Materialising the domestic interior. Sheffield’s nineteenth-century furniture industry

by Julie Banham

This article looks at Sheffield’s nineteenth century furniture industry and examines the range of services it offered, the goods it made and how it adapted to the demands of a largely provincial clientele whose manufacturing industries ultimately placed them at the centre of world attention and forced them to review the way in which they furnished their homes. For much of the period, the form and output of Sheffield’s furniture industry was influenced by the nature of its immediate market, with which it maintained close physical, aesthetic and economic links and which, in turn, were influenced by the ebb and flow of the local iron and steel industries. It will be seen that the Sheffield furniture industry, and its clientele developed a series of strategies to reconcile the volatile fluctuations of these industries with the view that the home should be both a refuge and showcase for the latest fashions.

The manufacture of furniture was one of the last industries to become fully mechanised with mass production techniques only becoming fully established around the second decade of the twentieth century.1 Until then, most furniture was made by individuals or small, often family-based, firms operating in loose networks of allied trades based around a centre of population. The persistence of hand skills and the difficulty and expense of transporting bulky and fragile goods meant that by the start of the nineteenth century, numerous furniture industries had evolved, each adapted to the demands of a market largely accessed by horse and cart. At this time, only the London furniture trade enjoyed local, national and international markets, whilst a few provincial firms used the growing rail network to broaden their field. Rural communities continued to rely upon a limited range of goods offered by assorted joiners, turners and carpenters who would produce tables, beds, chairs and dressers alongside carts, coffins, bowls, doors and window frames. Large, urban areas encouraged the formation of a more diverse and skilled workforce, many of whom specialised in a particular trade and where larger firms could offer a wide range of services, similar to those of a modern department store.

Size of the Sheffield Furniture Industry

Compared with the numbers employed in recognised furniture manufacturing centres such as High Wycombe, Shoreditch and Bethnal Green in the East End of London and cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham, the Sheffield furniture industry of the early nineteenth century was comparatively small. Although it never achieved the status of a principle local industry, this has to been seen in the context of competition from the dominant regional sources of employment, namely the iron and steel trades and coal mining.2 The economic cycles of these industries affected the ability of the town’s rapidly growing population and which had a direct effect upon the number of furniture related firms that could be sustained. In 1825, Sheffield trade directories listed just eighty-one firms involved in a range of furniture related trades, serving a population of around 80,000. By 1841, this had grown to one hundred and seventy-four serving a population of 111,000 and by 1871, with a population of 240,000, there were three hundred and twenty-seven firms employing two thousand six hundred and eighty-eight workers. This was equal to those employed in some recognised centres of production such as Bradford, Leeds, Aston and Hackney. The number of firms peaked at three hundred and ninety-one in 1879, falling to three hundred and thirty-six in 1888 as the effects of recession curbed expenditure on household goods. By 1899, they had increased to three hundred and sixty-nine and employed four thousand one hundred and ninety-two people.

Summary of number of furniture trades per thousand of population 1825-1899
YearNumber of listed furniture related tradesPopulation (est’d.)

Size of Firms

Fig. 1 The trade label of Zachariah Jackson, cabinet maker and upholsterer found on a walnut drawing room suite, c. 1870

Although the overall number of workers employed in the Sheffield furniture trades increased during the course of the nineteenth century, the average business size remained virtually unchanged. Between 1841 and 1871, the number of cabinet making and upholstery firms increased from thirty-seven to eighty, whilst their average size only increased from 7.27 to 7.47 employees. The size of wood turning and chair manufacturing firms remained similarly static rising from 3.09 to 3.95 in the same period. During the boom years of the mid nineteenth century, expansion in the Sheffield furniture industry was thus achieved by an increase in the number of firms rather than existing firms taking on more employees.3 Labour saving devices such as planing, sawing and moulding machines assisted rather than replaced the wide range of hand-skills upon which the industry still relied.4 Only carving and gilding establishments saw a substantial decrease in size due to the introduction of mechanisation with the average number of employees falling from 7 in 1841 to 2.8 in 1871. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the average size of firms grew from 8.22 to 11.36 employees as those able to offer a wide range of services and additional goods gained a competitive edge over sole traders with limited capital.

