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Jackson & Graham (1836–1885)

Jackson & Graham 

Oxford Street, London; cabinet makers, upholsterers, carvers and gilders (fl.1836–c.1885)  

Jackson & Graham was one of the elite firms of early and mid-Victorian London and played a major role, through the international exhibitions from 1851 onwards, in raising the reputation of London furniture makers in the European and international markets. 

Peter Graham (1811-1877) was a native of Cumbria but little is known about Thomas Charles Jackson (1807-1848). Their partnership was established at 37 Oxford Street in 1836, and by 1839 had expanded to include 37 & 38 Oxford Street and 18 Newman Street. Tallis’ Street Views shows the premises as they were in 1838-40, at which time they were stated to be ‘UPHOLSTERERS, CARPET MANUFACTURERS, FURNITURE PRINTERS AND INTERIOR DECORATORS’; they were also ‘By Appointment to His Ottoman Majesty THE SULTAN’. 

In 1839 the Sun Insurance Company insured ‘two houses and a showroom all connecting’ valued at £700 and which contained stock worth £3,000, plus £1,000 worth of plate glass in the shop front and in stock [London Metropolitan Archive (LMA) Sun Insurance records]. An invoice dated 14 June 1836, for a French polished rosewood sofa at £19 and other items is in the Museum of London, and trade card for this early period also survives, giving the address as 37 and 38 Oxford Street. It shows an engraving of the exterior of their premises and states their trade as ‘Upholsterers, Carpet Manufacturers, Furniture Printers and Interior Decorators’.  

Thomas Charles Jackson died in 1844 and, in accordance with his will, his son, Thomas (1831-1915) was taken on by the firm as an apprentice and became a partner.  For an unknown period before1859 there were two partnerships, possibly for the purposes of correct attribution of profits and losses.  One was between Peter Graham and Thomas Jackson which was dissolved on 12 November 1859 and the other was between Peter Graham, Forster Graham (Peter’s younger brother) and Thomas Jackson which was also dissolved at this date so far as it related to Thomas Jackson.  By 31 January 1877, the date of Peter Graham’s retirement, the other partners were Forster Graham; two of Peter’s sons, William Edgar Graham & Walter Graham; and Frank Hayward Biddle (b.c.1848), whose father, Daniel Biddle, was a lace maker at 81 Oxford Street. In the same year Thomas Jacob (who had been employed by Jackson & Graham for 16 years) left to set up business as an art furnisher on his own account [The Furniture Gazette, 2 June 1877]. Another named employee of the firm was Ole Petersen, who died at 39 years of age, on 30 September 1876. He was the maker of various exhibition cabinets etc. [The Furniture Gazette, 14 October 1876]. Sydney Sheath (whose dates with Jackson & Graham are unknown) but he moved to Brew & Claris and then to John B. Drew & Co. in 1874 [The Furniture Gazette, 4 April 1874].    

The Post Office Directory 1845 listed the firm at 37 & 38 Oxford Street as cabinet makers, upholsterers and house agents.  By 1855 the firm had expanded to include 35 Oxford Street, by 1866 they were at 29, 33, 34, 35, 37 and 38 Oxford Street as well as in Perry’s Place, Freston Place and Newman’s yard and by 1876 the Oxford Street premises were recorded as nos. 30-38. The Furniture Gazette Directory (1877) recorded the firm’s additional trades as cabinet carvers and gilders, and bedstead and mattress manufacturers. Interestingly, Forster Graham appeared separately to Jackson & Graham in the London Street & Trade Directories of the 1860s & 1870s with the addresses of 35, 37 & 38, as either upholsterer or merchant, although he was a senior partner of the firm at the time.

Jackson & Graham’s had 250 employees in their workforce in the 1860s and paid £400 per week in wages. In the 1850s they installed a steam engine for simple sawing operations and in the 1860s introduced machine-carving. In the Fine Art Catalogue of that year, they advertised that in their ‘extensive Manufactory adjoining, the Machinery, worked by Steam Power, is fitted with all means and appliances to insure superiority and economize cost’, and in their 27,000 square feet of ‘spacious showrooms and galleries’. By 1875 their workforce had expanded to between 600 to 1000 employees, depending on demand, with a weekly wage bill of nearly £2,000.

