Friday 9 October 2009
Oak sideboard/dresser c.1905
This fine piece, made by the firm of Shapland & Petter of Barnstaple, was acquired a few months back and has now gone on display. It represents the point at the beginning of the twentieth century when the Arts and Crafts style, with its focus on craftsmanship and rural romanticism, chimed with the fashionable tastes of a burgeoning urban middle class. Through a re-working of the farmhouse dresser of old came a piece of urban chic for the Edwardian villa.
Shapland & Petter were in a leading group of makers that maintained their commitment to quality and craftsmanship whilst organising their production on industrial lines. The oak for this piece was probably imported from America and full use was made of machinery for production of some of the component parts. In this way they were able to produce a very large range of furniture in many different customised versions at a reasonable price.
The distinctive wardrobes, overmantles, chairs, bookcases and hallstands etc produced by Shapland & Petter were sold through agents and retailers around the country and Europe. The firm also had its own shop in Berners St, just off Oxford St in London and not far from Regent St where Liberty & Co were competitors.
The business was started by Henry Shapland, a cabinet maker from Barnstaple, in the middle of the nineteenth century. He had travelled to America and brought back ideas on mechanised manufacture of quality furniture. He took Henry Petter into partnership in 1865 and within a few years over a hundred men were being employed. In 1888, after a fire, the firm relocated to a new factory – the Raleigh Cabinet Works - in Barnstaple. The town had a tradition of crafts skills from lacemaking times, a thriving School of Art at the end of the nineteenth century and the Barnstaple Guild of Metalworkers.
One of the renowned designers associated with Shapland & Petter was William Cowie (see some of his designs above), a product of the Barnstaple School of Art, who was responsible for this piece. It bears a number of the Shapland & Petter hallmarks for their Arts and Crafts years: squared spindles, cut-out hearts, geometric arch, long strap hinges and decorative metalwork.