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Gillow (1730-1840)


Lancaster and London; cabinet makers and upholsterers (fl. c.1730–after 1840)

The name ‘Gillow’ has been associated with furniture making from the 1730s until the end of the 20th century. When Thomas Pennant visited Lancaster in 1772 he observed that some ‘ingenious cabinet-makers’ worked in the town who made ‘excellent and neat goods at remarkably cheap rates for export to London and the plantations’. He added approvingly; ‘Mr. Gillow’s warehouse of these manufactures merits a visit’. In 1807 Thomas Clarke wrote that the firm’s ‘extensive ware-rooms, stored with every article of useful and ornamental mahogany furniture are… said to be the best stocked of any in this line, out of the metropolis’. Gillows were also overseas merchants. Their import /export trade included West Indian sugar, cotton, and spirits, as well as exotic hardwoods, and they enjoyed a worthwhile export trade in furniture to both the West Indies and the ports of northern Europe. Although the active participation of the Gillow family ceased in the early 19th century, subsequent partners continued to use the Gillow name. When Redmayne, Whiteside and Ferguson purchased the firm c.1813 they retained the name Gillow & Co. and succeeding partnerships such as Waring & Gillow Ltd. (founded 1897), and Waring & Gillow (1932) Ltd. incorporated the name until its closure at the end of the 20th century. The firm was originally based in Lancaster though a London branch was established in Oxford Street in 1769. The Gillow archives, though incomplete, are the largest and most comprehensive cabinetmaker’s records to have survived in the world. They consist mainly of the firm’s Lancaster records but a few London records have also survived. All are now in Westminster Archive Centre, London.

Gillow Family Partners  c. 1730-1813

Gillow’s reputation as one of the leading furniture makers of the 18th and 19th centuries was established by contributions from some ten members of the family over three generations. Although most of the partners mentioned below were directly descended from the founder Robert Gillow (1), two of his nephews, James and Thomas Gillow, also contributed to  the development of the firm, and another nephew John was apprenticed to his cousins Richard (2) and Robert (2) in 1770.

Robert (1) (1702/3-1772) the founder of the Gillow firm, was the son of Richard Gillow, a Roman Catholic yeoman of Great Singleton on the Fylde, Lancashire, and his wife Alice Swarbrick. He was imprisoned for his faith and died 22 December 1717. In 1720/21 Robert (1) was apprenticed by his mother to John Robinson, a Roman Catholic joiner in Lancaster. On completing his apprenticeship Robert became a Lancaster freeman in 1727/28, and started a business as a joiner, builder and cabinet maker in the town. From 1731-35 he was in partnership with another Roman Catholic joiner, George Haresnape. Like many enterprising Lancashire coastal tradesmen he also became an overseas merchant, entering the West Indies trade in 1741 and the Baltic trade in 1742. In the 1740s Robert began to make furniture for the local gentry. This was probably through the patronage of another Lancastrian, William Bradshaw (1700-75), an eminent London tapestry weaver and upholsterer who in semi-retirement had purchased Halton Hall near Lancaster in 1743. In 1730 Robert had married Agnes Fell (1708/09-1757), of Swarthmore near Ulverston; they had nine children, of whom only two daughters and three sons survived infancy. Their two eldest sons Richard (1) and Robert (2), became leading partners in the family firm. However, their youngest son John (1753-1828) was sent to Douai to be educated in 1766 and became an eminent Roman Catholic priest. After fleeing France in 1791 he took charge of the Catholic mission at York, and in 1811 was appointed president of Ushaw College, Co. Durham. Robert Gillow (1) retired in 1769, leaving his share of the business to his second son Robert (2). He died in 1772.

Richard (1) (1733-1811) was the mainstay of the Gillow firm. He lived the longest and was the most influential and far sighted. He was the eldest son of Robert (1), born in Lancaster on 29 December 1733. In 1753 he was sent by his father, like so many Lancaster merchant’s sons, on a voyage to Barbados to learn the trade of a West Indies merchant. Sometime during the 1750s he was apprenticed to a Mr. Jones, a London architect (possibly William Jones who designed the Rotunda in Chelsea, and author of The Gentleman and Builder’s Companion, 1739). Richard subscribed to Chippendale’s Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director in 1754 and became a Freeman of Lancaster in 1754/55. Two years later, on 1 January 1757, he entered into an equal partnership with his father as ‘Robert Gillow & Son’. Richard married Sarah Haresnape (1735-1783), said to be the daughter of Robert Haresnape of Thurnham, on 11 February 1761, at the Priory Church of St. Mary, Lancaster. Richard and Sarah had seven children, four daughters and three sons; Robert (3), George, and Richard (2), all of whom joined the family firm.

