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Holland & Sons (1843-1942)

Holland & Sons

23 Mount Street, 19 Marylebone Street: Ranelagh Works, Belgrave Square, London; cabinet makers, upholsterers (fl.1843-1942)

In 1843 William Holland took over the firm of Taprell & Holland and changed the name to Holland and Sons, who in that year were recorded as cabinet makers and upholsterers at 19 Marylebone Street with a manufactory at 38 Broad Street, Golden Square. The name was amended in 1845 to William Holland & Sons (recorded in the Post Office Directory of that year as cabinet makers & upholsterers). The firm became one of the most successful furniture makers of the late nineteenth / early twentieth centuries. 

Records from the 1850s showed the firm listed at 19 Marylebone Street and Ranelagh Works, Lower Belgrave Street by which time William had retired, being replaced by his son, James. William Holland junior (another son) was also a partner in the firm until a year before his death at Harley Street in 1879. In 1852 the address of 23 Mount Street was added, a premises already occupied by Thomas Dowbiggin & Sons, whose name continued periodically at this address as late as 1895, probably for goodwill purposes. After 1852 the Marylebone Street address was dropped.

In 1854 the company had 350 employees with stock valued for insurance at £18,224. Holland & Sons was said to have all the latest improvements in furniture production in 1856; including mortising machines and vertical and circular sawing machines powered by a steam engine, installed in 1855 at the cost of £1,251. They spent £1,250 in 1857 on machinery for vertical and circular sawing, fret cutting and mortising at their Ranelagh Works, Pimlico.

A fire occurred in 1861 at the Ranelagh Works, where pieces for the 1862 London International Exhibition were being constructed. The insurance report recorded details of the various areas of the site: 2 Carvers’ Shops, the Cabinet Shop, the Polishing Shop, specialised storage areas (value £4906 4s 6d), a back Chair Shop valued at £196 and Damage to wood in the Yard at £200. In 1870 Holland's were paying upholsterers 7s per day, cabinet makers 6s 6d and joiners 5s 6d and in 1871 the firm was recorded as Holland & Sons, cabinet makers, upholsterers & decorators, house & estate agents at 23 Mount Street, 4 Ebury Street & 44 Gillingham Street. The name stamp used by Holland & Sons at this time is illustrated in Symonds & Whineray(1962), fig. 144.

From 1843 onwards Hollands was at the forefront of the movement for improvement in design as well as production of furniture. They were involved with Henry Cole’s Summerly Art Manufactures scheme in the 1840s, made and exhibited the ‘Repose’ armchair at the 1848 Society of Arts Exposition and John Bell, sculptor, designed a sideboard for them in the following year. Interestingly, Hollands made small repairs in February and April 1850 at the Park Street house which Ruskin and Effie occupied briefly before returning to Venice in 1851.

At the 1851 Great Exhibition, Holland & Sons exhibited a large Renaissance-style bookcase and a side of a room, both designed by the architect, T. R. Macquoid, (illus. Meyer (2006), p. 53); also a cinque-cento style bookcase executed for Her Majesty, carved oak dining chair & bedroom furniture. Neither Macquoid, nor J. K. Collings who designed the suite of polished oak library furniture shown by the firm at the 1855 Paris Exhibition were in the permanent employ of the firm. A library table/desk, chair and bookcase exhibited in 1855 are illustrated in Meyer (2006), pp. 102 & 105.

Hollands continued to show faith in the School of Design and at the 1855 Exhibition displayed an ebony cabinet designed by Professor Semper, the German architect and art theorist who taught at Marlborough House, with painted panels by Mulready (illus. Meyer (2006), p. 104). The carving on a bookcase also shown by the firm at the same exhibition was superintended by Mr Abercrombie, who had formerly been at the School of Design. 

At the 1862 London International Exhibition the firm exhibited a fine marquetry and gilt-bronze centre table veneered with tulipwood, kingwood, New Zealand spicewood, airwood, box, purpleheart and orangewood. The design was by Mr Rosenberg and included engravings by Old Masters all centred by a spider’s web in silver and ivory (illus. Meyer (2006), p. 122). Also exhibited was a thuya and marquetry side cabinet (illus. Meyer (2006), p. 164). The firm invoiced Jeanselme, Son, and Godin for storage and transport in 1862, probably in some type of collaboration with the latter’s display at the 1862 Exhibition.

