James Ker (1700-1768) and William Dempster

Some of the goldsmiths lived in their workshops.  One of the most successful was James Ker (later Kerr), whose shop joined on to the wall of St Giles at the entrance to Parliament Square.  Ker was one of those who had received a generous charitable award for losses sustained in the great fire of 1724.  Perhaps it was this award which enabled him to buy or build his workshop in Parliament Square.  Chambers described that he:

…lived… in the small space of the flat over the shop and the cellar under it, which was lighted by a grating in the pavement of the square.  The subterraneous part of this house was chiefly devoted to the purposes of a nursery, and proved so insalubrious that all his children died successively …with the exception of his son Robert, who, being born much more weakly than the rest, had the good luck to be sent to the country to be nursed, and afterwards grew up to be the author of a work entitled The Life of Robert Bruce…[9]

Cream boat by Ker

From this humble dwelling Ker produced some of the finest examples of his craft. He was elected deacon of the Goldsmiths on two occasions thereby became a member of the Edinburgh Town Council. Like the watchmaker James Dalgleish (see Px) Ker was made a captain of the City Guard at the time of the ’45 Jacobite uprising and on the instruction of the Lord Provost, Archibald Stewart, offered no resistance to the invading army thereby confirming his loyalty to George II. This served him well when he was elected Member of Parliament for Edinburgh from 1747-1754 in competition with Edinburgh’s long serving Lord Provost, George Drummond.[10]

Coffee pot by Dempster

In 1739 Ker took on an apprentice William Dempster, who became his son-in-law by marrying his daughter, Violet, in 1751.  Ker and Dempster went into a successful partnership.  In the Painting their shop is clearly seen with the name DEMPSTER alone above the door. Ker died in 1768 and Dempster became the sole partner thereafter.  Dempster died in 1793, so the fact that his name remained displayed, suggests that the Painting was unlikely to have been made long after that date.

Dempster’s shop in the Square