Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bentley, Thomas (1731-1780)

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BENTLEY, THOMAS (1731–1780), manufacturer of porcelain, was born at Scropton, Derbyshire, on 1 Jan. 1730–1. His father, Thomas Bentley, was a country gentleman of some property. After receiving his education at the neighbouring presbyterian academy at Findern, young Bentley, being then about sixteen years of age, was placed in a warehouse at Manchester to learn the processes of the woollen and cotton trades.

On the expiration of his apprenticeship he travelled for some time upon the continent, and after his return he married, in 1754, Miss Hannah Oates of Sheffield. He then settled in Liverpool, where he set up in business as a Manchester warehouseman, and afterwards took Mr. James Boardman into partnership. In 1757 he assisted in founding the famous Warrington academy, and in 1762 in building the Octagon chapel in Temple Court, Liverpool, for the use of a body of dissenters, of which he was a prominent member, who, though they preferred a liturgy, had scruples with regard to the use of the Athanasian Creed and other parts of the Book of Common Prayer. The frequenters of this chapel were called ‘Octagonians;’ but the life of this sect was short, and not long after Bentley's removal to London the chapel was closed, and the building sold to the corporation.

In 1762 he was introduced to Josiah Wedgwood by Dr. Matthew Turner, when the former was laid up at Liverpool by an accident to his knee. This was the commencement of his friendship with the celebrated potter, which only terminated with his life. Though Wedgwood made his first proposals to Bentley with regard to a partnership towards the close of 1766, it was not until 14 Nov. 1768 that the partnership actually commenced. In the same month Bentley took up his residence at the Brick House, Burslem. This was, however, merely a temporary residence, as he had not then given up his partnership with Boardman in Liverpool.

On 13 June 1769 part of the Etruria works were opened; but, though a house was specially built for him there, he never seems to have occupied it. In 1769 he finally left Liverpool, and after living for a short time at the warehouse in Newport Street, London, he removed to Little Cheyne Row, Chelsea, in order to be near the works which the firm had lately established there for the decoration of encaustic vases.

On 22 June 1772, at All Saints, Derby, Bentley married Mary, the daughter of Mr. Stamford, an engineer of that town, his first wife having died in childbirth within two years from the date of their marriage. In 1774 he removed from Chelsea to 12 Greek Street, Soho, that he might superintend the works which were being carried on there by the firm. His health, however, failed, and in order to get change of air and scene he took up his residence at Turnham Green in 1777. After a protracted illness he died there, 26 Nov. 1780, at the age of forty-nine, and was buried in Chiswick church, where a monument, with a medallion portrait by Scheemakers, was raised to his memory by his friend Wedgwood. The partnership between Wedgwood and Bentley was confined solely to the manufacture and sale of ornamental goods, and upon Bentley's death, in order to wind up the accounts, all the ornamental ware in stock was sold by auction at Christie's. The sale lasted twelve days, the catalogues of which are now extremely rare. Bentley was much more than a mere successful man of business. He had wide and varied attainments, extensive knowledge, and excellent taste. Amongst his friends and associates were many of the leading men of the day, such as Franklin, Priestley, Banks, and others. He wrote a considerable number of pamphlets, articles, and political songs, and contributed frequently to the ‘Monthly Review.’ The article on Brindley in the ‘Biographia Britannica’ was written by him from materials obtained for him by Wedgwood and another friend. His acquaintance with the eminent art patrons of the day was of great assistance to his partner, as by this means they were able to obtain loans of valuable specimens for the purposes of reproduction. His handsome presence and polished manners also stood the business in good stead at the morning audiences in the showrooms of Newport Street and Greek Street, Soho. A medallion portrait of Bentley, executed in jasper by Wedgwood, was presented to the Liverpool Literary and Philosophical Society, and a portrait of him, painted by Caddick, a Liverpool artist, was, in 1851, in the possession of Mr. James Boardman, of Liverpool.

[Eliza Meteyard's Life of Josiah Wedgwood (1865), 2 vols. passim; Boardman's Bentleyana (1851); Jewitt's Ceramic Art of Great Britain (1883), pp. 123, 516–8; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser., v. 376, 449, 509, vi. 14.]

G. F. R. B.