From September 1758 all the firm’s apprentices were bound in Richard’s name, and he ensured that they were properly trained and equipped with the best cabinet makers’ tools. He also used his skills as an architect and surveyor, and many of the buildings he designed in Lancaster survive today, including the Customs House on St. George’s Quay (now the Maritime Museum) which he designed in 1758. He designed Leighton Hall near Carnforth in the Palladian style for Mr. Townley. Leighton Hall was to become the home of Richard’s son Richard (2) (1772-1849) in the 1820s, after he retired from trade.

One of Richard’s primary tasks was to design the firm’s furniture, often using sketches sent from London by his cousin James Gillow. James (b.c.1732) was the son of George Gillow of Singleton, Lancashire. He had been apprenticed in 1746 to Robert (1) and then sent to London where he acted as an errand boy for the Lancaster firm supplying them with goods and services unobtainable in Lancaster. For example, in 1759 Richard asked him to send new designs for chairs, even if they were merely rough sketches. By 1759 James was working as a journeyman cabinetmaker in London. His lodgings were in St. Martin’s Lane, where Thomas Chippendale and his partner James Rannie had established their ‘Cabinet and Upholstery Warehouse’ in 1754.

In August 1811 Richard Gillow (1) died of the dropsy aged 77, having outlived both his younger brother Robert (3) and his nephew Robert (4). His funeral was a lavish and expensive affair, costing almost £100, nearly twice as much as many gentry funerals at this period. More importantly , his esteem and standing may be judged by the fact that Lord Fauconberg was invited to be his first coffin bearer and although the Duke of Hamilton was unable to attend he accepted a hat band, shoulder scarf and gloves, as a sign of respect for the cabinet maker and upholsterer who had served him for decades. Richard Gillow’s death marked the end of an era; he had been the firm’s mainstay and guiding force for over fifty years. He presided over the setting up of the London shop, steered the firm through economic problems at home and abroad caused by deaths of partners, wars, crop failures, timber shortages, and financial difficulties, accepting their consequences with courage, fortitude, largely good humour and ready wit. He trained his apprentices and set high standards for his workforce. He ensured the firm used only the best materials, and designed and supervised the making of practical, handsome and elegant furniture. He provided a good service to his patrons and advised them on matters of taste, yet he was not afraid to remind them when they did not pay their bills on time, or to defend his workforce against unfair criticism.

Robert (2) (1745/6-1795), brother of Richard (1) and second son of Robert (1), became a Lancaster Freeman in 1766/7. In January 1769 his father gave him his half share in the family firm which became Richard and Robert Gillow. He married Jane Shaw by licence in June 1771 at the Priory Church, Lancaster. Their son Robert (4) was born c.1771-74, and his sister Jane in 1775. Robert was the prime mover in the London branch of Gillow’s business. In January 1769 he first went on an ‘adventure to London’ which appears to have been connected with the development of the firm’s new branch of trade, which was making billiard tables, and he was apparently testing the market in London. In January 1769 the new partnership between Richard (1) and his brother Robert (2) had begun and in February the ambitious brothers declared their intention: ‘to equal (if not to surpass) the port of London, or any other in the export of furniture’. The establishment of the London branch was first entrusted to Richard and Robert (2)’s cousin Thomas Gillow (1736-79), a younger brother of James, who had also been apprenticed in 1750 to his uncle Robert (1). After working as a journeyman for his uncle, in 1760 he moved to Liverpool and then London in 1766. He declared his intention in April 1769 of ‘beginning for himself in London’. He entered a partnership with William Taylor, another Gillow apprentice, and ‘Gillows and Taylor’ of Oxford Street was founded in 1769/70. It was listed in London Trade Directories between 1771-77, and a ‘Trou Madame’ games table at Abbot Hall, Kendal, bears their billhead used as a label in a small drawer. Initially this business was separate from the Lancaster one. Richard and Robert (2) entered into a contract to supply cabinet goods including billiard tables to Gillows and Taylor at a good discount. The two firms were to be run and financed separately, as Richard Gillow believed that if one firm were to run into financial difficulties it would not adversely affect the other. Gillows and Taylor at first prospered, since furniture made outside London was cheaper to manufacture because wages were lower, and good quality woods from across the Atlantic and the Baltic could be purchased from northwestern ports such as Liverpool and Lancaster at reasonable prices, thus allowing Gillows and Taylor to undercut their metropolitan rivals. However, William Taylor died in 1775, and Robert (2) left Lancaster in January 1776 to become a partner in the Oxford Street shop. Thomas Gillow died in 1779 and thus, ten years after the Oxford Street shop was established, both the London and Lancaster businesses were in the possession of the Lancaster brothers Richard (1) and Robert (2). The Oxford Street shop was listed in London trade directories as ‘Robert, Richard and James Gillow’ from 1781-85, which suggests that James was for a while one of the partners of the London business.

