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Collinson and Lock (1870-1897)

Collinson and Lock

London; furniture makers, upholsterers, decorators and retailers (fl.1870-1897)

Francis (Frank) Weightman Collinson (1836-1918) and George James Sheridan Lock (1846-1900) were employees of the firm of Jackson and Graham, Oxford Street, London, but left in the 1860s to work for Herring and Company, 109 Fleet Street. They acquired this business in 1870 and turned it into a partnership, advertising as ‘Collinson and Lock (late Herring) Est. 1782. Old English Furniture: Reproductions of simple and artistic cabinet work from country mansions of the XVI and XVII centuries’ [Notes and Queries, 4th series VI, 10 September 1870].

Recorded as cabinet makers at 109 Fleet Street in Kelly’s Post Office Directory 1871. Until at least 1878, Collinson and Lock used the claim ‘Established 1782’ on their billheads. In 1873 they expanded their business into nearby St Bride Street, in a building designed by T. E. Collcutt, as well as maintaining the Fleet Street premises and a factory in Pear Tree Court, Farringdon Road. In the London Post Office Directory (1882) the firm was described as ‘upholsterers, decorators, paperhangers, manufacturers of artistic furniture and constructive woodwork for interiors and paper hangings of special design and colour’. In March 1885 the partnership amalgamated with their former employers Jackson and Graham and moved to the latter’s Oxford Street premises. Both firms were listed here in the Furniture Gazette: Classified List of the Furniture, Upholstery, and Allied Trades (1886) as Art Furniture Manufacturers and Merchants, Cabinet Makers and Upholsterers, 70 to 86 Oxford Street.

As ‘Collinson and Lock and Jackson and Graham’, on 25 June 1886 the newly expanded company held a private viewing of the recently refurbished Oxford Street premises with a revised stock which offered ‘striking evidence of the advance which decorative artwork has made in England in the last twenty years. Especially noticeable is the wood carving and inlaying’ [The Times, 25 June 1886]. The press noted also that the firm paid fair wages to workers, including women, who earned 50s a week for producing marquetry, and this was confirmed in a report prepared by the Consumers’ League in 1887, although it was not totally free from ‘sweating practices’. In 1891 Collinson and Lock were listed among employers who conceded to demands for a 47 hour week and a minimum of 10d per hour for their carpenters and joiners. The London Post Office Directory (1891) recorded the firm at 76, 78 & 80 Oxford Street, Freston Place & Perry’s Place, operating as cabinet makers, art furniture makers and decorators.  

In 1893 the partnership was incorporated as a company and on 17 June 1896, George Lock withdrew from the company, taking his £20,000 capital with him, and set up on his own at 17 Berners Street as a decorative art specialist. Within a year he had established new premises in the New Art Galleries, 38 Conduit Street. Collinson could not successfully continue after the withdrawal of Lock’s investment and in 1897 the company went into liquidation. The firm was amalgamated later that year with Waring and Gillow. At a grand dinner in late 1897 for the combined staff of Waring’s, Gillow’s and Collinson and Lock, S. J. Waring declared ‘The amalgamation with Warings of the famous houses of Gillow and of Collinson and Lock has been effected primarily with the object of combining in one spirit of enterprise two houses of the greatest eminence where work of the highest class shall be produced’ [The Graphic, 29 January 1898].

In the autumn of 1898 a sale of goods at the Oxford Street premises was advertised. The Graphic reported that ‘There is this distinctive characteristic about Collinson and Lock’s sale: it is composed of furniture and fabrics that mark an epoch in artistic manufacture… A few years hence these Collinson and Lock examples will unquestionably have acquired an historic character; and the prices at which they are offered today will be considered altogether inadequate to represent their true commercial value’. A final sale took place 2-5 May 1899 on the Oxford Street premises and thereafter Waring and Gillow discretely dropped the name of Collinson and Lock, although it remained in the public consciousness as a prestigious firm from the past; the 1900 sale particulars of 42 Holland Park included ‘a reception room fitted by Collinson and Lock with woodwork of the finest workmanship in the Queen Anne style’ [Morning Post, 7 July 1900]. 

