It Runs in the Family: The Incredible Gillows Family of Cabinetmakers

Design for a Sofa attributed to Gillows Metropolitan Museum of Art

Design for a Sofa attributed to Gillows Metropolitan Museum of Art

Today we are shining a spotlight on one of the most successful cabinetmaking firms of the 18th and 19th century: Gillows of Lancaster & London.  (For information on other cabinetmakers, look here: Thomas Chippendale, William Gomm, and Pierre Langlois).  The Gillows family firm was established in Lancaster as early as the 1730s.  Throughout the eighteenth century, a succession of Robert and Richard Gillows worked for and controlled the firm.  Their success really began in 1769, when they opened their first London office.  The firm received a number of noble commissions from that point, and in 1800 Richard Gillows took over a patent for an extending dining table, which further enhanced the firm’s reputation.

Design for a Firescreen for Lady Heathcote attributed to Gillows Metropolitan Museum of Art

Design for a Firescreen for Lady Heathcote attributed to Gillows Metropolitan Museum of Art

The history of Gillows is exceptionally complete, as nearly all the order books and salesman’s archives still exist.  We know that the practice of stamping GILLOWS. LANCASTER started in around 1780 and continued until 1817, when the main centre of production moved to London.

Design for a Chair attributed to Gillows Metropolitan Museum of Art

Design for a Chair attributed to Gillows Metropolitan Museum of Art

Today, it is difficult to comprehend the range of Gillows’ business at this time.  They traded not only in finished furniture, but also in timber from the West Indies along with sugar and spirits from the same region.  They undertook architectural joinery and fitted out entire buildings, providing wall papers, fixtures and fittings.  Their salesmen toured the country with books of illustrations lavishly coloured to tempt buyers.  Gillows even pioneered ‘flat-packing’ in order to offer their clients a reduced price.  Gillows also made great profit out of the newly affluent middle class, who wanted solid furniture at low prices.  There was no corner of the furniture trade they did not thorougly exploit.

Gillows C

Design for a Sofa attributed to Gillows Metropolitan Museum of Art

It is an understatement to describe them simply as a name one finds on furniture.  Between 1780 and 1830, they were the furniture trade, leading in price, fashion and even work practices.  Below we are sharing examples of furniture in our collection related to the Gillows firm.

A Set of Four George III Mahogany Armchairs attributed to Gillows of Lancaster and LondonOne of a Set of Four George III Mahogany Armchairs attributed to Gillows of Lancaster and London

A George III Sheraton Period Mahogany Breakfast table stamped by Gillows of Lancaster Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

A George III Sheraton Period Mahogany Breakfast table stamped by Gillows of Lancaster Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

A George III Sheraton Period Mahogany Breakfast table stamped by Gillows of Lancaster Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

A George III Sheraton Period Mahogany Breakfast table stamped by Gillows of Lancaster Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s