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Four Minor Bath Plane Makers

In this article I will be discussing four minor plane makers located in Bath, Somerset, about whom very little has previously been known. Strictly speaking only two, John Debank and John Baker, actually made planes; the other two, Stephen Waller and Joseph Swetman, were ironmongers who sold planes bearing their own name, without the name of the man who made them stamped upon the plane.

For no reason other than he is the earliest recorded, I shall start with Stephen Waller, followed by John Debank. John Baker and Joseph Swetman had a loose business partnership and will be dealt with in chronological sequence. This account is respectfully dedicated to the memory of Mark Rees, without whose support and encouragement, my research into some of the lesser known Bath plane makers would never have commenced.


Waller planeFig. 1. Moulding plane by Waller, Bath.


STEPHEN WALLER, 1792-1802, Walcot Street, 4 London Street, Bath

The third edition of British Planemakers from 1700 (BPMIII) suggests only one year of operation for Stephen Waller, based on a single entry in the 1800 Bath trade directory. However, subsequent research suggests a ten year trading period from 1792 to 1802. Although the surname Waller was not unknown in the Bath area during the 18th century, no record of Stephen Waller’s birth has been found in the Bath Parish Registers to date. However, other sources suggest that he had been working in Bath for some years before setting up his own ironmongery business. The first record of his occupation appears in the 28th June 1792 edition of the Bath Chronicle, where he placed an advertisement,

Mr. Waller (from Hallett’s, Cheap Street) ironmonger, brazier & tinman has opened a shop opposite Margaret’s Bldgs nr. Walcot Parade. Coffins furnished as cheap as London.

Further advertisements appeared in 1793, still describing him as an ironmonger, brazier and tinman, where he advertised a set of block tin kitchen furniture at £8 8s 6d and newly invented egg coddlers at 5s 6d each. No further advertisements appeared, so presumably trade was sufficient without further promotion. Stephen Waller married Sarah Hartling at St. Swithen’s Church, Walcot, on Saturday 6th December 1792. The newspaper announcement of his forthcoming marriage describes him as an “Ironmonger of Walcot”. The christening of Mary Anne, their daughter on 7th August 1800 appears in the Register of St. Swithen’s Church, Walcot. Entries in the Bath Rates book indicate that Stephen Waller occupied premises in London Road, Walcot, from November 1794 until February 1802. Between September 1795 and September 1796 he moved premises, though still in London Road. His name also appears in the Bath Poor Rates books on 24th April 1800, occupying premises on the southeast side of Walcot Street, and again in 1801 and 1802, occupying premises in St. Swithin’s Court, Walcot. After 1802, when the premises were taken over by a Thomas Burge (occupation unknown), there are no further records of his presence in either Walcot or elsewhere in Bath.

Despite his ten years of operation, planes bearing the WALLER BATH mark are extremely rare, but given that tools clearly formed only a minor part of his trade, this is perhaps unsurprising. I have only managed to acquire one in 30 years of collecting, and have seen no other examples. The plane has a distinctly late 18th century appearance, possessing bold flat chamfers and an almost round head to the wedge. It bears a remarkable resemblance to early
Stothert planes and is probably the product of George Stothert.

The separate WALLER and BATH marks (Fig. 2) are comprised of small Roman upper case letters within a line border. The BATH mark has not been reported as being found on any other maker’s or dealer’s planes. Although the example in BPMIII suggests neat application, the marks on the plane in the writer’s possession have been applied in a most clumsy manner, demonstrating a lack of concern for appearance.

Waller markFig. 2. The mark of Stephen Waller with separate BATH mark

It would appear that Stephen Waller ceased trading in 1802 and probably moved from Bath as no further references have been found of him or his family.

JOHN DEBANK, <1823-1840, Dolmeads, Bath

BPMIII offers no dates, location, or first name for John Debank, and whilst specific references to his trade are few, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that he operated as a plane maker over a considerable period of time, and definitely between 1823 and 1840.


Fig.3. Moulding plane by John Debank that bears the mark shown in Fig. 4.

