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Maple & Co.; Cook & Maple; J. Maple (1841-1988)

Maple & Co.; Cook & Maple; J. Maple

London; upholsterers & furniture makers (fl.1841-1988)

John Maple was born in 1815, the son of a yeoman farmer William and his wife Hannah in Thakenham, West Sussex. In 1829 he was apprenticed to a shopkeeper, James Constable, of Horley, Surrey. Soon after his apprenticeship finished he went to London and found work as a salesman for Martin Atkinson, a cabinet maker of 75 Bridge Road, Lambeth, who had extensive workshops and showrooms. There he met James Cook and in 1841 they went into partnership. The pair acquired Francis Green Woollen Drapers at 145 Tottenham Court Road, placing a sign reading HEN & CHICKENS on the wall to notify the public of new ownership and the shop was opened in April or May 1841. By December of that year they had also acquired 147 Tottenham Court Road and possibly also 146. A billhead of 1844 listed their activities as drapers, carpet factors, cabinet manufacturers, upholsterers & general furnishing warehousemen. In 1844 John Maple married Emily Blundell, a friend from his Horley days. They initially lived in the upper part of 145 Tottenham Court Road and on 1 March 1845 their first child, John Blundell Maple was born. In 1845 Cook & Maple opened a carpet warehouse at 22 & 23 Middle Queen’s Buildings, Knightsbridge, and later 73 & 75 Brompton Road. In 1851 the partnership between Cook and Maple was dissolved; thenceforth Cook ran the carpet & furnishing warehouse at Queens Buildings (until 1862) with John Maple running the Tottenham Court Road business with a new partner, his half-brother, Henry Adams, trading under the  name of J. Maple. John Maple was the sole owner.  

John Maple’s new billhead was ‘HEN AND CHICKENS, Drapery, Carpet, Cabinet & Upholstery Warehouses, Nos. 145, 146 & 147 Tottenham Court Road. Bought of John Maple.’ A slightly later trade card recorded the firm as ‘Wholesale & Retail Draper. Carpet Factor, Cabinet Manufacturer, Upholsterer and General Furnishing Warehouseman. 145, 146, 147 Tottenham Court Road near the New Road & 1 to 7 Tottenham Place’. By 1851 Maple had rebuilt the 3 main shops with a main entrance on the corner of Tottenham Place. During the rebuilding, John and his family moved to a house in Hampstead, where a second son, Harry, was born in 1851 with three daughters, Clara, Emily and Anne following. The new shop offered a wide variety of stock, including ‘every article requisite for Dining and Drawing Rooms’. The range of prices was wide. Contemporary papers recorded a set of mahogany chairs for £6 or an inferior version for half the price; a mahogany chest of drawers at a guinea, a japanned chest for 15s, loo tables for £1 to £5, solid rosewood chairs stuffed with hair and covered in silk for £15, and handsome cornice top mahogany beds at £5 5s, or £2 2s in a cheaper version. In May 1857 nearby building work caused the collapse of 146 & 147 Tottenham Court Road, which Maple reckoned to have caused £10,000 worth of damage, along with £2,400 of stock. On rebuilding, the new Maples had an extra floor added making five in total, while the 1-7 Tottenham Place was still half this height. Business success allowed Maple to buy the country estate of Salfords in Horley and to invested in railway stock. His son, Blundell, attended a private school, Crawford College, in Maidenhead and in 1858 became a pupil at the school in London connected with King’s College in Somerset House. 

In 1870 Maples almost entirely furnished White Lodge, Richmond Park, the home of Francis, Prince of Teck and Princess Mary Adelaide. In the same year John Maple made his sons, Blundell and Harry, partners in the firm. In December 1871 fire struck the Tottenham Court Road store and the firm was not fully covered by insurance. Nos. 145-149 Tottenham Court Road were rebuilt again and, in the year after the fire, nos. 141 to 144 Tottenham Court Road, nos. 259 to 281 on the south side of Euston Road and houses in Southampton Court, Beaumont Place and Tottenham Place were all occupied entirely by Maples showrooms, workshops, warehouses, timber yards and stabling. By 1874 Maple was advertising itself as the ‘largest’ and ‘most convenient’ furnishing store in the world. In 1877 Harry Maple died of typhoid fever and Blundell inherited his shares, giving him and his father each 50% of the company. Blundell Maple bought the estate of Childwickbury Manor in Hertfordshire and indulged in a passion for breeding and racing horses. In the mid-1880s he purchased Falmouth House with 40 acres at Newmarket. To keep a close eye on the store he also bought Clarence House in Regents Park, with the stabling in the mews behind. His philanthropy included building a hospital at the back of the Tottenham Court Road premises, later to become University College Hospital, and he decided to pursue a political career as well. He joined the Conservative Party, the Fanmakers’ Company and became a Grand Councillor of the Primrose League. In December 1887 Blundell Maple successfully contested the by-election in the Dulwich division of Camberwell, after which he rented 75 Crystal Palace Road, East Dulwich. His time devoted to the firm was necessarily limited and he relied heavily on Horace Regnart, who had joined the firm at the age of 15. By this time Maples was promoted as one of the ‘Sights of London to American visitors and others’. By the mid 1880s they were also very large timber merchants and direct importers of wood from Africa, Asia and America, from which they manufactured cabinet furniture by steam power. Their vans were a familiar sight in London delivering private purchases as well as fulfilling large orders of furnishings to the Grand Hotel Charing Cross, the First Avenue Hotel in Holborn and the Holborn Restaurant in 1885 as well as overseas to France, where they had an outpost in Paris. 