Hollands was the first firm to employ the architect B. J. Talbert, who had been associated with wood carving in his early work in Scotland. His furniture designs were highly admired in the 1860s and 1870s, winning the firm a silver medal at the 1867 Paris Exhibition for a sideboard, for which Talbert was also awarded a design medal, and he continued to design furniture for the firm, as well as others, until his death in 1881. An artisan who was sent by the Society of Arts to review the 1867 Exhibition described Talbert’s sideboard as ‘a piece of dining room furniture that I cannot admire, as it looks too heavy, and more like a piece of rough joiners’ work than a fine piece of cabinet-work, which we expect to see in a gentleman’s house; it appears too ecclesiastical for household furniture; allowance must be made, however, for this kind of work being seldom got up’. The sideboard is now at the V&A.

Copyright (Attribution/Credit)
Sideboard designed by B. J. Talbert, 1867 [Circ. 286:1,2-1955]. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Talbert also designed the Pericles Cabinet, a reformed Gothic oak cabinet with hand-wrought brasswork, as a centrepiece for the Holland & Sons stand at the 1867 Exhibition, where it won a Grand Prix. This cabinet was sold for excess of £80,000 at Christies King Street in 1986, later in the Birkenhead Collection and is now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York (illus. The Decorative Arts Society (2012), p. 55).

Another designer who worked with/for Holland was Maurice Bingham Adams (1849-1933). Hollands participated in the 1873 Vienna Exhibition; The Furniture Gazette, 14 June 1873, reported that their display included ‘a very beautiful cabinet in ebony, inlaid with dead gold, and ornamented with ivory medallions; also a table, generally in excellent taste, although the pedestal strikes one as overloaded, and injudiciously elaborate; the medallions, representing famous artists, from Apelles downwards, are admirable in their way, and excellently introduced’.  

In 1880-82 Hollands supplied furniture designed by George Edmund Street for the new Law Courts in London; a commission, which was shared with Collinson and Lock and Gillows. Street was married to Jessie Mary Anne Holland, a daughter of William Holland junior. The latter’s brother, James, called his third son George Edmund, presumably after the architect; his first two sons were Stephen Taprell (b. 1843) and George Taprell (b. 1845).

It is also believed that the firm carried out furniture and woodwork for the designer Thomas Jeckyll including perhaps a bedroom suite of large wardrobe, overmantel, bedside commode, dressing table and medicine cabinet, for which he was paid £295 2s 7d by Alecco Ionides (June 1876) for 1 Holland Park (illus. Soros and Arbuthnot (2003), pp. 187-188). At the Paris 1878 Exhibition, Holland and Sons showed an extremely fine satinwood bedroom suite in the Adam style, purchased by Sir Richard Wallace (illus. Meyer (2006), p. 242). The firm exhibited art furniture at the May 1881 Exhibition of Works of Art applied to Furniture in the Albert Hall, which included an oak dressoir designed by Talbert and an ebony cabinet designed and partly executed by Barbetti of Florence [The Furniture Gazette, 7 & 28 May 1881]. They also showed furniture at the 1881 Exhibition of Modern Furniture held by the Society of Arts at the Albert Hall [The Furniture Gazette, 29 October 1881].

Holland & Sons was recorded in the Lord Chamberlain’s accounts 1846-65 working at Osborne House, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Sandringham and Balmoral. These commissions amongst others include:

  • Osborne House (c.1847): the firm worked with Thomas Dowbiggin to produce furniture in the ‘Italian style’ designed by Henry Whitaker. The commission included a sofa of carved and gilt wood, designed by Henry Whitaker (illus. Aslin (1962), pl. 25)
  • Balmoral Castle (c.1856); the firm executed furniture in a simpler style, more appropriate to the Highland setting, for over 60 rooms from the principal apartments to the servants’ rooms
  • Buckingham Palace (1855-56); Holland & Sons carried out extensive works for the visit of Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie. 43 pieces of furniture were supplied by the firm for the Empress’s rooms; including a bedstead, ‘double gilt & burnished in the very best manner & parts picked out in white’ with two carved wood gilt pillars of painted boys which costed £120, pair of wooden, painted & gilt 3 door wardrobes side chairs, 2 bergere chairs and dressing table (all still at Buckingham Palace); also two cabinets on stands, bed steps & large sofa.  Satinwood with tulipwood marquetry furniture was supplied for Napoleon III’s rooms, of which only a low wardrobe has been identified still in the Royal Collection. Hollands also re-upholstered the white & gold chairs supplied to George IV for Carlton House by Francois Herve and supplied the new soft furnishings for the visitors’ rooms. Some of the furniture in the commission illus. Gray (2021), figs. 3-8, 12 & 14.    
  • Funeral of the Prince Consort (1851)
  • Funeral of the Duchess of Kent, Queen Victoria’s mother (1861)
  • Albert Room at Windsor Castle (1865): an amboyna and gold cabinet at a cost of £224 10s
  • Furnishing a yacht for the Emperor of Austria (1877) 