Fig.2 Gold medal winning cabinet in walnut
made by Arthur Hayball of Sheffield for the
Great Exhibition, 1851

Size was not an indicator of the quality or range of goods made. Whilst most businesses were short lived, some survived many years in small premises where they produced work of considerable quality. For five to ten years, Zachariah Jackson a cabinetmaker and upholsterer, occupied 160, Devonshire St. a house and sales-shop with a rateable value of just £11.10/- in 1878. Whilst there, he produced work of which reflected a sound knowledge of contemporary fashion. Jackson labelled his pieces and two walnut salon suites are known with labels that place them at 160, Devonshire Street.5 Both were well made and whilst initially similar in appearance, one has the roundness of the high Victorian era whilst the second is more angular, showing a swift acknowledgement of the changes brought about by the Aesthetic Movement of the 1870s.6

Fig. 3 Arthur Hayball alongside one of his carved mantlepieces, c 1880, showing Renaissance and classical motifs

Arthur Hayball(1822-1887) the son of a Sheffield builder and joiner was a wood carver who supplemented his income as a portrait photographer and teacher.7 He had trained and later taught at the Sheffield School of Art being influenced by Alfred Stevens, Godfrey Sykes and later John Ruskin. In 1851, he won a gold medal at the Great Exhibition for a highly acclaimed walnut cabinet in the Italian style.8 He went on to work with several architects including Weightman & Hadfield, George Goldie, J.B. Mitchell Withers and William White. As well as carrying out much local work, he also received commissions to execute work in churches in England, Ireland America and Spain.9 The 1881 Census shows he employed eight men and two boys together with his daughters, one of whom, Clara, became a skilled carver. However, his premises were unremarkable. In 1878, the rateable value for his home, warehouse, workshops and steam saw in the garden of 9-13 Cavendish St., amounted to just £58.

Range of Trades

The composition of Sheffield’s nineteenth century furniture industry followed the pattern of those in many other large towns and cities, which, in varying degrees of size and skills, imitated the London trade as described by Henry Mayhew in The Morning Chronicle Survey of Labour and the Poor. The furniture industry had a strict hierarchy of trades. According to the premiums paid for apprenticeships in London, upholsterers had the greatest status, followed by cabinet-makers, carvers and gilders, chair-makers and wood-turners. At the bottom of the scale were the least skilled such as frame-makers and bedstead-makers.10 The size, skills and diversity of a region’s industry depended upon the type and size of market it could access. In turn, this was influenced by the extent of its wealth, social composition, contact with changing fashions and perception of the value in acquiring them. The Sheffield furniture industry included cabinet-makers, upholsterers, chair-makers, cabinet-case makers, wood-turners, wood-carvers, carvers and gilders. They were supported by a range of secondary trades such as french polishers, japanners, bronzers, frame-makers, looking-glass manufacturers, feather merchants, hair-seating manufacturers, clock and instrument makers and timber merchants.

The Principal Trades

Figs. 4 & 5 Trade directory Adverts c.1870: Mrs Bagshawe, successor to her late husband, and Thomas Cocking. Both show a wide range of services and goods supplied

Upholstery was considered the most genteel of the furniture trades and a suitable occupation for younger sons and women as it allowed workers to stay relatively clean. Upholsterers covered seating frames with a variety of materials and made matching soft furnishings such as curtains, cushions, tablecloths and bed drapes. They increasingly supplied ready-made articles including bedding, mattresses, carpets, linen, church vestments whilst some further diversified into clothing such as mourning and haberdashery goods. Others added cabinet making, general house furnishing, shop and church fitting, removals and undertaking services to increase their range of services.

Cabinet-makers made furniture following popular styles available from trade journals and contemporary publications. Cabinet-makers usually worked alone or in small, family based businesses. Few could afford to carry specialist workers and sole traders were responsible for all processes of manufacturing and finishing. They relied upon hand skills and power, or used the facilities of local timber merchants to cut timbers to size. Such businesses produced finished goods by relying on buying in mouldings, fittings, carvings, turnings, cutting and finishing services. Large firms could employ specialist workers and a few acquired steam and later gas powered machinery for the basic preparation, cutting, planing and turning of work. Johnson & Appleyards Ltd. was one of the few local cabinet-manufacturers that had extensive timber yards, warehouses and workshops with circular saws, band saws, spindle moulders, planing, morticing, tenoning and slotting machines powered by a 20 horse-power gas engine.

