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Hindley, Charles & Son(s) (1820-1892)

Hindley, Charles & Son(s) 

Berners Street & Oxford Street, London; cabinet makers, upholsterers, retailers (fl.c.1820-1892) 

Son of Christopher (a successful merchant in Mere, Wiltshire), Charles (b.1792-d.1871) moved to London with an elder brother to live with his uncle, who was possibly running the London branch of the Wiltshire business.  In 1817 Charles joined the upholstery firm of Benjamin Merriman Nias at 32 Berners Street. Within a few years he bought the Nias business with a £1,000 investment from his family. From 1820-1841 listings in the London directories recorded the firm predominantly as a ‘Carpet Warehouse’.  However, upholstery and cabinet work joined the repertoire and additional showroom space was taken at 31 Berners Street in mid-1830s. Family records of the 1840s showed that individual custom-order business expanded with ‘supplying established furnishing houses with goods on wholesale terms’. Diverse jobs included the supply of 100 hair mattresses and pillows to Pentonville Prison, the alteration of spring roller blinds, complete suites of parlour furniture for a private commission and cabinetwork for stock. Charles Hindley was the father of 11 children, of whom three were involved in the business; Charles Hugh (b.1818), Frederick (b.1820) and Albert Daniel (b.1822). Charles Hugh and Frederick, the two eldest sons, joined the family firm about 1832, forming Charles Hindley & Sons although the first listing of this appeared in the London directories of 1844. Albert, a younger son of Charles, learned the carpet manufactory and trade in Kidderminster and eventually established a carpet manufactory in Liversedge, Yorkshire, supplying the family’s London store and others. In 1845 he patented an early tufted carpeting technique. In September 1844 Charles Hindley acquired the firm of Miles & Edwards, including their premises at 134 Oxford Street. The two firms operated from this address until 1845 when Miles & Edwards was closed. The latter’s accounts showed the purchase of various objects by Hindleys in September 1844 ranging from ‘14063...mah [mahogany] 3 tier whatnot’ estimated at £1.5.0 to ‘14071 ...walnut cabriole chair in leopard velvet’ for £4.0.0 and ‘14057....set of Honduras mahogany dining tables 4.0 x 13.0” costing £17.10.0.  With the purchase of Miles & Edwards, the firm was able to compete with other West End firms and offered everything from cabinetmaking and upholstery to painted decoration and interior design for the growing middle-class market as well as the upper classes.  In a sample of 737 orders from October 1842-June 1845, 6% of the clientele were upper and lower aristocracy with approximately 70% gentry or middle class.  The former category included the surnames of Hoare, Kirland, Drummond, Montefiore, Ashburton and Rothschild, and the Oriental Club, 18 Hanover Square (1824). Commissions were also executed for Lady Fetherstonaugh at Uppark (bills dating 1852 and 1862) for furniture and curtains, decorative wood panels supplied to C B E Wright of Bolton Hall, Yorkshire, furniture supplied to the Earl of Dudley (including a carved gilt wood centre table with mosaic top, dated 1845), Himley Hall, Staffordshire (bedroom suite sold by Hampton & Sons, July 1924), Sir Clifford Constable at Burton Constable (1849), George Hammond Lucy at Charlecote Park for carpeting (19 December 1844), the Duke of Cleveland at Raby Castle, the Duke of Argyll, the Duke of Newcastle, Lord and Lady Burton of Burton-on-Trent, and Sir William Eden of Windlestone Hall, Durham. There was also a small Hindley commission to supply Chintz wall covering for some rooms at Buckingham Palace in 1855.  Surviving marked furniture by Hindley & Co. includes a stamped Regency kidney-shaped desk, veneered in yew and panelled with boxwood and ebony inlay, ornamented with finely-chased mounts and beadings, c.1830. [Conn., November 1978; V&A archives] which is possibly the one illustrated in Gilbert (1996), fig. 498, and a walnut writing table with a raised set of drawers, 1840s, stamped C. Hindley & Sons, illus. (Gilbert (1996), fig. 497 and sold Sotheby’s, 5 August 1981, lot 209.

