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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.1812-1867)

William Cookes (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 Street, 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, made from a fallen Kenilworth oak tree, with carvings depicting 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 won a prize medal.  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, designed by Hugues Protat (illus.Aslin (1962), pl. 51 & Victorian Furniture (1962) figs. 21 & 22).

William Cookes died in 1853. The following year his sons took John Plank Meres into the partnership and for a few years they 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 they received a commission 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.

Queen Victoria made a state visit to Warwickshire in 1858 and Cookes, Sons and Meres supplied some of the furnishings (old and new) which the Corporation had recently bought, including a state chair, settee, other chairs, mirrors and a loaned sideboard. 

The 1861 Census listed John Cookes, aged 49, and an upholsterer at Low Church Street, employing thirty men and eight boys, and Walter Cookes, aged 47, an upholsterer, estate agent and auctioneer at Coventry Road. The partnership was dissolved at the end of 1861 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 was asked to run the businesses as two companies with 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’.

This business initiative was unsuccessful resulting in its closure on the 8 June 1867 and a subsequent sale of stock which included the plaster casts for the 'Alscot Park Buffet' and the 'Charlecote Sideboard', by Hugues Protat, as well as '300 models, 50 design books and various folios of drawings'

On the 20th July 1867 The Warwick Advertiser announced J. W. Cookes had been purchased by Frederick Coote and by June 1869 it was taken over by Collier and Plucknet. Cookes & Sons estate agency continued into the early 20th century. 

James Morris Willcox (fl. 1825-59) established his own carving business in Warwick in the late 1820s/30s and apprenticed Thomas Henry Willcox.

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).