Fig.6 The manufactory, machine and wood-working rooms of Johnson & Appleyards on Sydney St. During the latter quarter of the nineteenth century,they were one of the largest cabinet makers in the country

Cabinet case (or fancy good) makers, such as the Dewsnaps, made a wide range of boxes such as writing, cutlery, jewellery, travelling, dressing and razor cases. They could be further sub-divided into those who made the cases and those who fitted the interiors according to their requirements. Further still, the latter could be divided into those who made interiors for dressing-cases, ‘fitter-up’ and those who made the interiors for ladies’ work boxes, “pine – workers”. Cases would be fitted out with relevant equipment such as perfume and make – up bottles, brushes, nail files and scissors whilst the liners would cover the interiors with decorative materials according to the quality of the case. The cases were made from wood often inlaid with brass, mother of pearl, tortoiseshell or exotic veneers whilst the interiors were finished in leather, foil, or material.

Fig. 7 James Dewsnap, cabinet case maker, Morocco Works, St Thomas St with showrooms in London

Chair making and wood turning were often carried out by the same firm as both required a lathe, ideally powered by steam or, towards the end of the century, gas turbines in the larger manufacturers. Many small turners were based around water wheels away from the retail sector of Sheffield and so relied upon selling to shopkeepers and retailers. They produced a range of goods for both the domestic market and cutlery and tool manufacturers. Chair legs and rails, table legs, balusters, handles, shafts, knobs, spindles, finials, curtain poles and rings were produced in a range of soft and hard woods whilst some specialist firms produced goods in ivory, brass, bone, jet, silver.

Fig. 8 Lister & Harrison, ivory, bone and hardwood turners, specialists in domestic
fittings and tool parts. Their premises were close to Johnson & Appleyards works in
Sydney St

Wood carvers made components or full items of furniture or fixtures from soft and hardwoods including oak, box, mahogany, fruitwoods and walnut. As much of their work was decorative and expensive, they were particularly vulnerable to economic fluctuations and changes in fashion. Their field was also one which mechanisation effectively took over towards the end of the nineteenth century. George Biggs began business as a carver and gilder c.1856, adding picture framing, glass frames, candelabras, tables, brackets, ottomans and stools to his range of services. By the 1870s, these had become eclipsed as he acquired new machinery and transformed himself into a large-scale ‘Manufacturer of Cornice and Picture Frame Mouldings’ at his ‘Composition & Steam Moulding Manufactory’ with retail and manufacturing premises on Division Street and Trafalgar Street.

Carvers and gilders undertook finer work in lime, beech and pine on frames for mirrors and pictures, pier glasses, console tables, brackets and candelabras. Diversification into watch and instrument making was common as was the supplying of artists materials.

French polishers, japanners and bronzers were concerned with polishing or decorating completed items using various materials and techniques. French polishing was generally considered to have arrived in England around 1820, after the end of the Napoleonic Wars11 , although Pat Kirkham suggests it was being practised in London, probably by French immigrants, as early as 1808.12 It was not until 1841 that a listing for French Polishing can be traced in any Sheffield Directory although it is possible larger cabinetmakers employed workers with such skills prior to this.

The changing composition of the Sheffield Furniture Industry

The number and variety of trades fluctuated throughout the century as changes in demand, fashion and technology affected their viability and popularity.13 In 1825, cabinet-makers dominated the Sheffield furniture industry, accounting for almost a half of all firms. They were followed by upholsterers and chair-makers each having a fifth of the market, then cabinet-case makers, carvers and gilders, furniture brokers, wood turners and wood carvers. By 1865, cabinet-makers made up just under a quarter of the market and remained around this figure for the rest of the century. Similar decreases occurred across the craft trades as the century progressed. Carvers and gilders were unable to compete against advances in technology whilst others were affected by falling prices, changing fashions and the growth of emerging department stores able to buy large quantities of goods and sell them on credit. Brokers also began to sell new goods as well as second-hand ones and by the end of the century they made up almost a third of the total industry.

