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Gomme, Ebenezer and Sons (1898-1989)

Gomme, Ebenezer and Sons

High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire; furniture makers (fl.1898-1989)

Ebenzer Gomme’s father worked for James Cox, chair makers of High Wycombe, and in due course Ebenezer was apprenticed to the firm.

In 1898 Ebenezer went into partnership with his brother-in-law, Jim Pierce, making chairs and this firm eventually became the largest furniture manufacturer in the town. By 1903 they started using machine tools and in 1909 built a factory equipped with a range of machinery in Leigh Street, High Wycombe.

In 1911 Ebenezer’s two sons, F. R. and E. C. Gomme, joined the partnership and expanded the range to include sideboards, tables and other cabinet goods. Gomme was sometimes referred to as the pioneer of the contemporary dining room suite, designed and made as an ensemble.

In about 1914 Gomme befriended the young designer Luciano Ercolani, who had been working for Frederick Parker, and he moved across to Gomme’s for about five years. Prior to 1916/17 Gomme made some furniture for Heal’s (before Heal’s took its production in house) (illus. Heal (2014), p. 185). Lawrence Barnes, brother of Albert Barnes, worked as chief designer at E. Gomme Ltd, from 1929. In the 1920s the firm built a new factory on a site of eight acres in Spring Gardens.

Ebenezer died in 1931 and in the 1933 the firm became a limited company which by 1938 employed 800 people. During World War II they made aircraft frames and manufactured parts for the De Havilland Mosquito. It moved into Utility Furniture afterwards.

The firm was a listed exhibitor at the British Industries Fair at Earl’s Court in 1947 as manufacturers of antique reproduction furniture, bedroom, dining room, drawing room furniture and upholstered furniture. In 1953 Donald Gomme, a designer for the firm, introduced the G-Plan range, modern furniture for the entire house which could be bought piece-by-piece according to budget, and this was marketed to the public direct as well as through certain retailers.

Profits for the firm increased six-fold between 1952 and 1958. In 1954 Gomme took over W. Birch & Co., another High Wycombe firm and in 1958 Donald left the firm. In 1987 the last remaining shareholding family members decided to retire, selling their interest to the directors. In 1989 it was sold to Christie Tyler, part of the Hillsdown Group. In 1992 the High Wycombe factory closed and in 1996 the G Plan furniture licence was acquired by the Morris Furniture Group, while upholstery furniture continued to be made by G Plan Upholstery Ltd in Melksham, Wiltshire.

Sources: Worden, ‘Industrial Craft and Tradition: Albert E Barnes and the High Wycombe Furniture Industry’, The Journal of the Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (1993); Heal, Sir Ambrose Heal and the Heal Cabinet Factory 1897-1939 (2014).