Lock, Shearer, Hepplewhite, Ince, Mayhew, Sheraton
A copy of Hepplewhite's Book, in the author's possession (published in 1789), contains 300 designs "of every article of household furniture in the newest and most approved taste," and it is worth while to quote from his preface to illustrate the high esteem in which English cabinet work was held at this time.
" English taste and workmanship have of late years been much sought for by surrounding nations; and the mutability of all things, but more especially of fashions, has rendered the labours of our predecessors in this line of little use; nay, in this day can only tend to mislead those foreigners who seek a knowledge of English taste in the various articles of household furniture."
It is amusing to think how soon the " mutabilities of fashion" did for a time supersede many of his designs.
A selection of drawings from his book is given, and it will be useful to compare them with those of other contemporary makers. From such a comparison it will be seen that in the progress from the rococo of Chippendale to the more severe lines of Sheraton, Hepplewhite forms a connecting link between the two.
The names given to some of these designs appear curious; for instance:
"Rudd's table or reflecting dressing table," so called from the first one having been invented for a popular character of that time.
"Knife cases," for the reception of the knives which were kept in them and used to " garnish " the sideboards.
"Cabriole chair," implying a stuffed back, and not having reference, as it does now, to the curved form of the leg.
"Bar backed sofa," being what we should now term a three or four chair settee, i.e., like so many chairs joined and having an arm at either end.
"Library case" instead of Bookcase.
"Confidante " and " Duchesse," which were sofas of the time.
"Gouty stool," a stool having an adjustable top. " Tea chest," " Urn stand," and other names which have disappeared from ordinary use in describing similar articles.
Hepplewhite had a "spécialité," to which he alludes in his book, and of which he gives several designs. This was his japanned or painted furniture; the wood was coated with a preparation after the manner of Chinese or Japanese lacquer, and then decorated, generally with gold on a black ground, the designs being in fruits and flowers: and also medallions painted in the style of Cipriani and Angelica Kauffman. Subsequently, furniture of this character, instead of being japanned, was only painted white. It is probable that many of the chairs of this time which one now sees to be of wood of inferior quality, and with scarcely any ornament, were originally decorated in the manner just described, and therefore the " carving" of details would have been superfluous. Injury to the enamelling, by wear and tear, was most likely the cause of their being stripped of their rubbed and partly obliterated decorations, and they were then stained and polished, presenting an appearance which is scarcely just to the designer and manufacturer.
In some of Hepplewhite's chairs, too, as in those of Sheraton, one may fancy he sees evidence of the squabbles of two fashionable factions of this time, " the Court party " and the " Prince's party," the latter having the well-known Prince of Wales' plumes very prominent, and forming the ornamental support of the back of the chair. Another noticeable enrichment is the carving of wheat ears on the shield shape backs of the chairs.
To convey an idea of the fashion of the day, " the plan of a room shewing the proper distribution of the furniture," appears on page 193. It is evident from the large looking glass which overhangs the sideboard that the fashion had now set in to use these mirrors. Some thirty or forty years later this mirror became part of the sideboard, and, in some large and pretentious designs which we have seen, the sideboard itself was little better than the support for a huge glass in a heavily carved frame.
The dining tables of this period deserve a passing notice as a step in the development of that important member of our " Lares and Penates." What was, and is still, called the " pillar and claw" table, came into fashion towards the end of the last century. It consisted of a round or square top supported by an upright cylinder, which rested on a plinth having three, or sometimes four, feet carved as claws. In order to extend these tables for a larger number of guests, an arrangement was made for placing several together. When apart, they served as pier or side tables, and some of these - the two end ones, being semi-circular - may still be found in some of our old inns (The Court room of the Stationers' Hall contains an excellent set of tables of this kind.).
It was not until the year 1800 that Richard Gillow, of the well-known firm in Oxford Street, invented and patented the convenient telescopic contrivance which, with slight improvements, has given us the table of the present day. The term still used by auctioneers in describing a modern extending table as a " set of dining tables," is, probably, a survival of the older method of providing for a dinner party. Gillow's patent is described as " an improvement in the method of constructing dining and other tables calculated to reduce the number of legs, pillars, and claws, and to facilitate and render easy, their enlargement and reduction."
As an interesting link between the present and the past, it may be useful here to introduce a slight notice of this well-known firm of furniture manufacturers, for which the writer is indebted to Mr. Clarke, one of the present partners of Gillows. " We have an unbroken record of books dating from 1724, but we existed long anterior to this: all records were destroyed during the Scottish Rebellion in 1745. The house originated in Lancaster, which was then the chief port in the north, Liverpool not being in existence at the time, and Gillows exported furniture largely to the West Indies, importing rum as payment, for which privilege they held a special charter. The house opened in London in 1765, and for some time the Lancaster books bore the heading and inscription, ' Adventure to London.' On the architect's plans for the premises now so well known in Oxford Street, occur these words, 'This is the way to Uxbridge.'" Mr. Clarke's information may be supplemented by adding that from Dr. Gillow, whom the writer had the pleasure of meeting some years ago, and who was the thirteenth child of the Richard Gillow before mentioned, he learnt that this same Richard Gillow retired in 1830, and died as lately as 1866 at the age of 90. Dowbiggin, founder of the firm of Holland and Sons, was an apprentice to Richard Gillow.