Wright and Mansfield
Alfred Thomas Wright first came to notice in 1856 as a junior partner in the firm of Samuel Hanson, a cabinetmaker and upholsterer trading from 16 John Street (later Great Portland Street), and 106 Oxford Street. The company was joined by George Needham Mansfield, son of the old established builders and decorators George Mansfield, of Grays Inn Lane and Wigmore Street, and the firm is recorded in Post Office journals as Hanson, Wright and Mansfield at the above addresses until 1861, when Hanson died. Thereafter the company traded as Wright and Mansfield, and swiftly rose to prominence after their exhibits at the 1862 International Exhibition held in London, on the site of what is now the Natural History Museum, South Kensington. Attended by over six million visitors, despite the death in 1861 of Prince Albert, and the absence of Queen Victoria, who was still in mourning. The Art Journal Catalogue of the International Exhibition, and J.B. Waring’s ‘ Masterpieces of Industrial Art and Sculpture’ of 1862 record their work, and two bookcases, and a fireplace constructed of ‘Ginn’ or ‘Gean’ wood, with inset Wedgwood plaques were illustrated, along with a piano, painted in the manner of George Brookshaw, and commented upon and favourably compared to the Eighteenth Century work of ‘Adelphi’ Adams. The progress and incredible quality presented by the exhibitors occasioned Eugene Rouher, the prominent French statesman, after the exhibition to form a committee, taking as a premise ‘ the results of the Exposition prove, that if rapid progress is not made in France, we will quickly be outstripped by our rivals’. At the 1867 Paris Universelle Exposition, a remarkable satinwood, marquetry, bronze and Wedgwood mounted cabinet won a Gold medal, the only time such an honour was bestowed upon an English cabinet maker, by the judges, presided over by M. du Sommerard director of the Cluny Museum, and M Wilkinson, Administrator de Mobilier de la Courrone. The Gold Medal was presented personally to Wright & Mansfield by the Emperor Napoleon the 3rd. The cabinet was purchased by the South Kensington Museum (later the Victoria and Albert Museum) for the extraordinary sum, in those days, of £800. It remains in their possession today. Their showing at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition attracted wide admiration, and was most favourably commented upon in the journals of the day.
However, some years ago, we owned what is unarguably the finest piece of furniture the company ever made, a library desk for Brook House, the London residence of their long time patron and advocate, Sir Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks, a member of the Coutts banking family, a noted collector of Wedgwood, who had instructed Wright and Mansfield to refurbish, and furnish his Scottish estate, Guisachan, Inverness-shire, which he had purchased in 1856, and later his London residence, Brook House, Park Lane, designed by Thomas Henry Wyatt, and completed in 1867. Brook House incorporated carved panelling and furniture,( including the Marjoribanks’ library table with it’s SIXTY SEVEN Wedgwood basalt plaques ) in Gean wood. Sir Dudley had specified that wood used was to originate from his Scottish estate. It was noted that Sir Dudley was instrumental in assisting his daughter Ishbel, upon her marriage to the Earl of Aberdeen, in 1878 to refurbish and refurnish the decrepit, (by Ishbel’s own account, recorded in Lord & Lady Aberdeen’s’ book ‘We Twa’), Haddo House, Aberdeenshire. Haddo House had been unoccupied since 1860, when it was the home of the fourth Earl, who had been Prime Minister from 1852-1855.The fashionable architects James Maitland Wardrop and Charles Reid, worked on installing a new entrance, and the twisting corridors that constitute the ground floor, whilst Wright and Mansfield completely redecorated the upper rooms, including the reception room, morning room, and dining room, and of course, the magnificent fitted library, in which was, and still remains the Haddo Wedgwood writing table modelled on the original in Brook House. The Haddo refurbishment is discussed by Christopher Hussey in his article in ‘Country Life ‘ of 25th August 1966, and also in the Furniture History Society Volume XXX11, Wright and Mansfield in Haddo House, Guisachan and Grosvenor Square, by Eileen Harris. The decorations were completed in 1883, just prior to the dissolution of the partnership in 1884, apparently due to the failing health of Alfred Wright, who died in 1890. The remaining stock of the company was sold by Phillips Son & Neale in an initial sale held over the 23-25 June 1886, and a final dispersal sale held in 23-25 June 1887.The advertisement notes ‘comprising many beautiful Specimens of Cabinet Work, manufactured regardless of cost, specially for various exhibitions, wherein they have obtained medals for excellence of design and workmanship’. In the catalogues of the sale, held at the British Library, such extraordinary lots abound, including a ‘Panelled Room, incorporating a remarkable Sicilian marble fireplace, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, for the residence of Nell Gwynne’, as well as a number of fine Eighteenth Century satinwood pieces, which were purchased as models of both design and construction.