At the height of their success Collinson and Lock produced the among the best ‘Art Furniture’ of the era, to designs by or after Bruce Talbert, T. E. Collcutt, H. W. Batley, C. L. Eastlake, R. N. Shaw, J. Moyr Smith and Stephen Webb. In 1871 the firm’s Artistic Furniture Catalogue was published with designs by J. Moyr Smith and Thomas Collcutt. In his 1887 book, Ornamental Interiors Ancient and Modern, J. Moyr Smith noted that soon after 1867, ‘the firm of Collinson and Lock… was about the first to recognise the vitality of the new style, brought out their catalogue’. The subjects were treated in a much simpler manner than most contemporaries and in some cases were as ‘bare of ornament as it was possible to be; but there was practical knowledge displayed in the selection, and the work was simple enough to be easily wrought, so that the examples given in the catalogue were imitated all over the country and helped greatly to extend the influence of the new style’.

In the Art Journal Catalogue of the International Exhibition 1872, London, Collinson and Lock were referred to as ‘eminent upholsterers of London…  it is mainly to this firm we are indebted for the re-introduction of the style known as old English, which so admirably suits our British homes’. The firm pioneered the ‘Backward Ho’ movement, continually adapting their designs to meet the demand for modern Gothic, Jacobean and the Renaissance revival styles. Their advertisement in Building News, 40 (1881) explained their approach: ‘Collinson & Lock, modellers, wood-carvers and decorators… [make] modelled plaster work, wood carving, paint and decorating for Ceilings, Wall Panels, and Friezes, as in the best Old English Manor Houses in the style of the Renaissance and used constructively in the enrichment of Interior Woodwork and furniture of an artistic kind’. A sheet card from their 1871 Artistic catalogue, a photo of the Collinson and Lock display at the Philadelphia Exhibition 1876 and an advertisement for the firm c. 1892/3 are illus. Edwards (2012), pp. 260, 266 & 272.

Collinson & Lock’s collaboration with E. W. Godwin was of central importance to the firm’s success. In 1872 E. W. Godwin signed an exclusive contract worth £450 per annum. In 1873 he designed the ‘Cottage’ range which borrowed features such as handles and strap hinges from his Dromore designs, but Collinson and Lock were not enthusiastic about Godwin’s medieval forms and only a few were produced. Godwin chastised the firm for ‘declining to work out medieval furniture & so meet the demand that is made by clergy & others on this style’. However, Godwin’s Anglo-Japanese style was more appealing. Of particular note were two early large commissions, the first in 1873 for John Wingate McLaren at 69 Addison Road, Kensington and the second in 1873-74 for William Randolph Innes Hopkins, at Grey Towers, Nunthorpe, Middlesbrough. The firm’s stand and five pieces of furniture shown at the Vienna Exhibition, 1873 were designed by Godwin. Another commission came via Prince Esterhazy’s order for a chair and a ceiling designed by Godwin and made by Collinson and Lock.

At the Philadelphia Exhibition, 1876, Collinson and Lock exhibited a drawing room and other room settings, featuring two elegant parlour cabinets and a large ebonized satinwood and lacquer cabinet designed by Godwin, an oak cabinet designed by Bruce Talbert, and a buffet, a walnut corner cabinet and a rosewood chair designed by H. W. Batley (illus. Meyer (2006), pp. 210, 212, 225 & 231). The Lucretia Cabinet, designed by Godwin and painted by Charles Fairfax Murray, was exhibited at the Collinson & Lock stand at the Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1878, and is now at the Detroit Institute of Arts. At some stage it also passed through the hands of Edwards & Roberts as it also bears its stamp. Through Godwin’s association with the firm several American commissions were forthcoming, including one for James Goodwin for his house in Hartford, Connecticut, for which fixtures, wallpaper as well as some furniture were supplied in 1874. By 1876, however, Godwin was no longer designing exclusively for Collinson & Lock. They were awarded medals at both the Philadelphia & Paris Exhibitions [The Furniture Gazette, 14 October 1876 & 28 September 1878].