John Debank was born in Bath in 1787, a member of a small extended family who seem to have arrived in the City during the first half of the 18th century, possibly from Wirksworth in Derbyshire. The earliest reference to his occupation appears in the record of his son, William’s, birth on 20th March 1823 where John is described as a plane maker; a further reference to his occupation as a plane maker was on 24th June 1838 when he signed a lease for a piece of land in Dolmeads, Bath, and although he died in 1840, his occupation as a plane maker was shown on the marriage certificate of William, dated 25th December 1844. William is described as a cabinet maker.

John Debank does not appear to have had any retail outlet and, apart from the first few years of his marriage, lived most of his life in Dolmeads, a notoriously poor part of Bath, occupying several different addresses. John Debank planes are remarkably scarce, and I have only found six in 30 years of collecting.

Considering his long period of operation, John Debank planes retain a remarkable consistency in appearance, and bear a very close resemblance to planes made by William and Henry Farmer. They have a distinctly early 19th century appearance, possessing rounded shoulders and a semielliptical head to the wedge. Some wedges are slightly flattened off where they meet the iron, a feature shared with some Farmer planes. It is possible that Debank did not produce many planes which bore his own name, and may have worked for the Farmers, only making planes bearing his own name for sale when trade was slack.

BPMIII shows only one mark for John Debank, being J. DEBANK (Figs. 4 & 5); however subsequent discoveries have identified a further three DEBANK marks, all without the letter J. and all comprised of Roman upper case letters within a line border, and one further BATH stamp comprised of Roman italic upper case letters, within a line border.

Debank markFig. 4. J.DEBANK mark from the plane shown in Fig.3

Debank mark

Fig. 5. J. DEBANK mark illustrated in BPMIII, the same mark as shown in Fig.4

The three unrecorded DEBANK marks are noticeably different from each other; one appears to be identical to the J.DEBANK mark but without the letter “J” (Fig. 6);

Debank mark

Fig. 6. First DEBANK mark showing one of the BATH marks

the second is similar with slightly different spacing and with the letter “B” leaning backwards. (Fig. 7.)

Debank mark

Fig. 7. Second DEBANK mark showing another of the BATH marks

A  third recently discovered mark is slightly larger, the letters being slimmer and having a more primitive appearance. (Fig. 8.) I would suggest this is earlier than the other three.

Debank mark

Fig. 8. The third unrecorded mark, slightly larger than the other marks

BPMIII suggests that the BATH mark used by Debank is the same as that used by William and Henry Farmer. (Figs. 5 & 8.) Whilst the mark illustrated is very similar to that used by the Farmers on some of their planes, it is also similar to the BATH mark on a William Watson plane in my collection, which is unlike the style of other Watson planes, and which bears a remarkable similarity to planes made by the Farmers. The known periods of operation would dismiss the possibility of John Debank having worked for Watson, but it is possible to speculate that either Watson was operating much later than 1800, or that Watson’s BATH stamp was acquired at a later date by William Farmer.

The second BATH mark appears to be identical to the one shown in BPMIII, but with narrower top and bottom borders. (Figs. 6 & 7.) It is perhaps worth noting that most of the Farmer planes in my collection appear to have this same BATH mark.

Confirmed residential, and possibly working, addresses for John Debank include:

1813: Strange’s Court, Holloway, (Bath)
1815: Twerton Road
1818 /1820: Caroline Place, Dolmeads
1823: Brunswick Place, Dolmeads
1825: Middle Lane, Dolmeads

John Debank died in 1840 at the age of 53, whilst presumably still engaged in the trade of plane making.

Debank plane

Fig. 9. The moulding plane by John Debank which carries the slightly larger, and probably earlier, mark shown in Fig. 8

JOHN BAKER, <1807-1809, 2 London Street, Bath

BPMIII suggests only one year of operation for John Baker, based on a single entry in the 1809 Bath trade directory. However, subsequent research indicates a trading period of at least two years from 1807 to 1809. BPMIII also suggests that John Baker was apprenticed to James Commins of Exeter in 1796. We now know from the record of his burial that he was born in either 1775 or 1776, and would have been twenty or twenty one in 1796, a somewhat mature age to commence an apprenticeship. The existence of one plane bearing the additional impression “LATE SMITH” would suggest that he worked for the Smith family prior to setting up on his own; however, records suggest that they only commenced trading in 1805, it is, therefore, a matter of conjecture as to where he learnt his trade.

