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Jackson & Graham  (1836–1885)

Jackson & Graham 

Oxford St, London; cabinet maker and upholsterer (1836–85)  

Jackson & Graham was one of the élite firms of early and mid-Victorian London and played a major role, through the international exhibitions from 1851 onwards, in raising the reputation of London furniture makers in the European and international markets. Peter Graham (b.1811) was a native of Cumbria, but Thomas Jackson’s origins are still unknown. Their partnership was established at 37 Oxford Street in 1836, and by 1839 had expanded to include 37 & 38 Oxford Street and 18 Newman Street. Tallis’ Street Views shows the premises as they were in 1838-40, at which time they were stated to be ‘UPHOLSTERERS, CARPET MANUFACTURERS, FURNITURE PRINTERS AND INTERIOR DECORATORS’; they were also ‘By Appointment to His Ottoman Majesty THE SULTAN’. In 1839 the Sun Insurance Co covered ‘two houses and a showroom all connecting’ valued at £700 and which contained stock worth £3,000, plus £1,000 worth of plate glass in the shop front and in stock. An invoice dated 14 June 1836, for a French polished rosewood sofa at £19 and other items is in the Museum of London, and trade card for this early period also survives, giving the address as 37 and 38 Oxford St. It shows an engraving of the exterior of their premises and states their trade as ‘Upholsterers, Carpet Manufacturers, Furniture Printers and Interior Decorators’. The Post Office Directory 1845 listed the firm at 37 & 38 Oxford Street as cabinet makers, upholsterers and house agents.

By 1855 the firm had expanded to include 35 Oxford Street and by 1866 they were at 29, 33, 34, 35, 37 and 38 Oxford Street as well as in Perry’s Place, Freston Place and Newman’s yard close by. Their workforce at this time was 250, and the wage bill amounted to £400 per week. In the 1850s they installed a steam engine for simple sawing operations and in 1860s introduced with machine-carving; in the Fine Art Catalogue of that year they advertised that in their ‘extensive Manufactory adjoining, the Machinery, worked by Steam Power, is fitted with all means and appliances to insure superiority and economize cost’ and their 27,000 square feet of ‘spacious showrooms and galleries’. By 1875 the workforce had grown to between 600 and 1000, depending on demand, with a weekly wage bill of nearly £2,000.  In 1866 an advertisement in a London directory gave a broad outline of their repertoire: 

Jackson and Graham respectfully announce… that they have recently made great additions to their former extensive premises, which render their establishment the largest of its kind in this or any other country. The Spacious Show Rooms and Galleries are filled with an unrivalled stock, the prices of which are all marked in plain figures at the most moderate rates for ready money. The extensive Manufactory adjoining, with Machinery worked by Steam Power, is fitted with all means and appliances to ensure superiority and economise cost. Each of the departments will be found as complete as if it formed a separate business, viz:- Paper Hangings, Painting and Interior Decoration of all kinds. Carpets of superior manufacture of every description. Cabinet Furniture, Chairs, Sofas, Ottomans &c. Silk and Silk and Wool Damasks, Aubusson and Venetian Tapestries, Chintzes, Utrecht Velvets, Arras, Reps, Merino Damasks, Cloths &c. &c. Bedsteads of Iron, Brass and various Woods and superior Bedding and Mattresses of all kinds. (The new and extensive premises (No. 29) consisting of four floors measuring 20,000 feet are devoted to this department.) Plate Glass, Carving and Gilding, Gallery of Bronzes d’Art (sole depot for the productions of F. Barbedienne & Co. Paris) Clocks, Candelabra, Vases, and Ornamental Porcelain. The Post Office Directory 1871 recorded Jackson & Graham at 29, 33, 34-38 Oxford Street as cabinet makers, upholsterers, house agents & carpet warehousemen.

In 1876 a full description the Jackson & Graham’s works was published by John Hungerford Pollen in Bevan’s British Manufacturing Industries (London 1876). This revealed the firm to be as fully automated as any of the period, with extensive use of steam power to drive a wide variety of machines. Nevertheless, the quality of individual craftsmanship was also equal to be best in Europe, as the many accolades awarded to their work demonstrate and the firm employed good foreign craftsmen for marquetry and inlay work.  Jackson and Graham used a series of International Exhibitions to cement and expand their reputation, beginning with the London Exhibition of 1851. Their stand was commented upon by the Art Journal: ‘Messrs Jackson and Graham, the eminent upholsterers of London, are large contributors to the Great Exhibition of many important articles of their manufacture’. They also acted as London agents for Barbedienne & Cie, whose stand, with a Jackson and Graham cabinet in view, was illustrated in Dickson Bros’ Comprehensive Picture of the Great Exhibition of 1851 (London 1854). The cabinet was described by G W Yapp as ‘in the style of the Renaissance, executed in oak, the carved portions being left dead while the mouldings and framework are highly polished – an extremely effective arrangement’ (illus. Meyer (2006) p. 31. The firm was awarded a Prize Medal for their exhibits.  

