Langley Park, ten miles east of Norwich, was bought by George Proctor (d. 1744) from the Berney family in 1742. Proctor, a connoisseur and collector who had until then lived in Venice, employed the Norwich architect Matthew Brettingham (d. 1769), to build him a Palladian villa. Upon his death two years later, Langley passed to his twenty-two year old nephew and heir, Sir William Beauchamp, who assumed the name Beauchamp-Proctor when he inherited the estate and was awarded the Baronetcy. He completed and enlarged the mansion and was largely responsible for building up the notable art collection at Langley. Works by artists such as Canaletto, Poussin and Van Dyck, some of which now reside in public collections, were complimented by equally refined interiors with furniture from London's leading cabinet-makers.
Records at the Norfolk County Records office indicate that several notable workshops supplied furnishings to Langley Park, including William Hallett, his disciple William Vile and his partner John Cobb, and John Linnell. Thomas Chippendale was thought to be among them as 'various people connected with the estate' had reported seeing Chippendale furnishing bills for the house, which could no longer be traced (O. Bracket, 'Langley Hall' Country Life, 15 October 1927, pp. 527). The magnificent suite of bookcases, including the present example, lettered A-D, was supplied for the library. They are likely either the work of William Hallett or Vile and Cobb.
An existing 1748 bill from Hallett as well as two 1754 bills from Vile and Cobb (Norfolk Country Records Office, BEA 305/71, 305/79 and 305/45) provide the strongest case for the authorship of the bookcases. The bills detail extensive work for William Proctor, and the dates on the invoices, as well as several shared distinct stylistic elements, could place the library bookcase in either workshop. William Hallett (d. 1781), established his business at Great Newport Street, Long Acre, in 1730 and became the pre-eminent cabinet-maker in London. It is unknown when Hallett hired William Vile (d. 1767) as a journeyman but in 1751, Vile started his own business with the cabinet-maker John Cobb as his partner. Hallett initially help support them financially and the workshops remained close; by 1753 Hallett had moved his business next to Vile and Cobb on St Martin's Lane. (G. Beard and C.Gilbert, Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, London, 1986, p. 924).
The strong relationships between the two firms make it difficult to distinguish between the early work attributed to Vile and Cobb and that of William Hallett. Both firms repeatedly used the same motifs in crisply carved borders that clearly outline a piece's general form as well as drawer or cabinet doors moldings. Other furniture at Langley Park features these borders and could suggest a more involved relationship than what is detailed on the currently known invoices. The egg and dart borders on an impressive pair of mid-Georgian side tables and the delicate flowerhead borders outlining three pairs of armchairs from the Dining Room sold by Sir Christopher Proctor-Beauchamp, Bt., Christie's, London, 6 July 1995 (lots 100-103) appears again on the library bookcases. Further archival images from a 4 November 1926 Country Life article, some of which were unpublished, include two additional cabinets with these borders as well as a card table with a bead and reel motif that appears on the edges of the library bookcase's central doors.
A cabinet signed by William Hallett and dated 1763 (sold from the collection of William F. Reilly at Christie's, New York, 14 October 2009, lot 54) shares some identical borders as does a writing-table from the same date and attributed to Hallett from the library at Temple Newsam (C.Gilbert, Furniture at Temple Newsam and Lotherton Hall, Leeds, 1998, pp.662-3). A pair of bookcases attributed to Vile and Cobb sold anonymously at Christie's, London 5 December 1991, lot 131 has ornamental borders on the cornice and on the frieze in common with the Langley bookcase.