By Ellinor Gray
The firm Holland & Sons (1843-1942) was granted the honour of the Royal Warrant of Appointment during the reign of Queen Victoria. Primarily cabinet makers, they were a large, thriving, London based company offering a broad range of services to the upper echelons of society that included funerals, household decorations, furniture rentals, as well as operating as housing agents and plumbers. They worked from several locations across London with premises at 23 Mount Street, 19 Marylebone Street, Ranelagh Works and Belgrave Square.
The company ledgers kept by the V&A Museum's Archive of Art and Design provide detailed information regarding their royal commissions. The ledgers indicate the first work undertaken for a member of the Royal Family came in 1837 for Queen Adelaide, 'The Dowager Queen', when they supplied mahogany furniture for her home at Bushy Park. Later, Marlborough House became the location where Holland & Sons undertook the majority of their royal commissions in London, providing exceptionally made furniture of all types and styles such as this ornately decorated cabinet.
Cabinet made by Holland & Sons for Albert Edward, The Prince of Wales (later King Edward the VII), and Princess Alexandra for their residence at Marlborough House. Constructed with thuyawood, circassian walnut and rare specimen woods, inlaid with marquetry and engraved ivory, and ornamented with gilt bronze mounts, c.1865. © Butchoff Antiques
Alongside furniture supplied for the Prince and Princess of Wales at Marlborough House, the firm carried out regular household maintenance that included painting, and cleaning and repairs to curtains, walls and furniture.
Holland & Sons also supplied royal residences outside of the capital. The first such commission was at Osbourne House for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the late 1840’s. Known for their ability to produce furniture in any style, this furniture was described as Italianate to compliment the architecture of the beach side property. The late furniture historian and curator, Edward Joy, identified many of the pieces in the designs of Henry Whitaker; they can be found in The practical cabinet maker & upholsterer's treasury of designs (1847).
Hall chair designed by Henry Whittaker for Osborne House published in Whitaker's The practical cabinet maker & upholsterer's treasury of designs (1847).
Whittaker's set of mahogany hall chairs survive in situ at Osbourne House: https://www.rct.uk/collection/41189/hall-chair
Holland & Sons 1855 ledger shows the firm also supplying furniture and soft furnishings to the parish church of St Mildred’s at Whippingham. The church had undergone extensive renovations in the previous year to make it suitable as the church of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their family, whilst on the Isle of Wight at Osborne House. Work for the church included:
- 48 Brussels Hassock tops to pattern interwoven with monogram VA in Roman Characters
- 2 Glastonbury Chairs for alter with elbows & crop legs, canted & carved, & carved motto in oak highly polished
- 2 down cushions for seat of ditto
- Covering ditto in purple cloth edged with cord
- 12 chairs for her Majesty’s pew
The 'V A' monogram on the hassock tops were to be intertwined as indicated by a pencil sketch of the design in the margin of the 1855 ledger. The twelve chairs which made up the Queen’s pew were later replaced by her son Edward VII, but one still remains in the church today. The Glastonbury chairs and pews were of a very different style and purpose to furniture produced for Osborne House and demonstrate the variety of work that Holland & Sons were capable of undertaking.
Beyond the Isle of Wight, Holland & Sons worked extensively at Balmoral Castle as well as for the Prince and Princess of Wales at their private residence of Sandringham House in Norfolk, including after the fire of 1891. Although they undertook relatively little work at Windsor Castle (as it had been extensively refurbished by George IV), one of their most important pieces was made for the castle. Queen Victoria commissioned a display case to house relics of the deceased Prince Albert for the room in which he had died; it is one of the most impressive and significant pieces of work by the firm still in the Royal Collection today: https://www.rct.uk/collection/55159/display-cabinet
Holland & Sons were also involved in the funerals of Prince Albert in December 1861 and the Duchess of Kent (Queen Victoria’s mother) in 1861, as well as the 1901 coronation of Edward VII, when they made a throne for Queen Alexandra from a design by A.W.N. Pugin. Although this was a government contract it was also some of the last work the firm did involving principle members of the Royal Family.
Ellinor Gray most recently held the position of Curatorial Intern (Decorative Arts) at the Royal Collection Trust where her interest and research into Holland & Sons began. Prior to her work with the Royal Collection, Ellie worked for the National Trust and gained an MA in Decorative Arts and Historic Interiors from the University of Buckingham. She is a member of the French Porcelain Society’s Emerging Scholars group, the Early Career Development Group of the Furniture History Society, and is also a member of the Decorative Arts Society.