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Other Furniture Makers

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

IN briefly reviewing the work of other manufacturers of furniture in the eighteenth century, and those later firms who traded at the commencement of the nineteenth century, it must not be inferred that their work was in any way inferior to contemporary makers of greater fame. Indeed, there is abundant evidence that some of the makers referred to in this chapter, not only carried out the designs of Chippendale, Sheraton, and others who published books of patterns for the use of the trade at large, with great skill, but it is obvious to connoisseurs who possess specimens of their work that in some instances, at any rate, they showed great individuality. Some of the lesser-known makers had special designs in which they prided themselves ; and locally they gained fame, not only for the quality of their workmanship, but for the designs they executed. None of them, however, created a style to the same extent as those better known manufacturers of furniture who have already been referred to in previous chapters.

Collectors must expect to find composite styles in the work of cabinet-makers whose workshops were situated in provincial towns, because they would to a certain extent adopt the designs of London makers, and having no special interest in that particular style, would probably incorporate some of their own ideas. Then, again, local cabinetmakers had not always access to the same materials employed by the larger firms, and the woods selected by the lesser makers were not always in accord with those used by the propounders of some new style. The minor fittings are found to differ too, sometimes, as, naturally, brass handles, hinges, and the like would be obtained from a variety of sources. Bearing these facts in mind, the collector will perhaps be enabled to satisfy himself as to the correctness or otherwise of the origin of certain pieces offered by dealers, and will be able to reconcile apparent discrepancies, which sometimes indicate that the style of an earlier master has been followed at a later date by some admirers of his work.


Away back at the beginning of the eighteenth century we find records of Gillows being at work as cabinet-makers. The present firm, under the guise of Waring & Gillow, Ltd., of Oxford Street, London, possess documentary evidence of the early handicraft of the founders of Gillows, who have worked in this country since the reign of William III. During the two centuries or more of their career they have had the names of many who have figured in history upon their books, included among them such notable characters as the great Lord Clive and Warren Hastings.

Robert Gillow is known to have been a joiner of Great Singleton, in the parish of Kirkham-in-the-Fylde, about two miles from Poulton-le-Fylde, afterwards removing to Lancaster, where he commenced business on his own account. He worked steadily at his trade, making money as a craftsman—for he was one who understood his business, rather than publishing books of designs—and by skill in draughtsmanship endeavoured to win fame. Curiously enough, in the methods of Robert Gillow we learn something of the trading of that day, for we find him working as a carpenter, and undertaking many commissions, accepting payment in kind in lieu of money. He exported those commodities from the then flourishing port of Lancaster, and became a merchant. He shipped furniture to London, and as early as 1744 opened a London branch, making an entry in his ledger in reference to it, describing his new speculative move as " The Adventure to London." The business was carried on under the firm name of Gillow and Barton, but who the partner was is not quite clear, and it would appear that Robert Gillow's son Richard had then joined him. According to records of the firm the partnership dated from 1st of January 1757, when Richard was twenty-three years old. According to extracts from their books Gillows had material comprising mahogany, walnut, oak, deal, and beech to the value of £240, and furniture ready for sale then valued at £140. Thomas Gillow, another son, is mentioned as having been at work on behalf of the firm in 1758. At that time Gillows were not only furniture makers, but they were masons, slaters, and plasterers, and carried out some important contracts. Their workshops were in Thames Street. The next move was to the Oxford Street site, where for so many years they were destined to carry on business. That was in the middle of the eighteenth century, when the population of London did not exceed three quarters of a million, and beyond Bloomsbury Square there was open country, giving an uninterrupted view of Hampstead and Highgate, which, along with Islington, were detached villages, reaching through meadows and country lanes. Links boys conducted people about at night, and sedan chairs were in use. Many of the objects made in Gillows' workshops then have become obsolete. Business flourished with the firm, however, and they had soon to add to their workshops. The business was then carried on as Gillow & Taylor, and an important business in upholstering as well as cabinet-making was done. Mr Taylor's death occurred about 1778, and the trade was continued under the name of Robert, Richard, and Thomas Gillow. In 1790 it was Robert Gillow & Co., and in 1811 it became G. & R. Gillow & Co. These particulars are useful, as they enable us to realise the position of the firm during the period when so much was happening in the furniture trade of the country. It is recorded that their furniture was solid and of sterling quality, and was much sought after.