They also fulfilled funeral commissions for:

  • The Duke of Wellington (1852)
  • Isambard Brunel (1859)
  • Lord Leighton (1896)  

Hollands produced furniture in a wide variety of styles exemplified in various other commissions:

Holland & Sons were involved in the furnishing of the new Palace of Westminster from the start, tendering for the initial contract but loosing out to Gillows. From 1855 to 1860 they won the tenders for House of Lords offices and official residences and these make up the main body of furniture they made for the Palace of Westminster to the designs of A.W.N. Pugin.

In 1860 Holland supplied furniture including an ‘Elizabethan Wine Table’ to Sherborne Castle and eight years later Mr R. N. Thornton ordered extensive furnishings, much with fine marquetry work, for his house, Knowle Cottage, Sidmouth, Devon (illus. Symonds & Whineray (1962), pp. 143, 154, 156, 169, 174, 195-7, 201, 203, 204 & 206).

In 1869 Hollands supplied Robert Staynor Holford, MP, at Dorchester House, Park Lane, with ‘30. Large dining chairs in walnut-tree – carved and relieved in gold, on Hermed and panelled legs, stuffed backs and spring stuffed seats of best materials...’. These were designed by Alfred Stevens about 1867-69. Sotheby’s London sold eight of these chairs in November 1996, among which was one stamped W Bryson.

Another set of twelve 19th century walnut dining chairs bore the stamps of W Vardil, W Bryson, W Miles, HW and W Miles D Courtney. The relationship between these makers, and indeed C Culyer (whose stamp also appeared on similar chairs), and Holland & Sons is not known, although they could have been employees in the chair workshops or sub-contractors. The stamps of G (George) Bryson and Holland and Sons appeared on a walnut chair from the Speaker’s House, Westminster, which the firm furnished 1858-59 (illus. Furniture History (2005), p. 224). 

Another set of ‘24. Dining chairs on thermed and fluted legs and stretcher, the seats and backs, stuffed and covered in crimson morocco leather’, were part of a commission of walnut dining furniture supplied to Dalton Hall, near Hull, by Hollands in 1876 for Lord Hotham. The chairs cost £11 16s each. In the 1881 publication, The Decoration and Furniture of Town Houses, the architect Sir Robert W. Edis, illustrated 3 pieces of neo-classical-style furniture made by Holland and Sons. The author stated that the group were made ‘after old examples of Sheraton, Adam and Chippendale’. 

In 1881 The Building News wrote that '… Italian, and the style which in England took its rise from Cinquecento and Louis Seize, appear to occupy the attention of our leading manufacturers' and the Holland firm was included in the list of these manufacturers. The firm illustrated in their catalogue of c. 1885 an ‘18th century-style’ drawing room that they had completed for a customer, which they believed combined lightness with elegance. The furniture was of dark mahogany although inlaid satinwood was frequently used successfully in this period (illus. Symonds & Whineray(1962), fig. 84).

Holland's bedroom furniture in the last quarter of the 19th century was supplied in three woods at different prices. These suites included a half tester bed, a wardrobe, a dressing table, a wash stand and a chair (all illus. Symonds & Whineray(1962), fig. 226) as well as two additional cane seated chairs, a pedestal cupboard and a towel rail. In polished pine the set was priced at £22, in polished ash £30 and in walnut £36. In the mid 20th century Charles & Lavinia Handley-Read were keen collectors of furniture in varying styles made by Holland & Sons. These pieces included an Elizabethan-style chair: an armchair, c.1845, of satinwood, partly veneered (V&A: W.31-1972); and a table in various woods, inlaid and veneered, with mounts are in the V&A. 