In 1866 an advertisement in a London directory gave a broad outline of their repertoire: 'Jackson and Graham respectfully announce … that they have recently made great additions to their former extensive premises, which render their establishment the largest of its kind in this or any other country. The Spacious Show Rooms and Galleries are filled with an unrivalled stock, the prices of which are all marked in plain figures at the most moderate rates for ready money. The extensive Manufactory adjoining, with Machinery worked by Steam Power, is fitted with all means and appliances to ensure superiority and economise cost. Each of the departments will be found as complete as if it formed a separate business, viz:- Paper Hangings, Painting and Interior Decoration of all kinds. Carpets of superior manufacture of every description. Cabinet Furniture, Chairs, Sofas, Ottomans &c. Silk and Silk and Wool Damasks, Aubusson and Venetian Tapestries, Chintzes, Utrecht Velvets, Arras, Reps, Merino Damasks, Cloths &c. &c. Bedsteads of Iron, Brass and various Woods and superior Bedding and Mattresses of all kinds. (The new and extensive premises (No. 29) consisting of four floors measuring 20,000 feet are devoted to this department.) Plate Glass, Carving and Gilding, Gallery of Bronzes d’Art (sole depot for the productions of F. Barbedienne & Co. Paris) Clocks, Candelabra, Vases, and Ornamental Porcelain'. 

In 1876 a full description the Jackson & Graham’s works was published by John Hungerford Pollen in Bevan’s British Manufacturing Industries (London 1876). This revealed the firm to be as fully automated as any of the period, with extensive use of steam power to drive a wide variety of machines. Nevertheless, the quality of individual craftsmanship was also equal to be best in Europe, as the many accolades awarded to their work demonstrate and the firm employed good foreign craftsmen for marquetry and inlay work.

Jackson and Graham used a series of International Exhibitions to cement and expand their reputation, beginning with the London Exhibition of 1851. Their stand was commented upon by the Art Journal: ‘Messrs Jackson and Graham, the eminent upholsterers of London, are large contributors to the Great Exhibition of many important articles of their manufacture’.  They also acted as London agents for Barbedienne & Cie, whose stand, with a Jackson and Graham cabinet in view, was illustrated in Dickson Bros’ Comprehensive Picture of the Great Exhibition of 1851 (London 1854). The cabinet was described by G W Yapp as ‘in the style of the Renaissance, executed in oak, the carved portions being left dead while the mouldings and framework are highly polished – an extremely effective arrangement’ [illus. Meyer (2006) p. 31]. The firm was awarded a Prize Medal for their exhibits.  

They also exhibited 'decorative furniture, cabinets, &c.' at the Irish Industrial Exhibition, Dublin, 1853. At the Paris Exhibition in 1855 Jackson and Graham exhibited a large cabinet designed by Eugene Prignot which was bought for the South Kensington Museum for £2000, where it remains: V&A: W.81-981.

Not only did the firm employ a French designer for this cabinet, but four other foreign craftsmen as well; Carrier, who modelled the caryatides; Claudio Colombo, who carved the figures from the models; Protat, another modeller for the figures on the top of the glass frame; and Phenix, who carved nearly all the flowers and ornaments. The bronze work on the cabinet was electro-gilded by Elkingtons and Minton and Co. supplied the porcelain plaques, which were painted by Messrs Remon and Polisch.

At the 1862 London International Exhibition the firm showed a carved oak sideboard constructed of pollard oak and ornamented with carvings in brown English oak [illus. Meyer (2006), p. 111 & The Furniture Gazette, 30 September 1876] and a walnut wardrobe. Both objects were designed by a Mr Arrowsmith, as were a Louis XVI style cabinet in ebony and ivory with bronze oval medallions and an imported Algerian onyx top [illus. Meyer (2006), p. 119]. The firm received awards for their work at this exhibition and the 1867 Paris Exhibition, where their exhibits included a centre table of amboyna with a marquetry border designed by Alfred Lorimer [illus. Meyer (2006), p. 201] and also photographs of an unfinished cabinet. The firm also exhibited cabinet furniture, bronzes and mural decoration at the Dublin International Exhibition, 1865 (Section XXVI, exh. 732).  A cabinet of inlaid ebony, made by Jackson & Graham from a design by R. S. Lorimer, was exhibited at the International Exhibition of 1871 (illus. Symonds & Whineray (1962) fig. 43). The firm also exhibited to general acclaim at Vienna in 1873 and London in 1874.  Their final international show was in Paris, 1878, where the firm won the Prix d’Honneur for ‘maintenance of standards and progress in thirty years of art workmanship’ for the British section of the Exhibition. Their star exhibit was the ‘Juno’ cabinet, with ebony and ivory inlay in the early English style and designed by Bruce Talbert. It won the Grand Prix and was bought by the Viceroy of India for £2000 (now in the V&A, see: W.18: 1-6 1981).  The firm also won acclaim for its suite of chimney-piece with glass above, a clock-case and two candelabra on the mantel shelf. The R.S.A. Artisan Reports on the Paris Universale Exhibition of 1878 recorded that the designer of the suite was Lorimer, the marquetry carried out by Mr Reich and cabinet work by Ole Petersen   

