Furniture making which was originally a rural craft industry, became mechanised early in the nineteenth century and this gave rise to frequent amalgamations of small unions into ever larger and more powerful units. There were three major amalgamations during the nineteenth century and this trend continued until 1971 when the Furniture, Timber and Allied Trades Union brought together in a single organisations all the remaining sections of the trade.
There are wide variety of trades involved in furniture making, including:
Turner - uses a lathe to turn wood (and other materials) into a round or oval shape. Items to be turned were first shaped by hand before being finished on the lathe. A turner makes such items as furniture legs and toys. Click here to download a description of the work of a 19th century turner. (opens as a pdf)
Carpenter - usually performs heavier work on houses, including making and fitting beams rafters and joists. Click here to download a description of the work of a 19th century carpenter (opens as a pdf)
Joiner - usually performs lighter work on houses, such as making and fitting doors and windows. It is not uncommon for the same person to be both a carpenter and a joiner.
Cabinet maker - is a skilled carpenter who both designs and makes furniture, often in conjunction with an upholster. Click here to download a description of the work of a 19th century cabinet maker. (opens as a pdf)
Furnishing workers also had a tradition of political engagement as epitomised by the Chartist William Lovett, who was a Cabinetmakers’ President and, along with John Collins wrote Chartism: a new organisation of the people. (Shelfmark: D19)
Click here to find out more about furniture and timber trade unions.
Resources about the furniture trade in the library collection
Board of Trade, Working party reports: furniture (1946) - Shelfmark: AG Manufacturing Box 1
Pat Kirkham, Rodney Mace and Julia Porter, Furnishing the world: the East London furniture trade, 1830-1980 (1987) - Shelfmark: M32
Hew Reid, The furniture makers: a history of trade unionism in the furniture trade, 1865-1972 (1986) - Shelfmark: H57
Resources held by the Modern Records Office
Other records are held at the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick:
Alliance Cabinet Makers Association (MSS.192/ACM)
Amalgamated Society of Gilders (681/ASG)
National Federation of Furniture Trade Unions (MSS.502/FFT)
National Amalgamated Furnishing Trades' Association (MSS.192/FTA)
National Union of Furniture Trade Operatives (MSS.192/FTO)
Furniture, Timber and Allied Trades Union (MSS.192/FTT)
National Union of Basket, Cane, Wicker and Fibre Furniture Makers of Great Britain and Ireland (773/NBC)
Amalgamated Society of Woodcutting Machinists (MSS.472/WCM)