There is little doubt that Gillows carried out important commissions for furniture after the manner of the then fashionable styles, and their own designs would naturally follow the changes going on. Thus, were we able to identify the numerous examples extant, we should find that many of the antique styles so well known to collectors were represented in the furniture emanating from their work-shops. Of actual examples and authentic specimens of their work there are not many obtainable. Fortunately, through the courtesy of Waring & Gillow, Ltd., who may be regarded as still carrying on the old business of Gillows, we are able to illustrate a table in satinwood made by Gillows about 1780 (see Fig. 66). This beautiful authenticated writing-table is signed " Gillow's, Lancaster." It is decoratively inlaid with tulip-wood and box, as well as ebony. This remarkably interesting antique is now in the possession of the firm.

There is plenty of evidence that Gillows carried out commissions for the Brothers Adam, and, as Richard Gillow was an architect of some note, he adopted the Adam style on several occasions. He was the inventor of the telescopic dining-table, and is also the reputed maker of the first English billiard-table. It was a very primitive affair, for the slate bed had not then been introduced. The cushions were stuffed with wool, and were called banks. The lighting of the billiard-table in those days was by means of candlesticks made of wood ; the pockets of the tables were called purses, and the players used masts as well as cues. Ivory was cheap then, for the cost of an ivory billiard ball was only two shillings.

There has been some difference of opinion in reference to the inventor of the shield-back chair, and Richard Gillow seems to have had some claim to the design. Some very beautiful chairs with shield backs were made by Gillows for Mr de Trafford in 1789. Many of the eighteenth-century chairs made by the Gillow House show traces of both Gothic and Chinese influence ; some, too, are almost identical with Hepplewhite's, but the influence of the Brothers Adam predominated in their work.


Ince & Mayhew, or Mayhew & Ince, as they are some-times described, published " The Universal System of Household Furniture " about the year 1762. They traded at 20 Marshall Street until 1812, when the firm ceased to exist. From the introduction to their book we learn something of their aims, especially from the following paragraph

" In furnishing all should be with propriety—elegance should always be joined with a peculiar neatness through the whole house, or otherwise an immense expence may be thrown away to no Purpose, either in Use or Appearance ; and with the same Regard any Gentleman may furnish as neat at a small Expence as he can elegant and superb at a great one."

Experts agree that although Ince & Mayhew designed some elegant chairs possessing characteristics of their own, most of their designs show traces of Chippendale influence. This may be due partly to the fact that Darly, who engraved so many of the illustrations in " The Director," also executed upwards of ninety of Ince & Mayhew's plates. Credit is given to Ince as the designer and draughtsman of most of the number, which exceeded three hundred. In the preamble of the book they are described as being in " elegant taste, both useful and ornamental, finely engraved, in which the nature of ornament and perspective is accurately exemplified." The preface of the book is given in English, but the explanations, like the title - page, are duplicated in French..


We learn of the work of Robert Manwaring, who was in business in the Haymarket late in the eighteenth century, from his publications. He appears to have spent much time in giving to the public books of designs, in which there is much to suggest the influence of his con-temporaries. In nearly all his drawings there is a marked similarity to those of Chippendale. His chief competitors appear to have been Ince & Mayhew, whose business was much in line with his own. The connoisseur of furniture can only be sure of the origin of the specimens he possesses, and of the details of their workmanship, by a careful scrutiny of Manwaring's publications. It should be remembered that Manwaring's best work showed artistic taste in its treatment, and there was much attention to the detail of ornament.