The firm was recorded in the Lord Chamberlain’s accounts of 1853-60 when their work included the supply of 370 yards of rich brocaded silk (£897 5s) for the Ball Room, Buckingham Palace, which was designed by Prince Albert and first used in 1856 to celebrate the engagement of the Princess Royal to Prince Frederick William of Prussia. The firm also furnished the palace of the Khedive at Cairo and in 1882 supplied a 14 ft. state bed in three divisions, the middle higher than the others, to the King of Siam [The Furniture Gazette, 11 February 1882].  Other commissions were furniture, upholstery and fittings for the St James’s Hall Restaurant, Piccadilly; the City Carlton Club, St. Swithin’s Lane, King William Street and the Emperor of Russia’s yacht the Livadia [The Furniture Gazette, 2 October 1875, 29 November 1879 & 21 August 1880]. Jackson & Graham executed the furniture of the apartments of HIH The Grand Duke of Constantine on the Livadia which comprised a bedroom and two reception rooms, described as 'thoroughly cosy.... the walls wainscoted with satin-wood and walnut mouldings.... The bedrooms are furnished as they would be in an ordinary villa of the Grand Duke's on land'. 

Much of Jackson & Graham’s success was due to their employment of talented professional designers. Among those who worked for the firm at some time or other were Owen Jones, Christopher Dresser, Thomas Colcutt, R. W. Edis and Bruce Talbert. They also employed a number of French designers, including Eugene Prignot, Alfred Lorimer and Thomas Jacob. Owen Jones’ designs specialised in ebony inlaid with ivory and in metal inlaid and mounted furniture.

From 1862-c.1864, Owen Jones and the firm were employed by Alfred Morrison at Fonthill House, Tisbury, Wilts. They decorated, supplied chimney pieces, and designed and made furniture, including ebony and ivory cabinets lined with yellow silk for porcelain display. One of these cabinets is now at Toledo Museum of Art [illus. Dakers, Furniture History (2010) p. 205], and the other was formerly in the Birkenhead Collection, now at the Higgins Art Gallery & Museum, Bedford [illus. The Decorative Arts Society (2012), p. 53]. A detail of the arm of a sofa, designed by Owen Jones and made by the firm for Alfred Morrison, is illustrated in [Gere & Whiteway (1993), p. 122]. 

With the purchase of 16 Carlton House Terrace, London Alfred Morrison employed the same team of Jones and Jackson and Graham to carry out decorations and supply fittings, carpets and marquetry furniture. The latter included inlaid ebony bookcases for the library which were exhibited to much acclaim at the 1867 Paris Exposition Universelle [illus. Dakers, Furniture History (2010) p. 207)].  Another Owen/Jackson & Graham commission was for James Mason at Eynsham Hall, c.1873. Of these pieces, a table and chair were exhibited at the 1952 Exhibition of Victorian and Edwardian Decorative Arts and afterwards acquired by V&A (Circ. 522 and 523-1952). After Owen Jones death in 1874, both Forster & Peter Graham were members of the Owen Jones Memorial Committee. 

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

Circular table designed by Owen Jones, c. 1873 [CIRC.522-1953]. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Another designer who worked with the firm in this period was Thomas Jeckyll (1827-71). On 16 August 1866 Jeckyll wrote to his client, Edward Green (for whom he was beginning a refurbishment of Heath Old Hall, Wakefield 1865-76) that ‘Jackson and Graham… value my designs so much as to lead them to execute them with great care…’. 

