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Light, C. & R. (1855-1925)

Light, C. & R.

 Shoreditch, London; furniture makers and suppliers (fl.1855-c.1925)

The first cabinet maker of the Light family was John, who was apprenticed in 1754 to John Troughton, a cabinet maker of St Leonard’s Shoreditch, on a seven year term for a fee of 10 guineas.  In 1760 John Light married Elizabeth Gray in the church of St Botolph Bishopsgate. They had a son, David, christened in St Mary’s Whitechapel, but the family settled in Crown Allenby in Shoreditch, where the third son, Jonathan, was born in 1773, and where in 1777 John Light died. David Light’s son, David John Light, was probably a cabinet maker of Britannia Street. 

Jonathan Light (b.1773) became a cabinet maker and his first son, Jonathan junior, was born in North Green in 1798. He also became a cabinet maker, as did one of his sons, Joseph, but thereafter that branch of the family took up other occupations. The Jonathan Light snr’s second son Charles was born in 1809 and became a cabinet maker like his father and grandfather. He and his wife Frances had a large family including Thomas, the younger Charles (b.1843), Richard (b.1847) and Alfred George. At the time of the 1851 census the family lived in Ivy Terrace and Charles snr described himself as an ‘Easy Chair Maker’. Alfred George worked as a cabinet maker but died in 1871 leaving an estate of less than £100. Thomas died when he was 35. The Letters of Administration of his estate described him as ‘late of No. 144 Curtain road, Shoreditch, Nos. 10 & 11 Le Blonds Buildings and No. 145 Kingsland Road, all in the County of Middlesex, Cabinet Manufacturer’. But he and his wife, Mary Anne, lived at 145 Kings Road. The estate was valued at under £5,000. His son, Thomas Charles, died in 1885 at the early age of 20, and in 1887 the latter’s brother and sister, Alfred George and Rose Emily Anne, both died, bring that branch of the family to an end. The remaining twp brothers, Charles & Richard, were left to follow the family occupation of cabinet making.

In 1855 the elder Charles Light was listed as a cabinet maker in Kelly’s Post Office Directory of London and again in 1856 and 1861. In a rate book of 1854 Charles was described as occupier of ‘house and room’ and ‘house at back’, 135 Curtain Road. The 1864 rate books listed him as occupier of a house at 132 Curtain Road and in 1871 Post Office Directory Charles Light, cabinet manufacturer, was listed in a local street directory at 140, 142 and 144 Curtain Road and as an upholsterer at 141 Kingsland Road. Charles died in 1877 and his estate was administered by his son, Richard of 144 Curtain Road, wholesale cabinet manufacturer, and valued at not more than £12,000 ‘a very large sum in those days’.  The younger Charles had a large family but Richard Light remained unmarried. Under Charles jnr and Richard the firm continued trading in the 1880s as C & R Light. In 1880 the firm issued a comprehensive catalogue (copy at the Department of Furniture Textiles & Fashion, V&A) containing 435 pages covering 1,908 items. Its summary title page was ‘Registered Designs of Cabinet Furniture’ but the full version on the title page was ‘Designs and Catalogue of Cabinet and Upholstery Furniture, Looking Glasses etc. by C. R. Light, Wholesale Manufacturers, 134, 136, 138, 140, 142, 144 Curtain Road, London’. There were 33 pages of items for the hall, 44 for the library, 100 for the dining room and parlour, 156 for the drawing room, 94 for the bedroom, 1 for the camp and ship, only 2 for the kitchen and 1 for the garden. Two display cabinets illustrated in this catalogue. The firm produced furniture in a multitude of styles including Antique, Chippendale, Gothic, Italian, Louis, Medieval, Modern, Neo Grecian, Early English, Elizabethan, Queen Anne and Renaissance.  It was known to have made bamboo furniture in 1881 and also supplied perambulators, portable water closets and invalid’s carrying chairs. 

Richard died in 1884 at the age of 37. In his will, his address was given as 140, 142 and 144 Curtain Road, and half of the property was given as the Company’s address in the Catalogue. He left legacies of £19 19s to all employees of the ‘firm of Charles and Richard Light’ who had been employed for more than five years at the time of his death. Those employed for more than 10 years received £50. He bequeathed £100 to the Royal Hospital for Diseases of the Chest, and the same to Saint Mark’s Hospital for Fistula, both being in City Road. He also left £100 to London Hospital, Whitechapel Road.  To his sisters he left substantial legacies and stressed that these should be enjoyed by the sisters and ‘for her sole and separate use and benefit free from the debts, control and engagements of any husband’. The residue of the estate was left to his brother, Charles. The value of the estate was £24,000, a large amount at this time. The Furniture Gazette: The Classified List of Furniture, Upholstery, and Allied Trades (1886) listed the addresses for the firm as 140, 142 & 144 Curtain Road and 5-10 Le Blond’s Buildings. In 1887 the firm moved into new premises at 134-146 Curtain Road, which had showrooms including fully furnished room settings on the ground and first floors with the rooms above used for storage of stock. It continued under the name of Charles and Richard Light after the latter’s death and in 1897-8 opened a bedroom suite factory with ‘a most unique plant of the most modern English and foreign woodworking machinery available driven by electric motors’ [ Cabinet Maker, 1 September 1898]. By 1899 it had become a limited liability company, C & R Light Ltd, of 134-148 Curtain Road, with factories in Great Eastern Street. 

