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December 19, 2010 | History

Edward Wedlake Brayley

1773 - 23 Sep 1854

BRAYLEY, EDWARD WEDLAKE, the elder (1773-1854), topographer and archæologist, born in the parish of Lambeth, Surrey, in 1773, was apprenticed to one of the most eminent practitioners of the art of enamelling in the metropolis. Before the term of his indentures had expired he became acquainted with John Britton, 1771-1857 [q.v.], whom he used to meet at the shop of Mr. Essex in Clerkenwell. Both the young men had literary and artistic tastes and aspirations, and longed to emancipate themselves from the mechanical pursuits in which they were engaged. They formed a close friendship, which was maintained for the long period of sixty-five years, and they produced together many beautifully illustrated volumes on topographical subjects. They began their literary partnership in a very humble way. Their first joint speculation was a song called 'The Powder Tax, or a Puff at the Guinea Pigs,' written by Brayley and sung by Britton publicly at a discussion club meeting at the Jacob's Well, Barbican. The ditty was very popular, and seventy or eighty thousand copies of it were sold. Soon afterwards Brayley wrote 'A History of the White Elephant' for Mr. Fairburn in the Minories. In 1801 Brayley assisted Britton in producing the 'Beauties of Wiltshire.'

About the same time the two friends entered into a mutual copartnership as joint editors of the 'Beauties of England and Wales.' Having concluded arrangements with a publisher, they made in 1800 a pedestrian tour from London through several of the western and midland counties, and visited every county of North Wales in search of materials for the work. They soon discovered that they possessed but few qualifications for the adequate execution of their self-imposed task; but as the work progressed they gradually extended the sphere of their studies, and finally they acquired a fair, if not a profound, knowledge of the essential branches of topography and archæology. The first volume appeared in 1801, and contained descriptions of Bedfordshire, Berkshire, and Buckinghamshire. Accounts followed of the other counties in their alphabetical order. The first six volumes, ending with Herefordshire, were jointly executed by Brayley and Britton, the greater part of the letterpress being supplied by Brayley, while most of the travelling, correspondence, labour of collecting books and documents, and the direction of draughtsmen and engravers devolved on his partner. Although it had been at first announced that the work would be comprised in about six volumes, and finished in the space of three years, it extended to no fewer than twenty-five large volumes, and was in progress of publication for nearly twenty years. This once famous and highly popular work was beautifully embellished with copper-plate engravings. Dissensions arose, however, between the two authors and their publishers. At length the former practically withdrew from the undertaking (1814), and other writers filled their places. Brayley produced the accounts of Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Kent, and part of the description of London (vols. vi.-x. pt. 2); but his name does not appear in any subsequent volume, and Britton was only responsible later for parts of vols. xi. and xv. The other volumes were compiled by the Rev. Joseph Nightingale, Mr. James Norris Brewer, and others. The 'Beauties' were completed in 1816. Upwards of 50,000l. had been expended on the work, and the number of illustrations exceeded seven hundred.

After the termination of his apprenticeship Brayley had been employed by Henry Bone q. v. to prepare and fire enamelled plates for small fancy pictures in rings and trinkets. Subsequently, when that artist was endeavouring to elevate painting in enamel to the position it eventually acquired in his hands as a legitimate branch of pictorial art, Brayley prepared enamel plates for Bone's use, and he continued to do so for some years after he had become eminent as a topographer. The plates for the largest paintings in enamel which Bone executed—the largest ever produced until they were exceeded in several instances by those of Charles Muss—were not only made by Brayley, but the pictures also were conducted by him throughout the subsequent process of 'firing,' or incipient fusion on the plate, in the muffle of an air-furnace, requisite for their completion.

After as well as during the publication of the 'Beauties of England and Wales,' Brayley wrote a number of other popular topographical works. His literary activity was most remarkable. 'Mr. Brayley,' remarks Britton, 'was constitutionally of a healthy and hardy frame, and was thus enabled to endure and surmount great bodily as well as mental exertion. I have known him to walk fifty miles in one day, and continue the same for three successive days. After completing this labour, from Chester to London, he dressed and spent the evening at a party. At the end of a month, and when pressed hard to supply copy for the printer, he has continued writing for fourteen and for sixteen hours without sleep or respite, and with a wet handkerchief tied round a throbbing head.' Brayley was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1823, and in 1825 he was appointed librarian and secretary of the Russell Institution in Great Coram Street, which offices he held until his death. He continued his topographical labours, in addition to discharging his official duties, and nearly the whole of his most extensive work, the 'Topographical History of the County of Surrey,' was written by him between the ages of sixty-eight and seventy-six. His death occurred on 23 Sept. 1854.

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May 16, 2017 Edited by Clean Up Bot merge authors
March 31, 2017 Edited by Clean Up Bot add VIAF and wikidata ID
December 19, 2010 Edited by sDrewth to natural order
December 19, 2010 Edited by sDrewth fix title
April 29, 2008 Created by an anonymous user initial import