A History of British Cabinet Making
The team here at Willow Bank are incredibly proud of their work in creating stunning bespoke kitchens and cabinetry. We count ourselves among the best in the UK, and our clients will agree. In this article, we look at the history of cabinetry in Britain.
Britain has a long history of cabinet making mastery and innovative design. As one might suspect, many of the country’s first and most prominent cabinetmakers during the Tudor period had moved to Britain from elsewhere. In his book, Horace Walpole was particularly respectful of the carving abilities of Lawrence Truber and master carpenter Humphrey Cooke, whose most lasting claim to fame was at the Savoy. Another craftsman of note was William Grene who served a cabinet maker for Henry VIII and received high praise “for the making of a coffer covered with fustian from Naples and being full of drawers and boxes lined with red and green sarcynet to put in stones of diverse sorts.” Walpole represents an active cabinetmaking culture in Britain from the 16th century going forward. However, there is evidence that many foreign woodcarvers and cabinetmakers were working in London in the 16th century. East Smithfield was renowned for its community of joiners dating back to 1540. The Dutch Church rolls point to a number of immigrant Flemish “scyhrnmakers” and “kistmakers” living in London, Southwark and St. Giles by 1550. By 1567, there were known to be at least 24 immigrants serving as joiners and carpenters in the Ward of Bridge Without. Foreigners naturally gravitated to Britain due to the country’s expansive economy and excellent compensation opportunities. Competition between British and immigrant carpenters and cabinetmakers did become intense at times. By 1583, the “Joiners’ Company” was obligated to publish a list containing the identities of 100 foreigners active in the cabinet making and carpentry industry in England.
Unlicensed to Operate
With foreign joiners working and residing in Westminster, Saint Katherines and Southwark, competition increased and feelings became increasingly bitter. The Master and Wardens of the ‘Companye of Joyners’ refused to license or admit these foreign workers to the trade. The raging dispute included lawsuits and grievances but foreign cabinetmakers stayed busy and productive during this 16th and 17th centuries. In fact, these masters had great influence on the craft.
18th Century Craftsmanship
During the 17th and 18th centuries, a different breed of cabinetmaker began to rise to the top. Finishing became more intricate and in some cases ornate. Wood-carving skills received great recognition and consumers rallied behind established entities as prices rose. By the end of the 17th century and in the early 18th century the most prominent cabinetmaker in Britain was Grinling Gibbons. Indeed, his accomplishments set trends throughout the craft that lasted for more than 100 years. Born in Holland of English parents he came to England at the direction of Evelyn under notice of Charles II who appointed Gibbons to serve on the Board of Works. Gibbons’ most noted work was at Petworth House in Sussex but he also received great recognition for his magnificently crafted choir stalls at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Gibbons died in 1721 at his home on Bow Street in Covent Gardens. While he passed away quietly, his followers continued his tradition of excellence at many of London’s finest buildings, including the court room at Stationers’ Hall and the vestry of the church of St. Lawrence Jewry.
Interestingly, furniture designs and finishes began to change significantly during the reign of William and Mary. Furniture has long been one indication of the odd of the populace and during this era, marquetry furniture came in fashion. The new style encompassed the primary furnishings of the period such as secretaries, long clock cases, bandy legged chairs and bureaus. Much of the new style was brought to Britain from Italy. Leaves and figures were now cut from dyed woods with shading added by a hit sand process. One of the originators of this new style was George Ethrington, a London-based cabinetmaker who burst onto the London scene about 1665. His work and craftsmanship rivalled more established carpenters and soon many London craftsmen were emulating his style. However, another prominent craftsman named Andre Charles Boule, who was born in 1642, established his own style known as Boule. Between boule and the marquetry style embraced by Ethrington, British cabinet making surged to the forefront of European craftsmanship, where it remained for many years. For more information about the bespoke cabinetry and kitchens we offer at Willow Bank, get in touch by calling 01280 821 002 or contacting us online.