The Gillows’ Archive is a collection of some 200 manuscript volumes cash books, estimate sketch books and collection of, correspondence which together tell the story of two centuries of English furniture history. Gillows of Lancaster was founded in 1695, and the microfilm of the company’s extensive archives presents a remarkably full picture of both a craft and an industry at work.

Westminster Public Library is the home of the Gillows’ Archive, a collection of nearly 200 manuscript volumes, cash books, ledgers, estimate sketch books and correspondence, which tell the story of two centuries of English furniture history. That the archive of a single company should provide such a crucial primary source stems from a number of factors. Gillows of Lancaster was founded in 1695 and, alone of the great 18th century manufacturers, survived into the 20th century through high standards of craftsmanship and by carefully monitoring markets and competitors. Since Gillows kept full design records they were well-placed for the revivals that characterised much of 19th century furniture design.

Throughout its history the company clung to its Lancaster roots although it opened a London showroom in 1769. By the 1780s the brothers Richard and Robert were working for members of the aristocracy in the fashionable neo­classical style. In particular they benefitted from an association with the Wyatts and John Carr of York. Gillows were also well-known for their gaming tables, producing in 1770 the standard design for a billiard table.

19th century patrons tended to be more middle class, and included hotels and stations. Gothic revival designs appear frequently up to 1850, but by the 1860s Gillows were producing furniture in the Jacobean style, followed by revivals of French 17th and 18th century styles. The adoption of the Art Nouveau style at the end of the century again ensured the company’s financial success.

The archive taken as a whole provided a fascinating and detailed picture of the trade. The account books, dating from 1731, faithfully record the financial details of each commission, including costs for materials and labour. Of particular importance are the Estimate Sketchbooks in which clerks recorded the cost of each piece and made a sketch of each design. Dating from 1787, these sketches form a unique visual dictionary of decorative styles, indexed according to type and cross-referenced to the accounts.

Information about craftsmen and designers is provided through the designers’ own sketch and design books, and there is also information on the economic position of the craftsmen. Correspondence with salesmen and details of packing and transport give a remarkably full picture of the industry at work.

The following buildings are just some of those documented in the archive – country houses include: Heaton Hall; Tatton Park; Dunham Massey; Farnley Hall and Denton Park. Later public commissions included the interior for the British Royal Pavilion at the 1900 Paris Exhibition. In addition, the company worked for royal patrons, including the Prince Regent.

103 reels (102 black and white, 1 colour)
Reference: GIL


Reel Description
1-10 WASTE BOOKS: Archive Numbers 1-19 1731-1794
10 (continued)-11 DAYBOOKS: Numbers 20-21 1756-1778
11 (continued)-14 JOURNALS: Numbers 22-27 1769-1815, 1911-19
14 (continued) JOURNAL SHOW ROOMS: Number 28 1897-1905
15 BILL BOOK: Numbers 29-30 1775-1788
15 (continued)-24 CASH BOOKS: Numbers 31-49 1757-1914
25-33 LEDGERS: Numbers 50-61 1763-1897
34 SALES LEDGER: Number 62 1885-1897
34 (continued)

PRIVATE LEDGER: Numbers 63 1885-1897 LEDGER: Number 64 1914-1932
SUNDRY ACCOUNTS LEDGER: Number 66 1812-1814
JOURNEYMEN’S WAGES: Number 67 (no date)

34 (continued)-35 PETTY CASH BOOKS: Numbers 68-72 1769-1798
36-38 PETTY LEDGERS: Numbers 73-79 1780-1785, 1790-1796, 1834-1839

MILL BOOK: Number 80 1886-1898
WORKS SALARIES BOOK: Numbers 81-82 1911-1931


ORDER BOOK/ESTIMATE BOOK: Number 83 1758-1762
ORDER BOOKS: Numbers 84-86 1788-1800, 1822-1825

41-42 LANCASTER ORDER BOOK: Numbers 87-88 1895-1897, 1900-02
42 (continued)-43

ESTIMATE BOOK/PETTY LEDGER: Numbers 89-90 1759-1762, 1766-73
ESTIMATE BOOKS: Numbers 91-92 1787-1795, 1816-1825

44-78 (includes reels 51A and 52A) ESTIMATE SKETCH BOOKS: Numbers 93-140 1784-1899
79 UPHOLSTERY ESTIMATE BOOK: Number 141 1817-1824

ESTIMATE SKETCH BOOK: Number 142 1817-1824

81-83 CABINET MAKERS SKETCH BOOKS: Numbers 144-152, 1810, 1832, 1879-1886
83 (continued) STOCK BOOK: Number 153 1892-1899
84-86 ACCOUNTS, ACCOUNT BOOKS: Numbers 154-161 1742-1857

INVOICES ETC.: Number 162 1775-1789
LETTER BOOKS: Numbers 163-164 1778-1789
MEMORANDUM, ACCOUNTS: Number 165 1766-1769

88-92 LETTER BOOKS: Numbers 168-176 1769-1842
93-95 MEMORANDUM BOOKS: Numbers 177-183 1741-1891
96-98 PACKING BOOKS: Numbers 184-188 1788-1836
99-100 LANCASTER PACKING BOOKS: Numbers 189-190 1883-1895
101 (colour microfilm) PATTERN BOOK, 240 DESIGNS: Number 735/1
PATTERN BOOK: Number 735/3 1770-1800