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Wilkinson, William; Wilkinson & Son(s); W. & C. Wilkinson (1808–1890)

Wilkinson, William; Wilkinson & Son(s); W. & C. Wilkinson

14 Ludgate Hill & Old Bond Street, London; cabinet makers, upholsterers, designers, appraisers, house agents & auctioneers (fl.1808–90) 

William Wilkinson had formerly been a partner with Thomas Wilkinson at Brokers Row, Moorfields, but the partnership was dissolved soon after 1807. By 1808 William was trading on his own account at 14 Ludgate Hill, while Thomas continued business in Moorfields. The premises in Ludgate Hill had been occupied by Quintin Kay from 1754 to 1807 and Wilkinson took them over very soon after Kay's death in July 1807. Pieces so stamped almost certainly date from the years immediately following the commencement of Wilkinson's business.

At the Moorfields address the partners had shown an interest in patent furniture and especially tables. William clearly saw commercial advantage in promoting patent furniture at his new address. In October 1812 he advertised patent bedsteads ‘which for their utter utility, firmness, and simplicity, surpass everything of the kind ever presented to the public: they effectually exclude vermin, and may be fixed and unfixed in five minutes’. He claimed to have several such beds in his showrooms where he also sold ‘portable mahogany chairs, japanned chairs and portable dining tables and every other article made solid and warranted for any climate’. 

From its commencement the business was of substantial size. Insurance cover in March 1808 was £2,000. They traded from c.1820 as William Wilkinson & Sons and after their father died the name changed to William & Charles Wilkinson. In November 1824 Wilkinson unfortunately suffered a fire at the Ludgate Hill premises. 

William Wilkinson & Sons signed the prefatory recommendation to P. & M. A. Nicholson's Practical Cabinet Maker in 1826. By this date the firm had begun to stamp their wares and a wide range of furniture in the Regency styles has been noted with this identification. Items bearing stamps include sofa tables, breakfast tables, extending dining tables, sets of tables, secrétaire  bookcases, cabinets, chiffoniers, Davenports, chests of drawers, dining chairs, sideboards, washstands and music or reading stands. Amongst these items is furniture in the Egyptian taste. Furniture was stamped ‘WILKINSON, LUDGATE HILL’ to c.1820 then ‘WILKINSON & SONS 14 LUDGATE HILL’ to c.1830 and ‘W & C WILKINSON, 14 LUDGATE HILL’ thereafter. Some furniture also had a serial number stamped after the name and numbers so far recorded range from 6585 to 19562. One extending dining table was stamped ‘WILKINSON, LATE KAY, 14 LUDGATE HILL, LONDON’.

In 1829 they had been commissioned by the architect, John Rennie, to make a table which he presented to the Earl of Lonsdale at Lowther Castle. William Wilkinson passed away on the 29 May 1833, aged 70

From 1833–34 the business produced furniture for the new Goldsmiths’ Hall in London to the designs of the architect Philip Hardwick. They furnished the Court Room, Court Drawing Room and Court Dining Room, while Seddons furnished the remaining rooms. Much of Wilkinson’s furniture survives in the building (illus. Aslin, 19th Century English Furniture (1962), pls. 1-4 and Shrive, Furniture History (2019), figs 3-15). The furniture produced for the Court Room and the Court Dining-Room was of carved mahogany in the Grecian style but the Drawing Room furniture reflected the fact that this was a venue for pleasure with ladies present so the recently revived Rococo was used, the furniture being painted white with gilded detail. The location of this firm in the City made them an obvious contender for patronage by the City Companies and in 1840 they were invited to tender for furniture and upholstery for the Armourers and Brasiers’ Co.

The 1845 London Post Office Directory listed William & Charles Wilkinson at 14 Ludgate Hill, the firm described as designers & manufacturers. They exhibited at the Great Exhibition, 1851, displaying a walnut, carved four-post bedstead with improved spring mattress etc., mahogany wardrobe veneered with walnut and pedestal dressing table etc.  

William died in 1855 and thereafter his widow sold her share to Charles, who moved the business to 8 Bond Street. Most stamped furniture from this date onwards was stamped ‘Wilkinson & Son 8 Old Bond Street’. The 1871 Post Office Directory shows that the business at two locations: 8 Old Bond Street and Little Charles Street, Munster Square. In that year the business had been passed to Charles’ eldest son, Frederick. 

During the second half of the 1880s Wilkinson & Son were producing upholstery and furniture to the designs of A. H. Mackmurdo for the Century Guild. The Guild showed a complete room setting at the International Inventions Exhibition, London, 1885. A photograph (illus. Evans & Liddiard (2021), fig.3.7) shows a sign on the stand stating ‘CENTURY GUILD’ with the address of the Mackmurdo & Horne partnership, and Wilkinson & Son, ‘Manufacturer and Agents, 8 Old Bond Street, W’. 

Stewart Headlam (an Anglican priest who founded the Church & Stage Guild), commissioned The Century Guild in 1888 to redesign the drawing room of his house, 31 Upper Bedford Place, Bloomsbury. The furniture, including a mahogany writing desk, settle/settee with cane work panels and cushions, bookcase buffet and fire dog, was put on show at Messrs. Wilkinsons showrooms in Old Bond Street and was described in The Building News, 30 March 1888. Particularly noted was the upholstery of all the furniture carefully chosen to harmonise with the woodwork, and beautiful shades of colour and art needlework, specially designed for the furniture (illus. Evans & Liddiard (2021) fig.6.3). The commission also included a settee with curtained sides which is now at the William Morris Gallery (WMG G26), illus. Evans & Liddiard (2021) fig.6.4.

Another patron of The Guild was Dr Joseph Wiglesworth at the Lancaster County Lunatic Asylum who in 1889 commissioned a desk, large octagonal table & chairs (illus. Evans & Liddiard (2021) figs. 6.5 & 6.6.), all probably designed by Edmund Rathbone and possibly made by Wilkinson & Son.

Wilkinson & Sons exhibited at the 1890 Arts & Crafts Exhibition [The Furniture Gazette, 15 November 1890] and 1891-92 the firm went into partnership with Charles Albert and Edward Hindley to form Hindley & Wilkinson

Sources: DEFM; Aslin, 19th Century English Furniture (1962); Agius, British Furniture 1880-1915 (1978); Shrive, ‘‘Better Than That Ordinarily Seen’: Furniture Supplied to the Third Goldsmith’s Hall by William and Charles Wilkinson and Thomas and George Seddon, 1834-35’, Furniture History (2019); Stuart Evans & Jean Liddiard, Arts & Crafts Pioneers. The Hobby Horse Men and their Century Guild (2021); Hindley family papers at the Department of Furniture, Textiles & Fashion, V&A.

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