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Wylie & Lochhead (1829-1957)

Wylie & Lochhead

Glasgow, Scotland; furniture makers & retailers (fl.1829-1957)

Robert Wylie began business on his own account in Glasgow in 1817 and in 1828 moved to 80 Trongate, established as an upholsterer and hair and feather merchant. William Lochhead started work in his father’s post-hiring, undertaking and cabinet-making business. Wylie married Margaret Downie in 1824 and Lochhead married her sister, Janet, the following year. In 1829 Wylie and Lochhead formed a partnership as a firm of general upholsterers, furnishers and funeral undertakers, and took second floor premises at 164 Trongate.  

The firm’s early success was largely due to high demand for undertakers following the cholera epidemic of 1832 and, with this increased reputation and an eye for new styles and technical developments, their stock of furnishings expanded. The accounts for 1834 showed an annual turnover of £4,438 but by 1844, with two more stores at Saltmarket and Bell Street, the turnover had increased to £30,613. In the 1870s the company was the first of the Glasgow furnishers to specialise in ship and yacht interiors. By the 1880s they had showrooms, factories and warehouses throughout Glasgow (feather works in Dorset Street, upholstery workshop at Mitchell and Unions Streets, paper-staining in Whiteinch and a large cabinet-making workshop in Kent Road with an adjacent carving, gilding and plate-glass silvering works). Branches were later established in London and Manchester and the firm had network of agents and buyers throughout Europe and the Empire. In 1882 Wylie and Lochhead employed 1700 people and on 20 August 1883 the firm was registered as a limited company. George Logan, apprentice cabinet maker at a firm in Beith, joined the firm in 1882 as a trainee and stayed until 1937 by which time he was chief designer.  Ernest Archibald Taylor was a draughtsman at Scott & Co. Ltd, the Clyde shipyard, before starting with Wylie & Lochhead in 1893/94 also as a trainee designer. As well as training their own apprentices, the firm employed students from the Glasgow Schools of Art and Technical Colleges. Among these were Jessie King, David Gow and John Ednie. Many of the firm’s designers taught at the Glasgow School of Art and the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College and acted as local examiners; there was a Wylie & Lochhead prize for furniture design.

The Glasgow International Exhibition of 1901 was an opportunity for the firm to show their work with great panache. The exterior of the pavilion was designed by David Gow and the inside by George Logan, John Ednie and E.A. Taylor, who were each given a specific room. The Cabinet Maker and Art Furnisher, August 1901, described the Wylie & Lochhead pavilion as ‘unquestionably the most important furnishing display’ (illus. The Decorative Arts Society 1850-1932 (1985), pp. 8, 10 & 11). The firm itself made most of the furnishings for the Exhibition with carpets specially woven by Alexander Morton & Co. and stained glass made by Hugh MacCullouch & Co. A mahogany bookcase, with stained and leaded glass, mother of pearl, white metal mounts and leather inserts, which was designed in 1900 by Logan for the Rossetti library at the 1901 Exhibition, is now at the V&A Dundee (W.23:1-3-1972).


Mahogany bookcase designed by George Logan for the Rossetti library, 1900 [W.23:1 to 3-1972]. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Where appropriate the firm’s designers incorporated work of other artists and craftsmen in their schemes including cushions embroidered by Ann MacBeth, prints by Rossetti, a large Burne-Jones tapestry and appliqué work in the library and bedroom by Godfrey Blount. A clock designed by C. R. Ashbee was displayed in the Royal Reception Rooms at the Exhibition. However, Wylie & Lochhead was keen to show a brand image and not promote individual designers, so its souvenir booklet stressed that ‘The entire exhibit can be reproduced, if desired, in a simpler or more elaborate type of the same character’. 

