The Gillow Furniture Gallery in the Judges’ Lodgings charts the growing success and importance nationally of the Gillow firm.
It was founded in Lancaster around 1730 by Robert Gillow, a cabinet maker. The Gillow offices and workshops built around 1770 are across the road from the Judges’ Lodgings, and each of the furnished rooms in the building displays the range and virtuosity of the firm’s craftsmen over 200 years.
Generations of craftsmen from the same families, such as the Dowbiggins, learnt their trade with Gillows. They producing beautifully decorated furniture using woods from all over the world including the West Indies, Africa and Australia as well as home grown oak and ash. In the 18th century Gillows was connected to the West Indies trade and traded in wood, sugar and rum produced by enslaved Africans. Many Gillow customers were slave traders at a time when Lancaster slave ships carried 29,000 Africans out of Africa for slavery in the Americas.
Later Gillow commissions ranged from domestic furniture to ceremonial, such as a set of chairs for the Grand Jury Room in Lancaster Castle and Pugin-designed seating for the Houses of Parliament, to the commercial on a grand scale for the fitting out of the Cunard ship the Queen Mary. They designed and patented their own in-house ranges, but also offered a furniture-making service for external designers too.
After being taken over as Waring and Gillow in 1903 they never achieved the same reputation for quality and after later take-overs, ended up as part of Allied Carpets.
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