In June 1783 Robert (2)’s wife Jane died. Two years later Robert married Mary, widow of William Newby of Horncop Hall, Kendal. Mary was also a Roman Catholic, but like other Gillows in order to legalise their marriage they were married in the established church at Holy Trinity, Kendal. Although Robert (2) took charge of the London business, he returned to Lancaster regularly, calling on customers on his journey to and from the north of England. He sent orders from London customers to Lancaster and obtained services and material only available in the capital, in addition to advising about the latest London fashions. One of the commissions he helped to arrange was the library desk made for Sir James Ibbetson of Denton Hall, Yorkshire in 1778, which was ordered in London but made in Lancaster to a design from the first edition of Chippendale’s Director. This desk is now in the Judges Lodgings Museum, Lancaster. Robert (2) died prematurely in Lancaster on 22 September 1795, aged 48. His death brought about an ‘unexpected change’ in the firm and was a blow to their finances since legacies had to be taken from his share of capital in the business.

Robert (3) (1764-1838) was the eldest son of Richard (1). In 1781 his father sent him to the Oxford Street shop to learn the trade of a London cabinetmaker and upholsterer. By December 1786 Robert (3) was a commercial traveller for the firm, and the following year he became a Lancaster Freeman, described as an ‘upholsterer’. However, by 1797 he was running the Lancaster business with his father Richard. The same year he married Anne Parker (1764-1841) daughter and heir of Edward Parker Esq. of Preston. Robert (3) and Anne had 5 daughters, all coheirs who married into the gentry.

Robert (4) (c.1771-1798), was the son of Robert (2). He died at the English College, Lisbon, Portugal, having outlived his father Robert (2) by only three years. He had only been a partner in the London shop for about two years from January 1796, when he joined his uncles Robert (3) and George in Oxford Street. The Gillow firm was once again obliged to find legacies out of their stock-in-trade, a long process taking several years during which debts were called in.

George (1766–1822) was the second son of Richard (1) He became a Lancaster freeman in 1782/3 and joined his uncle Robert (2) as a partner in the London shop which was restyled ‘Robert and George Gillow & Co’ from March 1791. By January 1796 George had been joined in London by his younger brother Richard (2) and their cousin Robert (4), son of their uncle Robert (2). George married Judith Gildon (d.1843), member of an ancient West Country Roman Catholic family. They had 8 daughters and lived in Hammersmith.

Richard (2) (1772-1849) was the third and youngest son of Richard (1). He joined his brother George in London in January 1796 and was described as a ‘cabinetmaker and upholsterer’ in 1796/7 when he became a Lancaster Freeman. He was an active and inventive partner in the Oxford Street business. One of his most important inventions was the extending dining table which he patented in May 1800. It was a great success but was quickly followed by a very similar table called an Imperial dining table, large numbers of which were manufactured by the firm. Richard (2) married an heiress, Elizabeth Stapleton, on 31 May 1801 at St. Mary’s Church, Marylebone. The couple lived at Little Holland House, Campden Hill, Kensington, where many of their fourteen children were born, whilst others were born at Ellel Grange, near Lancaster, a property owned by a Lancaster banker, one of Richard (2)’s Worswick cousins.

John Gillow (fl. 1757-94) son of Edward Gillow of Westby, Slaidburn, Yorkshire, was apprenticed to his cousins Richard (1) and Robert (2) from 1770, and worked for the firm in Lancaster and London before setting up his own firm in Liverpool which flourished from about 1784-1794.

The Gillow family leaves the business

The economic climate in 1810, immediately before Richard’s death, led to Gillow workmen petitioning the management for higher wages. The partners responded that they were obliged to pay high taxes, that wood was at an unprecedented high price, and the expense of packing and carrying furniture, ‘to a distance which unavoidably attends most of what is manufactured in Lancaster’ prohibited any advance in wages. Richard also reminded his workmen that the firm employed many of them all the year round even when business was slack. These economic problems were added to other factors such as that only one of the three brothers Richard (2) had sons to inherit the business. Also, a Gillow family tradition indicates that Richard (2)’s wife Elizabeth Stapleton wanted her husband to abandon ‘trade’ and become a gentleman, and this may also may have influenced the three Gillow brothers’ decision to sell the business. Whatever the motivation, in about 1813 the third generation, Robert (3), George, and Richard (2) Gillow retired from active participation in the cabinet-making and upholstery business, and sold the firm in instalments spread over several years to new partners, Redmayne, Whiteside & Ferguson. Richard (2) and Robert (3) both purchased country houses near Lancaster and became members of the squirearchy their grandfather had once served. Richard (2) bought Leighton Hall from his Worswick kinsman in the 1820s and remodelled the facade in the Gothic style. Robert (3) purchased Clifton Hill, near Forton, about 1815. Only George stayed in London and he invested, not always wisely, in paintings and works of art. There is some evidence that Richard (2)’s son Richard Thomas Gillow (1806-1905) the ‘old squire of Leighton’ (who died aged 99 after falling off his horse at a meeting of the Vale of Lune Hunt) only ceased to be involved in some way with their old firm in about 1830.