T. E. Collcutt was another highly important contributor to the firm. He designed the ebonized cabinet with painted decoration for the 1871 London Exhibition which the Government purchased for the Bethnal Green Museum.

Copyright (Attribution/Credit)
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Mahogany, ebonised and painted cabinet designed by T. E. Collcutt, 1871 [MISC.127:1-9-1921]. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The success of this cabinet led to further models, one of which was exhibited in 1873 at the Vienna International Exhibition. This version had an upper panel painted by Edward Burne-Jones and was bought by the Prince of Liechtenstein and given to the Osterreichisches Musum fur Angewandte Kunst, Vienna, in 1881. The British display for the Paris Exhibition of 1878 was of house interiors of which the catalogue noted: ‘The fifth house, erected by Messrs. Collinson & Lock, of Fleet Street, was designed by Mr T. E. Collcutt. It is in the style of an English country house of the reign of King William III’. The exhibition house and contents were purchased by the Baroness Rothschild for erection at Chateau de Ferrières, Paris.

About 1885 the firm appointed Stephen Webb as principal in-house designer. He had already worked for the company on individual projects, such as the 1881 Exhibition of Works of Art Applied to Furniture, held at the Royal Albert Hall. Here Collinson and Lock were singled for out for the quality of their display of a mantelpiece and cabinet in deep red mahogany, with a silver medal being awarded to the designer, Stephen Webb. The firm also made furniture to designs by A. H. Mackmurdo, including a mahogany chair (below) with a painted fret panel and leather upholstery, c.1883, regarded by some pundits as the first piece of Art Nouveau furniture.

Copyright (Attribution/Credit)
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Mahogany dining chair with inset mahogany fretwork panel designed by Arthur Mackmurdo, c. 1883 [W.29-1982]. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Other examples of this chair bear the Century Gild label and include those at the William Morris Gallery (WMG G36a & b.). The same Museum also has a mahogany secretaire with fretwork brackets, c.1882 (WMG G9) and a mirror framed in mahogany with integrated glovebox on fretwork brackets (WMG G18).  This furniture was designed by Mackmurdo, attributed to or definitely made by Collinson & Lock for the Century Guild; illus. Evans & Liddiard, figs. 2.8 & 2.9, 2.10 & 2.11 and 2.12 & 2.13.

At the International Health Exhibition, 1884 in London the Collinson & Lock exhibited two model rooms, a drawing room and a bedroom; the latter featured built-in furniture designed by Sir Robert Edis. The firm advertised this system as suitable for ‘Bedrooms, Bachelors’ Chambers, Shooting Boxes and Yachts’. The exhibit was well received, being awarded the Society of Arts Stacy Price for the best exhibit in Class 30 (objects for Internal Decoration and Use in the Dwelling: Fittings and Furniture). The firm exhibited at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition, 1890, showing a number of ornamented tables, chairs, cabinets etc. Although criticised for over-decoration, the quality of the inlay and decoration was praised. One of the last major exhibitions for the firm was the Chicago Exposition, 1893.

Although the firm is often associated with ebonised art furniture, their astute business sense meant that they adapted to producing styles that suited a wide range of clients. The early tastes for the aesthetes based on an Anglo-Japanese style were developed into the “Queen Anne’, Cottage, Modern or Reformed Gothic, Old English, Renaissance and later 18th century English and French revivals. However, they did continue to offer many models over a long period of time. Whilst some of the earlier furniture styles (Modern or Reformed Gothic and Old English) were influenced by Eastlake and others, the Renaissance style with it associated marquetry was the province of George Lock and Stephen Webb.

The Cabinet Maker of July 1884 commented: ‘It is a suggestive and curious study to turn from the little book of quaint, square-looking, and thoroughly English furniture, which was published by them [Collinson & Lock] some years ago, [referring to their Sketches of Artistic Furniture, 1871] to some of the rarely beautiful but Frenchified productions which they now have on view’.  A copy of the 1871 publication is available at the National Art Library, V&A (NAL: 57.D.29).  

