|Joseph was born on 26 March 1732, the son of Joseph Dixon and Mary Brookes, at Stamford, Lincolnshire. Joe was baptized by the Rev. William Stukeley [see Richard Dixon]. On September 17, 1747 he was apprenticed to mason Ben Stanmore, in Stamford, for 5 pounds and, in 1755, just after his seven-year term was up, he went down||to London, where the action was. He stayed with his brother Richard for a few years in Piccadilly, and was a witness at Richard's May 19, 1755 wedding. On November 4, 1756 Joe himself applied through the Bishop of London's office for a license to marry widow Joanna Lane of St Andrew, Holborn. They were married two days later.|
Joanna was born about 1733.|
There were no children.
b: abt 1732 c: 15 Apr 1732 All Saints, Stamford, Lincolnshire
son of Joseph Dixon and Mary Brookes
b: abt 1733 St Andrew, Holborn, London
6 Nov 1756|
St Andrew, Holborn, London|
Joe exploded on the London scene and was soon a leading mason, working with the Consortium [see Richard Dixon]. By 1757 he was busy buying, building and selling in Pimlico [see Richard Dixon], and from 1758 worked with astonishing regularity on handsome projects. In 1758 he bought a house in St Albans Street, Piccadilly, from Ralph Taylor. This would be his city house until the bankruptcy in 1778.
By 1759 he was much involved in the development of Pall Mall, and in 1760 entered into a period of activity which can only be described as frenetic.
Between 1760 and 1765 he worked on developing those beautiful little passages between Pall Mall and King Street, which are yet strangely sinister, especially at night. On February 14, 1760 John Phillips [see Richard Dixon] granted two 999-year leases on Pall Mall to Joe. These buildings would later become 50 and 51 Pall Mall. In February and July 1760 Joe mortgaged these leases in order to meet further building expenses.
On June 17, 1760 he was admitted to the freedom of the Worshipful Company of Masons, in London, by redemption [see Richard Dixon]. By 1764 he was a liveryman. About this time he was also given the freedom of the City of London, by virtue of an order of the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen. This is a separate and distinct award from the Company freedom.
Also in 1760 he began work on 138-9 Piccadilly, for the Earl of March, to the designs of Matthew Brettingham. He would finish this job in 1764.
1760 to 1769 (i.e. the whole decade) was also taken up with Blackfriars Bridge, on which Joe was chief mason. His profile was so high in the 1760s that people thought he was the actual building contractor, but he wasn't. John Phillips was. The first pile on the bridge was driven on June 7, 1760, and the first stone laid on June 23, 1761. An inscription on this stone says "Joseph Dixon, mason".
On October 31, 1761 the first stone of the actual bridge was laid.
1760-64 also saw Joe employed on alterations at Woburn Abbey. In 1761 he was in Stamford to witness his sister Mary's wedding to Edward Peake. In 1761-62 he built a big house and yard in Pimlico, but never really lived there. In 1764 he leased it to his brother Richard, and built a new yard at Pedlars Acre, Lambeth. He kept the yard at Pedlars Acre until he went bankrupt.
By 1762 he had decided to invade and conquer Battersea. In July of that year he bought Ashley Wood's house in Nine Elms, and moved in. It would become one of the biggest houses in Battersea.
In 1764 Joe worked as a mason on Shardeloes, the Amersham, Bucks house of William Drake that had been designed by Stiff Leadbetter.
In 1764-65 he began building Almack's Assembly Rooms, on King Street, in St James's, London, to Robert Mylne's designs. The Great Room was finished in December 1767. About this time he was also working at Lord Exeter's estate, Burghley House, near Stamford, and also erecting a new house in Gloucestershire.
Every now and again stuff would disappear from Blackfriars Bridge, despite the watchmen. In 1766 Joe and his uncle John appeared at the Old Bailey in the trial of Michael Fitzgerald who, for some perverse reason, had stolen a brass wheel. Mr. Fitzgerald was transported (and not with delight).
John Carter, later a famous antiquarian, came to work as an assistant to Joe in 1766. He describes Joe as "the great builder". Carter stayed with Joe for some years.
On December 13, 14 and 15, 1766 Joe had a yard sale (literally) at Pedlars Acre. Marbles busts and figures, terra cottas, statues, vases. One of the busts was of Dr Stukeley.