At Paris in 1855 Jackson and Graham exhibited a large cabinet designed by Eugene Prignot which was bought for the South Kensington Museum for £2000, where it remains (V&A: W.81-981).

Not only did the firm employ a French designer for this cabinet, but 4 other foreign craftsmen as well; Carrier, who modelled the caryatides; Claudio Colombo, who carved the figures from the models; Protat, another modeller for the figures on the top of the glass frame; and Phenix, who carved nearly all the flowers and ornaments. The bronze work on the cabinet was electro-gilded by Elkingtons and Minton and Co. supplied the porcelain plaques, which were painted by Messrs Remon and Polisch.At the 1862 London International Exhibition the firm showed a carved oak sideboard constructed of pollard oak and ornamented with carvings in brown English oak (illus. Meyer (2006), p. 111) and a walnut wardrobe. Both objects were designed by a Mr Arrowsmith, as were a Louis XVI style cabinet in ebony and ivory with bronze oval medallions and an imported Algerian onyx top (illus.Meyer (2006), p. 119). The firm received awards for their work at this exhibition and the 1867 Paris Exhibition, where their exhibits included a centre table of amboyna with a marquetry border designed by Alfred Lorimer (illus. Meyer (2006), p. 201). A cabinet of inlaid ebony, made by Jackson & Graham from a design by R. S. Lorimer, was exhibited at the International Exhibition of 1871 (illus. Symonds & Whineray (1962) fig. 43). The firm also exhibited to general acclaim at Vienna in 1873 and London in 1874. Their final major show was in Paris, 1878, where the firm won the Prix d’Honneur for ‘maintenance of standards and progress in thirty years of art workmanship’ for the British section of the Exhibition. Their star exhibit was the ‘Juno’ cabinet, which won the Grand Prix and was bought by the Viceroy of India for £2000 (now in the V&A, acc. no. W.18: 1-6 1981).

Apparently no less than 40 designers, modellers, cabinet makers, carvers, gilders and metal chasers worked on the cabinet in the firm’s workshops, with the brass castings made in Birmingham and the china plaques made by Minton’s of Stoke-on-Trent. The firm was recorded in the Lord Chamberlain’s accounts of 1853-60 when their work included the supply of 370 yards of rich brocaded silk (£897 5s) for the Ball Room, Buckingham Palace, which was designed by Prince Albert and first used in 1856 to celebrate the engagement of the Princess Royal to Prince Frederick William of Prussia. The firm also furnished the palace of the Khedive at Cairo (see below) and in 1882 supplied a 14 ft. state bed in three divisions, the middle higher than the others, to the King of Siam.

Much of Jackson & Graham’s success was due to their employment of talented professional designers. Among those who worked for the firm at some time or other were Owen Jones, Christopher Dresser, Thomas Colcutt, R. W. Edis and Bruce Talbert. They also employed a number of French designers, including Eugene Prignot, Alfred Lorimer and Thomas Jacob. Owen Jones’ designs specialised in ebony inlaid with ivory and in metal inlaid and mounted furniture. From 1862-c.1864 Owen and the firm were employed by Alfred Morrison at Fonthill House, Tisbury, Wilts. They decorated, supplied chimney pieces and designed and made furniture including ebony and ivory cabinets lined with yellow silk which were to display porcelain. One of these cabinets is now at Toledo Museum of Art (illus. Dakers, Furniture History (2010) p. 205), and the other was formerly in the Birkenhead Collection, now at the Higgins Art Gallery & Museum, Bedford (illus. The Decorative Arts Society (2012), p. 53). A detail of the arm of a sofa, designed by Owen Jones and made by the firm for Alfred Morrison is illus. Gere & Whiteway (1993), p. 122. With the purchase of 16 Carlton House Terrace, London Alfred Morrison employed the same team of Jones and Jackson and Graham to carry out decorations and supply fittings, carpets and marquetry furniture. The latter included inlaid ebony bookcases for the library which were exhibited to much acclaim at the 1867 Paris Exposition Universelle (illus. Dakers, Furniture History (2010) p. 207). Another Owen/Jackson & Graham commission was for James Mason at Eynsham Hall, c.1873. Of these pieces, a table and chair were exhibited at the 1952 Exhibition of Victorian and Edwardian Decorative Arts and afterwards acquired by V&A (Circ. 522 and 523-1952).


Circular table designed by Owen Jones, c. 1873 [CIRC.522-1953]. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Another designer who worked with the firm in this period was Thomas Jeckyll (1827-71). On 16 August 1866 Jeckyll wrote to his client, Edward Green, for whom he was embarking of a refurbishment of Heath Old Hall, Wakefield (1865-76) that ‘Jackson and Graham… value my designs so much as to lead them to execute them with great care…’. Christopher Dresser was one of the firm’s most influential art advisors, and between 1881 and 1883 the firm held shares in Dresser’s Art Furnisher’s Alliance. In May 1876 Dresser organised an exhibition of art objects from Asia which opened at Jackson & Graham’s Oxford Street premises. Nearly 2,800 objects were exhibited, mainly from China and Japan. In 1876 Hungerford Pollen commented on the use of professional designers by most of the top London firms and added: ‘…to this should be added the large sums paid to architects such as Owen Jones for special designs over and above what is constantly in demand for the usual requirements of trade’. 