In 1911 it was listed in Kelly’s Furniture Trade Directory at 134-146 Curtain Road and Rivington Street, which adjoined Great Eastern Street. In 1912 the younger Charles died, having made his will in 1911 in which his address was recorded as 9 Daleham Gardens, Hampstead. His executors were his son, Richard, and his nephew, Albert John Edwards, both of them Directors of C & R Light. He directed that his body should be interred in the family vault in Highgate Cemetery. The will showed that in 1881 he had made a marriage settlement on his wife, who in addition to these provisions, received money and shares in the company. The other beneficiaries of the will were his sons, Charles, Richard, Harry Arthur, Leonard Hastings, Percy and Douglas Surtees; his daughters Florence Fanny and Doris, his sisters Sarah Cockcroft and Frances Light, his nephew Albert John Edwards, and others. Instructions were left to the trustees for the management of the estate, authorising them to run the company, C & R Light Ltd, for the benefit of his heirs, and to invest any money in ‘public stocks, funds or Government securities of Great Britain or Bank Stock or India Stock or the securities of the Imperial or Colonial or Provincial Governments of India, Australia or any other British Colony or Territory’, or in the purchase of property in England and Wales. They were also permitted to invest in any company in a British territory, or any foreign railway company deemed secure. The family’s interest and involvement with the company diminished until by the end of the First World War there seemed to no connection. In 1915 its registered address was still Curtain Road, but when the Company was reconstituted as C & R Light (1918) Ltd it moved to 288 Old Street. By 1925 it was established at 54 Great Eastern Street. It was finally sold or absorbed into Charles J. Barr and Sons Ltd, Bedfordshire.

C & R Light Ltd were among the makers of furniture designed by the architect E. W. Pugin (1834-75) and comment in local press, c. 1869, mentioned their name among others as makers of furniture for the Granville Hotel, Ramsgate (designed and owned by Pugin). A side chair with a C shaped back, solid seat and slab sides, after a design by Pugin was reproduced by C & R Light (illus. Joy (1977),p. 250). Included in the firm’s 1880 catalogue ‘Designs and Catalogue of Cabinet and Upholstery Furniture, Looking Glasses etc.’ were three pages of 'Gothic' and 'Mediaeval' furniture (illus. The Decorative Arts Society (2018), p. 15), which possibly/probably was acquired as ready-made stock from Messrs. Mitchell, who went bankrupt in 1874, or Messrs. Jarvis. A witness to the Select Committee on the Sweating System in 1881 described how C. & R. Light Ltd sold a dining table for 34s 7d, ‘a common pine table with birch legs, 5ft by 3ft 6in, with one flap to it... what is called a common dining table in the trade’. The witness stated that although the individual maker would have achieved a price of 16-18s for the table it would have cost him about 13s for the materials, two days for making and half a day for hawking (selling), whilst Light’s only spent 2s for polishing. After the purchase price from the maker the remainder of 34s 7d was their profit, and that ‘We want to point out the unfairness of the system which prevails in these dealing firms; they get the whole of the profits; the workman has scarcely anything for his labour. Simply by buying furniture, and transmitting it to the warerooms, the dealer gets a large percentage on the goods, and the man that really produces the article gets nil’.  Designs of 1881 for C R Light beds, dressing tables, pot cupboards, towel rails, wardrobes, wash stands, cabinets, bookcases, all types of chair & settee, tables, chests, desks, hall stands, mirrors, screens, hanging shelves are illus. Joy (1977).

Sources: Joy, Pictorial Dictionary of British 19th Century Furniture Design (1977); Agius, British Furniture 1880-1915 (1978); Walkling, Antique Bamboo Furniture (1979);  Light, ‘C & R Light Ltd, Cabinet Makers of Shoreditch’, East London Record (1981); Kirkham, Mace & Porter, Furnishing the World.  The East London Furniture Trade 1830-1980, (1987); Bettley, ‘An earnest desire to promote a right taste in ecclesiastical design: Cox & Sons and the rise and fall of the church furnishings companies’, The Decorative Art Society 1850 to the Present (2002); Smith & Rogers, Behind the Veneer.  The South Shoreditch Furniture Trade and its Buildings (2006); Daniels, ‘Houses as They Might Be. Rediscovering Rhoda and Agnes Garrett and their influence on the Victorian middle-class home’; The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2011); Shutler, ‘Furniture for the Granville Hotel’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2018).