Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Off to the Gillows

When it comes to manufacturers of quality furniture there are few names to rival that of Gillow and Co. of Lancaster, and, no doubt, our reader will have heard of them already -- especially if they watch the Antiques’ Roadshow, because various examples of Gillows’ work crop up from time to time on it, usually at extremely high prices.
“What’s this got to do with the Fylde and Wyre Antiquarian?” you might be asking. “After all, you said it yourself – Gillows of Lancaster, the clue’s in the name there. Lancaster might be just up the road from the Wyre, admittedly, but, strictly speaking, it’s still not part of it.”
All right, keep your hair on baldy! I’m just getting to that. You see, what a lot of people don’t realise is that Robert Gillow (born 1704, died 1772, founder of Gillow and Co. of Lancaster) was actually a Singleton lad.
He didn’t hang around for long, ‘emigrating’ to Lancaster in 1720 to begin his apprenticeship as a joiner. Nonetheless, he was Singleton born, and that’s good enough for me. So stop being pedantic and grow up.
Let’s have a look at one of his pieces, shall we? This is a mahogany bookcase (or, at any rate, a drawing of mahogany bookcase, because we weren’t sure how the copyright stood) originally belonging to Mrs Hutton Rawlinson who purchased it from Gillows of Lancaster on the eighteenth of June 1772.

So, what do we know about Robert Gillow’s early years, as a fully-fledged Fylde-born-un? Well, his father, allegedly, played a part in the Jacobite rebellion and was, by way of consequence, locked up in Lancaster Castle, where Robert joined him so as to be close at hand if necessity called. (He didn’t join him in the castle, obviously, just in Lancaster in general.)
Right, I’m quoting from some website or other here – possibly Wikipedia, I’m not sure, I should have taken better notes: “…Robert Gillow's education in carpentry began during his time as a ship's carpenter. He is also credited with having travelled to the West Indies and brought back one of the first recorded shipments of mahogany into England.”
Fancy a drawing of some chairs, the finely carved details of which, like the bookcase, have been lost due to the fact that I couldn’t be bothered spending time drawing them up properly?

Gillow’s first venture into business was in 1727, when he went into partnership with a fellow apprentice called George Haresnape. The business didn’t last long. Three years after it had been set up, it was closed again, Haresnape finding more suitable employment in Liverpool as a slave trader.
Undaunted, Gillow opened his own cabinet making firm close to the Judges’ Lodgings on Castle Hill. The building’s still there, as the illustration of the entrance below sort of testifies:

In brief then, otherwise we’ll be here all day, when Robert Gillow died in 1772, his sons Richard and Robert (he might have been good with mahogany, but he was lousy at inventive names) continued the business, the latter running Gillows’ London branch on Oxford Street.
By this point Richard had also apparently trained up an architect, who designed several notable Lancastrian building, including the Customs House on St George's Quay. In turn, when Richard shuffled off this mortal coil in 1811, his son, also Richard (still not terribly inventive with those names there) took over the business.
Gillows continued to grow, specializing in outfitting liners such as the Lusitania. Good old Queen Vicky also commissioned a few bespoke pieces and during World War I, they made munitions boxes from aeroplane wings and propellers.
Gillow and Co are credited with inventing the Davenport (for Captain Davenport no less), the billiard table (not, as far as we can tell, for Captain Billiard) and the expandable dining table.
Early pieces of work are stamped with the words: ‘Gillows Lancaster’ or ‘Gillow Lancaster’, and later pieces are stamped with ‘Gillow and Co’ or just the plain old, vanilla-flavoured ‘Gillows’
In 1903 the business was finally merged with S.J. Waring, and eventually taken over and closed in 1961.
During its time, however, Gillow and Co. was famous enough to appear in works by Thackery, one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas, and some novel or other by Jane Austin.
There’s even a pub named after the original Robert, so we’ll end with an illustration of said building and a pint of Speckled Hen raised in his honour:


John said...

How cool is that, to have a pub named after ya? I wonder how that came about? In fact, the naming of pubs would be an exellent post. How about it?

And I'm sure we're all wondering... just what kind of name is Haresnape? Can we assume his ancestors trapped rabbits or sumtin? And does that mean Snape means 'trap', and so we should be suspicious of Professor Snape of Potter fame, if we haven't read all the books yet?

More on pubs, less about furniture, eh? My opinion. :0)

JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


I already have a pub named after me. The Drunken Boar.

Anonymous said...

Sure it's not The Fat Ox.

Brian Hughes said...

You are a cheeky man, Philip Barker...but a fine purveyor of pork pies, so I'll let you off with that one.

Jayne said...

Oh, excellent post!
Yes, please give us the gen on the origins of pub names :)
Was about to pass a remark about a name when I gurgled it and found it in great genealogical supply!

Brian Hughes said...


"We learned that a man named William Hearsnep (from Lancashire) had emigrated to Ontario, Canada, way back in the 1830s from England."

That is waaaay back. I think everyone was wearing loincloths and clubbing antelope back then. Come to think of, most of the people who live round Lancashire still are. And they still can't spell their own names properly either.

Jayne said...

Wasn't he your next door neighbour? :P

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne, neighbours are way less sophisticated.

Jayne said...

Ahh, I've heard about those who've gone back to swinging from trees.

Brian Hughes said...

As far as the last lot were concerned, hopefully they're still swinging from the trees right now, with nooses round their necks.

Jayne said...

Don't the RSPCA have issues with dumb animals being injured in that fashion, though?

Brian Hughes said...


That's an insult to the animal kingdom.

Tricia Rawson said...

The Robert Gillow's in Lancaster was the Elliots Restaurant until 2007 when it was renovated and renamed.