Business Locations

Fig. 9 Paradise Square. Although built as a residential area in the mid eighteenth century, many premises quickly became occupied by cabinet makers and upholsterers eager to appeal to the middle
class market. It also became known as China Square and sales of pottery were held there

During the nineteenth century, the furniture industry remained a highly customer-orientated industry with most firms maintaining close physical links with their clients.14 Most located themselves within easy access of the markets they served, forming closely bound networks of trades and interests. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the centre of Sheffield’s furniture industry occupied the mixed residential and industrial region between the Sheaf and Don rivers in the east and the parish church in the west. Popular sites included The Haymarket, Paradise Square, George St., High St, Church St., Gibraltar St., and West Bar. The building of Paradise Square, started by Thomas Broadbent in 1736, was one of the earliest attempts in Sheffield to create a classically designed environment for middle-classes families. Trade directories also show how properties there soon became popular with cabinetmakers, upholsterers and furniture brokers who converted ground floor areas into shops and showrooms, eager to supply a fashion conscious clientele. 15 The earliest recorded presence was John Jenkinson, a cabinetmaker, upholsterer and joiner who lived at 23, Paradise Square in 1777.16 John Bings, another cabinetmaker, occupied premises there in 1793 and subscribed to Sheraton’s Drawing Books. The same premises were frequently re-occupied by similar trades over the course of the century. Between 1839-49, 26, Paradise Square was rented by John Clayton jun. a furniture broker, followed by James Nield, another furniture broker in 1856 and by Arthur Banbery, a chair maker between 1898-99.

Fig. 10 Constantine’s shop c.1900. Vendors to the less affluent markets, customers were attracted by large displays of goods placed outside the shop premises

As the century progressed, Sheffield’s heavy industries moved to the flat plains to the east of the town and the nouveaux riches began building their homes upwind to the west. They were followed by the retail firms who supplied them and Fargate became one of Sheffield’s principal shopping arteries.17 Furniture manufacturers were no exception and during the nineteenth century, ninety-two such firms had premises there. Activities included cabinet making, upholstery, carving and gilding, picture framing, cabinet-case making, japanning, turning, wood carving and furniture brokering. Twenty firms were furniture brokers again suggesting that, in Sheffield at least, little, if any, stigma was attached to the acquisition of second hand goods by large sectors of the population.

Lack of space, increasing rates and the building of middle class suburbs further west, contributed to a further move by the furniture trades to areas around Rockingham Street, Carver Street, Division Street, Devonshire Street, Scotland Street and West St. Premises there included a variety of shops along the main thoroughfares with workshops in adjoining courts and alleyways whilst larger manufacturers sought adjacent sites where overheads were less expensive. Rockingham Street became one of the most popular thoroughfares, first attracting the furniture trades around 1825.18 From the mid nineteenth century, its popularity rapidly increased with fifty two japanning, bronzing, cabinet case making wood-turning, cabinet making, upholstery, French polishing and furniture brokering firms located there. Later still, firms began to follow their customers into the working and artisan suburbs around the town’s periphery, establishing themselves in shops along the arterial roads of Abbeydale, Attercliffe, Ecclesall and Hillsborough.

Responses to Changing Circumstances – Survival Techniques: Businesses

During the nineteenth century, the majority of family firms were ‘born small and remained small’ and this aptly describes many which comprised the Sheffield furniture industry.19 However, in an era of poor business ethics and a still fragile banking system, evidence suggests that many owners actively pursued a policy of staying small as a survival strategy. Many saw stability of income preferential to risking debt through expansion with no guarantee of securing increased profits. Diverting surplus income into other forms of investment, such as rental property or enabling a son to start his own business were popular tactics used in order to reduce risk and maintain income rather than investing everything in a single venture.20 Of 116 firms examined in the Sheffield Rate Books of 1878-9, only twelve had a rateable value in excess of £100 and forty were valued at £10 or less, even though many were long established businesses.

As the work forces in family firms consisted of more or less permanently employed members, it was difficult to expand or contract by hiring and dismissing staff. Thus, the Sheffield furniture industry appears to have adopted three strategies to combat fluctuating trading conditions. Firstly, they could alter the number and range of services they offered to accommodate periods of economic expansion and recession. Throughout the nineteenth century the number of services offered by the Sheffield furniture industry varied greatly in relation to the number of firms providing them. Firms often responded to mild recessions by increasing the number of services they offered in an attempt to offset the decline in their core activities. When conditions improved the number of services decreased in relation to the number of firms, as they returned to their core and most profitable activities. The recessions in the last quarter of the nineteenth century were at first similarly met by another increase in the number of services offered. However, continuing economic decline during the 1870s forced firms to reduce costs in order to survive at all, causing them to withdraw from secondary, less cost efficient services. By the end of the century, almost all the firms that had survived, or had recently started in business, concentrated on just one or two core activities.

