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Cox & Son(s); Cox, Sons, Buckley & Company (1853-1935)

Cox & Son(s); Cox, Sons, Buckley & Company

Southampton Street & Lambeth, London & Thames Ditton, Surrey; church & domestic furniture makers, retailers, carvers and gilders (fl.1853-1935)

Thomas Cox founded a firm of clerical tailors in 1838. It became Cox & Son from about 1853 and was known as Cox & Sons after 1868. In 1853 Thomas and Edward Cox published ‘An Account of church ornaments, vestments, and furniture, and of matters of antiquity concerning them; collected chiefly from old examples, and from authorities and designs, for the most part never as yet printed’. They exhibited twenty-two specimens of machine carving at the Architectural Exhibition, 1856. In 1859 Kelly’s Post Office London Directory introduced a new trade section of ‘Church furnishers’ and Cox & Son was listed in this as an ‘ecclesiastical warehouse’. Their main showroom was in Southampton Street with their stained glass works in Maiden Lane. The stained glass works moved to a new building, designed by S. J. Nicholl, adjacent to the existing Southampton Street premises in 1873.

By 1859 the firm produced carved wood not only for ecclesiastical but also for domestic purposes. Under the name of the Patent Carving Works, Belvedere Road, Lambeth & 28 & 29 Southampton Street, Strand, Messrs. Cox & Co. displayed about fourteen pieces of ecclesiastical furniture and metalwork at the 1859 Architectural Exhibition in London (recorded as item no. 302 in the catalogue) and a similar number of objects at the 1860 Architectural Exhibition (recorded as item no. 214 in the catalogue).

The entry in the 1860 catalogue noted ‘There are also exhibited numerous specimens of Carving, both Rough from the Machine, and Finished, to show what portion of the Carving is performed by Messrs. Cox and Son’s Patent Carving Machines. A great reduction, in the cost of Carving, is effected, while the artistic merit remains the same, as the work is merely roughed out by the Machine (which cannot be done from a plaster model), and is finished by first class Carvers, who, the rough wood having been removed for them, devote their time to introducing artistic feeling into the work. Many persons who have not seen the machinery, have thought that a saving is only effected when several copies of one pattern are required.  But this is not the case, as a saving can be made, especially in the case of Gothic tracery, when only one is required.  Any one wishing to see the machinery at work, can do so by visiting Messrs. Cox and Son’s Manufactory in the Belvedere Road, Lambeth, close to the Hungerford Suspension Bridge’.  A Cox advertisement in The Builder showed that to carve a 15-inch by 8-inch poppy-head by hand would cost 15s. 6d, but by machine only 2s.6d plus 6s for finishing, i.e. 8s 6d, or just over half the price.

In a small exhibition of 1861, Cox & Son showed ‘one of a set of Carved Oak Funeral Cars, just executed for the Great Northern Cemetery Company, from the designs of E A Spurr, Esq., Architect’, as well as woodwork for Compton Wynyates by Matthew Digby Wyatt. 

At the 1862 International Exhibition in London, Cox & Son displayed ecclesiastical furniture including plain and carved Glastonbury chairs, a desk, a ‘Fauld’ (folding) stool, a carved ‘Pedestal Alms Chest, with elaborate ironwork and an oak eagle lectern with a capital of carved horse chestnut fruits and flowers. Many of these objects were later included in the company’s catalogues like the lectern in 1866, priced at 45 guineas or ‘without carved crockets and less elaborate cap’. Also displayed at the 1862 exhibition were a reredos made by Jordan’s carving machine and a carving machine from their Lambeth workshops was in operation in the Machine Galleries in the Western Annex of the Exhibition. They also succeeded in introducing to the public in their display new materials like kawrie wood from New Zealand in a reading desk (illus. right of the lectern, Donnelly (2014), p. 111).  

B. J. Talbert worked for Cox from 1866 and an advertisement of 1867 in the Architectural Exhibition Society’s catalogue of 1867 showed designs by him (illus. Bettley (2002), p. 13). They also exhibited at the Paris Exhibition 1867. By 1870 the firm was branching out into domestic wares and cabinet making and in 1871 trade and commercial directories listed Cox & Son as makers of cabinet & artistic furniture and Cox & Son, Patent Carving Works as cabinet carvers.