Christopher Dresser was one of the firm’s most influential art advisors, and between 1881 and 1883 the firm held shares in Dresser’s Art Furnisher’s Alliance. In May 1876 Dresser organised an exhibition of art objects from Asia which opened at Jackson & Graham’s Oxford Street premises. Nearly 2,800 objects were exhibited, mainly from China and Japan.  In 1876 Hungerford Pollen commented on the use of professional designers by most of the top London firms and added: ‘…to this should be added the large sums paid to architects such as Owen Jones for special designs over and above what is constantly in demand for the usual requirements of trade’. 

The market for such élite pieces was necessarily limited. Consequently, during the 1870s the firm began to look to more modest markets. By 1874 the firm was reported as paying their chief designer about £700 a year and ‘to this should be added the large sums paid to architects such as the late Mr Owen Jones, for special designs over and above what is constantly in demand for the usual requirements of the trade. From £1,000 to £1,500 per annum may be spent in this particular matter without its being looked on as an unusual outlay’ (quoted from Pollen, The British Manufacturing Industries, 1876). 

In November 1874 a dispute arose between the management and the cabinet makers employed by the firm, primarily relating to the non-payment of overtime or waiting time (incurred when they were waiting for roughed out work from the machinists before they start their skilled work on the pieces). From 13 November the firm began to pay workmen by piece work rather than by the day, resulting in a strike called by the Alliance Cabinet Makers Society. Their members in the firm went out on strike until February 1875 and the firm took five members of the union to court for molestation and obstruction of the workplace. The court papers recorded that at this time the factory was in Ogle Street, with retail premises in Oxford Street, and employed some 100 hands. The five defendants (Harry Hams & Messrs Hibbert, Mathews, Read and Weiler), were sentenced to 30 days in prison. On release they were met by 400 trade union delegates and hosted by the union to a celebration breakfast, followed by an open-air meeting in Hyde Park that evening attended by 100,000 working people. Public sympathy was largely responsible for the subsequent changes to the Criminal Law Amendment Act. For full details of the dispute and court case see: Reid, The Furniture Makers. A History of Trade Unionism in the Furniture Trade 1868-1972 (1986) pp. 31-34).

At the 1876 Paris Exhibition the firm fitted out three rooms for the use of the Juries, two in Early English style and the other in Queen Anne style. Some of this furniture was made from solid padouk wood, sent specially for the purpose of experimentation, and furniture designs were by Collcutt, Lorimer, Prignot, Allwright and Talbert. Two pieces of furniture made by Jackson & Graham were illustrated in The Decoration and Furniture of Town Houses (1881) by the architect, Sir Robert W. Edis.

In March 1881 they displayed ceiling roses and plaster cornices in the Building Exhibition, Agricultural Hall, and they also participated in the Exhibition of Works of Art applied to Furniture, Royal Albert Hall in May that year [The Furniture Gazette, 28 May 1881]. At the latter their display, in Louis XVI style, included two cabinets, one in boxwood, ivory, pear, ebony - and other expensive woods - and the other in ebony, inlaid with palm-wood and ivory; two oak coffee tables, a vitrine in Chippendale style, rosewood chairs and a hanging cabinet, the design of which had been pirated from one supplied by E. W. Godwin to William Watt. At this exhibition the firm’s modestly priced bedroom furniture attracted particular comment; Building News (9 September 1881) commented that ‘In the production of cheap furniture of artistic design Messrs Jackson & Graham, among other manufacturers, have endeavoured to meet the requirements of those who cannot afford to furnish their houses in Italian, French or Chippendale furniture. They are making some very excellent buffets and other furniture of exceedingly simple design, the lines of the framework being relieved by plain flutings and moulded work... suites of bedroom furniture, made in pine and stained green with black mouldings; some excellent painted bedroom all produced by machinery at reasonable cost’.

The 1881 census recorded two of Peter Graham’s nephews, William Graham (1856-1925) and James Graham (1861-1925) as ‘Upholsterer’s Salesmen’ living on the premises at 31-38 Oxford Street. F. H. Biddle left the partnership of Jackson & Graham on 17 August 1881 and in this year the firm was described as upholsterers, cabinet makers, builders and house agents. 

Financial troubles forced Jackson & Graham of 68-86 Oxford Street; 5, 6 & 7 Newman Street; Perry’s Place, Freston Place and Newman Yard to bankruptcy in 1882. At the time the directors were Forster Graham (Grosvenor Square & Taplow, Bucks), Walter Graham (Watford, Hertfordshire, late Sussex Gardens Hyde Park) and William Edgar Graham (St Andrew’s Place, Regent’s Park).