Redmayne, Whiteside and Ferguson (Gillow and Co)

The date the new partners took over the Gillow firm has been stated as early as 1805 and as late as 1820. However, according to Gillow Ledgers, substantial sums of money were changing hands between Lancaster and London from 1812-13, and the three Gillow brothers received equal shares in the form of substantial amounts of navy stock and various annuities from October 1814-July 1815. The date of the largest settlement corresponds with the publication of Wardle and Bentham’s Commercial Directory 1814-15, when the new partnership, ’Redmayne, Whiteside & Ferguson (late Gillow)’ was listed ‘at the top of Church Street’. However, the new partners had probably taken over in August 1813, but they continued to pay thousands of pounds for many years to the Gillow brothers.

Leonard Redmayne (1781-1869) was apprenticed to the three Gillow brothers, Richard Gillow of Lancaster and George and Robert of Oxford Street, to serve from May 1795. Leonard’s father Joseph was described as a house-joiner of Lancaster, but when Leonard became a Lancaster Freeman in 1799-1800, his father’s occupation was entered as ‘victualler’. Unlike the Gillow family, who were staunch Roman Catholics, Leonard Redmayne was a Protestant who had a pew in the Priory Church of St. Mary, Lancaster. By 1800 he was one of Gillow’s clerks, and by 1809 he had risen to become the firm’s book keeper, becoming the Lancaster partner only four years later. He remained the senior partner of Gillows & Co. for over 50 years. He became mayor of Lancaster and the first Director of the Lancaster Joint Stock Banking Company, founded after Worswick’s bank failed in the 1820s. As the senior partner of Gillow & Co. he supervised the firm’s apprentices and bound 44 apprentices from 1809-1839. When in 1835 the third and last remaining London partner William Ferguson died, Leonard Redmayne admitted to a customer that the extra work had ‘… brought upon the writer more business in the way of accounts than he has been able very satisfactorily to attend to’. However, Gillow & Co. continued to thrive following the same sound business practices established by the Gillow family. Leonard Redmayne died 12 July 1869, aged 88.

Henry Whiteside (c.1776-1832) and Edward Whiteside (b.c. 1781-d.1833) were the sons of John Whiteside, husbandman, of Carr Bridge, Plumpton, parish of Kirkham, Lancashire. Henry was apprenticed in March 1794 to Richard Gillow of Lancaster, Robert Gillow of Oxford Street, Robert the younger of Lancaster, and George Gillow of Oxford Street, cabinetmakers, upholsterers, and merchants. Henry became Gillows’ foreman in Lancaster and was described in a letter to Sir John Shaw Stewart of Ardgowan in 1800 as ‘very intelligent, and conversant in the business’. In 1801 he was sent to Ardgowan to finish the drawing room furniture and put up the glasses and furniture. His brother Edward Whiteside was apprenticed aged about 16 years in November 1797 to the Lancaster and Oxford Street partners. Both Henry and Edward became partners in 1813 with Leonard Redmayne and William, James Ferguson. Both Whiteside brothers managed the London business with Ferguson. Henry lived at Frognall, Hampstead, and died at Brighton, aged 56, on 17 October 1832. In his obituary he was described as ‘esteemed and beloved by all who knew him’. Edward Whiteside died the next year, in August 1833.

William James Ferguson There were two men named William James Ferguson who were partners in the Gillow firm, and it has not yet been possible to determine the relationship between them. William James Ferguson (1) (fl.1794-d.1835), originallytraded as ‘Ferguson & Co’ of Oxford Street. This may be the same man who witnessed the indenture of Henry Whiteside to R & G Gillow in 1794, and who in 1822-3 became a Lancaster freeman by the gift of Leonard Redmayne ‘the late bailiff of the brethren’. Ferguson became a partner in the firm about 1813, from which time the firm traded as Redmayne, Whitesides and Ferguson (late Gillows) at 176-77 Oxford Street. A Sun insurance policy dated 23 September 1813 was made out in the names of Ferguson, Whiteside and Redman [Redmayne]. The value was £2,000 of which £1,700 was for stock, utensils, goods &c. The death of both Whiteside partners in 1832-3 left Ferguson and Redmayne as surviving partners. In 1835 Ferguson was recorded as living at Pineapple Place, Maida-Vale, London [Lancaster Gazette, 14 February 1835], where he died in February 1835, leaving Leonard Redmayne in Lancaster as the sole remaining partner. However, new partners were soon found, including William James Ferguson (2) (dates unknown), for by May 1835 the partnership was Ferguson, Redmayne and Ferguson. By 1840 Edward Bond was also an Oxford Street partner.