During the 1860s and 1870s the firm produced a large number of catalogues. One from 1877 said ‘The great advance that has been made in all matters of Art Manufacture of late years, and the consequent demand for an increased variety of designs for all Fittings, Furniture and Decorations, both for Ecclesiastical and Domestic purposes, has induced Messrs Cox & Sons instead of publishing one general Catalogue, containing a few designs of each class of the work they supply, to publish separate ones for the various branches of their business’.

In 1871 the firm submitted twelve designs to theRoyal Society of Arts for machinery and design which were awarded prizes. From 1871-74 the firm exhibited at the South Kensington exhibitions with pieces designed by Talbert, Goldie & Child,  Butterfield, Charles Rossiter and J. Moyr Smith, as well as designs of the Ecclesiological Society and the Society of Decorative Art. The name of the designer G. Goldie also appeared in the 1872 catalogue for furniture and metalwork and the Illustrated catalogue of gothic and other artistic domestic furniture, fittings, decorations, upholstery and metal work included designs by members of the Society of Decorative Art (a loose association of architects, artists and designers whose business and drawings archive were taken over at this time by Cox & Son). Indeed Cox & Sons responded in ‘Editorial Correspondence’, The Furniture Gazette, 3, 10 & 31 May 1873,  ‘...We have produced some cheaper furniture since the publication of that catalogue [Gothic Furniture]. … we have got up for Gothic houses some inexpensive iron bedsteads and malleable iron fronts, for openings of chimney-pieces; also Gothic cabinet handles, hinges, &c’. An ebonized sideboard, c. 1872, attributed to Moyr Smith and Rossiter, and probably made by Cox & Son is at the V&A (Circ. 64:1 - 1960). 

In 1874 the firm had a bronze statue foundry, office, warehouse, keeper’s apartment and an employees’ reading room at Thames Ditton, Surrey (all also designed by Nicholl). In 1878 the company was recorded in The Ecclesiastical Art Review with ‘Wood and Stone Carving, Gothic Metal, Monumental and Granite Polishing Works’ at College Wharf, Belvedere Road, Lambeth, where the firm used Jordan's machines until at least 1870.

Another designer who worked for the firm was E. W. Godwin. Furniture purchased by the firm from South Eastern Works, Ramsgate, to the designs of E W Pugin, was described in a supplementary catalogue of 1876 title Extra designs for artistic furniture. This also contained designs for furniture and interiors in the ‘Queen Anne’ style by S. J. Nicholl, Moyr Smith, Owen W. Davis and W. C. Brangwyn. In addition to the actual stock of ready-made Pugin furniture in this catalogue, Cox & Sons also offered a made-to-order service by the firm with different woods, finishes or upholstery fabrics; see versions of the Granville Hotel chair illus. Shutler (2018), p. 14. An ebonized, incised and painted chair of Moyr Smith’s design, of 1872, is illus. Allwood (1996), p. 23.

Several advertisements, catalogue entries and participation in exhibitions in the 1870s included:

  • Advertisements and catalogue entries for the International Exhibitions, South Kensington, 1872 & 1873 are illus. Bettley (2002), pp. 15 & 16.
  • Cox’s objects in the 1872 exhibition included designs of a joint collaboration of Moyr Smith and S. J. Nicholl.
  • The 1873 exhibition included designs solely by Nicholl including a small cabinet, hand screen and an ebony inlaid cabinet
  • The International Exhibition, 1874, South Kensington, where Cox exhibited a hanging cabinet with Egyptian detail and a stained-glass fire screen [TheFurniture Gazette, 20 June 1874]
  • The Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia,1876: ceramics by Theodore Deck on various cabinets and a mantelpiece of an ‘art furniture’ style suitable for domestic or ecclesiastical use, mainly designed by Nicholl and a lectern, which was a replica of that made for Chester Cathedral (illus. Meyer (2006), p. 212 & The Furniture Gazette, 26 August 1876).  The firm was awarded medals for their stained glass & furniture at this exhibition [The Furniture Gazette, 14 October 1877].

The Furniture Gazette also recorded other exhibitions in which Cox & Son(s) participated:

  • Loan of a carved oak sideboard with boxwood panels, designed by Talbert to ‘The Exhibition of Ancient and Modern Furniture’, held in connection with the City and Spitalfields School of Art, 1875 [3 April 1875],
  • A ‘Medieval’ chimneypiece, a carved secretaire, bookcase and matching chairs at the Alexander Palace, 1875 [30 October 1875]
  • The Exhibition of Church Furniture, Sheffield [26 October 1878]
  • The Ecclesiastical Art Exhibition, Leicester, 1880 [9 October 1880]. The same publication also illustrated designs of their church furniture [10 January 1874 & 19 January 1878), ecclesiastical upholstery [7 February 1874] and cabinet and furniture brasswork [12 May 1878].  

