Westport House, Co. Mayo was designed by the celebrated Irish Palladian architect Richard Castle (or Cassels; 1690-1751) for John Browne, later created 1st Earl of Altamont (1709-1776) in the 1730s. John Denis Browne, 1st Marquess of Sligo (1756–1809) commissioned the most fashionable London architect of the time, James Wyatt (1746-1831), to update the earlier house and modify the interiors in 1781, who added neo-classical plasterwork inspired by the paintings discovered at the archaeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Wyatt's designs for the dining room survive and he was still involved at Westport as late as 1796, when he designed a conservatory for the house, which was apparently never completed and may have been his last Irish project. Howe Peter Browne, 2nd Marquess of Sligo (1788-1845) later employed James' son Benjamin Dean Wyatt between 1805 and 1821, to build a large new library and update the interiors again. Benjamin Dean's alterations resulted in the removal of much of his father's elegant plasterwork throughout Westport House, however it survives in magnificent detail in the dining room, illustrated with this dining-table in the 1960s (Jonathan Harris, 'The Wyatts at Westport', The Connoisseur, August 1966, p. 224).
The Wyatt family was closely associated with Gillows of Lancaster and sketches for furniture supplied to Westport appear in Gillows' Estimate Sketch Books. Gillows' first deliveries of furniture to Westport were in 1805, with this dining table being supplied in 1809 along with a large library table. Despite James Wyatt's involvement in the design of the dining room in 1781, none of the late 18th-century furniture for that room appears to have survived as the dining room furniture - the eagle sidetables, wine coolers, dining-chairs and this exceptionally long dining table - was all supplied by Gillows under the direction of Benjamin Dean Wyatt to the 2nd Marquess. Similarly, several items of library furniture were supplied by the firm, including the fine library bookcases, a pair of tripod tables, two mahogany bergeres and a pair of rosewood library tables. By March 1821, the Westport account with Gillows stood at the large figure of £3,826 2 s. 9d. - a sum tantamount to fitting out an entire house. The brass-inlaid mahogany dining-chairs from Westport were sold by a Family Trust, Christie’s, London, 26 September 1996, lot 149.
The 2nd Marquess of Sligo had an estate in Jamaica where he worked for the emancipation of West Indian slaves - in 1828 he was presented with a silver candelabrum in recognition of his role, in the form of a former slave holding up his child, beside a palm tree; he was later appointed Governor of Jamaica (1834-7). The mahogany for the two matching dining room doors at Westport House came from the family's estate in Jamaica, as did the specimen woods contained in a games table attributed to Gillows, and it is possible that the superb mahogany of this table was also supplied from the same source.
The first drawing of a Gillow 'patent' extending table, with telescopic action, reeded legs (or as Gillows called 'cabling') and a box to hold the leaves dates to 1801 and was ordered by Lord Strathmore (S.E. Stuart, Gillows of Lancaster and London 1730-1840, 2008, vol. I, p. 240, pl. 234). The 'Imperial' table, invented and patented by Gillows in 1804, was a refinement to their 'patent' table, in which a variable number of loose leaves were fitted between fixed end leaves, but without revolving tops. In all related designs, the legs are set back to accommodate the sitters' knees. Initially these tables had an arrangement of as many as ten or twelve legs to support the central leaves when extended, including extra legs that could be screwed in, but as the design was improved and the mechanism became more sturdy the central legs were gradually removed. That this table has twenty legs gives an indication of both its extraordinary length, its status as an exceptional commission and of the fact that it was a fairly early example of its type. The imperial table was so popular it was almost exclusively the only dining-table the firm sold through the 1820s and onward.
In 1813, Gillows supplied a similar 'Imperial' table for Stephen Tempest of Broughton Hall, Yorkshire described as 'an excellent set of mahogany Imperial dining tables on stout twined reeded legs and brass socket castors - 50 gns' (ibid., p. 243, pl. 241). Comparable tables include one supplied by Gillows to William, 2nd Baron Bolton (1782-1850) for the Breakfast Room at Hackwood Park in 1813 ('a breakfast table 4 ft. wide to accommodate 14 persons') and by descent at the house until sold with Hackwood to William Berry, 1st Viscount Camrose (d. 1954) and by descent until sold Christie's house sale, 20-22 April 1998, lot 161.