Baker plane

Fig.10. Moulding plane by John Baker that is also marked “(LATE SMITH).”

Nothing is known of John Baker’s early life. It is not known for certain where he was born, although there is a record of a John Baker being baptized at St. Michael’s Parish Church, Walcot, Bath, on 7th July 1776, so this may well be the same man. The first confirmed reference to John Baker is on the 29th June 1801, when he was admitted into membership of the Bath Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), remaining a  Quaker for the rest of his life. The first record of his occupation is as an ironmonger, which appears in the minutes of the North Somerset Quaker Monthly Meeting held on the 27th April 1807, where his intention to marry Elizabeth Symes was announced. He is noted again in the registration of his son, Mason’s, birth on the 27th June 1808 when his place of residence is recorded as Walcot in Bath, again as an ironmonger.

Only one entry giving John Baker’s occupation as a plane maker has been found, in the 1809 Triennial Bath Directory, indicating that he was working at 2 London Street in Walcot. However the Bath Poor Rates books suggest that John Baker’s first occupation of premises in London Street was prior to June 1807, remaining there until April 1809, when his name has been struck through and the words “Now Joseph Swetman” have been inserted. It would seem that the premises were transferred over to Joseph Swetman sometime during the first half of 1809.

Baker planes are extremely rare and, were it not for a set of hollows and rounds, their number would be very few. John Baker’s planes have a distinctly early 19th century appearance with fairly shallow rounded shoulders and a semi-elliptical head to the wedge. They bear more than a passing resemblance to Smith planes but with a much shallower recess in the wedge. It has also been noted that the rounded top of the heel is 5/8" radius rather than the normal 1/2" radius, an unusual characteristic, shared with J. Swetman planes which were almost certainly made by John Baker.

The J.BAKER mark consists of Roman upper case letters within a zig-zag border. There are two BATH marks, both consist of slightly larger Roman upper case letters with a line border. The earlier of these has a border above and below the word BATH (Figs. 11 & 14); the later BATH mark (Figs. 12 & 13) appears almost identical but with almost no top and bottom borders. This later mark also appears on some J.Swetman planes but neither has been reported as being found on any other makers’ or dealers’ planes. One plane has been reported with the mark (LATE SMITH) between the J. BAKER and the earlier BATH mark (Fig. 14).

Baker mark

Fig. 11. John Baker mark with earlier BATH mark with wider borders

Baker mark

Fig. 12. John Baker mark with the later BATH mark

Baker mark

Fig. 13. Another mark with the later BATH mark

Baker mark

Fig. 14. John Baker mark with the ealier BATH mark and showing the position of “(LATE SMITH)”


John Baker ceased trading as an ironmonger in September 1809 but it was more than a year before he applied to the Society of Friends to be removed to Gloucester at the end of 1810 where he established himself as a chair maker, a trade which he continued to pursue throughout the remainder of his life.  Whether his application was retrospective, or whether he continue to live in Bath for a year is not known, however it almost certain that he continued to make planes for Joseph Swetman during his subsequent occupation of the London Road premises. John Baker died on 15th August 1821 aged 46, and is buried in Hare Lane (Quaker) cemetery; the record of his burial describes him as a chair maker.

JOSEPH SWETMAN, 1809-1812, 2 London Street, Bath

BPMIII offers no dates, first name, or location for Joseph Swetman, but subsequent research confirms a three year period of operation between 1809 and  1812.

Swetman planes

Fig. 15. Three moulding planes by Joseph Swetman

Joseph Swetman (pronounced Sweetman) was born in Street, Somerset, on the 19th August 1782, the third child of Jerome Swetman and his wife Elizabeth. The family were Quakers and Joseph remained Quaker for his entire life. In 1804, at the age of 22, he contemplated emigrating to America, but withdrew his application later that year. In August 1809 it was reported that Joseph had moved to Bath, his certificate of removal being signed in September of that year.

The first record of Joseph’s occupation as an ironmonger appears in the North Somerset Quaker minutes, where, on 30th October 1809, his declaration of intention to be married to Sarah White, is recorded. Two further records of Joseph’s occupation as an ironmonger appear in the North Somerset Quaker records. On the 29th January 1810, he is recorded as having two saws seized by Court Bailiffs in lieu of Church Warden’s Rates, at a value of fifteen shillings, and again in the Register of Births where Joseph and Sarah’s first child, Ella Southall, is recorded as having been born in the Parish of Walcott, Bath, on the 1st November 1811.