Summary of partnerships as entered in London Trade Directories

Entries for the firm appear in successive London Trade Directories as Gillows & Taylor, 1771–77; Robert, Thomas & Richard Gillow, 1777–83 (but also as Robert, Richard and James Gillow 1781–85); then either as Robert Gillow & Co or as Robert & Richard Gillow 1785–94; then George and Richard Gillow from 1802–12; thereafter simply as Gillow & Co. However, a bill at Arundel Castle is headed Gillow & Ferguson. Wardle & Bentham’s Commercial Directory 1814-15 records ‘Redmayne, Whitesides & Ferguson (late Gillow) top of Church St. Lancaster. Leonard Redmayne was the senior partner. Under Redmayne's direction the firm was generally known as ‘Gillow & Co.’.

Stamped or signed Gillow furniture

Gillows were unusual among British 18th century furniture makers since some of their output was impressed with the firm’s name. The practice of impressing the stamp ‘GILLOWS LANCASTER’ on furniture began about 1788-89 (although it was used selectively) and continued into the 19th century. A few rare examples of furniture from about 1788 are impressed ‘GILLOWS LONDON AND LANCASTER’. Gillows’ journeymen sometimes signed their name in ink or pencil, and occasionally dated it unobtrusively on some pieces. This was possibly in order to prove they had made it and therefore claim payment.

Gillow 18th century furniture

Most Gillow furniture is not stamped or signed but some can be identified from the firm’s business papers which includes Memorandum books, Estimate Sketch books, Petty Ledgers, Order and Packing books, Letter and many other books.

Early examples so far identified include sets of walnut chairs at Leighton Hall, Lancashire, and chairs, seat furniture, chests on chests, clothes presses, and other furniture made for Sizergh Castle, Cumbria, and Thirsk Hall, North Yorkshire (illus. Stuart, 2008). The earliest chair identified was made by Richard Gillow after he joined his father as a partner. It was one of six, ordered in December 1757 for the Rev. Pedder of Garstang (illus. Stuart 2008, I, p. 130) and is now in a private collection. Although beautifully carved it was made in the old fashioned vase-back style which was about to be superseded by furniture Richard Gillow designed himself or based on London designs. Examples of furniture made during the 1760s and 70s have also been identified, some designed by Richard Gillow and some made to the designs in Thomas Chippendale’s Director, or based on drawings sent by customers which Richard Gillow adapted. One of the finest examples is the bookcase made in 1772 for a rich West Indies merchant’s widow, Mary Hutton Rawlinson, now in the Judges Lodgings Museum, Lancaster. However, it is the Estimate Sketch Books, dating between 1784 and 1932, that indicate the range and detail of the firm's huge output. The watercolour drawings of the Travellers’ pattern book, compiled c.1800, further reveal the firm's ready response to fashionable demand. Architectural joinery such as chimneypieces, doors and door cases was another branch of their trade and — as a Catholic family — they attracted commissions for altarpieces and tabernacles from their co-religionists, whilst also providing furniture and fittings for other denominations. From the start the firm recognised the potential offered by expanding upper and middle-class clientele whether in London, the north of England, Midlands, Ireland, Scotland or overseas. Gillows furnished country houses for the squirearchy and aristocracy. During the last quarter of the 18th century they expanded into every range of furnishing. By 1774 the architect James Wyatt was designing furniture to be made by Gillows for Heaton Hall, Lancs. By the end of the 18th century the firm offered complete furnishings for country and town houses. Hundreds of room settings were drawn in the firm’s Oxford Street Drawing Office, many of which have survived in the V&A and Lancaster City Museum Collections. Lancaster account books indicate that Gillows named chairs after the eminent patrons who had first ordered them, e.g., ‘Uxbridge’, ‘Cavendish’, ‘Manvers’, ‘Ashburnham’, or after the houses they occupied, such as ‘Levens pattern’. To obtain further business, existing clients were asked to recommend the firm, and the travelling salesmen were equipped with handsomely drawn and coloured pattern-books. Two very similar examples of these survive, one in Westminster Archive Centre [735/1], the second in the Winterthur Library and Museum, Winterthur, Delaware. Sketches were also sent post, with the caveat that these new designs should not be shown to other cabinetmakers for fear they might copy them. To reduce transport costs and damage in transit Gillows often dispatched furniture in parts, ready for final assembly at the destination by a local joiner. Both the designs and the colour schemes of japanned furniture were typically devised to harmonise with a client's wallpaper and/or upholstery. Furniture could be made in fashionable hardwoods such as mahogany, rosewood or satinwood with contrasting crossbanding in king wood, purplewood, green stained harewood or lines of ebony or satinwood stringing to contrast against the chosen wood. Elaborate inlaid decoration or carving was seldom used, or used sparingly, the latter often being done by specialists in London for inclusion on a piece made in the Lancaster workshop. Alternatively, beech was used as the wood for painted chairs, especially for light use in bedrooms. These chairs were painted sometimes with elaborate designs by men trained in London. Gilded furniture in the early 19th century was made exclusively in the London shop. As a result of the Napoleonic wars in Europe, exotic woods became both expensive and scarce, so that Gillows were imitating woods from at least 1793 when they made a dressing table in imitation of satinwood. In the first years of the 19th century, much furniture was painted or japanned in imitation of bamboo, rosewood or marble. During the 1820s several pieces were ‘painted maple’. Gillows usually purchased their ironmongery and brass fittings from braziers and founders in the Midlands. Occasionally Richard Gillow designed items to be made by these manufacturers. However, London metalworkers supplied handles for special pieces of furniture. In 1785 the Lancaster branch became upholsterers like the Oxford Street business.