The Parliamentary enquiry by the Select Committee on the Sweating System of the East End of London (1888) contains a great deal of information about Maple’s working practises. They were said to defer payment to subcontractors until Saturdays when banks were closed or charged anything up to 20% for a cashing a cheque. Further, the firm was said to supply timber to outworkers at inflated prices, and it became clear that the firm’s standard practice was to automatically deduct at least 5% from every invoice presented. Despite their very large workforce (1,295 men and boys with an average length of service of more than 10 years) much was outsourced, including carpets, curtains, bedsteads, linens, ironmongery, china and glass. Nor did they produce all the wooden furniture sold; it is believed that Frederick Parker was one of their many sub-contractors. In addition to the Tottenham Court Road site, they also had factories like Rose, Gorwill & Day in Islington, which was set up by Maple to produce cabinet furniture, employing 144 cabinet makers, painters and polishers. Indeed, it was claimed that only 10% of the goods sold under their label were made by Maples employees. One witness to the Select Committee hearings, a small supplier, confirmed that when asked to make up an order for far less than the estimated price he was told by a Maples buyer to cut his labour costs, which he protested was were already as low as possible. Maples’ response was reportedly ‘All nonsense; you can get it from the men; you may squeeze it out of them, and those that you cannot squeeze you may shunt; it is just as easy to get men, I find, as it is herrings from Billingsgate’. The small suppliers also objected to Maples and other retailers stamping pieces made elsewhere with their own names. Blundell Maple was evasive when asked about this. Horace Regnart also gave evidence to the Select Committee on behalf of the firm, although Blundell Maple accepted responsibility for the firm’s actions. In defence of the firm’s practises, James Corp, their foreman, told the hearing he never had complaints from the workforce and he had been a trade unionist since 1864. However, Frederick Baum, a member of the London Society of Upholsterers and employee at Tottenham Court Road, did comment that ‘they are the worst paid’ although they produced the best quality upholstery work in London. The foreman of Upholstery Stuffing at Tottenham Court Road, David Gardiner Imlay, explained that there were the two branches of Upholstery; the stuffing of furniture and the fixing of curtains and loose covers, and further stated that he had been employed by Maples for 12 ½ years and one of his men, George Bailey, testified that Imlay never swore at him. The report of the Select Committee was published in 1889; in the same year the Clarence Athletic Club in Mill Hill was established by Maple to supposedly relieve any tensions within the management and staff. John Maple retired shortly afterwards in 1888.