Apart from the range of styles they worked in they also produced a wide range of furniture types. They produced bedroom suites and fitted units from simple E. W. Godwin designs to highly embellished marquetry suites. Cabinets of a variety of forms, including display cabinets, cupboard cabinets, hanging cabinets, and the well-known corner cabinets span the stylistic ranges mentioned above. Their sideboards range from Godwin designed Cottage sideboards to massive Renaissance inspired carved oak models. The range of chairs was expansive, with designs of simple forms by T.E. Collcutt and H.W. Batley while later examples were often based on 18th century models with the addition of marquetry detail. Tables were a speciality and again the range was impressive, from simple Eastlake inspired square occasional tables, to E.W. Godwin’s elegant eight legged octagonal tables, to side tables with ivory marquetry work. A rosewood and inlaid table of c.1890, formerly in the Charles and Lavinia Handley-Read collection, is now at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (M.21-1972).The firm also produced upholstered goods following the same pattern that started with ebonised ‘art furniture’ with ebonised frames and spindle moulding decoration to Gothic style armchairs. The firm’s desks ranged from the simple to Louis XIV Boulle reproductions. Their painted cabinets were fitted with panels decorated by well-known artists of the time including Charles Fairfax Murray (1849-1919), Andrew Donaldson (1840-1919), Frederick V. Hart (f. 1865-1915), Albert Moore (1841-1893,) Thomas Matthews Rooke (1842-1942), and Harry Ellis Wooldridge (1845-1917).

A number of important private clients were supplied with furniture and interior design services:

  • An early commission was for the New York Tribune correspondent George W Smalley (8 Chester Place, Bayswater, 1873). Smalley was a well–connected critic and reporter who moved in aesthetic circles and was supplied with Godwin designed furniture.
  • In the same vein the firm furnished the home of Andrew Muir in Holland Park (1874).
  • With the architect W. E. Nesfield, the firm supplied panelling and furnishings for Captain Carpenter at Kiplin Hall, Northallerton (1876).
  • During 1886 Sir Robert Burnett’s London residence at 3 Charles Street, Berkeley Square was furnished and decorated with ebonised furniture, amongst other items.
  • Furniture including a billiard table and rosewood cabinet was made for the Duke of Westminster at Eaton Hall (1878).
  • Other examples include interior woodwork to the design of R.W. Edis at Smallwood Manor, Staffordshire (1886)
  • Charles Kettlewell’s London flat (1888)
  • Various rooms for Leopold de Rothschild’s (Ascott House, 1888-89)
  • A set of complete interiors for C. H. Stanford (6 Carlton House Terrace, 1889-90) as contractors via the architect Sir Ernest George. This house was also redecorated by the firm for Mrs Mackay in 1892-3
  • Sir Ernest Cassel (48 Grosvenor Square, 1890), Sir Alfred Beit (Aldford House, Park Lane, 1894-97) and James Beale (Standen, 1896).

Click here to see 19th century photographs of several Collinson & Lock interiors, including their Oxford Street showrooms.

The firm was favoured by royal commissions:

  • During 1886-88 the Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin, was partly furnished and decorated by the firm for Victoria, Princess Royal, the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria
  • In 1890s parts of the Schaumburg Palace, Bonn, were refurnished by the firm for Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Viktoria of Prussia

Commercial commissions in London included:

  • The London Missionary Society (1874-75)
  • The Savoy Theatre (1881), which one commentator hoped ‘will sustain the aesthetic reputation of this “utter” firm’ [Cabinet Maker, November 1881, p. 83] 
  • The Queen’s Hall in the Peoples Palace, Mile End, London (1887) 
  • The Savoy Hotel (1889)
  • The Royal English Opera House, London (1891)
  • Daly’s Theatre (1893)
  • In 1880-82 G. E. Street commissioned Collinson and Lock, with Gillow and Holland and Company, to make and supply the furniture and woodwork for the new Royal Courts of Justice in London