The affairs of Forster Graham were also placed separately into the hands of a trustee post-liquidation [The Furniture Gazette, 29 July 1882]. The goodwill of the Jackson & Graham’s business, exclusive use of the name, and debts in the book were sold to John Bell, of 118 Southwark Street, for £90,000 [The London Gazette, 16 January 1883]. By order of the trustee, the stock of furniture, carpets etc. was sold at greatly reduced prices in 1882 [The Furniture Gazette, 15 July 1882] and there was a second sale of stock of art furniture and decorative objects of the firm on 14 December 1885 by Christie, Manson & Wood [The Furniture Gazette, 1 January 1886]. There were various dividends paid from the estates of the three directors culminating in a third and final one of 5¾ d in late 1885 [The Furniture Gazette, 1 December 1885]. 

Under the new ownership, Jackson & Graham was converted into a limited company and started trading as Jackson & Graham (Limited); company registration on 12 July 1883. The initial capital was £160,000 in £10 shares and the first subscribers included William Edgar Graham, upholsterer of 47 Elgin Crescent, and F.H. Biddle, upholsterer of 68 Finchley New Road [The Furniture Gazette, 4 August 1883]. This upheaval must have unsettled the staff - The Furniture Gazette, 14 October 1882, announced that Mr Cooke, who had spent many years with the firm, had resigned and accepted a new position with Blyth & Son [The Furniture Gazette, 14 October 1882].  

The new firm displayed a bedroom suite at the International Health Exhibition, South Kensington, in 1884, designed by R. W. Edis. They also exhibited at the International Exhibition, Crystal Palace, 1884, with a ‘very fine show of high class furniture’ and at the Industrial & Fine Art Exhibition, Bristol, October 1884 [The Furniture Gazette, 3 May & 25 October 1884]. However, problems for the new company developed, including a court case on 2 July 1884 over payment to a third party of a commission for the introduction of new investors [The Furniture Gazette, 12 July 1884]. Their difficulties were only finally resolved in 1885, when they amalgamated with their rivals and former employees, Collinson and Lock[The Furniture Gazette, 1 April 1885]. 

For several years the two firms marketed themselves separately as Collinson & Lock and Jackson & Graham at Oxford Street (Furniture Gazette Diary & Desk Book, 1886). Disaster struck again for Jackson & Graham: on 6 May 1885 when a fire broke out in the rear warehouse and work rooms. It fortunately did not spread to the showrooms and shops in Oxford Street, but nevertheless forced them to rent temporary workshops [The Furniture Gazette, 1 June 1885].   

Several members of the Graham family continued to work after the formal amalgamation of the two firms: Forster Graham formed his own firm in New Bond Street by 1885; William Edgar Graham and Frank Hayward Biddle formed the partnership of Graham & Biddleby 1887 and James Graham went into partnership with Walter Banks by 1894. For further information see Peter Graham, Forster Graham, Graham & Biddle, Graham & Banks and Thomas Jacob.

Sources: DEFM; Sproule, The Irish Industrial Exhibition of 1853 (1854); Symonds and Whineray, Victorian Furniture (1962); Aslin, 19th Century English Furniture (1962); Joy, ‘The Royal Victorian Furniture-Makers, 1837-87’, The Burlington Magazine (November 1969); Agius, British Furniture 1880-1915 (1978); Reid, The Furniture Makers. A History of Trade Unionism in the Furniture Trade 1868-1972; Gere & Whiteway, Nineteeth-Century Design from Pugin to Mackintosh (1993); Edwards, ‘The Firm of Jackson and Graham’, Furniture History (1998); Soros, The Secular Furniture of E W Godwin (1999); Morris, ‘The 1952 Exhibition of Victorian and Edwardian Decorative Arts at the Victoria and Albert Museum: A Personal Recollection’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2001); Soros and Arbuthnot, Thomas Jeckyll, Architect and Designer 1827-1871 (2003); Gere, ‘Dr Christopher Dresser. A Commercial Designer in the Victorian Arts World’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2005); Meyer, Great Exhibitions. London, New York, Paris, Philadelphia.  1851-1900 (2006); Dakers, ‘Furniture and Interior Decoration for James and Alfred Morrison’, Furniture History (2010); Cargin, ‘An Introduction to the Birkenhead Collection’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2012); Taylor, ‘Christopher Dresser and Londos and Co.’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2018); FHS Newsletter (May 2021); Personal correspondence with Martin Graham.

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