Source: Sheffield Trade Directories 1825-1899

Secondly, a member could leave the main family business, thus relieving it of a salary, and start up on his own, benefiting from familial knowledge and expertise.21 Even when firms were capable of supporting more than one household, sons were known to establish new businesses in order to minimise family losses should the parental base fail. Multiple family businesses were thus not unusual amongst Sheffield’s furniture industry where damage limitation and stability were of greater concern than expansion or reducing costs via consolidation.22 Furthermore, families could offer new businesses resources that were otherwise difficult to secure. They provided low-cost, long-term capital, trustworthy, flexible and hardworking staff and often a network of familial businesses from which to secure advice, expertise and services.23

The Dewsnap family set up several cabinet-case businesses of varying size throughout the nineteenth century. Thomas Dewsnap founded the first of his family’s firms around 1833, remaining in business for over 40 years. In the Census of 1871, he was described as a master cabinet-case maker employing two men, three boys and four girls, two of whom were probably his daughters, Fanny and Mary, who lived at home and were described as cabinet-case finishers. He lived on Lydgate Lane in the more affluent artisan suburbs of Crookes, to the north of the town centre. His works had a rateable value of £32 and were described as a warehouse, works and premises in Devonshire St.24 Joseph Dewsnap started a similar business in Tudor Place around 1849 and John Dewsnap, briefly in partnership as Dewsnap & Cooper, began his business around 1876, lasting for some twenty years. James Dewsnap established his firm in 1841 and became the most successful of the family, with a business that flourished well into the twentieth century. After establishing his business in Newcastle Street, he acquired substantial purpose-built premises called The Morocco and Cabinet Works which he partly sub-let to other firms as well as having showrooms in London.25

Thirdly, a business could relocate to smaller or larger premises to either reduce overheads or increase output. William and Robert Cocking started business as cabinetmakers in Hartshead around 1822, quickly adding upholstery and chair making whilst at the same premises. By 1828, they had become sole traders with William in Furnival Street and Robert moving to 30 Norfolk St in the centre of the town’s retail area. The last trade directory reference to William was as a timber merchant in the Canal Wharf around 1841. Robert appears to have flourished as a cabinetmaker and upholsterer making several changes of address between larger and smaller premises between 1828 and 1856.

Fig 11. Balm Green looking up Division St and across Carver St and Rockingham St, home to many garret masters, carvers, french polishers, upholsterers and cabinetmakers.

Business locations of Robert Cocking 1828-1856
182830 Norfolk St
183023 Norfolk St
183723 Norfolk St
183911-13 Watson Walk
184111 Watson Walk
185611-12 Watson Walk

By 1865, the firm had been taken over by Thomas Cocking, who moved to 15 Watson Walk and then 13-17 Watson Walk before taking retail premises in Barker’s Pool in the 1880s and workshops in nearby Balm Green. Even when the inconsistencies and inaccuracies of trade directories are taken into consideration, it appears that changing premises was an accepted part of business life and one which appears to have helped businesses expand and contract to accommodate changing economic circumstances.

Responses to Changing Circumstances – Survival Techniques: The Sheffield Code

Fig 12. A page from the catalogue of W. S. Ford & Son, cabinet makers of Scotland St, Sheffield, c.1905 showing a double arm sofa (figure 205)

For much of its existence, the Sheffield furniture industry dealt with a largely homogenous and conservative society whose incomes and outlooks were shaped by the local industries and attitudes. A particular consequence of this was the fact that large sectors of the town were affected by the recessions suffered by the iron, steel and associated trades. Perhaps as a defence, this produced a sizeable market that did not feel compelled to acquire the latest fashions preferring to acquire furniture on the grounds of durability, practicality, propriety, comfort, cleanliness, conformity and cost, i.e. the “Sheffield code”. Such an approach helped create an environment where familiarity and comfort were the antithesis of the workplace and expenditure on the latest fashions was kept within affordable levels. For example, a catalogue of goods manufactured by chair manufacturers, Wm. Ford & Son of Sheffield dating from around 1900 – 1910 shows several designs which, apart from a few contemporary embellishments, could have been made seventy years earlier. Figure 205 shows a double end sofa, costing £1.5s.6d., with clear references to a style illustrated in Thomas King’s Modern Style of Cabinet Work, published in 1835.26 Ford’s manufactured goods for the middle to lower end of the market advertising themselves as one of the largest chair manufacturers in the Midlands, ‘equipped with the latest and most up – to – date machinery’ with a ‘special designer ready at all times to prepare and submit special drawings’ according to customers’ requirements.27 Whilst Ford’s appear to be a company that embraced new technology and production methods, their standard designs indicate a conservative and cautious clientele. John Andrews has stated that Ford’s catalogue demands a reassessment of the design chronology of everyday nineteenth century furniture:

