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Vaughan, William; W. H. Vaughan & Co. (1866-1910)

Vaughan, William; W. H. Vaughan & Co.

London; furniture makers & wholesalers (fl.1866-1910)

Eldest son of Henry William Vaughan and brother of Henry, George (S. G. Vaughan) and Alfred.

William established his own business at the age of 22, acquiring in 1866 the premises of John Owen, chair manufacturer, 66 Old Street, Shoreditch. He was listed there in the Post Office Directory 1871 as an upholsterer but other sources recorded him in 1871 at 103-105 Whitechapel High Street as a cabinet maker. William married and moved out of the family home in 1875, living in Islington and then settling at Stoke Newington. By 1877 he had moved to larger premises, 332-334 Old Street, and had also acquired 299 Kingsland Road. By then he described himself as cabinet maker, upholsterer, chair and sofa manufacturer, wholesaler, furniture broker, dealer and factor. 

A brother, Samuel George Vaughan, appears to have worked with William, and in 1879 they jointly patented a folding table and in the following year a folding chair. W. H. & S. Vaughan were recorded in the Furniture Gazette: Classified List of the Furniture, Upholstery, and Allied Trades (1886) as wholesale cabinet makers at 332 & 334 Old Street. The Old Street premises were further expanded to include the adjoining buildings behind in Rivington Street. It is estimated that W. H. Vaughan employed 50-100 men and apparently had the capital to invest in machinery, large showrooms, catalogues and travellers. The speed of turnover was obviously great as the firm informed The Cabinet Maker in October 1896, that they did not issue price lists as their designs were 'original and constantly changing'. 

As one of the major wholesale firms supplying the furnishing stores, the workshops of Vaughan produced a wide range of styles to suit all tastes, from ‘Adams’, to Queen Anne, Chippendale, Flemish and Louis XV. The upholstery side of the business was substantial. At the time of his marriage in 1875 W. H. Vaughan described himself as an upholsterer and his father as a cabinet maker, but in 1880 his brother George described himself and his father as upholsterers.  Coming from a silk trade background, most of the furniture upholstery was in silk or its derivatives. 

By 1883 W. H. Vaughan & Co. was flourishing, exhibiting at the annual Furniture Exhibitions in the Agricultural Hall, Islington, displaying furniture for the middle classes. They made a feature of bedding and at the first exhibition of 1881 showed a magnificent brass bedstead incorporating an excellent woven wire spring mattress made for them by Crosbie’s of Birmingham. They distributed a large free illustrated catalogue to visitors and following the success of this exhibition, continued to participate in future shows. A bedhead made by Vaughan’s was illustrated in a collection of bedroom furniture designs by Bruce Talbert, illus. no.91 in Fashionable Furniture...a Monthly Budget of Designs and Information for the Cabinet, Upholstery and Decoration Trades, a special publication by The Cabinet Maker, 1881.

In December 1885 William announced that he was selling off the entire stock of the factory/showrooms, valued at approx. £3,000, by public auction, prior to making extensive alterations to the premises. This was presumably a way of raising capital and by the following May he had built up sufficient new stock to exhibit at the 1886 Building Exhibition where the firm was praised for its ‘useful, artistic and economic general furniture of good design’. 1888 saw the 25th anniversary of Messrs W. H. Vaughan & Co. and to celebrate this William published a catalogue of 34 new designs with 8 different finishes for folding chairs upholstered in plush, silk, Genoa velvet, etc., with price reductions of up to 20% made possible by the introduction of steam power. William could now afford to move his wife and family to prosperous south London and acquired The Nook, 101 Gipsy Hill, Upper Norwood, close to the railway station and Dulwich College, which his two sons attended. Early 1893 W. H. Vaughan & Co. were recorded by The Cabinet Maker selling off their stock and in February 1895, with a capital of £18,000, William launched V P Folding Bedroom Suite & Furniture Co. Ltd, to sell the furniture that he designed and patented that year (an entire suite of bedroom furniture including a wardrobe, armchairs and bed which could be folded into a 6ft case) with the assistance of his cousins, the patent agents in Chancery Lane. His eldest son, Horace, who had joined the firm in 1890 at the age of 15, was appointed company secretary of this new company. By January 1896 the new business was taking off and they opened a small branch at 21 Hope Street, Glasgow. Folding furniture for all types of room was made from chairs to the larger pieces like a sideboard or dining table, and the famous advertisement ‘An exploded Idea is what the V. P. Suite is NOT! But a perfect novelty’ brought the concept to the public. At the same time W. H. Vaughan & Co.’s usual range of household goods and upholstered furniture was still available, which was fortuitous, as by March 1897 the V. P. company had to be wound up, insolvent. Horace gradually took a more leading role in the firm and in June 1899 married Millicent Clara Paine, youngest daughter of a wealthy tea broker in London, for whom Horace designed a set of dainty drawing room rosewood furniture.  An avid motorist and pioneer of gliding, he was keen to move the firm into aviation manufacture but his father resisted. W. H. Vaughan & Co. ceased trading in 1910.

Sources: Vaughan, The Vaughans. East End Furniture Makers. Three Hundred Years of a London Family (1984); Kirkham, Mace, Porter, Furnishing the World. The East London Furniture Trade 1830-1980 (1987); Smith & Rogers, Behind the Veneer. The South Shoreditch Furniture Trade and its Buildings (2006).