The firm supplied special commissions for various churches including choir stalls and fittings for the old Parish Church of St Mary and All Angels, Whitmore [The Furniture Gazette, 24 April 1880].  

In 1880 the firm was bought by M. J. C. Buckley and his partner, A. S. Thomson in Buckley & Co. to form Cox, Sons, Buckley & Co., listed at 29 Southampton Street, Strand [The Furniture Gazette, 29 January 1881]. From 1881-93 Geldart, an Anglican priest who had trained as an architect, worked as a salaried designer. Despite The Furniture Gazette, 1 July 1882, recording that the partnership of Cox, Sons, Buckley & Co. had been dissolved, this was probably a legal change in structure of the firm, as business continued and under this name it exhibited at the 2nd Furniture Trades Exhibition, Agricultural Hall, 1882 and the Ecclesiastical Art Exhibition, St Andrew’s & Blackfriars’ Hall, Norwich, 1889 [The Furniture Gazette, 25 March 1882 & 1 July 1889]   

The Furniture Gazette also recorded numerous ecclesiastical post-1880 commissions:

  • An oak lectern to Christ Church, St. Alban’s [1 January 1888]
  • Carved oak benches, pulpit, lectern and reading desk for the newly restored Parish Church of Great Stambridge [14 May 1881]
  • New carved oak reredos with painted panels for the parish church of Wickham Market, East Suffolk, and oak pulpit & reading desk at St James’ Church, Halifax [9 April 1881]
  • A pulpit for the newly opened synagogue, St Johns Wood [26 August 1882]
  • A pulpit for Cranfield Church, Bedfordshire [2 December 1882]
  • A carved reredos in oak & walnut woods for St Leonard’s Church, Chelsam, Caterham Valley [1 March 1886]
  • A carved reredos in oak, with painted panels, in the ancient church of Wenington, Essex [1 May 1886]

The Classified List of the Furniture, Upholstery and Allied Trades (1886) listed Cox & Sons as Art Furniture Manufacturers and Merchants, Cabinet Carvers & Gilders, Church Decorators and Furniture Manufacturers at 28-31 Southampton Street, factory at College Wharf, Belvedere Road. In 1884 Buckley & Thomson opened workshops in Esher Street, Westminster and there followed other branches in New York, Youghal, Co. Cork, and Edinburgh.

The London Post Office Trade Directory, 1891, listed Cox, Son, Buckley & Co., at 28 & 29 Southampton Street with studios at 43 & 44 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden and Esher Street, Westminster but only as church furnishers and there is no indication that they were manufacturing furniture by this date and later. By the end of 1893 the firm was in receivership. It was later bought by Curtis Ward & Hughes.  Cox, Son, Buckley & Co., church furnishers, was listed in the London Post Office Street Directory (1910) at 10 Henrietta Street. The firm continued trading​ as church furnishers & embroiderers ​from addresses in Henrietta ​Street and Covent Garden until about 1935.

An undated illustrated catalogue published by Cox, Sons, Buckley & Co. of Art Manufactures. Church Furniture. Art Metal Work. Stained Glass. Stone & Marble Works. Wood Work. Mural Decoration. Embroideries. Fabrics, Light Applicances and Fabrics, Hangings etc. is in the John Johnson Collection of Emphera at the Bodleian Library.  

Sources: Gere & Whiteway, Nineteenth-Century Design.  From Pugin to Mackintosh (1993); Allwood, ‘The Patent Wood Carving Company’, Furniture History (1996); Stapleton, ‘John Moyr Smith 1839-1912’, The Decorative Art Society – 1850 to the Present (1996); Donnelly, ‘British Furniture at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, 1876’ Furniture History (2001); Bettley, ‘An earnest desire to promote a right taste in ecclesiastical design: Cox & Sons and the rise and fall of the church furnishings companies’, The Decorative Art Society – 1850 to the Present (2002); Meyer, Great Exhibitions. London, New York, Paris, Philadelphia. 1851-1900 (2006); Donnelly, ‘Rapture and ridicule – Furniture in the Medieval Court’, The Decorative Art Society – 1850 to the Present (2014); Shutler, ‘Furniture for the Granville Hotel’, The Decorative Art Society – 1850 to the Present (2018).