Designers, makers, and patrons

Modern Gothic Furniture by Charles Bevan

Charles Bevan (probably active by circa 1860-circa 1882 was a talented and influential furniture designer, working in the ‘Modern Gothic’ style.  Details of his life and career, however, remain elusive (see Simon Jervis, ‘Charles, Bevan and Talbert’ in The Decorative Arts in the Victorian Period, 1989, pp. 22-25).

Sometime after 1856 Thomas Seddon, a grandson of George Seddon, founder of the eponymous cabinet-making firm, became involved with Johnstone & Jeanes of 67, New Bond Street, London.  It was while working for this latter firm that Bevan appears to have come into contact with the architect/designer John Pollard Seddon (The Building News, 8 September 1865, p. 639).

‘Registered’ chair, designed by Charles Bevan
Ebonised beech (?), with brass and ceramic castors; later fabric over original upholstery
91.5 x 60.9 x 71.2 cm
English, circa 1865

Bevan was strongly influenced by Seddon, but this was not without controversy.  In August 1865, The Building News published ‘Bevan’s New Registered Reclining Chair’ (The Building News, 11 August 1865, p. 568 and opposite).  The following month, Seddon wrote to The Building News complaining that Bevan had plagiarised an idea and design by Richard Holmes (V&A, D.1628-1896), patented by the writer and manufactured by his brother’s firm.  While much of Bevan’s furniture indeed shows a debt to Seddon, by the time of this dispute, he was established independently at 66, Margaret Street, the London showrooms of Marsh & Jones of Leeds, at that moment the sole manufacturers of Bevan’s ‘Registered’ chair (The Building News, 25 August 1865, VIII, advertisement).

It is for the furniture that Marsh & Jones manufactured for the mill owner Titus Salt (died 1887) that Bevan is best known (see L.O.J. Boynton, ‘High Victorian Design: The Example of Marsh and Jones of Leeds’, Furniture History III (1967), pp. 55-91).

Writing table, designed by Charles Bevan and manufactured by Marsh & Jones
Birdseye maple, with inlaid decoration in various woods and original leather top
70 x 107 x 55.5 cm
English (Leeds), circa 1865

James Brett, Norwich; H. Blairman & Sons, 1980s; Lord McAlpine of West Green; H. Blairman & Sons, 1995; Saretta Barnet

But Bevan’s relationship with Marsh & Jones was not exclusive.  During the late 1860s and early 1870s Bevan designed ‘Mediaeval’ furniture for Gillow.  While the surviving ‘estimated sketches’ do not bear a designer’s name (as is the case with the majority of Gillow designs, stylistic attributions can be made with confidence.  Among the Gillow patrons supplied with Bevan-designed furniture were John Grant Morris, Septimus Ledward and Lloyd Rayner. Other cabinetmakers for whom Bevan designed were Lamb of Manchester and Gregory & Co.

Either under his own name or under that of a cabinetmaker, Bevan benefitted from participation at some of the nineteenth-century’s World’s Fairs.  In 1871, he showed an ‘Ebony Library chair’ and in 1872 Gillow showed a Bevan-designed black and gold cabinet, and Doulton exhibited his ‘Cabinet with stone-ware reliefs’.

Writing in Principles of Decorative Design (1873), Christopher Dresser praised and illustrated ‘a chair shown by Messrs. Gillow and Co., of Oxford Street, in the last Paris International Exhibition [1867].  The design of this chair can be attributed to Bevan.

By February 1869, Bevan’s address was 46, Berners Street, and by July 1872, he was at 100, High Holborn, both in London. In June 1873, in The House Furnisher, he advertised as ‘C. Bevan & So, Designers, Wood carvers and Manufacturers of Art Furniture…’.  The last trade directory reference to Bevan, as wood carvers, appears to have been in 1882.

This note is abbreviated from our pamphlet Gothic-Revival Furniture by Charles Bevan (2006), of which a limited number of copies remain available.