Aesthetic Movement Golden Oak & Buttoned Leather Sofa by Wylie & Lochhead
A mid-Victorian Oak and buttoned leather upholstered Aesthetic Movement sofa by Wylie & Lochhead of Glasgow.
This superb sofa is constructed of a golden oak frame with carved front rail and arms depicting sun flower motifs typical of the Aesthetic Period. It has a buttoned burgundy leather seat and back which shows has some lovely signs of ageing but remains in good order throughout. It is likely to have been re-leathered during the mid-twentieth century.
Wylie & Lochhead were a pre-eminent firm of Scottish cabinet makers formed by the original partners, Robert Wylie and William Lochhead.
The partners were related through marriage. Robert Wylie, a feather and hair merchant in Glasgow, Scotland, had married Margaret Downie in 1824. The following year Margaret's sister, Jane Downie, had married William Lochhead, who was a partner in his father's undertaking and cabinet making business. In 1827, Margaret and Jane's mother died leaving her property in Saltmarket and Bell Street, Glasgow, to her daughters under the charge of William Lochhead and in September 1829, William Lochhead left his father's business to join Robert Wylie in partnership. They traded as feather merchants in Trongate, Glasgow. Lochhead immediately set up a complete funeral undertaking business ranging from the provision of coffins and hearses to mourning stationery and catering. The cholera epidemic of 1832 proved lucrative for the partners, enabling them to expand rapidly and diversify into other areas. By 1837, they were operating a suburban omnibus service to Rutherglen in Glasgow and the Townhead railway depot, hiring post horses and selling paper hangings, upholstery and furnishings.
In 1844, the partners' premises in Trongate were destroyed by fire. Temporary premises were found for the omnibus and undertaking departments at 171 Argyle Street and for the carpet and upholstering departments at 169 Argyle Street. In May 1845, a new warehouse at 28 Argyle Street was opened, to which several of the retail departments were moved. In February 1846, the partners also leased the Eagle Hotel and stables in Maxwell Street to house the post-hiring and undertaking business, letting out the hotel itself as a separate concern. The omnibus service was temporarily abandoned due to the escalating price of corn. In May 1846, the remainder of the retail departments were accommodated in Argyle Street which was itself extended in 1848 by the acquisition of the adjoining National Bank property in Virginia Street. Trade grew steadily, and in December 1853 new premises were acquired in Kent Road to house the undertaking and carriage hiring businesses. In 1854, the partners moved the retail business to Buchanan Street, Glasgow and started paper staining at Kent Road. In 1855, they erected a large building in Union Street to house the undertaking department. Also in the 1850s, they started manufacturing their own wallpapers and, in 1862, opened their own paper staining factory in Whiteinch, Glasgow.
By 1862, the firm was extensive, offering a wide range of departments and services: upholstering, bed and table linen, feathers, carpets and floor cloths and paper hangings at 43-47 Buchanan Street, Glasgow; undertaking and post-horse hiring at Kent Road and Whiteinch stables, Glasgow; cabinetmaking and paper staining also at Kent Road; and upholstering, carving and gilding at Mitchell Street, Glasgow. The omnibus service was abandoned during the 1860s due to keen rivalry with other businesses.
In August 1867, a major fire broke out in Buchanan Street completely destroying the Mitchell Street wing of the warehouse. The business, however, continued to grow and an office was opened in London in Cannon Street in the late 1860s. In 1874, the Buchanan Street premises were extended. Also during the 1870s, the firm began to furnish ship and yacht interiors, catering for the busy shipyards developing along the Clyde.
The company was incorporated in 1883 with its registered office at 45 Buchanan Street, Glasgow, to carry on the business of Wylie & Lochhead, cabinet makers and funeral undertakers, of Glasgow. At the time of its incorporation, the business was extensive, offering a wide range of departments and services including undertaking, cabinetmaking, furnishing, upholstering, paper hangings and paper staining.
Within months of the incorporation, the entire Buchanan Street warehouse was destroyed by fire. The company found temporary premises at 111 Union Street, and Glasgow architect, James Sellars, was commissioned to design a new building for the same site. The new warehouse was completed in 1885.
Despite this setback, the business continued to expand. In 1888, it was awarded a Royal Warrant as cabinetmakers and upholsterers. In 1889, a branch business was established in Manchester, England. By the 1890s, the cabinetmaking business was not only the largest in Scotland but was also pioneering Scottish avant-garde design alongside more traditional furniture styles. Many remarkable designers worked for Wylie & Lochhead such as EA Taylor, John Ednie & George Logan and the firm's Art-Nouveau pavilion, designed for the 1901 Glasgow International Exhibition, excited considerable interest. They also exhibited at the Turin International Exhibition alongside Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Four.
The years before the First World War were difficult and the board determined upon retrenchment. In 1899, for example, the paper hangings branch of its business was sold to the Wall Paper Manufacturers Ltd. Many new ideas were also adopted including the introduction of ticketed goods and sales visits to shipyards and naval architects in 1913; the adaptation of the basement for bargain merchandise in 1914; the provision of a ladies' washroom in 1915; and the establishment of suburban funeral parlours offering plainer funerals and the institution of a wholesale mail order business in 1916. During the war, the Kent Road factory was used for the manufacture of aeroplanes.
After the First World War, the company opened a new estate agency and extended its retail showrooms with the acquisition of Kemps warehouse at 37 Buchanan Street. In 1920, the company also purchased 49/53 Buchanan Street and 46/48 Mitchell Street in order to safeguard the workshops and carpet salon located there. However, within a few months the postwar depression made itself felt. The outlook remained gloomy throughout the 1920s and early 1930s and the company was forced to alter its approach. It introduced cheaper manmade furniture and hire purchase, opened a tearoom, disposed of surplus property and reorganised its management structure. By 1936, sales had begun to recover and an arcade and bronze canopy were built in Buchanan Street. During the Second World War, the cabinet factory produced utility furniture. After the war, the store was refurbished with the introduction of a new smoking room and lift.
By 1953 the board was considering the flotation of the firm as a public company in order to raise funds, and received takeover offers from Waring & Gillow Ltd, Great Universal Stores Ltd and House of Fraser Ltd. House of Fraser's bid was accepted in September 1957. Meanwhile branch businesses were opened in Aberdeen and Edinburgh.
In 1966, the Wylie & Lochhead store was linked with another House of Fraser store, McDonalds. Together the stores traded as McDonalds, Wylie & Lochhead. In 1975, this merger was taken a stage further by the amalgamation of the shops of Fraser Sons & Co and McDonalds, Wylie & Lochhead as a single department store, Frasers, on the west side of Buchanan Street, Glasgow.
The funeral side of the business continued as Wylie & Lochhead (Funerals) Ltd and continues to exist after being incorporated into CoOp Funeral services.
Credit: House of Fraser Archive.