It has been clear for some time that furniture of a given design was made throughout the Victorian period, even into the Edwardian, since the British were known for their conservatism in taste, but the idea that it was still being actively promoted after 1895 and possibly up to the First World War prompts some serious thinking about the reproduction furniture trade .28

Fig. 13 Two similar sofas, the lower in the manner of Fords and the upper designed originally by Thomas Hope c 1835 and still popular in Sheffield some seventy years later

The popularity of furniture brokers as a source of quality second – hand furniture may also have contributed to some furniture styles persisting in Sheffield long after they had been assumed to have become obsolete elsewhere. Due to the town’s rapid expansion, furniture brokers – those who dealt in second-hand goods – played an unusually important role in Sheffield furnishing schemes. By providing a means of recycling goods, they enabled many households to acquire furniture of often better quality and cheaper cost than new items. Furniture made by reputable local manufacturers was often highlighted in house-sales and eagerly sought by brokers. In turn, they found a ready market amongst a broad sector of the population who acquired tried and tested goods on extended credit. The presence of brokers in both the central retail area and working-class suburbs suggests they were used by all but the wealthiest households and that there was little, if any, stigma attached to the acquisition of second-hand goods. The ability of brokers to legitimise the past by slowing the rate at which change was introduced into domestic furnishing schemes was particularly important in a town where large sectors of the community often faced economic uncertainty. By providing a mechanism that gave non-monetary and none-fashion orientated values of durability, comfort, practicality and familiarity to old goods, it enabled them to be utilised far beyond their normal lifespan without any loss of standing by their first, second or even third owners.

The Changing Nature of the Sheffield Furniture Industry 1879-1899

By the end of the century, improved communications, expanding markets and an increasingly sophisticated home market enabled some Sheffield cabinet manufacturers to gain national reputations securing commissions throughout the country for both commercial and domestic furnishings. The new industrialists needed sophisticated and urbane homes in which to pursue their ambitions and entertain clients, politicians, aristocrats and officers. Architectural styles ranged from Tudor at George Wolstenholm’s Kenwood, Italian at Tapton Edge, Italian treated in the French manner at Sir John Brown’s Endcliffe Hall, and Gothic at Storth Oaks and Banner Cross Hall (designed by Sir Jeffrey Wyattville in 1820). 29

The new [middle – class] estates [of Sheffield] took the form of great houses in new parks for the men of steel who were no longer either parochial in outlook or pocket; they established themselves with unparalleled grandeur and for a generation or so the palaces at Endcliffe were the scene of splendid occasions, the great of the world were entertained, famous and influential people were received in elegant Italianate drawing – rooms stuffed full with the finest works of art that money could buy.30

Fig. 14 George Hovey’s new department store opened in 1882 illuminated by ‘incandescent electric light’

Such firms had little need to heed the tenets of the Sheffield Code. They planned for growth and employed an extensive range of craftsmen to manufacture both bespoke and ‘ready-made’ goods. Requiring substantial capital to employ sufficient staff, stock and premises, these firms became forerunners of the modern department store. They extended their range to include upholstery, lights, carpets, curtains, chinaware and bedsteads, drapery, flooring materials, haberdashery, clothes and bed linen displayed in increasingly large and brightly lit shop windows.31 Others added services such as decorating, shop-fitting, ecclesiastical accoutrements, undertaking and mourning wear, furniture removal and warehousing. Local firms such as Johnson & Appleyards, and John Manuel & Son become enterprises which did not rely upon an individual member of the family for their technical skills and acquired a semi-formal management structure. Growth was often erratic but always entailed the risk of ploughing profits back into the business rather than investing safely elsewhere. Manuels was one of the largest cabinet makers in Sheffield and were commissioned to make bespoke items for many leading industrialists such as Mark Firth’s home, Oakbrook and John Brown’s Endcliffe Hall as well as for the Earl of Wharncliffe at Wortley Hall, Colonel Spencer Stanhope at Cannon Hall and the Earls of Bradford at Weston Park, Shropshire.

