Brew & Claris
Finsbury, London; wholesale furniture makers (fl.c.1870-1888)
The partners were Benjamin Brew (b.1840 Ireland) and John Claris (probably b.1833 Canterbury). Brew was recorded in the 1871 Census at Manor Place, Hackney. He was possibly a partner in the upholsterers firm, Cawley, Brew & Co., located at 20 Finsbury Place and 1 South Place in that same year.
Advertisement published in The Furniture Gazette, 8 December 1877, p. iv.
By 1881 he was listed living at Dunster House, Hornsey Lane, Islington (as an upholsterer employing 17 men and 2 boys); 1891 at 6 Denbigh Road, Ealing (as carpet & cabinet buyer); and in 1901 at 35 The Avenue, Ealing (as manufacturers agent). John Claris was recorded in 1871 at 119 Forest Road, Hackney (as tallow chandler’s clerk); in 1881 at 72 Colvestone Crescent, Hackney (as cabinet maker & upholsterer); in 1891 in Lympne, Kent, as brick manufacturer and in 1901 at Sandgate, Hythe, Kent as a boarding house keeper.
An article in The Furniture Gazette demonstrates the range of furniture Brew & Claris made and sold. In the ‘Out & About’ column, 11 April 1874, The Furniture Gazette announced the firm was displaying 'excellently designed birch & walnut bedroom suites, with commendable metal work'. Also some ‘graceful’ occasional tables, made in ebonized mahogany with gold incised decoration and inlaid tops, which although French in style were made by the firm, and an oak sideboard Gothic in style with art tiles and artistically designed carving.
A Brew & Claris advertisement in The Furniture Gazette (June & August 1876), gave their addresses as 20 Finsbury Place and 1 South Place, London, and stated that the workrooms at Finsbury Place had moved to South Place to allow more display space at the former. The Times (7 June 1877) noted that as leading furniture makers, Brew & Claris were one of many signatories on a petition against a Bill before the Houses of Parliament, allowing the opening of museums and art galleries on Sundays.
Newspaper announcements on 30 April & 21 May 1879 recorded a fraud case between the manager and owner of the Metropolitan Hotel at South Place in Finsbury, London, where the hotel owner gave the manager money for various purchases including furnishings from Brew & Claris. In actual fact, the manager had merely rented rather than bought these goods.
In July 1883, the Cabinet Maker announced that the firm’s old building at 54 Finsbury Pavement and corner of South Place had been rebuilt to accommodate their rapidly growing business. The architect of this project was Mr E Hall of Moorgate Street and the contractor was Mr J. Woodward of Wilson Street. The firm was commissioned to make furnishings for the Town Hall and Municipal Buildings in Victoria Street, Belfast, in 1880. The furniture was of polished oak, some upholstered in green morocco.
The next recorded substantial commission was the furnishings for the dining and refreshment rooms of Alexandra Palace (Furniture Gazette, 1 April 1885). The furniture included 7 buffets ranging in size from 8ft to 10ft (varying in style between Renaissance, Early English & Domestic Gothic), chairs, dinner-wagons, dining tables and bookcases, and was described as of serviceable, fine workmanship but not exhibition quality. Of particular note was the Gothic buffet, 10ft by 10ft 6 in. (illustrated) made in ‘antique oak’ incised with black, with Cordovan leather in the cove, brass handles and mounts.
Gothic style oak buffet made for Alexandra Palace dining and refreshment rooms by Brew & Claris, c.1885. Published in The Furniture Gazette, 1 April 1885, p. 223.
The article continued with a description of other pieces viewed on a visit to the new business in Finsbury Pavement; ‘floor after floor filled with furniture of such excellent design and superior finish that even the most fastidious of customers is likely to be non-plussed by an embarrass de richesses….’. The article concluded: ‘we may say that the firm’s stock is sufficiently varied and extensive to make it worth the while of provincial and other retailers on the look-out for good-class work to make a call at Finsbury-pavement’.
A writing table and music cabinet belonging to a suite of Sheraton drawing room furniture were illustrated in the same article.
Sheraton ladies writing table made in mahogany with a choice of satinwood or rosewood inlay, by Claris & Brew, c. 1885. Published in The Furniture Gazette, 1 April 1885, p. 224.
Sheraton music cabinet made in mahogany with a choice of satinwood or rosewood inlay, by Claris & Brew, c. 1885. Published in The Furniture Gazette, 1 April 1885, p. 224.
The firm was known to have made bedroom furniture, tables, desks, bookcases and chairs, stamped ‘Brew & Claris, manufacturers, 20 Finsbury Place, London’, and in styles ranging from Renaissance, Gothic to French and ‘Art’. The Furniture Gazette: Classified List of the Furniture, Upholstery, and Allied Trades (1886) recorded Brew & Claris at 54 Finsbury Pavement and 7 South Place as cabinet makers and upholsterers.
Artistic style chair by Brew & Claris with detail of carving and label at 20 Finsbury Place, London, c.1880 [Private Collection]. Photographs by Clarissa Ward.
By 1886 Brew & Claris had ceased business by mutual consent.
Published in the The Gazette 28 May 1886
On 28 February 1887, John Dickenson was sentenced to six months’ hard labour for embezzlement of his employers, Brew, Claris & Co., cabinet makers of Finsbury, where he had been the ledger clerk. Defalcations from the firm exceeded £250 and in the Times, 27 September 1888, Oetzmann & Co. announced that they were selling the extensive bankruptcy stock of Messrs Brew (formerly Brew and Claris) Home Furnishers.
After the firm’s demise, Brew ‘travelled’ for Messrs W. H. Vaughan & Co. and other firms. In the 7 May 1920 edition of Furniture Record, Alfred Elliott recounted that while working for the upholsterers and cabinet makers, Messrs M. A. Harpers, he visited Messrs John Barker in Kensington, and was met by ‘Mr Brew, who had just been appointed buyer and manager of the furniture department. Fortune favoured me, for Mr Brew was no stranger to me, for I had known him for some years when he was in the business trading under the name of Brew & Claris, South Place, Finsbury, wholesale cabinet makers. I may say that he gave me a very large order, at which my firm was very surprised, it being my first day’s work and my first order as a commercial’.
John Barker & Co. Ltd records showed that in 1880 the store started to develop a furniture department in its premises in Kensington High Street, and in December 1889 the furniture, upholstery and carpets departments moved to a new wing at 63 & 65 Kensington High Street and 2, 4 & 6 Young Street and 6 Ball Street.
The Furnisher Record and the Furnisher (15 August 1902) noted that Mr Brew had fallen on hard times and died of cancer. Probate papers recorded his address at 70 The Avenue, Ealing, with the date of death on 9 August 1901 at ‘Friedenbeim’, Upper Avenue-road, Hampstead with effects of £861 2s 3d.
Mr Claris of Ellenleigh Cottage, Lyminge, Kent, died on 15 May 1914 with probate effects of £356 15 3d.
Benjamin Maddox Brew’s son, Joseph, was married to Florence Child in 1889. She was the daughter of the cabinet maker, James Joseph Child snr. and the sister of James Joseph Child, jnr., also a cabinet maker. This culminated in a short-lived partnership of one year (1895-96) between her husband, Joseph Brew, and her brother, James Joeph Child jnr., at 83 Meeting House Lane, Peckham. Florence’s father Child snr. was a partner in the wholesale cabinet-making firm. Child & Hinde (fl.1870-79), situated in the Euston Road, London.
Source: Claris family records compiled by Clarissa Ward.