1766-67 saw him and Richard working on Coker Court, in Somerset [see Richard], and this time period also had Joe working at Mr. Pearse's house in Rotherhithe in 1766, and in 1767 on brickwork for Baron Atkinson's house on Putney Hill. On June 8, 1767 Joe was elected Overseer of the Poor by the parish of Battersea. On April 5, 1768 he was elected churchwarden, for the first of five successive, and unanimously-elected, years. On October 22, 1767 he was elected a director of the Westminster Fire Office.
In 1768 he began a campaign to re-build St Mary's Church, Battersea. Despite his enormous power in the parish, wheels would turn slowly, because it was going to cost big money.
That year, 1768, Joe was working on 8 St James's Square (the home of Sir Sampson Gideon), as mason-contractor for Henry Holland Sr's huge building firm. The job wrapped up in 1770. All this time he was very active as churchwarden in St Marys, and pushing, always pushing, for the re-building of the church.
In 1769 Lord Warwick bought 7 St James's Square, and while the house was vacant Joe did mason's work on it to the value of 431 pounds. Joe and Richard also worked with Henry Holland on 50 Pall Mall in the 1768-69 period.
Blackfriars Bridge was finished on November 19, 1769, at a cost of 152,840 3 shillings and tenpence, which was 163 pounds under the revised budget. The bridge, spanning the Thames, was 995 feet long, had nine arches, the center one of which was 100 feet long. The carriageway was 28 feet wide and the two footways were seven feet wide each. The masonry was not only quite revolutionary and extraordinarily beautiful, but it came in for tremendous praise from everyone who saw it. Blackfriars was a job well done.
In 1769 Joe worked on Col. John Scott's house in Charlton, Kent; on Sir Thomas "Long Tom" Robinson's house at Chelsea (Prospect House); on Mr. Beetham's house in Rotherhithe; and on a house at Redgrave, Suffolk.
In 1770 he was at work on Mr. Crawford's house on Hertford Street; on Sir James Peachey's house on Lower Grosvenor Street [the Peacheys were from Storrington, Sussex - see the Rev. Joseph Dixon]; on Philip Stephen's house in Fulham; and (contracted by Henry Holland), on Lady Elizabeth Archer's house at Hale, Hants and on Hill Park, near Westerham, Kent, for the 1st Earl of Hillsborough.
Also in 1770-71 he was working, again for Henry Holland, on Lord Bristol's house, and in 1771-74 on Claremont House, near Esher. for Lord Clive, and 1770-73 on Hitchin Priory [see Richard Dixon].
That is an insane work schedule, and was bound to lead to problems. It did, in Exeter. In 1770 the town of Exeter, in Devon, decided it was time to build a new bridge downtown over the Exe. The big bridgebuilder in England then was, in the wake of Blackfriars Bridge, Joe Dixon. The trouble is, Joe had only (!) been the mason. He had not been the actual building contractor, although, as mentioned before, this was the public's erroneous perception. John Phillips had been. But Exeter wanted Joe. He was dashing, bold, glamorous, and famous. He was the big boy in the bridge building world of the 1770s. Exeter should have conducted a more thorough investigation of old Joe, so what happened is partially their fault.
On March 15, 1770 they resolved to hire Joe, to build the new bridge for 7,500 pounds. Joe traveled down to Exeter to case the joint, and came up with a plan, which was accepted, and he and the Mayor laid the foundation stone on October 4, 1770. The workmen and the good folk of Exeter were given beer at the celebration thereof.
For some months work proceeded rapidly and then the Bridge Committee began to entertain suspicions that Mr. Dixon was deviating from the terms of the contract. An independent study showed not only that this was true but that the work was so dangerously deviant that it could not continue. Joe's bizarre behavior was so blatant that he was evidently having what today would be called a nervous breakdown. He was under so much pressure, from so many jobs, that subconsciously he wanted out. And the way to get out was to do a number on the Exe Bridge. And that's what he did.
However, he professed outrage, of course, and called in Mr. Lowther, an arbitrator. Lowther okayed Joe's work, and reluctantly, and stupidly, Exeter agreed to let the job proceed. What they should have known was that Lowther was Joe Dixon's man.