On 8 April 1891 Maple & Co. were incorporated as a private limited company. In the Memorandum of Association reference was made to a verbal agreement for the purchase from John Blundell Maple of his business for one million pounds. The firm was described as upholsterers, furniture manufacturers, furniture dealers, carpet manufacturers (?), linen drapers, ironmongers, braziers, builders, decorators, timber merchants, ‘Manchester warehousemen’, paper makers, general house furnishers, picture dealers, furniture removers, furniture stores, house agents, auctioneers and valuers. Blundell founded the private company ‘not with a capital largely in excess of what the business was worth, but with a capital such as I should not have been inclined to have sold the whole concern for; and it was founded on such lines as would allow all the employees who were coming in to be able to participate’. Blundell and his father held more than 1/3rd of the Ordinary Shares and the Management Shares were held in Trust to reward the 6 Directors - Robert Blundell, Frederick Lunniss, Edward Rayner, Horace Regnart, Henry Regnart (Horace’s brother) and Robert Tubby. Blundell Maple took the title of Governor in the private company with Arthur Bird as Chairman. Further royal patronage followed with the furnishing of York House, London, and York Cottage, Sandringham, for Prince George, Duke of York, on his marriage to the Duchess of Teck’s daughter, Princess May. Maples also supplied furniture to the Crown Princess of Greece for her English cottage in the woods of Tatoi, above Athens. In 1892 the firm was made ‘Upholsterers by Special Appointment to Her Majesty Queen Victoria’.  This was also the year when Maples’ cabinet makers were engaged on making furniture and carpets for the palace of the Queen’s Viceroy in India at Simla. On 2 December 1892 Windsor Castle announced the knighthood of John Blundell Maple, MP, and this year saw the publication of an enlarged and revised Maples catalogue of 650 pages. Their showrooms now stretched from 141 to 149 Tottenham Court Road and back from 1 to 32 Tottenham Place. Customers were invited to the Maples’ manufactories adjoining the warehouse in Tottenham Court Road to see the machinery in motion. The stock was extended to include 600 designs in French, Italian, Half-Tester, Four-Post and Twin bedsteads, cots and bedroom furniture as well as other furniture including the ‘Artistic Cosy Corners’ as illustrated in their 1892 catalogue. In 1893 the total workforce included 130 joiners, 60 cabinet makers, 15 looking glass fitters, 31 gilders, 16 furniture restorers, 40 frame makers, 19 wicker chair upholsterers, 105 polishers, 80 mattress makers, 17 bedroom furniture porters, 20 bedstead warehousemen, 15 cabinet porters, 176 upholsterers and 9 timber porters as well as warehousemen, decorators, plumbers, electricians, carmen and general porters, floor cloth cutters, those connected with the carpet manufacture, cleaners, electricians, domestic servants, warehouse cleaners, engine tenders, stablemen and sales and administrative staff. In 1895 the firm became Maple & Company Ltd and their profit that year was £149,516. They added a large red brick furniture depository in Camden, at the corner of Camden Street and Plender Street, to their property portfolio. The company’s future looked sound and more factories, workshops, stables, and warehouses were announced, with the completion of an extension from Beaumont Place to the corner of Grafton Street and a further extension to the Gower Street premises. In Paris Maples had moved to larger, more important premises at 5 Rue Boudreau and the firm had purchased some freehold land in Rue de la Joinquiere on which to build factories. Here the first big contract was the redecoration and furnishing of the Elysee Palace Hotel followed by the Hotel Ritz, the Palace Hotel in Ardennes and the Hotel Bristol at Beaulieu on the Riveria.      

Maple’s turnover was much increased through Sir Blundell Maple’s personal association with a hotel developer, Frederick Gordon, and two hotel groups, The Henry Fredericks Syndicate and Gordon Hotels Ltd, of which he was a director. In turn Frederick Gordon became a director of Maple & Co. in 1898. British hotels in which Maples were involved were the Pavilion Hotel in Folkestone, the Metropole Hotel in Brighton, and in London the Grand Hotel in Trafalgar Square, the First Avenue Hotel in Northumberland Avenue, the Hotel Russell in Russell Square and the Hotel Grand Central in Marylebone Road. Maples, Shoolbred and S. J. Waring & Sons were involved with the interior work of the new Hotel Cecil in the Strand, 1890-96. Foreign palaces were big business with an order for a palace in Athens, and the firm had ‘been lately partly building and decorating two palaces in St Petersburg, working for the Emperor of Russia’, one of which was the Czar’s Winter Palace. The firm also supplied the furnishing of the palaces of King of Siam and his son the Crown Prince, the Austrian Embassy in Constantinople and Duke of Orleans’ residence in England. In the 1890s Maples were still buying in furniture from other makers. Apparently much of the bought-in furniture was from France.

On Sunday 4 March 1900 John Maple died at Bedford Lodge, his house on Haverstock Hill, Hampstead. His obituary in The Times reflected the high esteem in which he was held not only by his employees but also ‘for his many acts of kindly benevolence, the post-men and omnibus employees of the district being among those in whose welfare he took an active interest’. He left £892,503 gross, £861,750 net, including 29,845 Ordinary Maples shares; his wife Emily died in 1904, aged 85.

By 1903 much of the manufacturing of the firm had been moved from Tottenham Court Road to create more showrooms and while the retail market was deemed to be the most profitable, special commissions continued. At the 1903 AGM Sir Blundell took the opportunity of indicating that their staff of designers and artists was as productive as ever; ‘I can assure you that anyone wanting anything special made will be gratified at the drawings which will be submitted, and will also see different designs here on the premises’. To attract more of the lower end of the market the firm introduced a Hire Purchase Department. For a number of years the company had conducted an estate agency business outside London in Eastbourne and Brighton and in the early 20th century it was in the south coast resorts of Brighton (1900) and Bournemouth (1902) that  Maples opened furniture stores.  