Fig. 15a Oakbrook, home of the industrialist Mark Firth, in the Italian style, c 1875

Fig. 15b Endcliffe Hall, built by his rival and friend, Sir John Brown in the French Italain style c 1865

Fig. 15c The dining room at Endcliffe

Larger still were Johnson & Appelyards who became one of the biggest manufacturers and house furnishers in the North Midlands during the latter part of the nineteenth century. From their purpose built premises in Barker’s Pool they advertised themselves as ‘Cabinet Makers and Upholsterers to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, Art Furnishers, Ecclesiastical and Domestic, Painters and Decorators.’ They also had extensive cabinet making works and timber yard in Sydney Street providing a comfortable lifestyle for several generations of Appelyards.

Fig. 16 Johnson & Appleyards’ purpose built premises at Barkers Pool showing the plaque proclaiming their appointment as
cabinet makers ‘By special appointment to H.R.H The Prince of Wales’, c 1890

Regional furniture industries survived until the First World War forced the introduction of large-scale mechanisation and centralisation of the industry. This article has suggested that until then, even the most heavily industrialised urban communities required their local furniture industries to articulate regional identities in the goods they made. It also suggests that within the domestic environment these regional identities acted as a buffer against the volatility of the outside world, a means of moderating expenditure on household goods without loss of prestige and possibly a statement of independence against the flow of metropolitan taste and ideals.

Select bibliography

John Andrews, ‘A Catalogue of Common Things, W. Ford & Son of Sheffield’, in Antique Collecting, (May 1993)
Geoffrey Beard & Christopher Gilbert (eds) Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1820 (1986)
A.E. Beet, ‘Arthur Hayball – A Dreamer in Wood.’ Transactions of The Hunter’s Archaeological Society , 7 (1951-1957)
Vanessa S. Doe, ‘Some Developments in Middle Class Housing’ in Sheffield 1830-1875, Essays in the Economic and Social History of South Yorkshire, ed Sidney Pollard and Colin Holmes (Sheffield 1976)
Clive D. Edwards, Victorian Furniture, Technology and Design (Manchester, 1993)
Joseph Hunter, Hallamshire. The History and Topography of the Parish of Sheffield in the County of York , Revised Revd Alfred Gatty (London, 1869)
Pat Kirkham, The London Furniture Trade 1700-1879 (Leeds 1988)
R.E. Leader, Reminiscences of old Sheffield: its streets and its people, (Sheffield, 1875)
Henry Mayhew, The Morning Chronicle Survey of Labour and the Poor: The Metropolitan Districts (5) Letter LXIII, 1st August 1850
Stana Nanedic, ‘The Small Family Firm in Victorian Britain’, in Business History 35.4 (1993)
Nikolaus Pevsner, West Riding (1967)
Sidney Pollard, A History of Labour in Sheffield (Liverpool, 1959)
John Nelson Tarn. ‘Sheffield’ in Middle Class Housing in Britain, ed. Simpson & Lloyd. (1977)
G. Timmins, Made in Lancashire: A History of Regional Industrialisation (M.U.P. 1998)
Ralph Wornum, Art Journal Illustrated Catalogue of the Great Exhibition 1851 (London, 1851)
Stephen Walsh, ‘A Brief History of the Firm of Architects founded in Sheffield by John Gray Weightman and Matthew Ellison Hadfield Including Biographical Notes on the Principals and Lists of their Principal Works from 1838 – 1938’. Unpublished thesis.

Figures 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 14, 15a, 15b, 15c, 16 courtesy of produced by Sheffield Local Study Library, Surrey St, Sheffield S1 1 XZ.