Copyright (Attribution/Credit)
Table probably made by Holland & Sons. Designer unknown, c. 1862-1865. [W.29-1972]. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A cabinet c.1870 [W.11:1 to 8-1972] in various woods, inlaid and veneered with mounts is also in the V&A collection.

Another table made of walnut c.1870, is inlaid, turned and chamfered (Birmingham Museums Trust, BMT:1972M160); an etagere c. 1870, oak, turned, inlaid and chamfered (current whereabouts unknown); an ebonised wood table, c.1880 (current whereabouts unknown) and a screen of ebony, carved and moulded, c. 1875 (now Portsmouth Museum (1972/150). 

In 1877 the firm brought a court case against Sir Henry Meux (considered to be a lunatic) for payment in full of a bill of £1,077 for furniture and decoration they supplied to him at 36 Grosvenor Square. His widowed sister, Mrs Arabin, acted as his custodian, along with Lord Bruce & Viscount Maldon, his custodians and trustees. The verdict  of the case was in favour of the plaintiffs [The Furniture Gazette, 24 November 1877].

In 1879 they supplied the furniture for the Army and Navy Club following its renovation [The Furniture Gazette, 8 March 1879].   

On his death in 1879 William Holland junior left a sum of nearly £140,000. He was one of four partners of the firm, the others being his son William James Holland, his nephew George Edmund Holland and George Illingworth Holland. His will showed that Thomas Allan Holland, another son and member of Lloyds, had interests in a building estate in Grosvenor Place. Another son, Cyril William Holland, became a clergyman and a daughter Phoebe Anne married another clergyman, Rev. W. M. Hunnyburn. As stated above, Jessie Mary Anne had married G. E. Street.

In the last quarter of the 19th century Hollands continued to thrive and indeed diversified into estate agency, auctioneering and surveying. They were recorded in the Furniture Gazette Classified List of the Furniture, Upholstery and Allied Trades, 1886 as ‘Art Furniture Manufacturers and Merchants’ at 23 Mount Street. In 1888 George Edmund gave evidence to the Royal Commission on Sweated Trades to the effect that sub-contracting had always existed in the business, even in the fulfilment of Government contracts, and even was on the increase. In 1890 the Ormond Yard, Pimlico workshops were bought by Morris & Co. but they continued as major suppliers of furniture to various government departments.

Hollands supplied a ‘State Throne Chair’ costing £238 10s for the Opening of Parliament (1901) and the Coronation of Edward VII (1902). The bills were impressed ‘Holland late Dowbiggin’ (illustrated below).

Holland & Son Royal Throne
Copyright (Attribution/Credit)
Drawing of the Royal Throne, House of Lords made by Holland and Sons, 1901 [E.6-1985]. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In 1904 they were trading from 9 Mount Street & Ranelagh Works, Chapter Street as furniture makers, cabinet makers, upholsterers, decorators, sanitary engineers, furniture depository, auctioneers, surveyors, house & estate agents. 

The V&A holds ledgers for the activities of the firm from 1824-1942.  

Sources: DEFM; Aslin, 19th Century English Furniture (1962); Symonds and Whineray, Victorian Furniture (1962); Colvin; Burlington, November 1969; Joy, ‘The Royal Victorian Furniture-Makers, 1837-87’, The Burlington Magazine (November 1969);  Jervis, ‘Holland and Sons, and the Furnishing of the Athenaeum’, Furniture History (1970);  Jervis, ‘Ruskin and Furniture’, Furniture History (1973); Agius, British Furniture 1880-1915 (1978);  Gere & Whiteway, Nineteenth-Century Design from Pugin to Mackintosh (1993); Christine Riding and Jacqueline Riding, 'The Houses of Parliament: History, Art and Architecture' (2000); Meyer, ‘Trollope and Sons – Makers and Exhibitors of Fine Furniture’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2001); Soros and Arbuthnot, Thomas Jeckyll, Architect and Designer 1827-1871 (2003); Anderson, ‘W. Bryson and the firm of Holland and Sons’, Furniture History (2005); Meyer, Great Exhibitions. London, New York, Paris, Philadelphia. 1851-1900 (2006); Anderson, ‘Further Evidence of the Comprehensive Nature of the Firm of Holland and Sons’, Furniture History (2012); 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); Gere, ‘Charles Handley-Read as a Collector in his own Words’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2017); Gray, ‘Queen Victoria’s Buckingham Palace; Bedrooms for a State Visit’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2021).

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