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Lake District World Heritage Site’s Great Houses Celebrate Chippendale’s 300th Birthday

Harlequin Chippendale dining chairs in the Dining Room at great house, Holker Hall, one of the members of Cumbria’s Living Heritage.

[H]istoric houses within the forward-thinking Cumbria’s Living Heritage group are celebrating Thomas Chippendale’s 300th anniversary by highlighting fabulous Chippendale furniture creations that will wow visitors who appreciate first-class craftsmanship.

Meanwhile, others are inviting antique lovers journeying to the Lake District World Heritage Site to compare and contrast Chippendale masterpieces with other exquisite furniture, crafted by the renowned Gillows of Lancaster. This was another 18th century furniture business patronised by rich property owners and it is still much-admired and valued today.

Chippendale is known as ‘the Shakespeare’ of furniture and was the first furniture maker to publish a directory of designs to promote his business. ‘The Gentleman Cabinet Maker’s Director’ of 1754 was a groundbreaking publication by the Otley-born furniture maestro.

Chippendale pieces are often owned by private collectors, but some can be viewed at two Cumbria’s Living Heritage members located within the Lake District World Heritage site – Holker Hall & Gardens and Levens Hall & Gardens.

Chippendale furniture is housed in both the Drawing Room and Dining Room of the Cartmel-based great house, Holker Hall.  The first piece in the Drawing Room is found adjacent to the room’s large bay window and is a mahogany rectangular table.  It has an intricate pierced fretwork ‘gallery’ around the table, as well as a blind-fretwork frieze on quadruple cluster supports.

The second piece is a Chippendale silver table located at the entrance to the Billiard Room. This table has a three-quarter pierced gallery, square chamfered legs and fret-carved angle-brackets joined by shaped X-stretcher supports.   On it sits an open book, housed in a wood and glass display case gifted to Holker by Buckingham Palace following a 1937 visit by Queen Mary.  In the Dining Room, there is a collection of Harlequin chairs by Chippendale.

At Levens Hall near Kendal, Chippendale’s craftsmanship can be seen in a stunning pair of candelabra (or torchères) dating from around 1750 and listed in Chippendale’s 1754 directory.  They were certainly in situ at Levens prior to 1849, as they feature in Joseph Nash’s picture of the Drawing Room of that date. These marvellous pieces are carved giltwood and have three scrolling candle-arms carved with leaves and with foliate drip pans. The stems are vigorously carved with acanthus leaf scrolls and decorated with trailing flowers and leaves. They rest on double-scrolled cabriole legs, moulded and carved with leaves and shells.

While Chippendale was a self-publicist, the modus operandi of Robert Gillows, founder of Gillows of Lancaster, was that of being highly secretive about his own sophisticated designs. This was a maker of superior and elegant furniture, well-known in society circles and referred to by authors such as Jane Austen and William Makepeace Thackeray in their literary works.  Gillows also made some of his furniture to Chippendale’s designs.

Robert Gillows preceded Chippendale by 20 years and was a leading cabinet maker known for fashioning his furniture from mahogany imported from the West Indies.  As staunch Catholics and financiers of the Catholic church built in Dalton Square, Lancaster, Robert and his sons, Richard and Robert, had many clients within the Lancastrian gentry.  With such a reputation in the north, it is no surprise to find Gillows furniture in some of the great houses within Cumbria’s Living Heritage, located just over the Lancashire border and beyond.

At Dalemain Mansion and Historic Gardens near Penrith, there are several furniture pieces made by Gillows of Lancaster to be seen in the Dining Room.  There is a striking sideboard, a beautiful George III mahogany table, and chairs that form part of a set of 20 made specifically for the house.

In the incredible Chinese Room, if you can take your eyes off the hand-painted wallpaper adorned with peonies, butterflies and pheasants for long enough, you can see chairs to a Chippendale chinoiserie design.  The carved rococo chimneypiece which features dragons, and the gilt-framed mirror above it, are also of the kind illustrated in Chippendale’s ‘Director’, but were actually made by craftsman and clockmaker, Nathaniel Hedge, in 1757.

At National Trust Sizergh, on the outskirts of Kendal, there are a number of Gillows chairs similar in design to some of Chippendale’s. The design of the splat to a set of chairs is reminiscent of, although not identical to, several designs in Chippendale’s Director of 1762.

At the Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal, there are two attractive, shelled-back Gillows hall chairs dating back to 1810 and gifted to Lakeland Arts in 1967, as well as a Gillows folio stand acquired in 1994 and undated.  At its sister attraction, the Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry, which is located just a few yards away, there is a Pembroke table made in 1820 for Gillows by craftsman, Thomas Wotton.

Cumbria’s Living Heritage’s Chair, Peter Frost-Pennington, says: “We look forward to welcoming visitors with an interest in furniture to all of our historic houses in Cumbria this year and are sure that the 300th anniversary of Chippendale will spark an interest in the contents of our great homes in general.

“We are blessed with not only having members with Chippendale furniture, but also properties with Gillows furniture – something that auction houses such as Christies also hold in high regard.  Anyone staying in the Lake District World Heritage Site should not pass up on the opportunity to see some of these pieces first-hand.”

More information about Cumbria’s Living Heritage and its members is available at

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