On 24 November 1903 Sir Blundell Maple died of Bright’s Disease at his estate of Childwickbury, St Albans. ‘By his death’, wrote One Who Knew Him in the Cabinet Maker, ‘the furniture trade has lost one of the most extraordinary personages that it ever possessed... it is due to his intense pride in his work and immense capacity that Maple & Co. is what it is to-day.’ The rebuilt University College Hospital which he had financed was nearly completed at the time of his death, with the Convalescent Home and Almshouses at Harpenden for his employees, the donation of Clarence Park and its recreation ground to the inhabitants of St Albans and his work as MP for Dulwich all contributing to the great esteem in which he had been held. The capital value of his estate was £2,403,349; a fact that was picked up by the newly formed National Amalgamated Furnishing Trades Association to help protect rights for the small workshops in the East End and elsewhere. Blundell Maple had no sons to take over the firm. One of the four trustees and executors of Sir Blundell’s will was the General Manager, Henry Regnart, who was now appointed President (he had been a director since 1891). The Vice-President role went to Horace Regnart. The new President concentrated on ‘Domestic Furnishing’ and a large section of the newly added 11,250 sq ft showroom space was devoted to specimen one-bedroom flats for young couples. The overseas business was expanded with the building in 1905 of a fire-proof depository on land formerly occupied by the Eden Theatre in Paris. In Autumn 1906 Horace Regnart sailed to Argentina to open a branch (there had previously been an agency only) in Buenos Aires. On the death of King Edward VII in May 1910 Maples were appointed Upholsterers and Decorators to his successor, King George V (they previously held his royal warrant as Prince of Wales) and Queen Alexandra, the late king’s widow, rented warehouse space at Maples Camden Depository at £25 per annum. By 1912 the Maples range included 40 bedroom suites, 24 designs of washstand and basin, 44 bentwood, rush-seated fumed oak chairs, and thousands of different designs of upholstered easy chairs and sofas in tapestry, cretonne and damask. Horace Regnart, who had been knighted in 1907, died in 1912. Although the First World War affected profits, turnover was maintained with the company receiving contracts from the Admiralty, War Office and the governments of the Allied Forces for mattresses, groundsheets, tents etc. With peace in 1918 greater prosperity returned. Production still took place either in the workshops on the Tottenham Court Road site, in the Highgate factory or at outside manufacturers to Maples’ specification. The firm’s Chair, Sofas and Settees catalogue stated that the main site housed, as well as showrooms, workshops, factories, stables and garages, ‘Several million cubic feet of timber... seasoning slowly and surely in the oldest and best of fashions – the open air. Only when the wood is fully mature is it withdrawn for the purpose of manufacture. Their hair for the stuffing, the springs, the coverings – in fine, the entire assemblage of materials is selected with the most careful attention to quality and condition’. Furniture design was also located here and Maples’ reputation attracted top designers like Thomas Edward Collcutt (1840-1924) and Robert Edis (1830-1927).

Hunter Regnart took over as President of Maples on the retirement of his father Henry in 1926. Maples continued as makers, upholsterers, retailers, restorers of and re-upholsterers of furniture, estate agents, auctioneers, warehouse managers, to the general public, governments, royalty and rulers, and hotels. The takeover of H.H. Martyn in 1934 increased Maples’ work in the aircraft and ocean liner business. In 1936 Maples formed The Cheltenham Manufacturing Company specialising in wood panelling, as a subsidiary and to replace the Martyn’s Furniture Department. In 1936 they opened a third provincial branch store in Birmingham. The three provincial stores and those overseas in Paris, Montevideo and Buenos Aires all sold Maples furniture made in London workshops in or around Tottenham Court Road, in Highgate Road and in Drummond Street off Hampstead Road. The French and South American stores also sold goods produced in their own nearby factories.  In the Second World War bombing destroyed three quarters of the factory and showroom space in Tottenham Court Road. In 1980 Maple & Co. combined with Waring & Gillow to become Maple, Waring & Gillow. It subsequently became part of Allied Maples Group Ltd which was acquired in 1988 by the ASDA supermarket chain. In 1997 the group went into administration and was taken over by the retail firm Allders.

Source: Aslin, 19th Century English Furniture (1962); Agius, British Furniture 1880-1915 (1978); Kirkham, Mace & Porter, Furnishing the World, The East London Furniture Trade 1830-1980 (1987); Barty-King, Maples Fine Furnishers, A Household Name for 150 Years (1992).