Heals today is known as one of the top retail stores in London, which has been trading since 1810. But antique collectors from Preston know it for the iconic Arts & Crafts furniture of Ambrose Heal, grandson of the founder. Those from Lancashire can view his antique cabinets, Victorian dining chairs and antique desks in person or online, at the V & A museum.
Heals of London was established in 1810 by bedding manufacturer John Harris Heal . But it was Ambrose Heal who was to have the greatest impact, establishing the definitive style seen in Heals antique cabinets and Victorian dining chairs of Lancashire dealers today.
The Arts & Crafts Furniture of Ambrose Heal
Ambrose Heal left school to embark on a variety of apprenticeships – encountering the same standard taste in furniture mimicked by his father’s own store. However, Ambrose had an individual and progressive talent, which he brought to bear on his own designs.
An antique desk, chest and wardrobe by Heal were exhibited at the Arts and Crafts Society Exhibition of 1899. He continued exhibiting, joining the Society in 1906, and the Art Workers’ Guild in 1910. He began selling his Arts & Crafts furniture through the family firm – causing dissent among the workers still making traditional, elaborate pieces. However, when C.R. Ashbee took his Guild of Handicraft to Chipping Camden in 1902, Ambrose Heal was able to recruit some of the craftsmen wanting to remain in London, establishing a niche.
Heals continued to promote harmonious design and simplicity of ornament, whilst satisfying conventional tastes through its “antique” furniture department. With Arts & Crafts Furniture in decline by 1915, Ambrose Heal attempted to bring in machine production, taking the company into Modernism. He also had a bigger store built at 196 Tottenham Court Road. This included a new exhibition area, the Mansard Gallery, which continued to showcase Heals designs into and beyond the Art Deco period – and into today.
You can find Heals of London antique cabinets, dining tables and bedroom furniture in Lancashire antique shops. A selling exhibition at the Mansard gallery took place in April 2010 – with one antique cabinet priced at almost £20,000.