Robert Manwaring was one of the leading spirits of the Society of Upholsterers and Cabinet-makers, which published " One Hundred New and Genteel Designs, being all the most approved Patterns of Household Furniture in the Present Taste." In this book there are many designs probably obtained from different sources, the members of the Society contributing examples of their best work ; about twenty-eight plates of chairs, however, are attributed to Manwaring. In 1765 this well-known member of the Society brought out a book of his own, the full title of which is " The Cabinet and Chair Makers' Real Friend and Companion, or the Whole System of Chairmaking made Plain and Easy." This was republished in 1766, under the title of " The Chairmakers' Guide, by Robert Manwaring and Others." In that edition twenty-eight of the designs from the earlier publication were selected, forty-seven new plates being added, all with one exception being unsigned. From the prevalence of chairs in the designs attributed to Manwaring, it is evident that he was essentially a chairmakers. In his book, The Real Friend and Companion," he illustrates a choice selection of eighteen chair backs, to each of which he gives a separate bracket. It will be remembered that Chippendale also used a bracket, but only in conjunction with his Chinese and Gothic designs. Perhaps the best indication of the style which may be said to be Manwaring's own is obtained by a perusal of his little work " The Carpenter's Compleat Guide to the whole System of Gothic Railing."


It is difficult to distinguish the work of Thomas Shearer, for outside influences were brought to bear on his designs, and some furniture which was undoubtedly his work, is attributed to Hepplewhite or Sheraton, owing to its similarity to their respective styles. Shearer wrote in 1788 the " Cabinet-makers' London Book of Prices," but it appears to have been published under the authority of the London Society of Cabinet-makers, and its printers were W. Brown and A. O'Neil. It passed through several editions, but underwent some changes, for Shearer's designs, which appeared in the editions of 1788 and 1793, were left out in the later ones. The last edition, which appeared in 1825, had a wide circulation in the provinces, where it was known as the " London Book." This book had a somewhat different purpose to the ordinary pattern book of designs, in that, as it is set forth on its title-page, it was intended as a guide as to the cost of producing certain specified pieces of cabinet work. The publishers confined their selection of examples to first-class goods, explaining that they had inserted no plates of common furniture, which they considered their readers thoroughly understood,

Shearer appears to have given some attention to writing-tables, bookcases, dressing-tables, and bureaus, and he is noted for the number of small fittings he introduced. He worked at a time when secret drawers were popular, and he cunningly devised little drawers and compartments, access to which was known only to the owner. Shearer worked in woods chiefly used by Hepplewhite and Sheraton—mahogany and satinwood—and these he inlaid with coloured woods, such as maple, zebra, king-wood, rosewood, and tulip-wood.


The career of Sir William Chambers has much to do with the influence he exerted in architectural work, and in architectural furniture, for it is generally admitted that the work of Ince & Mayhew and others, was largely influenced by him, and, as already stated in a previous chapter, his glowing accounts of the lands he visited in the Far East, and the inspiration he received there, had much to do with the introduction of the Chinese taste in the later works of Thomas Chippendale. Chambers was born at Stockholm in 1726. He was descended from a family who held a French title, but his father owned an estate at Ripon, in Yorkshire, and young Chambers was educated there. He entered the Swedish East India Company's service in 1742, and made several voyages to China. It was during his Chinese excursions that he acquired so much knowledge of Chinese life. He was clever with his pen and pencil, and took every opportunity of sketching Chinese buildings and gardens ; some of his pictures of the houses in Canton, and of the furniture used therein, were very useful to him in later years. William Chambers' connection with the East India Company was of short duration, for we hear of him as being in Rome in 1744, making measured drawings of Roman antiquities. His love of art was further fostered through his marriage with the daughter of Wilton, the sculptor. He was fortunate in his appointment as tutor to George III. during that monarch's minority, and afterwards he obtained an appointment as architect to the King, and also to Augusta, the Dowager Princess of Wales.

William Chambers, as he was then, published in 1757 a book entitled " Designs of Chinese Buildings, Furniture, Dresses, Machines, and Utensils." He was assisted in reproducing the drawings by Rooker, Grigion, and other engravers of note. Chambers gave some very interesting descriptions of Chinese houses, telling of the wonders he had seen, and minutely describing the movables of the saloon, the chief room of the house wherein he had found chairs, stools, and tables—rosewood and ebony being frequently made use of. The bamboo furniture, so light and inexpensive, had evidently aroused his interest, and Chambers had been attracted by the lacquer work, of which he had seen so many fine examples. He appears to have been somewhat struck with the magnificence of the beds, which in China were regarded as important pieces of household furniture. Writing of them he says : " The beds are sometimes magnificent, much like ours, of carved rosewood and lacquered work."