Revivals of earlier styles

A demand for copies of the firm’s older pieces sometimes arose simply to match existing furniture, but some pieces of comparatively early Gillow furniture based on Chippendale designs adapted by Richard Gillow were copied or reproduced during the 19th century. One example is the delicate China table with gothic cluster column legs and frets in the Chinese style adapted from  plates in the Director which was first  made in 1761 for Ralph Bell of Thirsk Hall who wanted ‘something Chinese’ for his drawing room [illus .Stuart 2008, v.1 pp. 250-253].  It was reproduced first in 1828 and again in 1843, described as a ‘Salisbury Antique table’. The name ‘Salisbury’ probably refers to the Lancaster merchants of that name who were working in Lancaster during the 18th century. The term ‘antique’ normally denotes Greek or Roman revivals, but in this instance Gillows appear to have been referring to their own earlier design as ‘antique’. Whatever the firm’s terminology, this was an early instance of Gillows reusing their 18th century designs. Another example was a handsome library desk reproduced in 1835 to the same Director design as the Denton Park desk of 1778.

From   the 1820s  ‘antique’ denoted copies of ‘Old English’ furniture, the details of which were typically derived from either an amalgam of late 16th and 17th-century motifs - that is, the  ‘Elizabethan’ style - or a closer adaptation of the Baroque designs of c. 1710–30. Gillows made antique styles from about 1825 (Stuart (2008), I, pl. 274) when they made a table in the antique style for one of Ferguson & Co’s customers. They also made furniture in the ‘Louis’ style as an alternative. The Gillows Gothic Revival work was less antiquarian in spirit, rather a grafting of Gothic motifs onto standard contemporary shapes. Nevertheless, during the 1830s many other Gillow designs were of extreme rectilinear character, echoing the so-called Square Style of Sir Robert Smirke. In 1840 Gillow & Co. took an important but fateful decision to furnish Conishead Priory near Ulverston in antique styles.  Edward Bond the Oxford Street partner sent new drawings in a variety of antique styles, these included two oak bookcases in the Elizabethan style for the salon (Stuart (2008), I, pls. 463-464). The Louis XIV or French  style was eventually rejected by Colonel Braddyll, in favour of ‘Elizabethan’ for both drawing rooms as it was the same character as the house, but Edward Bond was  disappointment as he regretted the ‘…pleasing variety which the adoption of the Louis XIV style would have made’.

