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A NEWLY DISCOVERED GILLOWS COMMISSION (?)
Founded around 1730 by Robert Gillow in his native Lancaster, this celebrated firm of cabinet-makers was responsible for furnishing some of the greatest British houses. The firm's zenith was reached in the Regency period, and continued to prosper after the departure of the Gillow family from the business in 1813, when the firm was taken over by the partners Redmayne, Whiteside and Ferguson.
Gillows' designs are painstakingly recorded in the Estimate Sketch Books, now preserved in the City of Westminster Archives, which begin in 1784 and comprise some 20,000 patterns for furniture, many annotated with the patron's name and cost. Frustratingly, whilst no archival documents have so far come to light for the specific FitzHerbert commission, the distinctive designs all recur in other contemporary documented Gillows' commissions. Gillows' style is unique, developing a coolness and restraint in their designs almost touching on austerity. This direction may be in part attributable to their long connection with the Wyatt family of architects; it is no coincidence that Sir Jeffrey Wyattville drew up plans for the new Library wing at Tissington in 1820 for Sir Henry FitzHerbert, 3rd Bt. (1783-1858).
Gillows and the furniture they made is renowned for several reasons. The quality of construction is considerably higher than elsewhere. Moreover, with the firm's proximity to the port of Liverpool and the trading links to the West Indies, the firm was actively and profitably engaged in the importation of not only top quality timbers, but also in the sale of British goods to Jamaica and the importation of other West Indian produce for sale in Britain. Finally, the innovation of their designs and the preservation of the designs' uniqueness was highly important to the success of the business. If a pattern book was published, its designs were anyone's. Because Gillows never published their designs, they were always striving for novelty and protecting their patterns from industrial espionage.
This newly discovered group of Gillows furniture appears to stylistically date from two phases - the first around 1810-15 and the second, with a more robust, florid style of carving, from around 1820-25. Although no entries survive to reveal whether the Gillows commission was originally for Lord St. Helens' London house in Grafton Street, or for his nephew Sir Henry FitzHerbert at Tissington, interestingly several of the pieces from both phases have uncharacteristic batten carrying-holes for transport - suggesting that they may have been moved to Tissington after Lord St. Helens' death in 1839. This hypothesis would seem to be strengthened by the fact that the Italian specimen marble top (lot 550) - whose base also has batten carrying-holes - is inscribed Sir Henry FitzHerbert in pencil to the underside; Sir Henry was Lord St Helens' nephew and heir.
G. Jackson-Stops, 'Tissington Hall, Derbyshire - II', Country Life, 22 July 1976, p. 217, fig. 11, illustrated &Iin situ in the Drawing Room