  1. Clive D. Edwards, Victorian Furniture, Technology and Design. 1993,183 – 184
  2. In 1851, of the 55,427 men and women in Sheffield, excluding domestic servants, who worked for their living, 44.96% were occupied in the manufacture of steel, cutlery, tools or the working of gold and silver Pollard, ibid. p.6 Census Report 1871, Table 108 Appendix A to the Report– Sheffield was a regional centre for File, saw – smith, tool, engine and machine making and coal mining.
  3. Nanedic, ibid. p.89
  4. Pat Kirkham, London Furniture Trade. p.110. G.W. Yapp, Art Industry, Furniture, Upholstery and House – Decoration. London, 1972 reprint. 8 – 22.
  5. Estimated ratable value £22 10/-.
  6. Spencer’s, Retford Salerooms, Sale Catalogue 6 July 1992, Lot 125. John Walsh & Co. Wakefield Sale Catalogue 28 January 1999, Lot 204. The latter was auctioned in 1992 with an estimate of £2500 – 3500, the former in 1999 and, despite the upholstery being in poor order, surpassed a conservative estimate of £1500 – £2500 to realise a hammer price of £6400
  7. A. E. Beet, ‘Arthur Hayball – A Dreamer in Wood.’ Transactions of The Hunter’s Archaeological Society, Vol. 7, 252 – 255.
  8. Ralph Wornum, Art Journal Illustrated Catalogue of the Great Exhibition 1851.
  9. Stephen Welsh, A Brief History of the Firm of Architects founded in Sheffield by John Gray Weightman and Matthew Ellison Hadfield Including Biographical Notes on the Principals and Lists of their Principal Works from 1838 – 1938. The Death of Mr. Arthur Hayball, Sheffield Daily Telegraph 30 June 1887.
  10. Pat Kirkham, The London Furniture Trade, 1700 – 1870. 1988, 44. Henry Mayhew, The Morning Chronicle Survey of Labour and the Poor: The Metropolitan Districts. Volume 5. Letter LXIII, 1st August 1850
  11. Stan Learoyd, English Furniture Construction and Decoration 1500 – 1910. 1981. p.99. Macquoid & Edwards, The Dictionary of English Furniture. Revised Edwards. 1990. Vol. 3, p. 36.
  12. Pat Kirkham, The London Furniture Trade, 1700 – 1870. 1988 p.34.
  13. For example: ” the passing of the Reform Bill ” said a tradesman ” depressed wood – carving to a great degree, as many members of the aristocracy became alarmed , and put a check on their accustomed patronage of art.” Mayhew, ibid. Letter LXIV, p.166.
  14. John Oliver, The Development and Structure of the Furniture Industry. 1966. p. 23, p.p. 144 – 145.
  15. See R.E. Leader, Reminiscences of Old Sheffield, p.3 & Gatty, Hallamshire , p.177 for differences in the establishment of Paradise Square.
  16. Dictionary of English Furniture Makers – In 1777 he was insured for £200, £70 of which for utensils & stock. Jenkinson subscribed to Sheraton’s Drawing Book.
  17. G. Timmins, Made in Lancashire: A History of Regional Industrialisation . M.U.P. 1998. p.108 states -the producers of furniture tended to establish themselves wherever sufficient concentrations of consumers arose.
  18. 1825, Short & Barker, Wood Turners, 34, Rockingham St. Gell’s Directory of Sheffield , 1825.
  19. ibid. p.91.
  20. Nenadic, ibid. p.88.
  21. Nenadic, ibid. p.104.
  22. Nenadic, ibid. p.97
  23. Stana Nenadic, ‘The Small Family Firm.’ Business History Vol. 35 October 1993 No. 4. pp. 104ff.
  24. 1878 Sheffield Rate Book
  25. Kelly’s Directory of Sheffield 1883.
  26. John Andrews, “A Catalogue of Common Things, W. Ford & Son of Sheffield”, Antique Collecting, May 1993. p.p.28 – 33.
  27. I am indebted to John Andrews and Smith and Smith Designs of Driffield for the loan of the Ford catalogue.
  28. ibid.
  29. Vanessa S. Doe, ibid. p.p. 184 – 185. Sheffield Illustrated, Vols. I & II. Nikolaus Pevsner, West Riding. 1967,57.
  30. John Nelson Tarn. ‘Sheffield.’ Middle Class Housing in Britain. Eds. Simpson & Lloyd. 1977. p.176.
  31. John Manuel & Son, loose leaflets, no date. Pawson & Brailsford, Illustrated Guide to Sheffield & Neighbourhood 1862. 1971 reprint – advertisements for J. Jones & Son, William Johnson, Thomas Cocking and Woollen & Fordham, Johnson & Allatt, White’s Directory of Sheffield, 1852. After fire destroyed their original premises George H. Hovey, ‘Manufacturers and General Warehousemen’, opened prestigious new premises in 1882. Their stock of drapery, silks, costume, millinery, carpets, curtains, furniture and bedsteads etc. were to be “Illuminated at dusk by Arc & Incandescent Electric Lamps” S.C.L. Miscellaneous Papers 778 – 9M No. 34751 , Sheffield Illustrated, c.1885 p.65.