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.
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.
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.
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.