Joseph’s tenancy of the premises at 2 London Street is recorded in the Bath City Rates Books, the first entry being in April 1809 where the name John Baker is struck through and the words “now Joseph Swetman” inserted. Whether Joseph and his family took immediate occupancy, or initially lived at his wife’s parents’ house in Bath, is not recorded. As has been previously stated, although John Baker was no longer listed as the occupant, he did not apply to be removed to Gloucester until the end of 1810. Whilst it is purely speculation, it is possible that John Baker, a fellow Quaker, continued to live in London Street for a while, possibly as an employee of Joseph Swetman, who was now running the ironmongery business. The last record of Joseph Swetman’s occupation of the London Street premises is in 1812.

Joseph Swetman planes are remarkably scarce and were it not for a (since broken up!) set of hollows, rounds and beads, their number would be very few. Swetman planes are identical to those produced by John Baker, including the distinctive 5/8" radius to the heel. The J.SWETMAN mark consists of Roman upper case letters inside a narrow line border. The zig-zag border SWETMAN mark, reported in BPMIII, does not belong to Joseph Swetman, but to his brother, James, who was a plane maker in the USA and, later, in Canada. (Fig. 16.)

Swetman mark

Fig. 16. Mark shown in BPMIII, attributed to Swetman, Bath, but now known to belong to his brother, James

There are three reported BATH marks. One is the same as that used by John Baker, (Fig. 17) and there is an incuse BATH mark (Fig. 18) similar to that also used on some Stothert & Walker planes.

Swetman mark

Fig. 17. One of Joseph Swetman’s marks which uses the same BATH mark as that used by John Baker

Swetman mark

Fig. 18. Joseph Swetman’s mark with the incuse BATH mark

A third plane has recently been found bearing the normal J.SWETMAN mark but accompanied by the BATH mark used by the Smiths. (Fig. 19.)

Swetman mark

Fig. 19. Joseph Swetman’s mark with the same BATH mark that was used by Justinian Smith

The first two marks can be explained easily if John Baker was still working and making planes for Joseph Swetman in Bath, and the second could well be an alternative mark used on planes made by John Baker after he moved to Gloucester. The use of the Smith BATH mark is a mystery, which can only be possibly explained by John Baker’s assumed association with the Smiths. It is well known that the Smiths were prepared to sell their planes omitting their own name to allow for another tradesman’s name to be included, a not uncommon practice in the plane making trade, but on those known to the writer, the Stag’s Head trademark continued to be used. The plane under discussion does not have the Stag’s Head mark, and is quite definitely the work of John Baker.

Joseph Swetman’s venture into the ironmongery business was short lived, and on the 25th February 1812 he submitted a certificate of removal to Bristol, where he established a business as a wine and porter merchant. Joseph remained in Bristol for five years; from there he moved to South Wales to partner his brother William in his leather curing business. This business failed and in 1821, after settling matters, he emigrated to Montreal in Canada to join his recently emigrated parents and several siblings.

Reference Sources

Bath Georgian Newspaper Project
Parish Registers of several Bath churches
Bath City Poor Rates Books
Bath Church Rates Registers
Bath Trade Directories
North Somerset Quaker Monthly Meeting Minutes
North Somerset Quaker Register of Distrainments (Sufferings)
Mid-Somerset Quaker Monthly Meeting Minutes
Bristol Trade Directories
Research papers from Wendy Bryson (descendant of John Debank)
British Planemakers from 1700, 3rd Edition

