Howard, John & Howard & Sons
London; upholsterers and cabinet makers (fl. 1820-1925)
John Tudor Howard was born in Brightlingsea, Essex c. 1794. A member of the London Upholders’ Company, by 1820 he was trading from 24 Leman Street with this address appearing on his later catalogues and labels.
By 1835 he was at 34 Little Alie Street 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 and was also still listed at 34 Alie Street [1845 London Postal Directory].
In 1847 John Howard & Sons was registered at 22 Berners Street where they employed twenty-two workers [1847 Post Office Directory; 1851 Census]. By 1853 they had expanded their premises to include 26 Berners Street and by 1866 they were at 26-27 Berners Street [1866 London Post Office Directory]. In 1869 they were registered at 25-27 Berners Street with works at 36 Cleveland Street, Fitzroy Square, and by 1871 also in Tottenham Street.
John Howard was married to Mary (b.1794). They had one daughter, Mary (b.1823) and three sons, George (b.1830), Charles (b.1831) and Joseph (b.1832). George was an upholsterer and the only one of their children known to work in the business [1851 Census]. By 1861 John and his wife, Mary, were living at 7 Wood Lane, Hammersmith, with no children living at home [1861 Census].
Howard & Sons took over ‘The paper-hanging, chair and couch manufacturing establishment of Mr Nind, 249 Kingsland Road, London’ in 1874 [The Furniture Gazette, 7 February 1874]. The company was listed at 25-27 Berners Street in 1876 [The Furniture Gazette Directory, 1876]; in 1882 they were at three locations: 25-27 Berners Street; 36 Cleveland Street; and 44-45 Tottenham Street; and in the period 1895-1902 at 25-27 Berners Street and 36 Cleveland Street [London Post Office Directories]. From 1876-1902 the firm was listed as cabinet makers, upholsterers, decorators & glaziers and parquet flooring manufacturers.
Between c.1858-63, they 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 (made c.1858) was carved by W. H. Baylis, of double height, and made to contain the prizes of Jones’s library - copies of Shakespeare’s first three Folios, 1623–64. Three low carved oak bookcases followed: the first, made in 1859, was elaborately carved and with no painted decoration (not part of the Jones Bequest and in a private collection). It was followed by a bookcase painted and partly designed by Edward John Poynter and carved by W H Baylis, 1860-61; and the final one painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1862–63 (illustrated below).
Bookcase designed by Charles Forster Hayward, made 1862-1863 [1080:1-1882]. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Howard & Sons participated in at least twelve exhibitions:
- 1851 Great Exhibition: a heavily carved sideboard, the back and front inlaid with fine plate glass and floral ornaments in the Italian style at the (illus. Art Journal Illustrated Catalogue of the Exhibition, p. 754 & Meyer (2006), p. 55).
- 1862 International Exhibition, London: focused on ‘Pompeian style’ furniture, which included an engraved bookcase (part of a library suite), designed by the artist, Mr Vandale, (illus. Symonds & Whineray, Victorian Furniture (1962), fig. 41). G. W. Yapp wrote that ‘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.
- 1876 Philadelphia Exhibition: an inlaid oak chimney piece with shelves and glazed cases [illus. Meyer (2006), p. 215 & Furniture History (2001), p.115], and an ebonised Anglo-Japanese cabinet [illus. Furniture History (2001), p.117].
- 1877 New York Centennial Exhibition
- 1878 Paris Universal Exhibition: an oak room in the Old English style, displaying a wardrobe decorated in marquetry 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’.
Howard & Sons exhibited parquetry flooring at several small exhibitions:
- 1881 Exhibition of Works of Art applied to Furniture, Royal Albert Hall: cabinet work and parquet flooring [The Furniture Gazette, 7 & 28 May 1881]
- 1881 Exhibition of Modern Furniture held by the Society of Arts, Royal Albert Hall, 1881: cabinet work and parquet flooring [The Furniture Gazette, 29 October 1881]
- 1883 Building Trades Exhibition, Agricultural Hall, Islington: cabinet work and parquet flooring [The Furniture Gazette, 7 April 1883].
