Robert Gillow, the originator of the Gillow furniture making company, was born in Singleton in the Fylde region of Lancashire in 1704. Working out of Lancaster, Robert was known for his use of mahogany, a popular wood imported from the West Indies - Robert's clever use of this material turned a hitherto small and unknown local cabinet-making company to a world famous enterprise, whose work is still widely collected, copied and admired today. When Robert Gillow died in 1772, the business passed to his two sons, Richard and Robert. While Robert managed the London branch, and was thereby familiar with all the latest London fashions, Richard ran the Lancashire base. It was between 1750 and 1811 that some of the best English furniture ever was being fabricated by the Gillow company in Lancaster. Richard was also a respected and popular figure in Lancaster and attracted many skilled craftsmen to work with him. Richard had also a trained architect and several important buildings in Lancaster are to his credit, including the Custom House on St George's Quay, which now houses the Maritime Museum.
Richard died in 1811 and his son, another Richard, born in 1772, succeeded him in the family company. In 1827, he purchased Leighton Hall near Carnforth, where he lived until his death in 1849.
The company name soon became associated with honest quality and value for money. Gillows continued to expand, and beside their traditional furniture-making they began to specialise in fitting out luxury yachts and liners. The Royal Yacht 'Victoria and Albert', Tsar Alexander III's yacht 'Livadia' and the ocean liners 'Lusitania', 'Heliopolis' and 'Cairo' were all fitted out by the Gillow company. In 1903, following a collaboration for the 1900 Paris Exhibition Pavilion contract, Gillows merged with S J Waring to form the company of Waring and Gillow. Their final ship fitting contract was with the Cunard liner 'Queen Elizabeth'. Many examples of their work can be found around Lancashire, and there is a Gillow Museum in Lancaster. Other examples can be seen in the Lancaster City Museum; Lancaster Town Hall, and Leighton Hall.
1731-1986 - A Company History
The firm of Gillows of Lancaster can be traced back to Robert Gillow (1704-72) in 1730, having served an apprenticeship as a joiner. During the 1730's he began to exploit the lucrative West Indies trade exporting mahogany furniture and importing rum and sugar. Following his death in 1772, the business was continued by his two sons, Richard (1734-1811) and Robert (1745-93). In 1764 a London branch of Gillows was established at 176 Oxford Road, now Oxford Street, by Thomas Gillow and William Taylor. The firm rapidly established a reputation for supplying high quality furniture to the richest families in the country.
During the final years of the 19th century the company ran into financial difficulty and from 1897 began a loose financial arrangement with Waring of Liverpool, an arrangement legally ratified by the establishment of Waring and Gillow in 1903. Warings of Liverpool were founded by John Waring, who arrived in the city from Belfast in 1835 and established a wholesale cabinet making business. He was succeeded by his son Samuel James Waring who rapidly expanded the business during the 1880's, furnishing hotels and public buildings throughout Europe. He also founded Waning-White Building Company which built the Liverpool Corn Exchange, Selfridges's department store and the Ritz Hotel.
Gillows had established a reputation for the outfitting of luxury yachts and liners, including the Royal Yacht "Victoria and Albert", liners "Lusitania", "Heliopolis" and "Cairo", RMS "Queen Mary" (1934) and "Queen Elizabeth" (1946) for Cunard. During the First World War the Lancaster factory was turned over to war production, making ammunition chests for the Navy and propellers for De Havilland DH9 aircraft and during World War Two produced parts for gliders and the Mosquito aircraft, while kit-bags, tents and camouflage nets were made by the upholstery department. However, the business of the firm began to decline and the Lancaster workshops closed on 31 March 1962. In 1980 Waring and Gillow joined with the cabinet making firm Maple and Co, to become Maple, Waring and Gillow, subsequently part of Allied Maples Group Ltd, which included Allied Carpets.
Making numbers and stamps -
The making numbers were stamped on the pieces of furniture when they did not form part of a special order. The letter L placed before the number indicates that the piece was manufactured at the Lancaster factory.
The stamp GILLOWS LANCASTER first appeared on furniture between 1780 and 1790. By the middle of the 19th Century GILLOW is found stamped on pieces in 2.5mm letters. By the end of the 19th Century GILLOW and Co is often found, lightly impressed in letters 3mm high. Waring and Gillow instituted a thin stamped brass name plate, a practice that was continued up to the 1950's.
Marks are generally found on the top edges of drawers, on the underside of lids or table tops, on the right hand back leg of early chairs and under the front edge of the seat of later chairs. Very often the pencilled signature of the craftsman making the piece can be found on the underside of a drawer. Waring and Gillow records.
Researched and written by Tony Geering.