Complete list of Bath planemakers and dealers

BAKER, John 2 London St., 1801-1809
BOWEN, William 2 St. James St., 1799-1809
1 St. James St., 1812
DAY, Joseph Lyncombe and Widcombe, < 1793 >
DEBANK, John Dolmeads, < 1823 – 1840
FARMER, William 14 Horse St., 1818 – 1823
FARMER, William & Henry 14 Horse St., 1822 – 1825
FARMER, William 13 Southgate St., 1826
FARMER, Henry 32 Westgate St., 1826 – 1829
21/22 Southgate St., 1830 – 1840
HAREWOOD 30 Corn St., 1812
HARRIS, John Horse St., < 1774
HARRIS & PARIS Horse St., 1778 – 1781
HARRIS & ROTTON Horse St., 1782 – 1784
MEMBERY, Robert 37 Southgate St., 1895 – 1970s
PARHAM, William 11 Northgate St., 1862 – 1888
PARSONS, (address and date unknown)
ROBINSON Joiners Arms, Horse Street, < 1788
SMITH, J. & C. 17 Horse St., 1805 >
SMITH, Justinian 17 Horse St., 1809 – 1825
STOTHERT, George 21 Horse St., 1784 – 1800
11 Northgate St., 1800 – 1818
STOTHERT, Messrs. (John & William) 11 Northgate St., 1819 – 1837
STOTHERT, John 11 Northgate St., 1837 – 1841
STOTHERT & WALKER 11 Northgate St., 1842 – 1857
SWETMAN, Joseph 2 London St., Walcot, 1809 – 1812
WALLER, Stephen 4 London St., Walcot, 1792– 1802
WATSON, William Claverton St., Widcombe, 1790 – 1800

A postscript identifying the relationship between Jerome, Joseph and James Swetman.

Over the years there has been some speculation about the relationship between those planes bearing the mark J.SWETMAN (line border) BATH (line border) and planes bearing the mark SWETMAN (serrated border, shown in Fig. 16), together with assumptions regarding the involvement of Jerome Swetman in plane making or merchandising. After much research on both sides of the Atlantic, it can be safely stated that Jerome Swetman’s involvement was patriarchal rather than practical, and that the planes bearing these two different marks are not attributable to him or even to one man. The two men involved were brothers, the sons of Jerome Swetman, and all born in Somerset, England.

Jerome Swetman was a yeoman farmer and cheese maker and, whilst there is substantial evidence of his involvement in farming, there is no evidence of him having any involvement in plane making or any allied trade. Joseph Swetman was his third child and second son, born in Street, Somerset, on the 19th August 1782. James was his seventh child and youngest son, born in the parish of Evercreech, Somerset, on 14th September 1791.

At the age of almost 18 James emigrated to the USA, under somewhat dubious circumstances. On 6th September 1809 and, after months of efforts by the Mid-Somerset Quaker Monthly Meeting for him to rectify his errors, James had been found to be guilty of “Evil Walking” and to have been practising things (unspecified) “disgraceful to the Religious Society”, and was disunited from the Quakers. He was promptly packed off to America where the 1813 Baltimore Register of Aliens records that he arrived towards the end of 1809.

There is no evidence as to where James might have learnt his plane making skills either in Britain or America, The records show that until his emigration in 1809 he had always lived with his parents within a few miles of Glastonbury, and there is no record of any plane makers within that area. There is also no record of James’ occupation in Somerset, but is possible that he was attached to a carpenter, wheelwright or cooper, any of whom may have made their own planes, and maybe he showed a talent for that side of the work. From the Quaker records it is clear that James was a bit of a rogue and, as suggested by Charles Prine in his book about the planemakers of Western Pennsylvania, it is possible to imagine that he managed to convince William Vance, his first employer in Baltimore, that he was already trained, thus securing a position as a journeyman rather than an apprentice.

In 1815, James moved from  Baltimore to Philadelphia where he established a plane making partnership with William Hughes. The partnership dissolved in 1820, and he moved to Cincinnati where his brother William and his family joined him. Some time after 1821 he moved to Montreal, Canada, wifeless, but with two children in tow, to join his parents and other family members who had recently emigrated there. In Montreal James established his Canadian plane making business, and earned the distinction of being the earliest recorded plane maker in Canada. James married Sarah Mullett in 1825, but died in the 1832 cholera epidemic.

Joseph Swetman joined the family in 1821, after settling his business affairs in Wales. In later years he and his brother William became the first two permanent Lighthouse Keepers on the St. Lawrence River.

Additional Reference Sources

Charles Prine, Planemakers of Western Pennsylvania
Robert Westley, Guide to Canadian Plane Makers & Hardware Dealers
West Lake (Canada) Quaker records
1813 Baltimore Register of Aliens
1820 Cincinnati (Ohio) Census

This Article by David Schweizer first appeared in Newsletter 118, Autumn 2012.

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