Back at St Mary's, Battersea, Joe attended a vestry meeting on December 4, 1771. He had been campaigning now not just for the re-building of the church, but for building an entirely new one. This was the first meeting held to discuss demolishing the old one and building a new one, on Battersea Church Road. Someone had to design it, and someone had to build it. It was all very scary to the church members, involving, as it did, so much money. Joe offered to design the church free of charge and was readily taken up on that (he conned them, by the way. Later he inserted into the vestry accounts a bill for 231 pounds for his services as designer, and was duly paid - by himself, of course, out of the church funds). This noble gesture swung the balance in his favor, and the Church went for it. On March 2, 1773 he presented his plans for the building.
Still scared, the Church wanted a final look at the possibility of simply renovating the old building. Brim full with skeptical agreement, Joe (being in the building business, and knowing the right people) brought in three independent surveyors to have a look at the situation. They declared that the old building would have to come down. It simply wasn't safe. Two of these surveyors were named at the time. The third man mysteriously was not. His name appears nowhere, well, almost nowhere. Much later, when the three surveyors were paid for their work, and when it no longer mattered, the third man was named - Richard Dixon.
A trust was set up and the first meeting was held at the Raven on May 31, 1774. On July 25, 1774 Joe's designs were approved
Back in Exeter things had always been wrong, since Joe was taken on as bridgebuilder. By January 1773 things started to go horribly wrong. On March 4, 1773 the Exeter Trust recommended proceeding against Joe for non-performance of contract. On January 18, 1775 the foundations of the bridge were destroyed by a flood and all the arches were carried away. It was a disaster, Joe lost his security deposit and the town started to come after him. John Goodwin, who had previously worked for Joe on the bridge, now assumed the contract, and started again.
It was the beginning of the end for Joe Dixon, and for Richard by association.
In 1775 Battersea Church was demolished [see Richard Dixon] and the new one finished by 1777. On March 7, 1778 Jow went bankrupt as a direct result of his Exeter fiasco. He continued to live on in Battersea. Richard pumped so much money, all his money, in to try to help him, but the debts were simply too great, even for Richard. In the end Richard went bankrupt too, on November 2, 1778.
Joe continued to do odd jobs for St Mary's, Battersea, and even to be a vestry member, and handle the accounts. But for five years his life was a shell of what it had been.
A change came in 1783. Mr. Gerard, the junior bridgemaster of London Bridge, died in office, and Joe decided to run in the mid-term election to replace him.. He won, and again during the regular midsummer elections of June 24, 1783. There were two bridgemasters (or wardens) of London Bridge, senior and junior. Senior was a full time job. They lived in two houses next door to each other in Bridge Yard, behind Tooley Street, in the parish of St Olave, Southwark, on the south side of the River. Both got a salary, and a house, and were responsible for the
maintenance of the bridge. It was an important job. Joe moved to Bridge Yard in September 1783. David Buffer became senior warden in 1783, but died in office after serving not quite a year, and Henry Gretton, whom Joe had beaten for junior warden in his very first attempt, now became senior warden. But not for long. On June 24, 1784 Joe Dixon was elected senior bridgemaster, and re-elected on June 24, 1785 and again on June 25, 1786. John Burbank was his junior. Joe lived at Bridge House, in Bridge Yard, which, with its extensive yard down to the Thames is where the southern end of the ancient wooden London Bridge was.
Joe died in office in 1787, and was buried, without fees, in the crypt of St Mary's Church, Battersea, the church he had designed. His widow, Joanna, was buried beside him on March 5, 1788.
Joe's will, drawn up on August 1, 1784, was proved in London, on April 24, 1787. He had nothing to leave except his Baskerville Bible, which he left to his nephew Joe, who was then a student at Cambridge. It was a sad end to the great Joe Dixon.
Died 5 Apr 1787, Age 55, Southwark, London
Burial 5 April 1787, St Mary's, Battersea, London
|Thursday evening, at his house in the Bridge-yard, in the 56th year of his age, Mr. Joseph Dixon, Senior Bridge-master of this city.|
|Joanna (Lane) Dixon||
Burial 5 Mar 1788, St Mary's, Battersea, London