Lancashire does not always generally come to the mind as a centre for cultural and artistic excellence when compared to other areas of the UK. However, in the antiques world, Lancaster in particular has been heralded as an antique furniture hot spot where the north south divide between London and the rest of the country has had little effect. This may have something to do with the well known provincial furniture maker, Robert Gillow, who worked out of Lancaster in the 18th century.
Although Gillows furniture was considered artisan and provincial at the time, in comparison to the finely crafted cabinetry of Thomas Chippendale, Gillow (following the style of Chippendales designs from his Director) produced well made antique dining tables in Lancashire and other pieces of highly crafted domestic furniture. Unlike other provincial imitators of Chippendale, Gillow proudly stamped his name on the furniture he produced so it was easy for antiques experts to later attribute pieces of furniture as being crafted by Gillow. That his workmanship is now considered by experts to be one of the finest around also meant that antique dining chairs and Lancashire, for quality in cabinetry, went hand in hand.
Gillows pride in his workmanship and his predilection towards stamping his furniture put Lancashire, and Lancaster particularly, firmly on the English cabinet makers map and Lancaster has remained as a centre of excellence ever since. In fact, Gillow has a pub named after him on Market Street, a prominent part of Lancaster, always a good sign of local fame and reverence. The pub advertises that it has mementoes of the great cabinet maker on its wall, but they also admit that they dont own examples of furniture, which shows how prices for a Gillow antique dining table in Lancashire have shot through the roof over the years and his antique furniture is still out of most peoples price range, even in a recession. Prices for Gillows work also manage to transcend the slump in the antique brown furniture market generally, which again is attributable to its quality.
Local pride in people like Robert Gillow is evident in Lancaster. Apart from having pubs named after him, he also has pride of place in the Judges Lodgings Museum in Lancaster, where the life and work of the cabinet maker permeates throughout the whole building. The museum, as with National Trust properties, presents its contents via sets of rooms depicting the past role of the building as lodgings for judges. These rooms contain many fine Lancashire antiques and much of it manufactured locally by Gillow, and presented alongside portraits of wealthy Lancashire families.
Robert Gillows persisting fame as a master cabinet maker, alongside elevated names such as Thomas Chippendale, is very much down to his own self promotion but also the quality of his work. It is his name that has stuck in most peoples minds when it comes to fine 18th century furniture and experts like John Bly from the Antiques Roadshow would always admit to the superb workmanship of his pieces.