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Pocock, William (1750–1825)

Pocock, William

London; cabinet maker and upholder (b.1750–1825)

Pocock was born in Buckinghamshire 1750. He was apprenticed as a cabinet maker but initially established a building business in Essex. He moved to London by 1782 where he initially practised the trade of carpenter. He was made a member of the Carpenters’ Company by redemption in 1782.

By 1786 he was operating a flourishing building business in Essex and it was through this connection that he first became interested in the cabinet-making trade. From 1801–25 he had showrooms at 26 Southampton Street, Strand and the business is described in directories up to 1808 as a cabinet and upholstery warehouse. Later descriptions call the business a patent mattress warehouse.

He was joined by his son John by 1809 and the business traded as Pocock & Son (1809–11), and Pocock & Co. (1819–20). Mis-management by the son appears to have contributed to the bankruptcy of the business in February 1825. Only John is cited in the bankruptcy proceedings, and his father may by this date have had no part in its management.

Pocock appears to have had an ingenious mind and the business acumen to satisfy the public interest in furniture displaying novelty or involved mechanical devices. This could be marketed as ‘patent furniture’ and Pocock did in fact take out a patent in 1805 for an extending dining table, and a number of these tables were sold under the title ‘Patent Sympathetic and Self-acting Dining Table’ (patent no. 2895). An engraved brass plate with this description is known on a number of existing examples. The important feature of this table was the ease with which it could be expanded. If one side of the table was pulled towards one the other side automatically receded and a leaf rose from the centre to fill the space. Two examples are illustrated in Gilbert (1996), figs. 732-734).  A single person could without assistance effect the expansion or reduction of the table.

trade card
Copyright (Attribution/Credit)
British Museum

Wm Pocock, Upholsterer, Cabinet Maker & Undertaker, No 26, Southampton Street, Strand. The Warehouse for his Patent Boethema Mattresses, Patent Library or Office Tables, Patent improved Sofas, Couches, Easy-Chairs. Reclining Chair Beds, Carving Chairs, Rising Stools & various other Articles of useful mechanical Furniture peculiarly adapted for Ease Comfort & Repose, and which give that great relief, the change of Position only can afford, c. 1801-25 [D,2.621]. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Trade cards show that he had an interest in extending tables from the commencement of the business, and that he also offered library tables with rising tops, to suit both a sitting and standing posture. An example of one of these is known with a label describing it as ‘Pocock's Patent Office or Library Table’. A two-page advertisement listing an extensive range of such furniture has been located in the Foreign Office papers relating to Spain for 1814. Such patent furniture may have been thought suitable for military personnel posted to the Peninsular. His ‘Patent Sofa Beds … suitable either for Camp or Barracks or on Board a Ship’ were said to be ‘highly approved by distinguished Officers of the Army and Navy’.

Pocock also made a particular feature of invalid furniture which included ‘The Patent Boethema or Rising Mattress’ to aid persons to sit up in bed, ‘Go to Bed Chairs’ to assist infirm persons to get into and out of bed, ‘Cradle Beds’ which enabled bed linen to be changed without disturbing patients and even ‘Invalid Vibrating Pendulem Beds’ to give gentle exercise to the bedridden or lull them to sleep. Merlin's reading and gouty chairs were also featured and his mahogany exercise chair with an engraved brass tablet is illustrated in Gilbert (1996), figs 735 – 735a, sold Sotheby’s, 3 May 1996, lot 202.

A broad sheet also from c. 1814 is titled ‘By His Majesty’s Royal Letters Patent. POCOCKS’s Improvements in FURNITURE & various inventions for INVALIDS’ and shows a range of his patented products (illus. Gilbert (1996), fig. 731). In February 1813 Pocock's ‘Reclining Patent Chair’ was illustrated in Ackermann's Repository of Arts. This item featured an adjustable back, a double footstool which could be extended into a couch, and an adjustable reading desk bedecked with carved classical ornament in the antique taste. ‘Treble Reflecting Looking Glasses’ were another of the lines that he offered. In addition to these patent items William Pocock offered ‘every article of Cabinet or Upholstery Furniture, from the plain and useful to the most costly and magnificent’. The only recorded patron of Pocock was the 2nd Earl of Rosslyn who in connection with his London house in St James's Square, settled an account for £33 in 1809.

There can be little doubt that the trade was of an extensive nature however. In February 1823 William Pocock took out insurance cover for £3,000, jointly with his son John.

Source: DEFM; Kirkham, ‘The London Furniture Trade’, Furniture History (1988), passim; Gilbert, Pictorial Dictionary of Marked London Furniture 1700-1840 (1996).

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