Liverpool, upholder and cabinet maker (1749–1824)
The son of a Thomas Gregson, block maker, a Lancaster man who later became the founder of the Greenland whaling industry; app. to William Litherland, upholsterer in April 1765. He was in partnership with Elizabeth Urmson 1778–88 and with Jonathan Bullen, 1800–06.Two trade advertisements featuring an oval mirror leaning against a tree in a landscape 'GREGSON/upholsterer/Preeson's Row /Liverpool’ are in the Banks Collection of the British Museum.
The trade card of Gregson, Upholsterer, Preeson's Row, Liverpool, 1795 [D,2.1298]. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Advertisement for Gregson and Bullen, Upholsterers, Liverpool, c.1802-3 [1882,0311.4566]. © The Trustees of the British Museum
One of the same design headed GREGSON & BULLEN is in the Landauer Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.
A painted satinwood urn table [V&A W.45–1935] is inscribed in ink ‘M. Gregson, Liverpool, 1790’ although he may not have made it. A Pembroke table, a satinwood side table and a satinwood cabinet recorded labelled ‘GREGSON / Upholsterer / Preeson's Row / LIVERPOOL / Makes & Sells every Article in the / Present Taste/ From the Plain and Neat to the / Most Superb /Looking Glasses / in Carved & Gilt Frames / Cabinet Goods in the / Best Construction / Designs Made for Interior / DECORATIONS / Goods for Exportation’.
Gregson was one of the most successful Liverpool cabinet makers of his generation and by the age of 60 had acquired three country estates, the principal one being at Overton Hall, Cheshire; he was elected an FSA following publication in 1817 of his Fragments Relative to the History and Antiquities of the County Palatine and Duchy of Lancaster and played a leading part in developing the public institutions of Liverpool. He was twice married and fathered eight children. At an exhibition of the Society of Artists in Liverpool in 1774 he showed designs for beds in the Chinese, Palmyrean & Gothic tastes. [Walpole Soc., vol. VI, p. 74] He was sworn a Freeman of Lancaster in 1779–80, of Liverpool in 1786; and subscribed to Sheraton's Drawing Book, 1793 and Cabinet Dictionary, 1803.
The partnership with Bullen of 1801-06 brought them into contact with Gillows. This was the ‘Mr. Bullen' who as a young man was Gillow's acting clerk in Lancaster in 1797. The Gillow family were on familiar terms with the firm and sold them furniture wholesale. In August 1800 Gregson & Bullen ordered a very good bureau writing table with drawer and cupboard locks of the best kind from Gillows and in November they shipped oval cisterns to the Liverpool firm on the Providence. Robert Gillow was involved with the Liverpool firm in a valuation arbitration at High Lake, Mr. Parker's property, in 1801. He sought Gregson & Bullen's advice on what to charge for his services regarding the matter. In the same year Robert Gillow also offered to supply them with chair frames with reeded legs with or without brass mouldings for seats and top rails. In March 1801 Gillows ordered two bags of white feathers and two of grey feathers and acknowledged that they would make them two dozen chairs; Gillows described how they were to be packed; 'We find it a convenience in having the tablets loose till they are stuffed & the moldings fix’d they are afterwards glued in their places if they are sent so we could push six or seven more frames into a crate without sending the seat loose which we think would be more advisable…’. They also sent the firm a library bookcase on the Hound in 1801.
Richard Watt paid Gregson £788 in 1809–10 for furnishing Speke Hall, the contents of which were sold by auction in 1812. George Bullock had equipped the Great Hall in the same years.
Gregson's main premises were in Preeson's Row, Richmond Row and Paradise St. In 1801 his warehouse, workshop and saw pit in Richmond Row were insured for £800. [GL, Sun MS, vol. 43, ref. 726206] He traded as a paper, looking glass and feather merchant, u and cm, serving clients in Liverpool, Cheshire and Wales. Sale catalogues of his stock in trade (1814) and of Speke Hall (1812) reveal he was a complete house furnisher and decorator. [Liverpool RO, 920 HOL 6 & GRE 5/22] His library included the pattern books of Chippendale, Ince & Mayhew, Hepplewhite, Sheraton and George Smith as well as volumes of French designs. He designed iron hospital beds and produced a special line of whalebone furniture; in 1804 he patented a new method of stoving feathers and in 1812 submitted a scheme for preventing damp and dry rot.
The Gregson papers [Liverpool RO, 920 GRE] contain copious records of the firm's commissions including an order book J–Z from 1807 onwards, several Journals, a catalogue of his closing down sale in 1814 and a fabric pattern book (there is evidence he designed textiles). Gregson's biography, details of his changes of address, work force, apps and business activities are fully detailed in a dossier compiled by the author and deposited in the Furniture Dept at the V&A.
Sources: DEFM; Stuart, Gillows of Lancaster and London 1730-1840 (2008), II, pp 242, 244 & 314.