Gillow Customers

The nobility did not flock to Gillows in large numbers until after 1800 when they bought lavishly from a stock of items, typically of mahogany, less often of rosewood. The firm astutely realised the huge market possibilities offered by the middle and upper-middle class households of the later Georgian and early Victorian eras. They foresaw this demand for items well made out of good materials, and in a style that would remain acceptable when the immediate fashion had waned; that is, in their designs they achieved a satisfactory mean between the merely conservative and the ultra fashionable. This is one reason for their survival. Their geographical spread of patronage was wide, though with a greater concentration in north western England and in those parts better served by the steadily improving land or water carriage. Gillows always remained aware that the lower wages payable in Lancaster had to be counterbalanced against the high transport costs of sending goods to London, and that too great a rise in either cost could be fatal to their enterprise. Though many hundreds of patrons employed the firm, little of the outcome is either now in situ or traceable. However, more is now known about the firm’s furniture from c. 1750-1780 (see Stuart (2008). Before the opening of the London branch in 1769, the firm was strongly local in character and supplied items piecemeal or in small groups even to new-built houses such as Lytham Hall where in 1765–66 Thomas Clifton bought tables and chairs, or Alexander Butler of Kirkland Hall had chimney pieces carved, a sideboard, glass frame, tea kettle stand, and other items made for the interior plus a hotbed frame for the garden. Mr Parker of Browsholme, also ordered items to which his successors continued to add until the early 19th century. This pattern changed after 1769 when the fashionable and ambitious also gave their patronage. For example, the 1st and 2nd Earls of Wilton bought for Heaton Hall, Lancs., in 1771 a billiard table, in 1774–75 dining-room chairs, in 1776 bedroom furniture, in 1777–78 fire screens and clothes maids, etc., in 1780 saloon sofas, and more items in 1787, 1791, 1794, and in the 1820s the doors, book cases, library table, etc., for the new library. Workington Hall, Cumbria, was remodelled for John Christian Curwen c. 1788 with John Carr as architect and Gillows as furnishers. The items supplied included several types of pier tables, commodes, curtain cornices, dining room, hall, and dressing-room chairs, sideboards, pedestals and urns, fire screens, stools, work tables and night tables, many of them shown in the Travellers’ Pattern Book, and in the most elaborate Gillows style. The Workington Hall commission was probably the most important they had attracted to date and seems to have exerted a dramatically stimulating effect on the business. The Streatham Park furniture which Gillows supplied to Mrs Piozzi was the cause of a major dispute due to the firm's alleged overcharging, and here they were forced to make a reduction. At Farnley Hall, Yorks., and Trafford Hall, Lancs., their owners added handsomely to the older buildings. At Farnley, Walter Hawkesworth (later Hawkesworth-Fawkes) had long patronised the Gillows, but the main new account is for 1790–91 when the new wing was ready for furnishing. [Country Life, 24 June 1954] The items for Trafford Hall resembled those at Workington. A quite different group of clients were Roman Catholics; they included such families as the Cliftons of Lytham, Lancs., who were patrons of the Gillows for over sixty years, the Trappes family of Clayton Hall, the Scarisbricks of Scarisbrick, the Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Surrey, the Constable-Maxwells of Everingham, Yorks., the Tempests of Broughton Hall, Yorks., the Stapletons of Carlton Towers, Yorks., the Blundells of Ince-Blundell, Lancs., the Towneleys of Towneley Hall, Lancs. and the Gascoignes of Parlington Hall, Yorks. Among notable industrialists were the elder Sir Robert Peel and Peter Drinkwater, both of whom made fortunes from the Lancashire cotton trade. Among churchmen there was the Bishop of St Asaph, and in the 1830s the Archbishop of York. Perhaps the most lavish single commission before 1840 was the new furnishing, in the Gothic taste, of the rebuilt Eaton Hall, Cheshire for the Marquess (later Duke) of Westminster, while in a simpler Regency classical style and Rococo revival idiom the Gillows new-furnished Tatton Park, Cheshire for the Egerton family. 

An early example of a commission from an Australian client was furniture etc. supplied to Thomas & Susannah Archer of Woolmers, Tasmania.  It arrived in fifty-eight packing cases in 1840 and now represents a nearly complete Gillows interior, along with the Gillows plan and household inventory [Edwards, paper delivered online, BIFMO lecture series, November 2022]. As the nineteenth century evolved, trade by Gillows and other major cabinet makers to the colonies and the Americas increased. 

More about the Gillow Archive.

The complete catalogue of the Gillow and Waring and Gillow material is online and at Westminster Archive Centre, St. Ann’s Street, London SW1 P2DE. Westminster Archive Centre, houses several Gillow accessions, the largest being GWG/344, mentioned below, and an interesting book of coloured drawings of furniture shown to customers [GWG /735], also a rare London account book July 1844-May 1846 [GWG /2221]. There are several accessions relating to Waring and Gillows, and Susan Stuart’s Gillow Notes, and furniture extracted from sale catalogues etc. [GWG/ 2863]. The Westminster Archives have indexes of personal, corporate and place names and furniture from 1784–1825, and Stuart (2008), vol. II, extends this to the end of 1850. The main collection, GWG/ 344, includes journals/waste books (1729 onwards), day books, journals, letter books, cash books, bill books, sales ledgers, salaries books, order books, estimate sketch books, drawing books, memorandum books, stock books, accounts and letters, cost books, packing books and jobbing books (some containing samples of fabrics and wallpapers). Although the records are incomplete they cover the period c.1730-1905. There is also a large collection of MS designs of room settings prepared for country and town houses in the Victoria and Albert Museum and Lancaster City Museum. Some country house archives also include Gillow correspondence.

