Blyth & Sons (1820-1888)
Blyth & Sons
London & Liverpool; upholsterers, bed makers, feather importers and wholesale cabinet makers (fl. c.1820-88)
From 1871 Blyth & Sons were listed at 4-7 Chiswell Street, Finsbury Square, with factories at Elizabeth Street, Hackney Road, Blyth Street, Bethnal Green Road, London, and Henry Street, Liverpool.
From 1873, The Furniture Gazette Directory recorded the firm’s trades as bed, mattress & bedding manufacturer, feather importers, wholesale cabinet makers and upholsterers. They first advertised in The Furniture Gazette (17 March 1877) and continued to advertise in this publication until at least the mid-1880s. The firm was also recorded in The Furniture Gazette: Classified List of the Furniture, Upholstery, and Allied Trades (1886) as art furniture manufacturers and merchants, cabinet makers and bedstead manufacturers at the same addresses, apart from the London manufactories which were at Elizabeth Street, Hackney Road. By the same year, 1886, the firm had the telegraphic address of ‘Blyson, London’ [The Furniture Gazette, 1 January 1886].
The firm was recorded in the Lord Chamberlain’s accounts from 1880. The Furniture Gazette (8 November 1884) announced that the royal warrant as ‘‘Bedding Manufacturers to the Queen’ had been awarded to the firm and it continued to hold this warrant until at least 1888 [The Furniture Gazette, 1 February 1888]. An undated letterhead stated that Blyth & Sons held warrants as suppliers to the Admiralty and the King of Siam.
The Furniture Gazette recorded various commissions awarded to the firm, including:
- 1877: The newly opened Orleans Club, Orleans House, Twickenham [19 May 1877]
- 1877: Two large buffets for the coffee room of the new opened hotel at Holborn Viaduct [17 November 1877]
- 1880: Furniture for Carpenters’ Hall [4 December 1880]
- 1881: Furniture for the Argus Club, St James’s Street [15 January 1881]
- 1881: New wings of the Berks County Asylum [15 January 1881]
- 1881: Furnishing of the Savage Club, London [19 March, 1881]
- 1881: 180 hair mattresses and straw paillasses for Hackney Infirmary [2 April 1881]
- 1881: Furniture for the new offices of the London & Staffordshire Fire Insurance Co., Bishopsgate [2 April 1881].
- 1882: Furniture for a large house in Jerusalem [11 February 1882]
- 1882: Furnishing of the new Galleons Hotel, Albert Docks, London, including a splendid, large 7ft sideboard, of American oak and chair of the same wood, illus. [19 & 26 August 1882],
- 1882: An urgent supply of bedding for Egypt, which the firm made up from 6 tons of curled hair into mattresses within 7 days of receipt of the order [19 August 1882]
- 1882: The entire furnishings of the Orleans Residential Club, Brighton
- 1882: Orleans Club in King Street, St James’s, London.
NB: During 1883, Orleans Club, Orleans House, Twickenham was in financial difficulties. Consequently, Blyth furniture was sold by auction [16 December 1882 & 29 September 1883].
Blyth & Sons exhibited at the 2nd Furniture Trades Exhibition, Agricultural Hall, 1882 [illus. [The Furniture Gazette, 13 May 1882] and also at the 3rd Furniture Trades Exhibition, 1883 [illus. The Furniture Gazette, 31 March & 5 May 1883].
Regular catalogues of designs were printed by the firm from 1878. The Furniture Gazette (5 July 1879) announced that a new design book of modern furniture with nearly 2,000 designs was available at £3 3s. Illustrations of the firm’s work include an art furniture style, painted oak corner cabinet (labelled), made in the 1870s [Agius (1978), p. 74]; a decorated glass washstand [The Furniture Gazette, 2 August 1873]; school furniture [The Furniture Gazette, 16 August 1873]; and an oak sideboard and chimneypiece made to order [The Furniture Gazette, 18 January 1879].
In 1884 the firm was taken to court for 24 infringements of the Factory Act; the first eleven summonses were in relation to the employment of women after the hour of 2pm on Saturday 17 May and others for employing the same workpeople after 7pm on the following Monday. The final summons was for failure to display an abstract of the Factory Act in a prominent position within their premises. Blyth & Sons’ defence was that they had a very large order to fulfil at the time and the women worked of their own free will and received very liberal payment. The judge fined the firm £1 on each of the first eleven summonses, £3 on each of the next twelve, and £2 on the last summons, thus making a total fine of £51 10s [The Furniture Gazette, 21 June 1884].
The Furniture Gazette (28 June 1884) published a letter from Blyth & Sons putting forward its defence that the women cited in the case had not been asked to give evidence to the court and this would have proved that they had received good treatment and recompense from the company as a result of working these hours of their own will. The letter also reaffirmed the view of the firm - which had been in business for over sixty to seventy years without any legal employment issues, had unfairly been charged. This view of the court case and its judgement was confirmed by further editorial comment from the trade [The Furniture Gazette, 5 July 1884].
Little is known about the directors and staff of the firm, apart from the firm recruiting Mr Cooke in 1882, who had spent many years at Jackson & Graham [The Furniture Gazette, 14 October 1882], and that J. Nelson Blyth was elected President of the Caledonian Society of London [The Furniture Gazette, 27 December 1884].
The firm was reputedly established by David Blyth in the early 1800s and later continued by his son, James, in Chiswell Street. For further information see: https://collection.sciencemuseumgroup.org.uk/people/cp30439/blyth-and-sons.
Sources: Joy, ‘The Royal Victorian Furniture-Makers, 1837-87’, The Burlington Magazine (November 1969; Agius, British Furniture 1880-1915 (1978).