The staff at 134 Oxford Street comprised management, sales staff, designers, foreman, clerks, cabinetmakers, chairmakers, upholsterers, carvers, carpenters and French polishers. The designers did not sign their designs but about 15 different hands were probably involved during the fifty-year period. Workrooms for the makers were adjacent to the shop, ‘at the north-west corner of the [Chintz] room was a passage leading to workshops and stores, which enabled the staff to explain particular orders to the work-people’. The 1871 London Post Office Directory recorded Charles Hindley & Sons, as cabinet makers & upholsterers at 132, 133 & 134 Oxford Street and Red Lion Yard, Old Cavendish Yard, London, and Erskine Road, Regent’s Park Road, London. Apparently there was also a ‘fringe workshop’ at 41-52 Bartholomew Close. The Building News of 19 June 1885 commented that the firm 'manufacture all their own cabinet and joinery work at their manufactory, where a large stock of thoroughly seasoned woods are kept'.  In family records the following staff were mentioned ‘a large and very ancient carpenter named Tomlinson… a cabinetmaker named Westbrook... [and] a foreman named Sorrel’.  In the late 1880s the firm employed a designer called J Armstrong Stenhouse and the cabinetmakers G R Mackenzie, D MacLennan and D F Lavach, as well as a carver, F Lucas, all of whom worked on the two Hindley exhibition pieces for the 2nd exhibition of the Arts and Crafts Society, London, in 1889. In addition, there was a building department to handle minor construction and architectural alterations as well as painting and wallpapering. The firm contracted tradesmen specialising in particular decorative and finishing techniques; such as Joseph Spong, a japanner, and William Stannard, a carver and gilder, both listed in London directories and both supplied significant orders 1845-46.   Stannard was also recorded in the stock book for ‘Repairing, Cleaning and Varnishing 18 Paintings [frames]... £9.0.0’.  An archive of 114 drawings now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was collated by Charles Albert Hindley (1863-1947), grandson of the founder of the firm.  These designs (some  illus. Microulis, Furniture History (2001), figs 1-16.), c. 1844-83, reflected the current trends of reinterpreted styles such as Gothic and Louis and several seated furniture designs were labelled with specific commercial names such as the ‘Victoria Chair’, ‘Nelson Couch’ the ‘Farnboro Chair’ and the ‘Rutland Chair’.  ‘Elizabethan’ twisted turned columns were often included and the influence of Pugin is evident in Hindley’s designs of chairs (illus. Microulis, Studies in the Decorative Arts (Spring/Summer 1998) p.79 & 80). The early company records bore in-house pattern numbers such as the ‘No. 9 Rosewood Elizabethan Occasional Table’, the ‘Easy Chair No. 15’, the ‘Rosewood Bedstead and Cornice No. 3’ and the ‘Amboyna Tea Caddie No. 2’. The numbering of Oxford Street was altered in 1883 and after this date several of the firm’s drawings bore the address of 290-294 Oxford Street. The Furniture Gazette of 1886 gave the same addresses. Further archival material including inventory and day books is in the City of Westminster Archives Centre (M:494/1-35).  Innovative pieces provided only a very small percentage of their output. At the Great Exhibition, The Crystal Palace, London in 1851 Charles Hindley & Sons showed a large Gothic sideboard (illus. Microulis, Studies in the Decorative Arts (Spring/Summer 1998) p. 86) inspired by Pugin. A Gothic bookcase was exhibited by the firm at the 1862 International Exhibition, London, and also another large sideboard (illus. Microulis, Studies in the Decorative Arts (Spring/Summer 1998) p. 88). Both were elaborately carved pieces, described in the Art Journal Illustrated Catalogue of the exhibition as supplying ‘evidence of sound judgment and advanced taste in the designer, and of able and skilful workmanship’.   

Census records of 1891 recorded Charles Hugh living as a widower at Hayes Lodge, Camberwell, with 3 daughters and 7 sons including Charles Albert (aged 27), Edward H (aged 26) both of whom were described as upholsterers. Charles A & Edward opened their own firm at 70-71 Welbeck Street, which eventually merged with Wilkinson & Son of Old Bond Street, becoming Hindley & Wilkinson Ltd. Charles Hindley & Sons closed in November 1892 after a prolonged period of slowing sales due to competition from cheaper manufacturers and internal managerial disputes. In a letter of 9 October 1892 to his brother Albert Daniel Hindley, Charles Hugh wrote ‘We have sold great quantities of goods at great loss, and a fair amount of things sent on sale or return by trade manufacturers, at a moderate profit, scarcely enough to pay current expenses to say nothing of extraordinary expense... However, we are now approaching the second Saturday after we announced to close, Monday 10th will see Bills in the windows, indicating that all the remainder will be offered by Auction Nov.1 to 5, and then we give possession of premises on the 11th’.  Later Charles Albert Hindley, grandson of Charles, wrote that C Hindley & Sons had built a reputation for ‘high priced goods and long profits’.   

Source: DEFM; Joy, ‘The Royal Victorian Furniture-Makers, 1837-87’, The Burlington Magazine (November 1969); Gilbert, Pictorial Dictionary of Marked London Furniture 1700-1840 (1996); Microulis, ‘Charles Hindley & Sons, London House Furnishers of the Nineteenth Century: A Paradigm of the Middle-Range Market’, Studies in the Decorative Arts (Spring/Summer 1998); Microulis, ‘The Furniture Drawings of Charles Hindley & Sons, 134 Oxford Street, London’, Furniture History (2001); Hindley Family papers, Department of Furniture, Textiles & Fashion, V&A.