Winfield, R. W. & Sons; Winfield & Co. (1820-1892)
Winfield, Robert W & Sons; Winfield, Robert W. & Co.
Birmingham & London; art metal workers, metal furniture and light fittings makers (fl.1820-1892)
Robert W. Winfield was born in 1800 and established works in Cambridge Street, Birmingham c.1820-9. The firm became a major manufacturer of metal tubing for beds in particular, and makers of metal rocking chairs as well as architectural fittings, and ecclesiastical furniture.
Winfield maintained showrooms at Cambridge Street, Birmingham and also traded in London with early addresses of 11 Belle Sauvage Yard, Ludgate Hill and 26 New Bond Street; his home residence was ‘The Hawthorns’, Ladywood, Edgbaston. A mid-19th century trade card in the John Evan Bedford Library, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, depicts four different models of metal framed beds and is inscribed ‘R. W. WINFIELD Cambridge Street BIRMINGHAM Patentee of the Metallic Military, Travelling & House Bedsteads, Couches, Sofas, &c. for Home Use & for Exportation’ (illus. Lawrence-Francis (2021), p.21).
Winfield died in 1869. An obituary noted that in his later years he had been a staunch churchman, magistrate and benefactor; he founded a factory school at his Cambridge Street works in order to educated his young employees.
Thereafter the firm was called R. W. Winfield & Co. or Winfield & Co. and was listed in 1871 London Post Office Directory and The Furniture Gazette Directory, 1877. The Furniture Gazette: Classified List of the Furniture, Upholstery, and Allied Trades, 1886 listed the firm as bedstead manufacturers and retailers at 141 Fleet Street, London EC and Cambridge Street, Birmingham; this publication’s listing may not have been updated as The Furniture Gazette, 10 September 1881, described new London showrooms at 47 Holborn Viaduct & 49 Farringdon Street. The same article described Winfield’s four-acre Cambridge Street Works as the largest factory premises in the hardware trade in UK and possibly in the world, with its own canal facilitating transport in of materials and outgoing manufactures.
The site housed a casting shop, large rolling mills powered by a 200 horsepower steam engine, a tube drawing department, metal warehouse, casting & moulding workshops and stamping and mouldings shops all on the ground floor, with fitting, lacquering and showrooms on the upper floors. As well as metal bedsteads and furniture, the firm manufactured architectural fittings such as finger plates, curtain rails, cornices etc., all in a variety of styles including Queen Anne, Chippendale, Adam, Anglo-Japanesque.
At the London showrooms brass fenders, fire-dogs, fire screens, hat/coat/umbrella stands, coal vases, trays, gaseliers, iron bedsteads, billiard pendants, ecclesiastical furniture were on view; also a bedroom suite with brass frames & with black upholstery which had been on display at 1878 Paris Exhibition [The Furniture Gazette, 30 March & 21 September, 1878].
A 1881 advertisement stated that the firm were the proprietors of Skidmore’s & Co. [The Furniture Gazette, 12 February 1881] and R. W. Winfield & Co. converted to a limited liability company [The Furniture Gazette, 1 March 1887].
- 1851 Great Exhibition: The firm’s exhibits were classified hardware rather than furniture and the display included a brass tube and Morocco leather rocking chair and a French Renaissance style brass bedstead.
- 1853 Irish Industrial Exhibition, Dublin: Several brass & iron bedsteads, brass table with marble slab top and a large pier glass in brass frame (Class XXVI, Exhibitor No. 89).
- 1862 International Exhibition, London: The same rocking chair as exhibited in 1851, but made in strap metal and decorated by a new process of brass inlay (illus. Aslin (1962), pl. 50). Also a chandelier.
- 1867 Paris Exhibition: Two more brass chandeliers at the 1867 Paris Exhibition (illus. Meyer (2006), pp. 140 & 189)
- 1878 Paris Exhibition: A chandelier in wrought iron and gilded iron and a bedroom suite of bedstead, toilet tables, couch, chairs and wardrobe all in wrought brass and copper, in combinations with wood, satin glass and ivory, were shown was shown. The firm was awarded three gold Exhibition medals.
- Exhibition of Birmingham Manufactures, Bingley Hall, October 1886: Metallic bedsteads and wrought iron work objects [The Furniture Gazette, 1 October 1886].
Ecclesiastical commissions recorded in The Furniture Gazette were a brass lectern, St. Mary’s Church, Acton, London [20 January 1883] and brass communion rails, two standards and a lectern, the new chancel of St. George’s Church, Birmingham [24 March 1883].
A bedstead, gaselier, fire-screen, light fittings all illustrated [The Furniture Gazette, 15 February 1892] and Persian and Parisian bedsteads described in The Furniture Gazette, 15 October 1892. John Constantine, son of Lord Stanley of Alderley, was photographed in one of the firm’s rocking chairs (V&A: 150-1959).
His 1831 patent allowed for the manufacture of bed pillars and legs in one entire tube of metal or of metal containing wood or other materials; a process could be applied to sofa frames. He was also the patentee of another improvement in 1841. In addition Winfield made metal substitutes for sacking to the wooden legs and pillars of bedsteads, which prevented fleas etc. He was also known for his military metallic bedsteads, for which he claimed he was ‘proprietor of the original patent’. A combined bed, couch and chair which was invented by C. W. Torr of the firm was described in The Furniture Gazette, 11 March 1882. In addition his own patents, Winfield’s works initiated various other improvements Prosser’s encaustic tiles and new copper printing rollers.
Sources: DEFM; Sproule, The Irish Industrial Exhibition of 1853 (1854); Aslin, 19th Century English Furniture (1962); Edwards, Victorian Furniture. Technology & Design (1993); Meyer, Great Exhibitions. London, New York, Paris, Philadelphia, 1851-1900 (2006); Lawrence-Francis, ‘Major Research Projects’, Regional Furniture Society Newsletter, Spring 2021, p. 21.