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Cookes, William; Cookes & Sons; Cookes, Sons & Meres; J & W Cookes (1812-1867)

Cookes, William; Cookes & Sons; Cookes, Sons & Meres; J & W Cookes

Warwick & Leamington, Warwickshire; cabinet makers, carvers and upholders (fl.1812-67)

William Cookes was born c. 1788, married Mary Cheetham of Nottingham in 1809 and about 1812-16 set up his own cabinet making business in Warwick where he had inherited property. In 1828 his address was recorded as Low Church St, Warwick. In 1820 he established an auction and estate agency office in Leamington (from 1822–30 at Ranelagh St, trading as Cookes & Sons at 34 Warwick St in 1834) which flourished as a separate entity and continued after the cabinet making firm itself had closed in the 1860s. As the cabinet making and upholstery business expanded to Leamington he invited James Morris Willcox to come up from Bath to work for him in Warwick. William and Mary Cookes had four sons, two of whom, John and Walter, became master cabinet makers and entered into the partnership with their father between 1830-35. By 1840 Cookes and Sons had increased its reputation and was granted a Royal Warrant on the recommendation of the Duchess of Sutherland.  Other clients included the Lucy family at Charlecote Park, Sir Charles Mordaunt of Walton House and James Roberts West of Alscot Park. A surviving 1844 invoice to the West family showed the heading of ‘Wm Cookes and Sons, Lower Church Street, Warwick and No. 34 Warwick Street, Leamington, Cabinet Makers and Upholsterers by appointment to Her Majesty, House Agents, Appraisers, General Undertakers &c.’. In 1850 the Royal Dublin Society held an Exhibition of Manufacture, Product and Invention, at which the judges awarded the firm with ‘the small Gold Medal for a very beautiful marquetrie loo table, in Amboyna and ebony, which evinced the best taste in the selection of the woods, and great neatness in the fitting’. At the Great Exhibition of 1851 the firm exhibited the ‘Kenilworth’ buffet now at Warwick Castle, which was made from a fallen Kenilworth oak tree and the carvings depicted scenes from Scott’s novel (illus. Symonds & Whineray (1962), pls. 18-20).  The Illustrated London News Supplement, 11 October 1851, described this as ‘one of the chief lions on the British side of the Crystal Palace’ and the firm was awarded a prize medal at the Exhibition.  In the following year the people of Warwickshire decided to raise a subscription to purchase the buffet for £1,200 and present it as a wedding gift to Lord Brooke, son of the Earl of Warwick.  An invoice of 28 January 1853 to Mrs Lucy for upholstery work, gave the following heading: ‘Saint John’s, Warwick, and Warwick Street, Leamington. Bought of Cookes and Sons, Manufacturers and Designers of the Kenilworth Buffet, Cabinet-Makers, Upholsterers and Decorators to Her Majesty, Auctioneers, Appraisers, etc.’.  Late in 1851 James Robert West commissioned a large carved sideboard for Alscot Park. The subject of the carving on this piece was English Field Sports, reflecting West’s great passion, and although simpler in detail to the Kenilworth one, it was still 13-14 ft in length, about 10 ft high and 4 ½ ft dept. This buffet was designed by Hugues Protat (illus.Aslin (1962), pl. 51 & Victorian Furniture (1962) figs. 21 & 22). In 1853 William Cookes died and the following year his sons took John Plank Meres into the partnership, and for the next few years the firm advertised as ‘Cookes, Sons and Meres; By Appointment; 1850 Dublin Gold Medal and Great Exhibition Prize Medal; Cabinet Makers, Upholsterers etc. Designers & Manufacturers of the Kenilworth and Alscot Park Buffets. Show Rooms – 34 Warwick Street, Leamington; Manufactory – St John’s, Warwick’.  During this partnership the firm was commissioned to make an armchair for Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, RA.  The carved walnut chair had Landseer’s monogram set in bulrushes mounted on the back, the arms supported by the heads of rough-haired dogs and the seat upholstered in moleskin with the back in fur fabric. Models of the Alscot Park buffet and other wood carvings by Wm Cookes & Sons were exhibited in a travelling exhibition in 1855 of the nation’s purchases from the Great Exhibition and in 1857 the buffet was included in the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition. In 1858 when Queen Victoria made a state visit to Warwickshire, Cookes, Sons and Meres supplied some of the furnishings (old and new) for , couc, which the Corporation had recently bought and Queen Victoria subsequently opened to the public. The furnishings included a state chair, settee, other chairs, mirrors and a loaned sideboard. 

The 1861 census listed John Cookes aged 49 (at Low Church Street), as an upholsterer employing 30 men and 8 boys, and Walter Cookes, aged 47 (living at Coventry Road), as an upholsterer, estate agent and auctioneer. At the end of 1861 the partnership was dissolved and Meres set up his own Auction, Estate and House Agency offices in Leamington. Notices of the sale of stock listed carpets, paper hangings and ‘…a handsome carved dark oak sideboard, 10 feet long, the top supported by carved lions, and used by Her Majesty on her visit to Aston Hall… a magnificent antique Italian carved frieze of the 16th century… very superior and costly Drawing Room furniture, in walnut, Zebra and Satin woods… richly carved Chairs, Sofas and Couches of the Louis Seize and other periods… Mahogany, Arabian and other bedsteads…’.    J & W Cookes, as the firm was then called, continued to run as two companies, the estate agency in Leamington and the furniture making and retailing side in both Warwick and Leamington. They advertised as ‘by Special Appointment to Her Majesty… Cabinet Makers, Upholsterers, Interior Decorators &c. &c. 34 Warwick Street, Leamington: Manufactory, St John’s, Warwick… J & W beg to call attention to their entire new stock of cabinet furniture &c. &c. which they still continue to manufacture with the same scrupulous regard for quality as manifested during the last half century’. However, the business was waning and on 8 June 1867 its closure was announced and once again a sale of stock held ‘… including the Plaster Casts for the Alscot Park Buffet, as also the Charlecote Sideboard, by that talented artist, Hugues Protat…’, 300 models, 50 design books and various folios of drawings. The Warwick Advertiser of 20th July 1867 announced that J W Cookes had been purchased by Frederick Coote, who in turn was taken over by Collier and Plucknett by June 1869. Cookes & Sons estate agency continued into the early 20th century.  James Morris Willcox (fl. 1825-59), once an employee of Cookes & Sons, set up business on his own account in Warwick in the late 1820s/30s and gained a high reputation for carving, subsequently apprenticing Thomas Henry Willcox [see entry for Willcox, James].

Sources: DEFM; Aslin, 19th Century English Furniture (1962); Symonds and Whineray, Victorian Furniture (1962); Stevens, The Woodcarvers of Warwick (1980); Hall, ‘James Plucknett of Warwick and Leamington Spa’, Furniture History (1996). 

Meyer, Great Exhibitions. London, New York, Paris, Philadelphia, 1851-1900 (2006).