23 May 2017

The name of James Shoolbred & Co is highly respected among admirers of Aesthetic Movement furniture in Preston and Cumbria. Their antique desks, Victorian dining chairs and antique marquetry furniture were produced for wealthy households up to 1931. A particularly fine example of James Shoolbred antique marquetry furniture – an ornate piano by designer Henry Batley – is on display at the V & A museum, London.

Established in the 1820s, James Shoolbred’s Tottenham Court Road company began life as a drapers. It began supplying textiles to the furniture trade, and expanded into the stores either side, branching into interior design. By the 1870s, the company was designing and manufacturing its own furniture.

antique chests and Victorian dining chairs – spreading the word

A major factor of James Shoolbred’s success was their detailed catalogues, which were published from around 1873. Configured to showcase the company’s designs beyond the confines of London, they made Shoolbred an overnight success. Today, dealers in Cumbria selling Victorian dining chairs and other Shoolbred staples find these catalogues invaluable in identifying, dating and valuing the pieces.

In the 1880s the firm moved to larger premises. Imaginatively laid out, with detailed room schemes showing off the company’s latest furniture and textile designs, it became an unmitigated success.

Cataloguing the history of antique dining tables in Cumbria

Although James Shoolbred & Co specialised in furniture of the Aesthetic Movement they encompassed all the fashionable trends of the time, from the motifs and patterns of Japanese design in their antique marquetry furniture, to Art Nouveau and gothic influences in their antique desks and Victorian dining chairs.

Many of the Edwardian and Victorian dining chairs and antique cabinets in Preston showrooms are “in the style of” James Shoolbred & Co. Their catalogues were so detailed they acted as virtual pattern books, with furniture makers across the world copying their designs to prove they were abreast of London fashion. Today, these catalogues are a valuable research tool for antiques historians in Preston, who can see how antique desks, for example, adapted to various Revival movements as they appeared.

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