Gillows of Lancaster is renowned in the world of fine furniture, with antique cabinets by this Lancashire firm held in the same esteem as those of Sheraton and Chippendale. Gillows was producing antique dining chairs and other fine furniture for over 200 years – the majority of it for the aristocracy and upper classes. Tatton Park, in Cheshire, is a masterpiece of Gillows antiques, with over 200 privately commissioned pieces in their original setting.
The company was established by Robert Gillow (1704-1772). Born in Fylde, Lancashire, he travelled to Lancaster to train as a cabinetmaker, initially working as a ship’s carpenter. Lancaster was a major trading port at this time, and Robert was able to forge important links with the West Indies, importing high quality mahogany from Jamaica, Cuba and the Honduras after setting up his business.
In the 1740s, Gillow opened a London warehouse, gaining him national recognition. The use of finely crafted mahogany – a key feature of Robert Gillow’s exquisite antique bookcases and cabinets – enabled this humble Lancashire lad to establish a name for himself with the English nobility and upper-classes. In return for mahogany imports, he also began exporting furniture to the West Indies, quickly establishing himself as a cabinetmaker of international importance.
Robert Gillow was later joined by his sons, Richard and Robert, who helped develop the company’s reputation. Important commissions were secured, furnishing public buildings in Australia, South Africa, Europe, Russia, India and even the US.
Richard Gillow was himself a master craftsman. Following his father’s death, he began working on innovative new designs of his own, aided by his brother Robert, who ran the London branch of the company and therefore had his finger on the pulse of the latest trends and fashions. Extending antique tables were a Lancashire invention, developed by Richard Gillow.
Between 1750 and 1811 the firm reached its zenith, producing the finest furniture ever to come out of Lancashire. The antique chests, tables and cabinets of this period were produced by the pick of Lancashire’s craftsmen, as Richard was a popular and much-loved figure able to secure honest, gifted employees easily. He was also a trained architect, building and furnishing several notable public buildings in the Lancashire area.
By the time Richard’s son (also called Richard), succeeded him in the firm, Gillows had entered the age of Victorian mass-production. However, the company continued to expand, offering value for money while maintaining traditional cabinetmaking methods. The company worked with Pugin on the interiors of the Palace of Westminster, around 1840, later diversifying into fitting out passenger liners and luxury yachts.
This effectively takes the story of this famous Lancashire company full circle. The last antique dining chairs and antique cabinets by Gillows of Lancaster were crafted no later than 1903, when the firm merged with S.J Waring to form Waring and Gillow.
The patterns for Gillows commissions, such as inlaid antique bookcases and gilded Victorian dining chairs, were kept in Lancashire under lock-and-key. Today, these unique books provide Lancashire antique dealers with a detailed record of every antique desk and cabinet Gillows ever made, making authentication and valuation an easy process.
A fine Example of Gillows Work
The golden chandelier symbol displayed in a window or at a fair, is the sign of membership of LAPADA, the Association of Art & Antiques Dealers. Since its inception in 1974, LAPADA’s membership has grown to over 600 members making it the largest association of professional art and antiques dealers in the United Kingdom. Although the majority of its membership is UK based, LAPADA also currently has 50 members in 16 other countries. Membership is only open to those who meet the Association’s requirements as to experience, quality of stock and knowledge of their subject. Between them, members cover virtually every discipline from antiquities to contemporary fine art.
LAPADA was the first antiques trade association to introduce a Code of Practice, the purpose of which is to reassure the public and give them confidence when they make a purchase from a member. All members have agreed to abide by this strict Code of Practice and in the unlikely event of a dispute, the Association’s free Conciliation Service.
In addition to the protection afforded by the Code of Practice, all art and antiques dealers (unlike auctioneers whose Conditions of Sale protect them) must comply with consumer protection laws. The LAPADA Code of Practice also ensures that all items for sale in a member’s shop or at a fair must be clearly and correctly labelled including the price: LAPADA members are not permitted to use confusing codes.
When you buy from a LAPADA member you will be given a written invoice stating their trading name, address and telephone number, date of sale, brief description of the item(s) – including the approximate date, any major restoration or alteration to the item since original manufacture – and the price paid.
Biedermeier was an influential style of furniture design from Germany during the years 1815–1848
Biedermeier Style was a simple interpretation of the French Empire Style of Napoleon I which introduced Roman Empire styles to modern early 19th century houses. Biedermeier furniture was usually made from local available timbers like ash, cherry and oak rather than expensive imported mahogany as it was heavily taxed at the trading ports nearby such as Antwerp and Hamburg. Stylistically the furniture was simple but elegant and its construction utilised the ideal of truth through material, something that later influenced the Bauhaus and Art Deco Periods.
Biedermeier lifestyle and furniture was focused at exhibitions held at the Vienna applied Arts museum in 1896. Many visitors to the exhibition were influenced by the elegance and fantasy style so much that a revival period became popular amongst many European cabinet makers. The revival lasted until the Art Deco Period began.
Examples of Biedermeier furniture
Collinson & Lock were one of the foremost producers of Aesthetic and Art Nouveau furniture in London. A large collection of their work is on display at the V & A museum, including an antique cabinet shown at the 1871 London International Exhibition.
