Gillows of Lancaster 2

New exhibition explores Lancaster's role in the global furniture trade

A new permanent exhibition has now opened at Judges' Lodgings Museum in Lancaster after a major refurbishment supported by the Art Fund and the Regional Furniture Society.  

Gillows of Lancaster – A Global Story casts a new light on the work of Gillows who were one of the most important regional furniture makers in British history. The museum, which is owned and operated by Lancashire County Council, houses the largest collection of Gillows furniture in the world.

Gillows operated from 1728 until the late 20th century. The new exhibition aims to further public understanding of the local, regional, national and international impact of Gillows and the furniture trade which once flourished in Lancaster.

It explores the people behind its success - the founders, cabinetmakers, customers and addresses its connections to the transatlantic slave trade and enslaved Africans who harvested the hardwoods used in the furniture.

The exhibition contains examples of furniture and designs and includes reminiscences from men and women about the training and working conditions at the company. Generations of Lancaster apprentices gained their skills at Gillows and the quality of their craftsmen was renowned.

Museum manager Lynda Jackson said: "Judges' Lodgings contains period rooms with many examples of Gillows' furniture from beds to billiard tables. The new exhibition will enables visitors to better understand the history of Gillows and those involved in the furniture trade. It also showcases new objects related to Gillows for the first time, including furniture designs and books that belonged to Richard Gillows."

County Councillor Peter Buckley, Cabinet Member for Community and Cultural Services, said: "I am continuously impressed by work of our museum staff and how they re-imagine our collections to tell interesting and educationally important stories. I am also grateful to the funders, lenders, experts and Lancaster Black History Group for their support in creating this new exhibition."

Contemporaries of Chippendale cabinetmakers, Gillows grew as a regional maker during the height of English furniture design before receiving the royal warrant to Queen Victoria. The exhibition explores the company's role as a regional manufacturer trading with the West Indies, North America, Europe and beyond from the 18th century through to its eventual demise in the 20th century.

The new gallery aims to further knowledge of the history, design, production, distribution and use of Gillows' furniture. Highlights on display will include the Lady's Workbox, Lady's Worktable, Worswick clock, Richard Gillow's personal book collection and Gillows' first trade card. 

The project has been supported with grants from the Regional Furniture Society and Art Fund.

Notes to editors

Notes to Editors

Judges' Lodgings is a unique historic house and museum in the city of Lancaster – close to its famous castle. It is Lancaster's oldest town house and was once home to judges who worked in Lancaster Castle. It is now home to an extensive collection of Gillow furniture from beds to billiard tables. Gillow was a major British furniture maker in Lancaster for over 200 years. It is one of six museums operated by Lancashire County Museum Service which aims “To collect and preserve Lancashire’s diverse heritage and to make it accessible to everyone through high quality cultural experiences” and part of Lancashire County Council which aims to make Lancashire the best place to live, work, visit and prosper.

Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art. It provides millions of pounds every year to help museums to acquire and share works of art across the UK, further the professional development of their curators, and inspire more people to visit and enjoy their public programmes. In response to Covid-19 Art Fund made £3.6 million in urgent funding available to support museums through reopening and beyond, including Respond and Reimagine grants to help meet immediate need and reimagine future ways of working. A further £2 million has been made available in 2021 for Reimagine projects. Art Fund is independently funded, supported by the 130,000 members who buy the National Art Pass, who enjoy free entry to over 240 museums, galleries and historic places, 50% off major exhibitions, and receive Art Quarterly magazine. Art Fund also supports museums through its annual prize, Art Fund Museum of the Year.

The Regional Furniture Society studies the rich diversity of British regional furniture-making traditions, and the social and cultural context of furniture from the earliest times to the present day. This includes the development of furniture designs in relation to vernacular architecture and the organisation of domestic interiors, workshop practices, the use of tools, construction techniques and the surface treatment and decoration of furniture. The term ‘regional’ is used loosely to refer to differences between nations and regions (Wales, Scotland, the South west) and traditions rooted in particular towns, villages or workshops. We are interested both in British influence on furniture design in North America, Australia and elsewhere, and in continental and other overseas influences on British furniture. The Society was founded in 1984, and is now well established with over 400 members who include collectors, furniture makers, restorers, antique dealers, museum curators, students and furniture historians.

The exhibition design and production was completed by Lancashire County Council's Conservation and Collections Team based at Lancashire Conservation Studios in Preston who provide a comprehensive range of services to museums.