Susan Stuart

Sources: Claxton Stevens, 'A Group of Seat Furniture stamped R E' , Regional Furniture (1998); Ingram, ‘The West Indian trade of an English furniture firm in the 18th century’, Jamaican Historical Review (March 1962); Coleridge, ‘The Firm of Gillow & Co at Blair Castle’, Connoisseur, 157 (1964), pp. 88-93; Goodison, ‘Gillow Clock Cases’, Antiquarian Horology, 1969, pp. 348-61; Goodison & Hardy, ‘Gillows  at Tatton Park’, Furniture History (1970), pp.1-40; Gilbert,Furniture at Broughton Hall, exhibition catalogue (Leeds), 1971; Bourne, ‘Gillow at Parlington’, Leeds Art Calendar, no. 72 (1973), pp.14-20; Hall, ‘Patterns of Elegance: the Gillows’ Furniture Designs’, Country Life (8 June 1978), pp. 1612-15; Hall, ‘Models with a choice of leg: the Gillows’ furniture designs’, Country Life (15 June 1978), pp. 1740-42; Cattle, ‘A Sport of Georgian Ladies- Gillows’ Troumadam Tables’, Country Life (24 January 1980), pp. 220-21; Stuart, ‘The First White Dial Clocks and their Cases 1772-1773’, Antiquarian Horology (December 1982); Whitehead, ‘The Gillows and their work in Georgian Lancaster’, Catholic Englishmen (1984), pp. 21-27; Stuart, ‘”A Neat Clockcase Ornamented”: a 1760 Gillow drawing discovered; a study of Chippendale’s influence on some Gillow casework, and some trading practices of the cabinet makers of Lancaster in the mid-18th century’, Antiquarian Horology (December 1984); Stuart, ‘”E..B. To G.R.”- A Satinwood Work and Drawing Table by Gillows?’, Antique Collecting (November 1984); Nichols, ‘Furniture made by Gillow & Company for Workington Hall’, Antiques (June 1985); Nichols, ‘Gillows of Lancaster: the role of the upholsterer’, Abbot Hall Quarterly Bulletin (January 1986); Nichols, ‘A Journey through the Gillow Records’, Antique Collecting, (February 1986); Stuart, ‘Clockmaking in the Lancaster Region’, Lancaster City Museums, Local Studies, 5 (1987); Stuart, ‘”To a Mahogany Case-the Best Sort”: influences on the design of 18th century North Lancashire Clock Cases’, Regional Furniture (1987); Stuart, ‘Prices for Workmen in Lancaster; The Earliest Surviving Cabinet Makers Price List’, Regional Furniture (1988); Stuart, Clockmaking in North Lancashire and South Westmorland 1680-1900’, unpublished M. Phil. Thesis, Salford University (1990); Sartin et al., ‘Gillow Chairs and Fashion’, exhibition catalogue, North West Museums Service, Blackburn (1991); Stuart, ‘Was William Bradshaw of Halton Hall Robert Gillow’s First London Connection?’, Quarto, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, (July 1994); Boynton, Gillow Furniture Designs 1760-1800 (1995); Stuart, ‘Gillow’s neat and strong Windsor chairs for home and export in the eighteenth century’, Regional Furniture (1995); Stuart, ‘Three Generations of Gothic Chairs by Gillows’, Furniture History (1996); Stuart, ‘A Portable Billiard Table by Gillows of Lancaster, 1769’, Furniture History (1997); Stuart & Horsfield, ‘Portrait of Squire Bradshaw of Halton Hall 1700-1775: An eminent London Upholsterer, Part-time Soldier, and a man of his time’, Bulletin of Archaeology & Local History for Lancashire & the North West (1997); Bowett, ‘The Jamaica Trade: Gillow and the Use of Mahogany in the Eighteenth Century’, Regional Furniture (1998); Gilbert, ‘Gillow at Denton Hall, Yorkshire’, Regional Furniture (1998); Jones & Urquhart, ‘Gillow in Scotland 1779-1830’, Regional Furniture (1998); Stuart, ‘A Survey of  Marks, Labels, and Stamps used on Gillow and Waring and Gillow Furniture 1770-1960’, Regional Furniture (1998); Stuart, ‘More 18th Century Gillow Furniture Discovered at Tatton Park’, Regional Furniture (1998); Hardy ‘Gillow Furnishings and the Tatton Park Library, 1811’, Regional Furniture (1998); Stuart, ‘Gillows of Lancaster and London as a design source for American Chairs’, The Magazine Antiques (June 1999); Stuart & Potts, ‘Richard Gillow and Vincent Lunardi; Early Balloon Flights  and the Lancaster Balloon Mystery’, Journal of the Lancaster Archaeological & Historical Society, vol. 24 (1999), pp. 26-33; Stuart, ‘Gillow Family of Cabinetmakers and Upholsterers c.1730-1830,’ Dictionary of National Biography (2004); Stuart, ‘Furniture by Gillows of Lancaster for Thomas English of Boston’, The Magazine Antiques (June 2007); Stuart, Gillows of Lancaster and London 1730-1840 (2008); Stuart, ‘More about Gillows ‘Country’ Chairs’, Regional Furniture (2010); Bowett, ‘A Specimen Wood Workbox of 1808 by Gillows, Lancaster, Regional Furniture (2011); Boram, ‘A Regional Perspective on the Innovative Development of Light Chairs’ Regional Furniture (2012); Boram, ‘The Domestic Context for Gillows’ Rush – and Cane- Seated Chairs’, Regional Furniture (2015); Boram, ‘Customers and Distributors of Gillows’ Eighteenth Century Windsor Chairs’, Regional Furniture (2018).


The original entry from Dictionary of English Furniture Makers, 1660-1840 can be found at British History Online.