Howard, John and Howard & Sons
London; upholsterers, cabinet makers (fl. 1820-1925)
John Tudor Howard was probably born in 1794 in Brightlingsea, Essex. He was a member of the Upholders’ Company in the early part of the 19th century and was first noted at 24 Leman Street in 1820, the date which was stated in later catalogues and labels. At 34 Little Alie Street by 1835, when his trade card stated ‘JOHN HOWARD, Cabinet Manufacturer, Upholsterer, Appraiser & Undertaker, CARPET & FEATHER WAREHOUSE, 34 Alie Street, Goodman’s Fields. Plain & Ornamental. Paper Hanging. Furniture for Exportation’. In 1844 he opened a showroom and workshop at 36 Red Lion Square (although still recorded at 34 Alie Street in 1845 London Postal Directory) and by 1847 John Howard & Sons was registered at 22 Berners Street in the Post Office Directory. Census records of 1851 showed him at 22 Berners Street as an upholsterer employing 22 workers. In 1853 John Howard & Sons took on 26 Berners Street in addition to no. 22. By 1866 John Howard & Sons registered address was 26 & 27 Berners Street, according to the Post Office Directories, with George Howard also at these addresses. In 1869 John Howard & Sons, upholsterers, were registered at 25-27 Berners Street, although ‘Howard & Sons, cabinet-makers’, was also listed at 36 Cleveland Street, Fitzroy Square (works), and Tottenham Street in 1871. John Howard was married to Mary (b. 1794). They had one daughter, Mary (b.1823) and three sons, George (b.1830), Charles (b.1832), Charles (b.1831) and Joseph (b.1831). In 1851 only George appeared to be working in the business as an upholsterer. By 1861 John Tudor Howard and Mary were living at 7 Wood Lane, Hammersmith, with no children living at home.
Howard & Sons displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851 a heavily carved sideboard, the back and front inlaid with fine plate glass and floral ornaments in the Italian style (illus. Art Journal Illustrated Catalogue of the Exhibition, p. 754 & Meyer (2006), p. 55). Between c.1858-63 the firm made four bookcases, designed by the architect Charles Forster Hayward for John Jones, three of which were part of the Jones bequest to the V&A in 1882. The first c.1858 (V&A: 1079-1882), carved by W H Baylis, was of double height and made to contain the prizes of Jones’s library, copies of Shakespeare’s first three Folios (1623–64).
Bookcase designed by Charles Forster Hayward, made 1862-3 [1080:1-1882]. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Three low carved oak bookcases followed; the first (1859; private collection) was elaborately carved but has no painted decoration, and was not part of the Jones Bequest. It was followed by a bookcase which was painted and partly designed by Edward John Poynter, 1860–1, (V&A: 1081-1882) also carved by W H Baylis, and a final one, painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1862–3 (V&A:1080-1882).
In 1862 Howard & Sons exhibited at the International Exhibition, London, with the emphasis being on ‘Pompeian style’ furniture including an engraved bookcase (part of a library suite), designed by Mr Vandale, artist to the firm (illus. Symonds & Whineray, Victorian Furniture (1962), fig. 41). G W Yapp described the suite; ‘The aim of the artist was to reproduce the style and ornamentation of Herculaneum and Pompeii, and to adapt them to the requirements of our time’. The library desk is illus. Meyer (2006), p. 165. The firm participated in the Philadelphia Exhibition of 1876, showing an inlaid oak chimney piece with shelves and glazed cases (illus. Meyer (2006), p. 215) and at the New York Centennial Exhibition the following year. In 1878 Howard & Sons took part in the Paris Universal Exhibition, where their stand included a room in the Old English style, in oak, with furniture in the same style, and also a marquetried wardrobe which Paul in Society of Paris, Artisans Reports described as having ‘some machine made marquetrie, which is simply an abomination…. So long as wood is wood, and until a machine can be invented to deal with it as wood, marquetrie will have to be made by hand’. Theodore Howard, of the same Howard family, designed the hallway of a house in St Cloud in 1880, with a staircase and sofa influenced by designs of Godwin. In the following year The Building News featured an engraving of the interior of The Limes, Dulwich, by Theodore Howard. The firm exhibited at the 1890 3rd Exhibition of the Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society and in September 1893 an auction took place of contents from Studley Castle, which apparently included furniture supplied by Howard & Sons, and also by Gillows & Co., earlier in the 19th century. A mahogany armchair, with splat decorated with Gothic tracery labelled on the underside ‘Easy Chair & Sofa Factory. Howard & Sons Ltd. Upholsterers. 25, 26 & 27 Berners Street. London. Patent Dining Tables’, is illus. Victorian Furniture (1962) p. 134. The firm exhibited at the 1900 Paris Exhibition. The display included an armchair (probably Bridgewater style), sideboard and cabinet, which were illustrated in the exhibition report of The Cabinet Maker and Art Furnisher. Overall their work at major exhibitions was well received and prizes were won at the 1862 in London, 1878 & 1900 in Paris and at the 1894 Exposition Internationale d’Anvers. The Gold medal received in 1900 was for two fine interiors, of which the dining room is illus. Meyer (2006), p. 310.
