This piece was made by Gillows of Lancaster in 1766 for Lord John France of Rawcliffe Hall, Lancashire Fylde. The original designs for this piece can be found in the most celebrated publication on the makers, Gillows of Lancaster and London 1730-1840 by Susan E. Stuart (2008) (pp. 2, 54-60; plates 597-604).
This piece is cited by Stuart in the aforementioned publication (p. 55) as being undoubtedly “one of the finest completed by the Lancaster firm during the 1760s” and is of great historical importance.
As well as the academic significance and exceptional form, the piece is of rich colour displaying a variety of shades to its original patinated surface.
The cornice with a dentil moulding atop a blind fretwork frieze sits above doors of fantastic book-matched flame veneers of mahogany, framed with serpentine-shaped scallop mouldings with an applied carved fleur-de-lys to each corner. The press doors open to reveal three original linen drawers.
The bottom half of the moulded press consists of a long cock-beaded fitted secretaire desk drawer lined in mahogany with applied tooled leather writing surface, two short oak lined drawers, over a long-graduated cock-beaded drawer standing on stepped ogee bracket feet.
When drawn forward, the face of the secretaire drawer can be flattened by pressing two sprung buttons on the inside edge of the drawer. The secretaire is fitted with a central cupboard, known as a ‘prospect’. The quarter veneered prospect door to the centre of blind fretwork columns on either side, flanked by three pigeonholes above two short over one long drawer with a further blind fretwork column on each side.
This piece would not be complete without fine secret hidden drawers, which can be located by the prospect. First, you must open its door and depress a hidden sprung button, allowing you to slide it forward to reveal a series of hidden ‘private’ drawers to its reverse, each finely made and lined in oak: three small drawers aside one narrow vertical drawer. Further private drawers in the secretaire are revealed in each outer blind fretwork column and above each pigeonhole.
Every detail and characteristic of this piece demands further considered examination:
The gilt brassware, as is fitting for a piece of this quality, is particularly fine and of outstanding quality. The flowing rococo handles are surmounted with intricate opposing peacocks. Matching peacock escutcheons are used throughout including a blind escutcheon on the linen press door. Their design is shown in the earliest surviving Birmingham brass catalogue known as the ‘Janet’. The delicate variant on an axe handle famously used by Thomas Chippendale, with tiny flowers to their centre used in the secretaire including its hidden drawers, are also illustrated in the Janet.