The company was established in the 1860s by F.G. Collinson and G.J. Lock, who worked for Jackson & Graham, a firm famous for its machine-made antique marquetry furniture . This was to become a feature of Collinson & Lock’s own work.
Art Nouveau antique dining chairs and exhibition antique cabinets
Collinson & Lock achieved early success, employing some of the leading designers of the Aesthetic Art Movement. This included the architect T.E.Collcutt, who designed their new premises, and J Moyr-Smith, who was assistant to Christopher Dresser and produced an impressive catalogue of their furniture in 1871. Other names associated with the firm include Stephen Webb (their senior designer); H.W. Batley and A.H. Mackmurdo – a precursor of his Art Nouveau Victorian dining chairs is on display in the V & A.
In 1873 the company moved to St Bride Street, experimenting with new materials and techniques. Their antique marquetry furniture, incorporating rosewood, ivory and Pietre Dure marble mosaics – a 16th century Renaissance art form – is an example of this. Antique dealers in Preston and Lancashire see their intricate Italianate arabesques, scrolling foliage and carved figures as indicative of Stephen Webb, who together with H. Batley worked on the new Savoy Theatre in 1881. By contrast, the company also produced furniture for G.E Street’s Royal Courts of Justice.
Collinson & Lock also produced some outstanding international exhibition pieces. An ebonised antique cabinet, shown at the London International Exhibition in 1871, was purchased for the V & A museum in the same year, other versions being shown in Vienna and America. At the 1878 Paris Exposition, they exhibited a number of Anglo-Japanese pieces by E.W Godwin, their most important designer, leading to international recognition.
In 1885 they bought Jackson & Graham, but it was not a success and in 1897 they were themselves taken over by E. W Godwin of Lancaster. They continued producing fine furniture, however, and in Lancashire their antique cabinets, Victorian dining chairs and antique desks regularly turn up in antique shops.
Ormolu derives from the French “or moulu”, ground gold, meaning the gold leaf used for gilding metals. Strictly speaking the term applies to cast bronze items which were subsequently finely chiselled and fire-gilt, but the word has come to be applied to all gilt-bronze objects including those which were dipped in acid and finely lacquered, and to a gold coloured alloy of copper, zinc and tin.
The high point of ormolu craftsmanship was in the latter half of the 18th Century when exquisite pieces were produced, the most common items being candlesticks, mounts for porcelain and furniture, fire dogs, clock cases, wall sconces and chandeliers.
A fine example of beautiful ormolu mounts
The forerunners of the tripod table were the small round topped tables which were designed to support a lantern or candlesticks – a type popular in England during the second half of the 17th Century.
The tripod table was introduced in the 1730s and was made in varying sizes. Except in the smallest tripod tables, the tops are made so that they can tilt to a vertical position to fit neatly into the corner of a room. The heyday of the tripod table was the Chippendale period when they were mostly made in mahogany, with carved decoration.
Tripod tables were largely an English phenomenon and were less popular on the Continent. In England in the mid 18th Century small tripod tables were made as stands for silver tea kettles and their heaters, but undoubtedly used in the drawing room next to armchairs for other purposes, as they are still used today.
With a warehouse that was one of the “sites of London”, Maple & Co was once the largest furniture retailer and manufacturer in the world, attracting visitors from near and far. The company was most prolific in the late Victorian and Edwardian era, specialising in fine quality Arts & Crafts Furniture, designed and produced in their own workshops. However, they continued producing fine quality furniture up until the 1980s.
Maple & Co was established by John Maple, a shopkeeper from Horley, Surrey, who later opened a furniture shop in Tottenham Court Road. However it was his son, John Blundell Maple , who made Maples & Co a success. With exceptional business skills, John B. Maple took over the company while still a young man. By the 1880s they were the largest furniture store in the world, exported their fine furniture to every continent.
antique desks with a racing chance
Maples manufactured their luxury furniture entirely in-house, at a huge modern complex. A timber importer and furniture exporter, they landed prestigious contracts furnishing fine houses, hotels, embassies and palaces in Europe; among them Tsar Nicholas’s Winter Palace and the Hofburg Imperial Palace in Vienna . With his own empire established, John Blundell Maple achieved further fame in politics and horse racing – some lines, such as the Atherstoke antique cabinet, having racing connections in the titles.
Never compromising on quality, Maples produced a huge catalogue of fine furniture, covering every avenue of interior design. A Maples & Co sale today would cover everything from Chippendale Revival antique dining chairs , to Aesthetic style carved oak dressers, to Art Nouveau tulip carved antique dining tables – all from the same catalogue.
antique cabinets that never age
The exclusivity and high quality of craftsmanship of Maples’ antique cabinets, dining suites and bedroom furniture made them highly popular with Britain’s social elite. Today, they appeal to anyone who appreciates fine craftsmanship.
In 1905, Maples advertised a pedestal desk as a “writing table fitted for the typewriter”. Today, office users in Preston will find antique desks with the Maples emblem described as computer desks. The true quality of Maples Arts & Crafts Furniture, for Preston buyers, is in its timelessness.
Below: A fine example of An Edwardian mahogany Inlaid Display Cabinet