In 1899 Howard & Sons was incorporated as a company. Walter Howard of Howard & Sons (relationship to John Howard unknown) received a royal warrant dated 3 December 1901 to supply upholstered objects to Edward VII. By 1910 Howard & Sons upholsterers had added no. 25 to 26 & 27 Berners Street, with Howard & Sons, cabinet makers, at 36 Cleveland Street (the workshop), until c. 1925. In 1935 the firm was bought by Lenygon & Morant and was listed at 31 Old Burlington Street (Lenygon & Morant’s address since 1909). This might explain why a catalogue of ‘Howard & Sons Ltd. Easy Chairs and Settees’ dated c.1920 stated that Howard & Sons was first established in 1820 at 31 Old Burlington Street. Lenygon & Morant moved to South Audley Street, where from 1954 they advertised as ‘Makers of Howard Chairs & Sofas’. In 1967 the owners of the business opened Howard Chairs Ltd, the company operating from Lyme Street still continuing to make high quality sofas and armchairs.
Objects made by Howard & Sons, have been published and/or illustrated in auction catalogues or in the sources below. A simulated bamboo cupboard, c.1880, formerly in the Charles and Lavinia Handley-Read collection is now at Birmingham Museums Trust (1972M156). A notable faux-bamboo suite can be seen at Cragside, Northumberland and a sofa in Lady Vernon’s sitting room at Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire, is probably the earliest example of Howard & Sons’ intact original upholstery of c. 1855.
A set of 6 oak dining chairs, c.1865-75, with 26 & 27 Berners Street numbered paper labels, were sold at Christies in 1988 with the design of attributed to G F Bodley, and were very similar to set of 22 chairs designed by Bodley and made by Howard & Sons supplied for the Hall (High Table) at Queens’ College, Cambridge (order placed October 11, 1865). Commissions included Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire, Elton Hall, Huntingdonshire and Stokesay Court, Shropshire.
Patents held by George Howard
George Howard was a keen user of patents. The firm’s later labels refer to a ‘patent dining table’ but this patent has not yet been found. Other patents held by George Howard include:
18th August 1865, Patent No 2138 - Ornamental Walls – a process of applying veneers to walls prepared with canvas and whiting; 28th November 1866, Patent No 3135 - Elastic Seats - this is probably the most important patent, concerning a new way of upholstering chairs by suspending feathers in compartments instead of the usual horse hair, stitching &c.; 24th March 1867, Patent No 1548 - Parquet Flooring - making four-ply blocks with alternating grain direction to make the floor more stable; 25th November 1879, Patent No 4810 - Parquet Flooring - another method to combat shrinkage; 20th April 1880, Patent No 1617 - Floors Ceiling etc - another method of the same; 13th July 1883, Patent No 3446 - manufacture of Marquetry Parquet for flooring etc. - creating two tone marquetry floors with the ‘wastage’. In effect this was a premier-partie and contre-partie technique which, as well as being decorative, made use of the ‘waste’ created in a conventional marquetry floor; 21st December 1883, Patent No 5834 - Fixing Flooring – a method of dovetailing the floor to the joists; 30th March 1898, Patent No 7656 - Improvements in leg rests - a portable leg rest.
Parquetry was clearly an important part of Howard & Sons’ business and they issued a separate catalogue for their flooring some time after 1899. Examples could be seen at the Savoy ballroom floor (now removed) and the Blackpool Tower ballroom and Sledmere House, Yorkshire, where it was described as 'Parquet Flooring Reproducing the Carpet’. Examples of the wood veneered walls are at Little Aston Hall, Staffordshire.
Sources: Symonds and Whineray, Victorian Furniture (1962); Meyer, Great Exhibitions. London, New York, Paris, Philadelphia. 1851-1900 (2006); Wallis, ‘A Hand-List of the Handley-Read Collection’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2016); Symonds & Whineray, ‘Victorian Furniture’ (1962); Edwards, Victorian Furniture, Manchester University Press (1993); Carruthers, Greensted, Roscoe, Ernest Gimson. Arts & Crafts Designer and Architect (2019); Shutler, ‘A History of Howard & Sons’ at https://sites.google.com/site/howardsofas/history-of-howard-and-sons (accessed 30/09/2019).