Insight | Gillows of Lancaster & London

Insight | Gillows of Lancaster & London

June 4th 2021

Gillows of Lancaster & London were an English furniture manufacture founded by Robert Gillow circa 1730. Robert Gillow was born on August 2nd, 1704 in Singleton Lancashire to a prominent English recusant Roman Catholic Family. His first step into what was to become a furniture powerhouse was as an apprentice cabinet maker. After his training he joined Satterthwaite, a family of traders and sailed with them to the West Indies as a ships carpenter. Gillow had a keen interested in mahogany and bought back some samples on his return to Lancaster in 1720.

A Pair 19th Century Gillows Mahogany Library chairs Credit: Golding Young Auctioneers Sold £2’900

During the first part of his career Gillow built a reputation as a joiner, builder, furniture maker and overseas merchant building a large portfolio and multiple international contacts for importing exotic wood, sugar and rum later in his career. Interestingly, Gillow has been noted as possibly the first importer of mahogany in Britain. In 1730 Robert Gillow opened his own furniture business, located in Castle Hill, Lancaster and began to exploit the lucrative West Indies trade importing materials whilst still working as a joiner externally. Over the next 10 years Gillow continued to build his reputation of exceedingly high quality furniture and started to supply the richest families in the country as well as opening a workshop in Thames Street, London.

As the 1740’s approached Gillow had gained multiple staff members and purchased a twelfth share of a ship named Briget, which he partially used for his importing. Due to the direct link Gillow had for importing materials the firm became increasingly successful and by 1742 finished furniture was being exported back to the West Indies and sold. On January 1st, 1757 Richard joined his father into an equal partnership and the firm became known as Robert Gillow & Son. Richard was a well established architect for several buildings in Lancaster and also financed the building of the Catholic church in Dalton Square, Lancaster in 1798. The family kept a close interested in their Catholic history and this added to their customer base within Lancashire’s gentry and their purchase of Leighton Hall in 1822.

Fine Regency Mahogany Canterbury By Gillows Credit: Lyon and Turnbull Auctioneers sold £4,750.

In the 1760’s a permanent showroom was opened at 176, Oxford Street, by (Thomas) Robert Gillow II and William Taylor. Robert Gillow I Retired in December 1768 and left his half share to his other son, Robert Gillow II. The two brothers continued the business and by 1789 had amassed around 50 employees. Richard Gillow was the architect for Custom House, Lancaster, and is credited with originating the telescopic dining-table. For over a century the family firm were widely known for their luxury furniture and well cemented in history as one of the top furniture makers.

 Gillows Lancaster, A fine William IV figured walnut davenport. Credit: Hutchinson Scott Auctioneers Sold £2300.

Gillows can be seen to make a full array of furniture from desks to tables and were known to have been the first company to make the Davenport desk named after Captain Josiah Davenport (1771–1836) who commissioned the design to Gillows. Identifying their pieces can be slightly more tricky as the company were renowned for not stamping their products. Common locations of stamped furniture can be found upon the top draw linings, under table tops, back legs of chairs and occasionally written under draw linings. The earliest furniture was known to have a printed label for Gillow & Taylor which is extremely rare to find in todays market as they perished very quickly. Following this a ‘Gillows Lancaster’ stamp was seen circa 1780’s – 1860’s then following, a ‘Gillows’ stamp with a capital L and serial number. Late Victorian pieces contained the stamp ‘Gillow & Co’ and then Waring & Gillow along with a small brass plate often seen on the brass fittings.

*Title image credit: Bonhams Gentleman’s Library Sale 23rd Feb 2001 Lot 274