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British picture framemakers, 1600-1950 - R

An online resource, launched in 2007, selectively updated twice yearly. Last updated March 2022. Contributions are welcome, to Jacob Simon at [email protected].

Introduction Resources and bibliography

[RE] [RO] [RY]

*Benjamin Rackstrow, ‘The Crown and Looking-Glass’, the lower end of the paved stones, St Martin’s Lane, London ?1720s-1737?, ‘Sir Isaac Newton’s Head’, the corner of Crane Court in Fleet St 1738-1748 or later, 197 Fleet St by 1768-1772. Cabinet maker, sculptor, picture framemaker, figure caster etc.

Benjamin Rackstrow (d.1772) led a varied career, from picture frame making to sculpture and to opening a museum of waxwork figures. He is presumably the Benjamin Rackstrow who married Hannah Bonruc or Bourne at St Luke Old Street, in 1733, and who had a son William by Sarah (his second wife?) in 1737, baptised at St Dunstan-in-the-West, Fleet St, and three further children between 1740 and 1744. He was made free of the Joiners’ Company in July 1737 (information from Robert B. Barker, quoting Guildhall Library MS 8051/4, f.56 verso), probably to meet requirements for working within the bounds of the City at his new premises in Fleet St.

Rackstrow issued his first trade card, perhaps in the 1720s, from St Martin’s Lane, advertising ‘all sorts of Cabinet Work, Looking-Glasses, Coach-glasses, Window Blinds, Picture-frames &c. after the newest fashion and at the most Reasonable Rates. He likewise cleans and repairs all sorts of Cabinet work, Exchanges New Glasses for Old ones and makes Old ones fashionable, NB. He also cleans Pictures in the best manner and takes off Busto’s, Basso Reliev’s, and Figures of any Size in Wax, Metal, or Plaister of Paris’ (repr. Heal 1972 p.153). He issued a further impressive trade card, dated 1738 and engraved by Henry Copland, from the corner of Crane Court in Fleet St, calling himself a cabinet and picture framemaker, and advertising a very similar range of services to before, also offering to hang bells after the new manner (repr. Heal 1972 p.154). In a publication of 1748 he described himself as a ‘figure maker and statuary’ (Miscellaneous observations, together with a collection of experiments on electricity).

As a picture framemaker, we know very little of his activity. As a sculptor we know a little more, including the supply of a figure of the piping Faunus to Lady Luxborough in 1742, ‘three bustos and a group’ in 1748 for Arbury in Warwickshire, a statue of George II for Weaver’s Hall, Dublin, in 1749-50, and two busts in 1752 and a figure of Edward VI to the Ironmongers’ Company (Gunnis 1968 p.314; Roscoe 2009). From a court case in 1759, we learn that Rackstrow stocked a little figure of Shakespeare, about 12 ins high, which he sold for about 12s (Proceedings of the Old Bailey). He exhibited a coloured plaster figure and busts at the Free Society of Artists in 1763. His former apprentice, William Wynn, statuary, advertised from Shakespeare’s Head, Henrietta St, Covent Garden, in 1758 (Public Advertiser 31 May 1758; see also trade card, Banks coll., 106.33).

In later life, Rackstrow was known for his museum of waxwork figures and other curiosities which he maintained on his premises in Fleet St; these exhibits included life-size anatomical models (see Richard Altick, The Shows of London, 1978, pp.55-6; see also Matthew Craske, ‘ “Unwholesome” and “pornographic”: a reassessment of the place of Rackstrow’s Museum in the story of 18th-century anatomical collection and exhibition’, Journal of the History of Collections, vol.23, 2011, pp.75-99).

In his will, made 14 October 1769 and proved 1 June 1772, Benjamin Rackstrow, of St Dunstan-in-the-West, Temple Bar, left much of his estate to Catherine Clarke, including his busts, skeletons and moulds. His moulds, casts, figures and busts, from the antique, were sold shortly thereafterwards (Daily Advertiser 25 September 1772).

Sources: Information kindly provided by Robert B. Barker, 2011, on Rackstrow’s freedom and posthumous sale, and on William Wynn’s advertisement. For abbreviations, see Resources and bibliography.

Added March 2018
Edward Radclyffe, 49 Brewer St, Golden Square, London 1811-c.1820, 297 High Holborn by 1821-1846. Carver and gilder, picture framemaker, later picture dealer and cleaner.

Edward Radclyffe (c.1782/6-1846) lies outside the scope of this online resource but see Baldwin Hamey,, 5 December 2017, for an illustrated history.

*Mattei Radev (1927-2009), picture framer.

Outside the scope of this online resource, but see obituaries in The Times, 9 September 2009 and by Julian Machin in the Independent on 14 October 2009 (Mattei Radev: Mainstay of Bloomsbury artistic society who had a tortured relationship with E.M. Forster). Radev worked initially for Robert Savage before setting up independently in 1960. He made the frame for Maggi Hambling’s Dorothy Hodgkin, 1985 (National Portrait Gallery, see Simon 1996 p.191).

**Nicholas Reade, parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London by 1608-1651. Joiner.

Nicholas Reade (d.1651) married Ann Waller at St Mary-the-Virgin Aldermanbury in 1605. Their children were christened at St Martin-in-the-Fields: James in 1608, Alice in 1613, Anne in 1616, Nicholas in 1619, Catherine in 1621, Anthony in 1623 and William in 1625. Nicholas Reade was described as a joiner of St Martin-in-the-Fields in a legal document in 1620 (London Metropolitan Archives, WJ/SR(NS)2/065, Recognizance). He benefited under the will of his uncle, Henry Waller (qv), in 1622, receiving all his leases and houses not in the parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields, among other bequests.

