Thomas Chippendale was baptised on the 5th June 1718 in the market town of Otley, West Yorkshire. He was the only son of John Chippendale, carpenter. The next recorded activity about Thomas was not until 30 years later in 1748, when he married Catherine Redshaw in Mayfair, London. Because of events that followed, we have been able to establish that he received a formal apprenticeship from Richard Wood, a wood carver and cabinetmaker based in York.
In 1754 two events were to change young Chippendale’s life for ever. First he moved into premises in the fashionable area of London, at no’s 60, 61 and 62 St Martin’s Lane. The dwelling offered enough space for the many workshops he would need to run his business, as well accommodation for both himself and his family. His business partner James Rannie, a wealthy shipping merchant, moved in next door.
The second event was even more daring, because he produced a port folio of all his furniture designs, a manuscript he called The Gentleman’s and Cabinet Makers Directory. It was an instant success since all his commissions emanated from that publication. Chippendale had arrived and his journey takes him into a world of aristocracy and wealth that most mortals can only dream about. It transformed his reputation overnight. Richard Wood purchased eight copies of his Director, as it became to be known, and Woods foreman, based in York went to work for Chippendale in London. His marriage produced nine children, four boys and five girls. The eldest boy, also called Thomas, was groomed in the business from a young age and he eventually took over the company after his father retired.
It was not until the final six years of his working life that Chippendale turned to producing marquetry decorated furniture. His creations set him apart from his rivals, and he produced a group of commissions that stand out as worldwide masterpieces of their time. Its at this stage that my book begins, when a new and exciting movement hit London and every furniture maker in town started making neo-classical designs in multi-coloured marquetry. The age of art had arrived, and Chippendale led the way with great panache.
The statue seen above stands just off the market square, in Otley, the town where he was born.