An important aspect of the firm’s business was the production and supply of furnishing textiles. In the first days of the business they were already advertising their ‘Imitations of Rare old Brocades, Damasks and Gobelins Tapestries’. From the mid 1880s George Lock involved himself in the promotion of the silk industry at a national level. Lock was appointed vice president of the Silk Association, and honorary secretary to the National Silk Exhibition, which held presentations in London during the 1890s. Although they often favoured Renaissance designs, Collinson & Lock also used historic English models. For example, in the 1898 sale they offered a ‘Wolsey armchair covered with red velvet, trimmed braid and fringe copied from ‘Knole’’; ‘a large high back Queen Anne easy chair on carved and inlaid frame, covered in fine Lyons velvet copied from a chair at Hampton Court Palace’ and ‘a carved ebonized Charles II arm chair, seat and back covered in crimson Genoa velvet, copied from one in the Hamilton collection’. The change from the early aesthetic patterns of E.W. Godwin to the taste for full-blown reproductions was complete.

The Furniture Gazette recorded various minor exhibitions in which the firm participated:

  • The Exhibition of Ancient & Morden Furniture, held in conjunction with the City and Spitalfields School of Art, London in 1875 (3 April 1875)
  • The Yorkshire Fine Arts Society Show, Leeds in 1881 (5 March 1881)
  • The Exhibition of Works of Art applied to Furniture, Royal Albert Hall in May 1881 (7 & 28 May 1881)
  • The Exhibition of Modern Furniture, Royal Albert Hall in October 1881 (29 October 1881)
  • The Exhibition of Works in Wood at Carpenter’s Hall, London in 1892 (15 June 1892)

Francis Weightman Collinson’s son, Frank Graham Collinson (1865-1919), went into business on his own account a little later. Certainly, by 1893, he was producing designs under his own name but publishing them as c/o Collinson & Lock. For example, in the Royal Academy of Arts Dictionary of Exhibitors for 1893 there is an entry number 1532 for a design for a card room window by Frank Collinson. Frank Collinson jnr worked with Gillows on the Paris 1900 exhibition and remained with them until October 1906 when he announced that he had severed his connection with Gillow and Company and ‘is carrying on his decorative work at 24, Grafton Street…’ [The Times, 6 October 1906]. His work continued the reproduction style of his father’s firm with fashionable decorative additions in some cases. Frank jnr served in the First World War and died of Spanish influenza in 1919. 

By Clive Edwards

Sources: Aslin, 19th Century English Furniture (1962); Agius, British Furniture 1880-1915 (1978); Kinchin “Collinson and Lock”, Connoisseur, (May 1979); Gere & Whiteway, Nineteenth-Century Design.  From Pugin to Mackintosh (1993); Stapleton, ‘John Moyr Smith 1839-1912’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (1996); Kirkham, ‘The London Furniture Trade’, Furniture History (1998) pp.64 & 105; Soros, E W Godwin. Aesthetic Movement Architect and Designer (1999); Soros, The Secular Furniture of E.W. Godwin. (1999); Donnelly, ‘The Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition’, Furniture History (2001); Meyer, ‘Trollope & Sons. Makers and Exhibitors of Fine Furniture’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2001); Meyer, Great Exhibitions. London, New York, Paris, Philadelphia. 1851-1900 (2006); Edwards, ‘Art Furniture in the Old English Style. The Firm of Collinson and Lock, London, 1870-1900’, West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture (Fall-Winter 2012); Wallis, ‘A Hand-List of the Handley-Read Collection’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2016); Stuart Evans & Jean Liddiard, Arts & Crafts Pioneers. The Hobby Horse Men and their Century Guild (2021); Edwards, Collinson & Lock. Art Furnishers, Interior Decorators and Designers 1870-1900 (2022); Ikin, 'The Furnishing of Standen', Furniture History (2023)