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4. Specialisation in the Furniture Trade


The Industrial Revolution was undermining traditional craft skills as small-scale local production methods were replaced by large-scale, factory-based manufacturing techniques. Blacksmiths and engineers that once produced nails and screws by hand were now being priced out of the market and being encouraged to relocate their families to the new industrial centres. The furniture trade, unable to take advantage of the high-volume facilities, remained largely unaffected but market demands soon exceeded capacity and specialisation appeared to provide a solution.


4.1 The Georgian English Furniture Trade


According to Pat Kirkham (1988, p. 4) in her book entitled „The London Furniture Trade 1700-1870‟, the number of furniture makers in London during the eighteenth century is unknown. Nevertheless, by the beginning of the nineteenth century, there were estimated to be in excess of three thousand33. Two hundred and fifty-three of these are listed as master cabinet-makers, upholsterers, and chair-makers by Thomas Sheraton in his Dictionary of 1803 including the businesses of Gillows and Morgan & Sanders. Interestingly, while Gillows are listed as cabinet-makers, Morgan & Sanders are classified as upholsterers – a more „up-market‟ occupation and one that included firms such as Ince & Mayhew and Thomas Chippendale. Sheraton‟s reference to „masters‟ of the furniture trade denotes that these are at the top-end of the chair and cabinet-making hierarchy. In the craft or mystery system, apprentices learned their trade before becoming journeymen and the journeymen in turn would become masters before handing their skills down to the next generation of apprentices. The master cabinet-makers, upholsterers and chair-makers were likely to be the largest employers in the industry. Gillows, who opened their London branch in the 1760s, continued to manufacture furniture from their base in Lancaster. Their Oxford Street location was used primarily to attract the attention of wealthy patrons who lived and worked in the capital. Others such as George Seddon were employing „four hundred apprentices‟ as early as 1786 (Von La Roche, 1933). From an article in Ackermann‟s Repository (1809, pp. 122-123), Morgan & Sanders are also known to have employed „nearly one hundred mechanics‟ and that the total exceeded one thousand if their contract labour and ancillary staff were included.


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