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Hindley, Charles & Sons (1820-1892)

Hindley, Charles & Sons

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

Charles Hugh Hindley (b.1792- d.1871) was the son of Christopher, a merchant in Mere, Wiltshire. He 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. Despite his business being described as a 'carpet warehouse' in London directories from 1820-1841, by the mid-1830s upholstery and cabinet work had joined his repertoire and he had taken on more showroom space next door at 31 Berners Street. Family records of the 1840s showed that individual custom-order business expanded to also ‘supplying established furnishing houses with goods on wholesale terms’. Jobs ranged from supplying Pentonville Prison with 100 hair mattresses and pillows, to altering spring roller blinds, to fulfilling private commissions with suites of parlour furniture. 

Hindley was the father of eleven children with three involved in the business: Charles Hugh (b. 1818), Frederick (b. 1820), and Albert Daniel (b.1822). Charles Hugh and Frederick joined the family firm about 1832, thus establishing the family partnership, Charles Hindley & Sons. Albert Daniel 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. 

Charles Hindley & Sons acquired the firm, Miles & Edwards in September 1844, including their premises at 134 Oxford Street. Both companies 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.  

The purchase of Miles & Edwards enabled Hindley & Co. to compete with other West End firms by offering everything from cabinet making and upholstery to painted decoration and interior design for the middle and upper class market. In a sample of 737 orders from October 1842-June 1845, six per cent of the clientele were upper and lower aristocracy with approximately seventy per cent gentry or middle class. The aristocratic clientele included the surnames of Hoare, Kirland, Drummond, Montefiore, Ashburton and Rothschild, and the Oriental Club at 18 Hanover Square (1824). 

Commissions were also executed for:

  • Lady Fetherstonaugh at Uppark: bills dating 1852 and 1862 for furniture and curtains
  • C B E Wright of Bolton Hall, Yorkshire: decorative wood panels 
  • The Earl of Dudley at Himley Hall, Staffordshire: a carved gilt wood centre table with mosaic top, dated 1845 and a bedroom suite (sold by Hampton & Sons, July 1924)
  • Sir Clifford Constable at Burton Constable (1849)
  • George Hammond Lucy at Charlecote Park: 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
  • Sir William Eden of Windlestone Hall, Durham. 
  • Buckingham Palace: a small supply of Chintz wall covering for some rooms (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 [Connoiseur, November 1978], 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 by Sotheby’s, 5 August 1981, lot 209.

The staff at 134 Oxford Street comprised management, sales staff, designers, foreman, clerks, cabinet makers, chair makers, upholsterers, carvers, carpenters and French polishers. They also contracted tradesmen specialising in particular decorative and finishing techniques; such as Joseph Spong, a japanner, and William Stannard, a carver and gilder, who supplied significant orders, 1845-46. Stannard was also recorded in the stock book for ‘Repairing, Cleaning and Varnishing 18 Paintings [frames]  £9.0.0’. Family records describe several employees: ‘a large and very ancient carpenter named Tomlinson… a cabinetmaker named Westbrook... [and] a foreman named Sorrel’.

Charles Hindley & Sons showed a large Gothic sideboard at the Great Exhibition in 1851, inspired by Pugin (illustrated Microulis, Studies in the Decorative Arts (Spring/Summer 1998) p. 86) and they exhibited a Gothic bookcase and large sideboard at the 1862 International Exhibition, London (illustrated Microulis, Studies in the Decorative Arts (Spring/Summer 1998) p. 88). Both were elaborately carved pieces, described in the Art Journal Illustrated Catalogue as  ‘evidence of sound judgment and advanced taste in the designer, and of able and skilful workmanship’. They also participated in the Building Trades Exhibition at the Agricultural Hall, Islington, 1883 [The Furniture Gazette, 7 April 1883]. They exhibited Japanese leather papers at the Manchester Fine Art & Industrial Exhibition, 1882, and were awarded a silver medal for embossed leather wall hangings at the Calcutta International Exhibition, 1883 [The Furniture Gazette, 18 November 1882 & 10 May 10 May 1884]. They also participated in the Workman’s Exhibition at Central Hall in Holborn, 1890 [The Furniture Gazette, 15 April 1890]. 

The designers did not sign their work but about fifteen different people were probably involved during the fifty-year period. One designer who worked in the late 1880s was J. Armstrong Stenhouse. He and the cabinet makers, G. R. Mackenzie, D. MacLennan and D. F. Lavach, as well as the carver, F. Lucas, worked on two Hindley exhibition pieces for the 2nd exhibition of the Arts and Crafts Society, London, one of which is illustrated below: 

Enamelled chimney piece

Drawing of a white enamelled chimney piece, designed by J. Armstrong Stenhouse and made by Hendley & Son, c.1889. The Furniture Gazette, 15 December 1889. p. 361.

An archive of 114 drawings (now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) was collated by Charles Albert Hindley (1863-1947), a grandson of the founder. These designs c.1844-1883 (some illustrated in  Microulis, Furniture History (2001), figs 1-16.), 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 (illustrated 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. Further archival material including inventory and day books is held in the City of Westminster Archives Centre (M:494/1-35). Innovative pieces provided only a very small percentage of their output. 

The Furniture Gazette recorded several private commissions of architectural fittings 1889-1890:

  • Col. Baillie at 54 Sloane Street: an inglenook and fittings for the drawing room (1889)
  • E. H. Pierrepoint at Higham Grange: an inglenook, panelling and ribbed ceiling (1889)
  • Col. Wright at Mapperly Hall, Nottingham: an inglenook and mantlepieces (1889)
  • J. W. Malcolm at 19 Green Street, Mayfair: oak panelling (1889)
  • Maj. General Bonus at The Cedars, Strawberry Hill: carved fitments (1890)
  • The Stock Exchange, Johnannesburg, South Africa: a carved chimney piece for [15 March 1890]. 

A letter from Charles Albert to his uncle, Albert Daniel, in Liversedge on 31 January 1887 he discussed the future of Charles Hindley & Sons; 'My father & uncle are past working it properly, and they ought, of course, to retire... I feel that at my age I ought see my way to a livelihood -I cannot see anything of the sort...If you can be anything to raise a crisis, you will do a good thing for every member of a large circle, whatever the result'. He also discussed the possibility of setting up on his own with Edward. In 1891 Charles Hugh lived as a widower at Hayes Lodge, Camberwell, with three daughters and seven sons including Charles Albert (aged 27) and Edward H (aged 26); both recorded as upholsterers. Charles A & Edward opened their own firm at 70-71 Welbeck Street by 1891-2, which shortly 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. The final straw may have been a fire on the Erskine Road premises which nearly destroyed the works [The Furniture Gazette, 15 August 1891]. In a letter of 9 October 1892 to his brother Albert Daniel, 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’. A sale of stock was announced in The Furniture Gazette, 15 June 1892.

The 1895 Post Office Directory listed Charles Hindley as a cabinet maker at Tottenham Mews, but it is not known whether this was the same man. Later Charles Albert Hindley (the grandson of Charles) wrote that C. Hindley & Sons had built a reputation for ‘high priced goods and long profits’.   

Sources: DEFM; Joy, ‘The Royal Victorian Furniture-Makers, 1837-87’, The Burlington Magazine (November 1969); C. Gilbert, Pictorial Dictionary of Marked London Furniture 1700-1840 (1996); L. 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); L. 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.