In compiling his book Chambers was particularly careful to select patterns which would be suitable for reproduction in this country. Referring to those he had engraved, he says that his anglified designs were selected from " furniture taken from such models as appeared to be most beautiful and reasonable ; some are pretty, and may be useful to our cabinet-makers."

Chambers continued to practice as an architect, introducing the Chinese style wherever practicable. His appointment from the Dowager Princess of Wales brought him to Kew Palace, where he worked from 1757 to 1762, designing and erecting those curious buildings which are admired and criticised in turn by visitors to the Royal Gardens. He was responsible for the erection of an imitation of a mosque, a building suggested by a Gothic cathedral he had seen, and another known as the Theatre of Augustus. His crowning effort, however, was the famous pagoda. There are also buildings suggestive of Roman temples. In 1771 Chambers came under the notice of the King of Sweden, who created him a Knight of the Polar Star, and a few years afterwards, in 1775, Sir William Chambers was appointed architect of Somerset House, at a salary of 12,000 per annum. This noted architect's designs produced an undoubted influence upon the furniture makers of his day, an influence which is distinctly traceable in Thomas Chippendale's Director."


Among the lesser-known publishers of pattern books and works for furniture designers and makers are the names of Lock & Copeland. Lock was associated with the publication of " Original Designs for Furniture," which appeared at intervals between 1740 to 1765, and also a book published in 1769 entitled " A New Book of Pier Frames, Ovals, Girandoles, Tables, etc." It would appear that Lock traded in conjunction with Copeland, for in 1768, in a book entitled " A Book of Tables, Candle-sticks, Pedestals, etc.," it is stated that " all the genuine works of Lock & Copeland may be obtained at 53 Fleet Street."

Matthias Lock had at one time a furniture workshop near " Ye Swan " in Tottenham Court Road, employing several workmen. He was clever with his pen and pencil, and understood the technique of colour, being also an etcher, engraving his own plates. Perhaps one of the most useful books brought out by this cabinet-maker with diversified qualifications was the " Book of Ornaments" in which were engraved some remarkable mirror frames, showing the introduction of quaint and curious ornaments. He was not content with simple mirror frames, for he is known to have been a designer of chimney-pieces, chiefly following the style of the Louis XV. period.


The last reference to individual makers of furniture which it is desirable to make is that in connection with the work of Thomas Johnson. He, like many traders and master cabinet-makers in the eighteenth century, is chiefly known by the books of designs he brought out. His first work, published in 1758, was issued in monthly parts. It was a book of designs for picture frames, candelabra, and ceilings, being dedicated to one of his patrons, Lora Blakeney. In referring to the designs which were evidently intended to be carried out under his own guidance, or by those who purchased his book, he says : " When honoured by the hand of the skilful workman, they will give entire satisfaction. The second book he published in 1761 appears to have consisted largely of reproductions from the earlier work, to which, however, he made some notable additions. The title of that book was " One Hundred and Fifty New Designs of Ceilings, Chimney-pieces, Slabs, Glass and Picture Frames for decorating Ornamental Furniture in the Present Taste."

The illustrations Figs. 67, 68, and 69 are examples of late eighteenth-century work, and of work carried out by provincial cabinet-makers early in the nineteenth century. The dining-room sideboard without brass rail is of large size, and is supported by eight legs—four in the front—thus dividing the two cellaret compartments and cup-boards. The turned legs and applied pilasters are also unusual. This mahogany sideboard is probably of the period 1780-1790. It was lately in the possession of Mallett & Son, of Bath (see Fig. 67).

The fine mahogany tall-boy shown in Fig. 68 is of late eighteenth century, and is a very good example of one of those chests in which the top row of drawers (three in number) consisted of drawers which, although narrow, were fairly deep—some of the top drawers of the tall-boys are very shallow and of comparatively little usefulness.

Fig. 69 is a very fine mahogany bureau-desk and writing cabinet, showing unusual architectural influence in the design. The small drawers of the interior are divided by fluted columns, and the central compartment has a decorative inlaid door ; the inlays of the interior are also exceptionally good. This bureau-desk and cabinet, which is of the period 1790-1800, is in the possession of Messrs Waring & Gillow, Ltd.

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