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Garnett, Robert and Sons (1824-1915)

Garnett, Robert and Sons

Penketh and Warrington, Lancashire; cabinet makers, builders, upholsterers, decorators and designers (fl.1824-1915)

Robert Garnett (1805-1877), was the son of a watch maker and farmer. In 1884 he established a cabinet-making business in the Lancashire village of Penketh after completing two apprenticeships, one with the cabinet maker, Richard Coppul. In time he was joined by his three sons, Robert junior (1830-1903), William (1830-?), and David (1843-1912). 

Robert junior succeeded his father as head of the family firm and in turn, his son, Robert Edward (1863-1951), took his place. The business traded under the name of Robert Garnett and Sons, cabinet makers and upholsterers. The 1861 Census recorded seventy employees at the Penketh works and in 1871, eighty-two employees (sixty-seven adults and fifteen apprentices). Because trade was slow in the early days, Robert senior had expanded into the building trade, constructing the Penketh Friends' School (Quaker), the Penketh School, the Day Star School, and many houses in Penketh. 

In 1867, his second son, William, left the family business and set up independently as a cabinet maker in Chester, trading as Garnett and Son. They not only made furniture but also fitted out private and commercial properties, providing chimney pieces, carving and panelling, as well as upholstery, interior decoration and design work throughout England and Wales. In the spring of 1886 Garnett & Sons made glass display cases for the newly renovated Borough Museum of Warrington [The Furniture Gazette, 1 April 1886]. An early 20th century Warrington trade directory listed 130 of their other commissions including Bradford Town Hall Council Chamber, Lever Bros' Port Sunlight Offices, the Bishop's Palace at Lincoln, and Osmaston Manor, Derbyshire. They also exported to other countries. 

Robert Garnett and Sons not only made furniture but also fitted out private and commercial properties, providing chimney pieces, carving and panelling, as well as upholstery, interior decoration and design work throughout England and Wales. An early 20th century Warrington trade directory lists 130 of their commissions which included Bradford Town Hall Council Chamber, Lever Bros' Port Sunlight Offices, the Bishop's Palace at Lincoln, and Osmaston Manor, Derbyshire. They also exported to other countries. 

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Garnett
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Garnett Family Archives

                                Bradford Town Hall council chamber

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Garnett
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Garnett Family Archives

                               A smoking room in Bradford Town Hall

It is recorded that the firm exhibited a bed at the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1861, 'the biggest arts exhibition ever'. While the main workshop remained in Penketh, a smaller workshop was set up in Warrington behind the firm's office, which later became their showrooms at 21 Sankey Street. 

When Robert senior died in 1877 his obituary stated that he had been an active member of the Wesleyan Methodist Society and that one of his daughters married Robert Jenks, partner of Jenks & Holt at Holborn Viaduct, London [The Furniture Gazette, 5 May 1877]. Robert junior of Nook Hall, Penketh, was appointed on the Peace Commission for the borough of Warrington [The Furniture Gazette, 1 July 1885].

Garnett & Sons exhibited a dining room & bedroom which were were both commended for their 'skill and judgment' at the Manchester Jubilee Exhibition, 1887 [The British Architect, 3 June 1887].    

In 1901 the Penketh works were destroyed by fire (fortunately without loss of life) and all work was transferred to Warrington. The Garnett family were generous and well-respected members of the Penketh community as seen for example in their paying to build the Quaker School and extending the Methodist Chapel. 

In 1906, Robert Garnett and Sons established a branch in Liverpool at 122 Bold Street, furnished in the style of a private house. Behind was a small workshop employing a dozen cabinet makers. On the other side of Liverpool they had a timber yard where imported hardwood logs were sawn then taken to the Warrington works. A branch of the firm was also set up in Southport, Lancashire in 1906.

The Garnetts built a six-storey factory in Warrington with a tall tower, completed in 1906 (a replica of the one on the Bargello Palace in Florence) housing a 7000 gallon water tank to feed the sprinkler system, quite an innovation at the time.

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Factory
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Garnett Family Archives

                               View of the Warrington factory, c. 1906.

A 1908 trade directory described the firm as 'cabinet makers, upholsterers, house decorators, plumbers, furniture removers and stores'. In 1913, R. E. Garnett fell gravely ill and suffered for eighteen months before recovering. In consequence, in 1915 the Warrington business was closed. The premises were let with the showroom becoming a Woolworths shop. The Liverpool business limped on for a year, then was sold to Waring and Gillow.

Source: Robert David Vincent Garnett (1939-  ), the two times grandson of the founder, Robert Garnett.