 1818 and 1820 when the Prince Regent was crowned King George IV. The engraved No. 2 on the reverse attributes the star to Adolphus Frederick, Duke of Cambridge and son of King George III who was one of the first members of the order in 1820 (7).
Royal Guelphic Order
A star of a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Guelphic Order (GCH) by Rundell Bridge & Rundell is shown in Figure 8. As with the engraving of the GCB Star shown in Figure 8, this star is also engraved “RUNDELL BRIDGE & RUNDELL, Jewellers TO THEIR MAJESTIES, His Royal Highness the PRINCE REGENT AND THE ROYAL FAMILY”. Thus this star dates between the institution of the Royal Guelphic Order in 1815 and 1820 when the Prince Regent was crowned King George IV. This star is typical of what a Senior British Army or Naval Officer receiving a GCH would have worn after 1815 for distinguished services during the Napoleonic Wars.
A star of a Knight Commander of the Royal Guelphic Order (KCH) by Rundell Bridge & Co. is shown in Figure 9. The reverse of the star is engraved “Rundell Bridge & Co., Jewellers To their Majesties and all the Royal Family”. The change of the firm name from Rundell Bridge & Rundell to Rundell Bridge & Co. occurred in 1834. Therefore, this star dates somewhere between 1834 and the death of King William IV in 1837 as this was last year the order was conferred on British subjects. The red leather case also has the proper Rundell Bridge & Co. paper label for a star of this period. Many late awards of the Royal Guelphic Order such as this star were still made well into the 1830’s for retroactive services in the Napoleonic Wars.
Other Medallic Awards
Rundell Bridge & Rundell manufactured various medallic awards given to British Officers for distinguished service. The firm also produced silver plate, vases and presentation swords given by such patrons as the Lloyd’s Patriotic Fund to British Officers for distinguished services during the Napoleonic Wars.
Army Gold Crosses & Medals
Rundell Bridge & Rundell was involved in the production of Army Gold Crosses and Medals for General Officers and Field Officers for various sanctioned Napoleonic battles. An example of a Small Army Gold Medal in its Rundell Bridge & Rundell red leather case (and label) is shown in Figure 10. While Rundell Bridge & Rundell records related to the supply of these crosses and medals are elusive, I was able to find a reference below regarding the manufacture of the Maida Gold Medal in Parliamentary Papers for the Account of the Extraordinary Expenses of the Army (8):
March 29th 1809 – To Messrs. Rundell and Bridge, for gold medals made by them in honour of the Victory at Maida——£509, 8 shillings and 6 sixpence
An example of an “embellished” Soho-minted Gold Seringapatam Medal by Rundell Bridge & Rundell is shown in Figure 11. This particular Gold Seringapatam Medal, awarded to Brigadier-General Alexander Walker, late First Resident of Baroda and Quarter-Master-General to the Bombay Army, was sold by Dix Noonan & Webb Auctioneers on December 11th, 2013. This work, probably privately paid for by Walker, consisted of “glazing” the medal with glass lunettes on both the obverse and reverse, adding a combination ornate suspension & Seringapatam bar in the fashion of an Army Gold Medal, adding a gold ribbon buckle, and placing the medal in a fitted red leather case (with label) to protect the glass lunettes. The Seringapatam Medals were originally issued without any means of suspension and was no doubt done so Walker could wear the medal on his uniform.
Field Marshal Wellington’s Baton
Rundell Bridge & Rundell designed and produced the Duke of Wellington’s Field Marshal Baton given to him by the Prince Regent to commemorate his magnificent victory at Vittoria in 1813. This gesture by the Prince Regent was spurred on when French Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan’s baton (captured at Vittoria) was laid at the feet of the Prince Regent. When the Prince Regent realized that Wellington had no similar “symbol of honour” signifying the Duke’s rank, he ordered a baton to be fabricated by Rundell Bridge & Rundell and immediately dispatched to Spain with the following letter (9):
Carlton House, July 3rd, 1813
My Dear Lord,
Your glorious conduct is beyond all human praise, and far above my reward. I know no language the world affords worthy to express it. I feel I have nothing left to say but devoutly to offer up my prayers of gratitude to Providence, that it has, in its omnipotent bounty, blessed my country and myself with such a General. You have sent me, among the trophies of your unrivalled fame, the staff of a French Marshal; and I send you, in return, that of England. The British army will hail it with enthusiasm, while the whole universe will acknowledge those valorous efforts which have so conspicuously called for it. That uninterrupted health and still increasing laurels may continue to crown you through a glorious and long career of life, are the never ceasing and most ardent wishes of, my dear Lord, your very sincere and faithful friend.
The Duke of Wellington’s Field Marshal Batons presented to him by the Prince Regent, as well as those from various other Allied leaders, are on display at Apsley House in London. An illustration of the Duke of Wellington’s Batons (Figure 12) appeared in the Illustrated London News (December 11, 1852) shortly after the Duke’s death. I was able to find records of payment for two batons in Parliamentary Papers for the Account of the Extraordinary Expenses of the Army (8):
May 12 1815 – To Messrs. Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, for two Field Marshals Batons, for the Duke of Wellington and His Royal Highness the Duke of York
There are several good books on the history of Rundell Bridge & Rundell. One that I would highly recommend is Christopher Hartop’s Royal Goldsmiths: The Art of Rundell & Bridge 1797 – 1843 as shown in Figure 13 (7). While a softbound book, the colored photographs beautifully illustrate some of the finest gold, silver and jeweled pieces of artwork produced by the firm. The forward is written by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and proceeds from the sale of the book benefit The Prince’s Trust. You can find this book on sites such as abebooks.com for around $20.00 to $30.00, well worth the price for a place in a collector’s library.
To my knowledge, records from the Messrs. Rundell Bridge & Rundell were lost, making researching the firm much more difficult. I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has more information on Rundell Bridge & Rundell’s involvement in the production of Army Gold Crosses & Medals.
– Chris C
- The Annual Biography and Obituary for the Year 1828, Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, London, 1828
- Southy, Robert, Authentic Memoirs of Our late Venerable and Beloved Monarch George the Third, J. Jones & Co., London, 1812
- Huish, Robert, Memoirs of George the Fourth, Adams, Victor and Company, New York, 1875
- Watkins, John, A Biographical Memoir of his Royal Highness Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, Henry Fisher, Son, and Co., London, 1827
- Leslie, Frank, The American Magazine, Vol X – July to December, 1880, Frank Leslie’s Publishing House, New York, 1880.
- Parliamentary Papers – An Account of the Extraordinary Expenses of the Army (1815, 1819) ordered to be printed by the House of Commons, Years of 1816, 1820.
- Hartop, Christopher, Royal Goldsmiths: The Art of Rundell & Bridge 1797-1843, John Adamson, Cambridge 2005
- Parliamentary Papers – An Account of the Extraordinary Expenses of the Army (1815, 1819) ordered to be printed by the House of Commons, Years of 1816, 1820.
- Stocqueler, J. H., The Life of Field Marshal Duke of Wellington – Vol I, Ingram, Cooke & Co., London, 1852