Picturing the Branfill family

The Branfill family of Upminster Hall were prominent landowners in Upminster for over two hundred years from 1685 but we have had no images to show us what they looked like. Upminster’s historian Thomas Lewis Wilson recorded a long list of 23 portraits of the Branfills and other relations which were hanging in Upminster Hall in 1881. Wilson included an engraving by Benjamin Branfill of one family member, but apart from a bust of Andrew Branfill (1640-1709) on his memorial in Upminster Church the family’s images have remained mystery. Until now that is.

Recently, an old photo album containing photographs of various portraits of Branfill family members, including several which can be identified as some of those which hung in Upminster Hall, was offered for sale on Ebay, and the purchaser, who is a contact of mine, has kindly let me have copies of these images. 

Whilst the first portrait in the album does not have any added notes about its subject it is clearly the portrait of Captain Andrew Branfill (who bought Upminster Hall in 1685) which Wilson stated hung above the fireplace in the Old Hall. This painting can be seen in the background of an engraving on page 187 of Wilson’s 1881 book, and is also in the background of an old photograph in my image collection dating from the early years of the 20th century.  This rather crudely executed painting, which is of a man dressed in a style from around the time of Captain Branfill’s birth, seems to have little in common with the bewigged gentleman on the memorial but serves to show how far Branfill had come from his Devonian maritime origins as he earned his fortune and climbed the social scale.

(1) Top left: B A Branfill engraving of the interior of Upminster Hall from Wilson 1881 (2) Bottom left: Postcard image from c 1905-1910 of interior of Upminster Hall (3) Right: Portrait of Andrew Branfill

Only one other portrait from Upminster Hall is shown in Wilson’s book and that is an engraving by Benjamin Branfill of a portrait of Mary Braund (1693-1760), the so-called “Belle of Essex”, who married the first Champion Branfill (1683-1738) in 1711, when she was just 17. Mary Braund was the daughter of Benjamin Braund, Citizen and Vintner of London who settled at Corbets Tey, and photos of the portraits of her father Benjamin and his wife Anne Warner, which also hung in Upminster Hall, are included in the album.  As well as a head and shoulders portrait of Mary, there was a second, seated portrait which Wilson described as “well-executed” and which in 1888, on a visit by the Essex Field Club was “said to be the work of Sir Godfrey Kneller” . It can certainly be described as in the style of Kneller, albeit it is not among the artist’s extensive 881 works listed on the Art UK website.  

(1) Left: B A Branfill engraving of the portrait of Mary Braund from Wilson 1881 – a water colour copy of this engraving hangs in Upminster Hall (2) Centre: Photograph of the original portrait of Mary Braund (3) Right: “Well executed” portrait of Mary Braund

Wilson’s portrait list includes Champion Branfill “High Sheriff of Essex 1734”. This is the first Champion Branfill (1683-1738), the son of Andrew Branfill and Damaris Aylett, who married Mary Braund, whose portraits are shown above. This description matches that of the bewigged gentleman in the portrait below, who is described in the photograph album in exactly the same way as in Wilson’s list.

Champion Branfill (1683-1738)

There are two contenders in the photo album for another portrait from Wilson’s Upminster Hall list which describes the subject as being “Benjamin Branfill (bust in an oval)” which could either be Benjamin (1725-80) son of Champion Branfill and Mary Braund or Benjamin (1765-1841) son of Champion Branfill (1712-1770) and Elizabeth James. The annotation for the photo on the left below suggests that its subject could be either of these two Benjamin Branfills, whereas the portrait on the right below is said to be the younger Benjamin (1765-1841).

The album includes pictures of portraits of two more of the children of Champion Branfill’s and Mary Braund – Charlotte (1724-1797) who married John Harrison of Chigwell Row (1721-1794), and Amelia (1728-1816) wife of Charles Harris, both of whom are buried at Upminster. 

There is no image in the album of the second Champion Branfill (1712-1770) or his wife Elizabeth James (whose image does appear in a family portrait with her parents Robert James and Mary Harris) but there is a photograph of a miniature of their son Champion III (1764-1792) and a photo of a miniature of his wife Charlotte Brydges (1766-1849), who after her husband’s early death married John Harrison junior (1755-1818).

The rest of the album mainly comprises photos of paintings or miniatures of members of the family and descendants of John Harrison (1721-1794), and his wife Charlotte Branfill (1724-1797), and the album was almost certainly assembled by a descendent of that couple. It seems in the 1930s to have been in the possession of an eminent genealogist, Raymond Tinne Berthon (1868-1944), who was descended from John Harrison and Charlotte Branfill. Either Berthon or another family member added brief notes about many of the subjects, and also annotated the backs of many photographs with further personal details. While it seems that some of the photographs were probably printed in the 1920s or 1930s they may well have been taken some years earlier.

The album includes two known surviving portraits. One is of Joseph Cotton, who married Sarah Harrison (1751-1828), which is by the acclaimed artist Sir Thomas Lawrence while the other is of a miniature of John Harrison junior painted by the leading miniaturist of the Regency era, Richard Cosway. At the time of writing this is available for sale, but appears to have been wrongly identified as being his father John Harrison (1721-1794) whereas the album annotation clearly identifies this as being his son.

Another Branfill family miniature has also just been sold by Sotheby’s in their Old Masters Day Sale on 9th December 2021 for £1,386 (inclusive of Buyers and Overhead Premiums). This depicts Champion Edward Branfill (1789-1844) and his sister Jemima Elizabeth Branfill (1792-1867) painted by the leading miniaturist Andrew Plimer.

Miniature sold by Sotheby's 9th December 2021 from the collection of the late Dr Erika Pohl-Ströher
Champion Edward Branfill (1789-1844) & Jemima Elizabeth Branfill (1792-1867) Miniature by Andrew Plimer c.1794

Whilst these three portraits, and no doubt others of the Branfills, still exist, the whereabouts of the portraits which hung in Upminster Hall are unknown. As indicated above, there is a confirmed reference to the portrait of Mary Braund hanging there in 1888, and the postcard of the interior of the entrance hall showing Andrew Branfill’s portrait hanging over the fireplace, was probably produced around 1905-1910, although the photograph may be of earlier date. 

Did the Branfill family remove the portraits when they sold the Hall in 1921, or earlier, and if so, what has become of them in the past 100 years? They were certainly not hanging there when the Hall was sold on in 1927 so are they still hanging in a house of a Branfill family descendent somewhere?  

See Thomas Lewis Wilson History and Topography of Upminster (1881) pp/185-187

See also The Branfills at Upminster Hall

The images in this article are from a photograph album owned by the Braund Society. Except where mentioned above, the location of the original portraits and miniatures remains unknown.

This entry was posted in Upminster Buildings & Places, Upminster People & Events and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s