The market for such élite pieces was necessarily limited, and in the 1870s the firm began to look to more modest markets. By 1874 the firm was reported as paying their chief designer about £700 a year and ‘to this should be added the large sums paid to architects such as the late Mr Owen Jones, for special designs over and above what is constantly in demand for the usual requirements of the trade.  From £1,000 to £1,500 per annum may be spent in this particular matter without its being looked on as an unusual outlay’ (quoted from Pollen, The British Manufacturing Industries, 1876). In November 1874 a dispute arose between the management and the cabinet makers employed by the firm primarily relating to the non-payment of overtime or waiting time (incurred when they were waiting for roughed out work from the machinists before they start their skilled work on the pieces). From 13 November the firm began to pay workmen by piece work rather than by the day, resulting in a strike called by the Alliance Cabinet Makers Society. Their members in the firm went out on strike until February 1875 and the firm took five members of the union to court for molestation and obstruction of the workplace. The court papers recorded that at this time the factory was in Ogle Street, with retail premises in Oxford Street, and employed some 100 hands. The five defendants (Harry Hams & Messrs Hibbert, Mathews, Read and Weiler), were sentenced to 30 days in prison and on release they were met by 400 trade union delegates and hosted by the union to a celebration breakfast followed by an open-air meeting in Hyde Park that evening attended by 100,000 working people. Public sympathy was largely responsible for the subsequent changes to the Criminal Law Amendment Act (for full details of the dispute and court case see Reid, The Furniture Makers. A History of Trade Unionism in the Furniture Trade 1868-1972 (1986) pp. 31-34).

At the 1878 Paris Exhibition the firm fitted out three rooms for the use of the Juries, two in Early English style and the other in Queen Anne style. Some of this furniture was made from solid padouk wood, sent specially for the purpose of experimentation, and furniture designs were by Collcutt, Lorimer, Prignot, Allwright and Talbert. Two pieces of furniture made by Jackson & Graham were illustrated in The Decoration and Furniture of Town Houses (1881) by the architect, Sir Robert W. Edis. In 1881 they participated in London’s first wholesale furniture trade exhibition, including a hanging cabinet, the design of which had been pirated from one supplied by E. W. Godwin to William Watt. At this exhibition the firm’s modestly priced bedroom furniture attracting particular comment; Building News (9 September 1881) commented that ‘In the production of cheap furniture of artistic design Messrs Jackson & Graham, among other manufacturers, have endeavoured to meet the requirements of those who cannot afford to furnish their houses in Italian, French or Chippendale furniture.  They are making some very excellent buffets and other furniture of exceedingly simple design, the lines of the framework being relieved by plain flutings and moulded work... suites of bedroom furniture, made in pine and stained green with black mouldings; some excellent painted bedroom all produced by machinery at reasonable cost’. Nevertheless, financial troubles forced the firm temporarily to cease business in 1882 but they did exhibit a bedroom suite at the International Health Exhibition, London, in 1884, designed by R. W. Edis. Their difficulties were only finally resolved in 1885 when they were taken over by their rivals, Collinson and Lock. For several years the two firms marketed themselves as Collinson & Lock & Jackson & Graham at Oxford Street (Furniture Gazette Diary & Desk Book, 1886).  A partnership of some form remained in the late 1880s named Graham and Biddle. 

Source: DEFM; Symonds and Whineray, Victorian Furniture (1962); Aslin, 19th Century English Furniture (1962); Joy, ‘The Royal Victorian Furniture-Makers, 1837-87’, The Burlington Magazine (November 1969); Agius, British Furniture 1880-1915 (1978); Reid, The Furniture Makers. A History of Trade Unionism in the Furniture Trade 1868-1972; Gere & Whiteway, Nineteeth-Century Design from Pugin to Mackintosh (1993); Edwards, ‘The Firm of Jackson and Graham’, Furniture History (1998); Soros, The Secular Furniture of E W Godwin (1999); Morris, ‘The 1952 Exhibition of Victorian and Edwardian Decorative Arts at the Victoria and Albert Museum: A Personal Recollection’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2001); Soros and Arbuthnot, Thomas Jeckyll, Architect and Designer 1827-1871 (2003); Gere, ‘Dr Christopher Dresser. A Commercial Designer in the Victorian Arts World’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2005); Meyer, Great Exhibitions. London, New York, Paris, Philadelphia.  1851-1900 (2006); Dakers, ‘Furniture and Interior Decoration for James and Alfred Morrison’, Furniture History (2010); Cargin, ‘An Introduction to the Birkenhead Collection’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2012); Taylor, ‘Christopher Dresser and Londos and Co.’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2018).

The original entry from Dictionary of English Furniture Makers, 1660-1840 can be found at British History Online.