Parquetry was an important part of their business. Examples could be seen on the floor of the Savoy ballroom (now removed), 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.
Other small exhibitions:
- 1885 International Inventions Exhibition, London: furniture in various styles ranging from a Chinese table and a satin embroidered fire screen to a chair and cabinet after Sheraton. They also exhibited a mantelpiece in carved wood with bevelled mirrors framed in, electric light fittings, pendant & bracket lights and patent parquet flooring; the firm was awarded a silver medal for the latter [The Furniture Gazette, 1 September 1885].
- 1889 Paris Exhibition: The Furniture Gazette wrote that the cabinets, dressing tables, other tables & wardrobes were all made by machine but 'indistinguishable from hand made', and that the dining room panelling, chimney piece and parquet flooring were bought at the Exhibition by C. H. Wilson, M.P. for Hull. Howard & Sons also displayed a ‘salle de toilette’ in the British Section
- 1890 3rd Exhibition of the Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society: an inlaid cabinet (illustrated below).
Drawing of an inlaid cabinet by Howard & Sons, c. 1890. Published in The Furniture Gazette, 15 November 1890, p. 299.
- 1894 Exposition Internationale d’Anvers: a gold medal for two fine interiors, one a dining room [illus. Meyer (2006), p. 310].
- 1900 Paris Exhibition: an armchair (probably Bridgewater style) and a 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.
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).
16 sheets of Howard & Sons furniture designs, c.1874, depicting six pieces of seating furniture, seven tables and side tables, a window framing option, one fireplace decoration and one cupboard in different historical styles (State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, ERMb-III-39 – ERMBb-III-56). Some of these designs are annotated with the names of the clients including Lord Montagu, Earl of Portarlington, Mirza Malcolm Khan (ambassador from Iran to Great Britain 1872-89) and Meir Aron Goldschmid of Copenhagen. These original designs had probably been sold by Howard & Sons to ‘Warehouse Shop of Furniture of St Petersburg Carpenters’, established 1883, or through a third party. The State Hermitage Museum also houses a ‘Harley’ armchair (ERMb-1942), 1899-1904, stamped Howard and Sons Ltd. Some of these drawings & the armchair illus. Onegin (2021), figs.1-8.
- Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire
- Elton Hall, Huntingdonshire
- Stokesay Court, Shropshire
- The yacht, Cubona, for Sir A.B. Walker: panelling and cabinet work [The Furniture Gazette, 20 October 1883]
- The yacht, North Star, for Cornelius Vanderbilt: decoration
The Furniture Gazette reported some interesting news items reflecting the management of the firm’s treatment of employees, such as an annual bean feast at Roserville Gardens, where 200 enjoyed a day’s entertainment and dinner [The Furniture Gazette, 28 July 1877]; and a court hearing concerning the death Alfred John Bull, a 13 year old employed in the turners’ workshop who fell onto his lathe, possibly due to an unsafe floor, and was struck by a piece of wood, that Mr William Reeves, a contractor in the workshop and Joseph Langdon, a sawyer, who witnessed the incident. The outcome was that Mr Howard promised to put the workshop in safety [The Furniture Gazette, 19 August 1876].
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
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, the upholstery division of Howard & Sons had added no. 25 to 26 & 27 Berners Street, with Howard & Sons, cabinet makers, at 36 Cleveland Street (the workshop), until c. 1925.
The firm was bought by Lenygon & Morant in 1935 and was listed at 31 Old Burlington Street (Lenygon & Morant’s address since 1909). This may explain why a catalogue of ‘Howard & Sons Ltd. Easy Chairs and Settees’ dated c.1920 said 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.
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); Onegin, ‘From London to St Petersburg: The Howard & Sons Furniture Designs at the State Hermitage Musuem’, Furniture History (2021)