The show led to a prestigious commission from Margaret MacConnachie and her husband Robert Hay Coats to furnish, to Taylor’s designs, their new house at 32 Radnor Road, Handsworth, near Birmingham. A more extensive commission which included panelling, fitted furniture and elaborate stained glass, was for the Pollokshields town house of William Weir, later Lord Weir of Cathcart, for which Taylor won a medal and diploma at the 1902 Turin exhibition. The firm’s entire 1901 pavilion was selected for display in an exhibition of British Arts and Crafts held in 1902 at the Imparmüvészeti Musum in Budapest and the host museum acquired various items from the firm’s display. At the Turin International Exhibition of 1902 the firm’s designers, Logan, Ednie and Taylor, were allowed to exhibit in their own right. Logan exhibited the ‘Rose Screen’, a three-panel screen executed by Wylie & Lochhead, and described in Studio Magazine, 1902 p.99 as ‘a novel treatment of wood, silver, precious stones, and chains of silver strung with pearls and turquoises, the central panel containing a framed drawing by Jessie M King, of The Princess of the Red Rose; altogether a most dainty production’. The screen and a matching desk were purchased by Walter S. Strang, a Scotsman who immigrated to Australia in 1890s, in 1929. Eight years later the desk was destroyed in a fire but the screen was restored and then exhibited in The Folding Image: Screens by Western Artists of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, National Gallery Of Art, Washington DC in 1984 and is in the permanent collection of the Glasgow Museums Collection (E.1986.52).

In addition to exhibition furniture the firm produced less elaborate ranges of furniture under such labels as ‘Arts and Crafts’, ‘Quaint’, ‘New Art’ and ‘Artistic’, with some pieces available in a variety of woods and colours. The ‘Saxon’ and other Windsor chairs were purchased from High Wycombe by Wylie & Lochhead at this time. An example of a chair inlaid with woods and mother of pearl featured in the firm’s catalogue early 20th century is illus. Agius (1978), p.122. By 1908 Ednie and Taylor had left Wylie & Lochhead and by 1916 further additions to the Glasgow properties had been made. At Cleveland Street they had five floors of almost 21,000 square feet, the Kent Road workshop comprised almost 40,000 square feet and they had workshops or outlets at Belgrave (now Beltane) Street, Graeme (now Bell Street) and College and High Street.  Stores opened in Manchester and in Bloomsbury London, the latter still trading as late as 1930, while land had been acquired in the Natal.   

The firm held royal warrants as cabinet makers and upholsterers to Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales, King Edward VII, King George V and King George VI. For the International Exhibitions in 1888, 1901, 1911 and 1938 the Royal Suites were furnished by Wylie and Lochhead. At the 1888 exhibition the suite comprised two retiring rooms and a dining room; the latter featured dark coloured ‘Scottish Baronial’ oak furniture (illus. Kinchin and Kinchin (1988), p. 23) and now at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow. They were also involved in the interiors of the Royal Yacht Britannia, the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth liners. Also supplied cabinet work at Australia House, London; The British Museum; Lloyd’s Shipping Boardroom; Skibo Castle and Lloyd’s Bank in the early 20th century. The firm continued to exhibit and Robert Wylie, as a member of the board of the Scottish Furniture Manufacturers’ Association, in January 1929 responded positively the idea of the Glasgow School of Art receiving a prize for Furniture Design. In 1947 the firm held The Swedish Home Exhibition at their Buchanan Street, which was sponsored by the Council of Industrial Design and in 1951 under Scottish Furniture Manufacturers Ltd’s banner their furniture was chosen by the Council of Industrial Design Selection Committee and displayed at South Bank's Festival of Britain. Their 1951 sales catalogue illustrated the Cintique Chair, covered in ambia leather, designed by Ernest Race. In May 1956 a new Edinburgh store was opened but by this time Robert Wylie was in negotiations to sell.  Discussions were held first with Waring and Gillow and then with Great Universal Stores but finally in September 1957 a formal announcement was made confirming the sale of Wylie and Lochhead to the House of Fraser.  

Sources: Agius, British Furniture 1880-1915 (1978; Kinchin, ‘The Wylie & Lochhead Style’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850-1932 (1985); Kinchin and Kinchin, Glasgow Great Exhibitions 1888, 1901, 1911, 1838, 1988 (1988); Komanecky, ‘The Restoration of George Logan’s Rose Screen’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (1985); Cooper, ‘Post-War Scottish Furniture Design.  Scottish Furniture Manufacturers Ltd’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2009);  Hooper, ‘Stockholm to Buchanan Street – Wylie and Lochhead and the New Style’, The Journal of the Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2013); Wallis, ‘A Hand-List of the Handley-Read Collection’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2016).