Reade may perhaps have succeeded to some of his uncle’s work at court. In 1624/5 Reade received payments in King Charles I’s wardrobe accounts for two new picture frames in oak, including painting and gilding and rods for curtains, at a cost of £2.3s.4d in all, for two straining frames for pictures at Whitehall at 16s and for six staves for the King’s use at 6s (National Archives, LC 9/98, ff.17r, 17v; with thanks to Edward Town for this reference). Further study is required but it is clear that Reade continued to receive payments for services for Charles I, for example in 1630/1 and 1631/2 (LC 9/99, ff.19v, 58r, 65v, LC 9/100, f.20v) and in 1641 (Notes and Queries, 19 February 1910, p.145).

In his own will, made 10 November 1643 and proved 29 September 1651, Nicholas Reade, or Read, of St Martin-in-the-Fields, described himself as ‘joyner to the King’s most excellent Majesty(?)’, referring to the £110 owing him from the king for wages and making bequests to his sons, Nicholas and William, and his daughter Alice Marshall.

Sources: ‘The Register of St Martin-in-the-Fields’, Publications of the Harleian Society, vol.25, 1898, vol.66, 1936, for Reade’s children.

*George and Charles Rees 1855-1858, George Rees 1858-1903, George Rees & Co 1904-1913. At 187 Drury Lane, London 1855, 131 Drury Lane 1856-1857, 66 Broad St, Bloomsbury 1858, 129 Drury Lane (‘opposite Drury Lane Theatre’) 1858-1860, 67 Drury Lane 1860, 57 Drury Lane (‘four doors from the theatre’) 1861-1882 (wholesale dept by 1872), 34 St Martin’s Lane 1863-1868, 43 Russell St, Covent Garden 1869-1900, also 41-42 Russell St 1873-1900. Wholesale and retail moulding manufacturer, picture framemaker, exhibition agent. Trading additionally at Savoy House, 115 Strand 1875-1877, 29 Charing Cross 1877-1878 (as picture dealer), not listed 1879, 115-116 Strand 1880-1913 (also printsellers from 1880).

George and Charles Rees, perhaps brothers, set up in business as moulding manufacturers and picture framemakers, but within a few years they were each trading independently. Charles Rees continued in business at 66 Broad St in 1859 and is not traced further here. George Rees (1835/6-1903) was advertising in 1859 that his business had been established in 1800 (Reynolds’s Newspaper 4 September 1859), a claim which he subsequently altered, advertising in 1877 that the business had been established for quarter of a century (Pall Mall Gazette 11 December 1877). He diversified into print selling which became an increasingly important part of his trade. In the 1861 census, George Rees was listed at 57 Drury Lane as a carver and gilder, age 26, in 1871 as a picture frame manufacturer, age 35, and in 1891 as a printseller, age 54, living in Hornsey. He died in 1903, leaving effects worth £12,539, with probate granted to William James Stenning, picture dealer, Thomas Ross, steel and copper plate printer, and Elizabeth Caroline Rees, his widow. It is not known who carried on the business after his death.

As early as 1858 George Rees was advertising as ‘Carver and Gilder, and House Decorator… Fancy wood and gilt mouldings in the lengths. 10,000 yards of bordering always in stock’ (see invoice, National Portrait Gallery records, Duplicate of Accounts, vol.1, p.14). In the mid-1870s Rees advertised a range of gilt, maple, walnut, oak, black and ornamental mouldings, as well as ornamental white mouldings for gilding, and a range of supplies for amateur framemakers (James Lukin, Picture Frame Making for Amateurs, L. Upcott Gill, c.1876). He promoted his services to artists in various editions of The Year’s Art, in 1885 offering ‘Frames of new and choice designs for the exhibitions. Artists supplied at trade prices… Artists’ own designs made to order’, also offering a descriptive pamphlet entitled Amateur Picture Frame Making, subsequently in 1891 offering ‘Some Special and New Designs for Picture Frames’, and in 1893, ‘Choice Designs for Frames’, with further advertisements aimed at artists until 1899.

From the mid-1890s, the main focus of the business shifted to printselling at 115-116 Strand. The business featured in the first issue of the Fine Art Trade Journal in 1905, with two views of the shop, full of framed prints, and an accompanying question-and-answer text ('Notable Shops. 1. Mr. Geo. Rees. Savoy House, Strand, London', Fine Art Trade Journal, June 1905, pp.12-14).

Updated September 2017
Emile Remy, 56 George St, Somers Town, London 1901, 90 College St, Chelsea 1904-1910, 153 King's Road, Chelsea SW3 1911-1929. Carver and gilder, picture framemaker.

A French framemaker and gilder, Emile Joseph Remy (c.1868-1949) married Welsh-born Martha Jones in London in 1894, when he was described a gilder at 117 Great Titchfield St, son of Nicolas Remy, a deceased chemist. He was in business on his own account by the time of the 1901 census, when described as a gilder and carver, age 33, born in France, living at 56 George St, SomersTown, with his wife and three children. In the 1911 census he was listed as a framemaker and gilder at 153 King’s Road, with his wife Martha and 15 year-old-son William assisting in the business and additionally four young daughters. His wife died in 1920. He himself died age 81 in the Ealing district in 1949, described as Joseph Emile Remy, leaving effects worth £5034, with probate granted to his four children, William Auguste, dealer, Mary Helen Eugenie Battersby, Lucy Jeanne Battersby and Marguerite Emily Davis. 

Remy met with a ready reception in London. Not only did leading artists turn to him but he was also recommended to the National Gallery in 1916, perhaps by the collector, Robert Benson, who had prepared a report on framing at the Gallery a few years before (Simon 1996 p.119). Remy worked for the Gallery in 1918 and 1924-5, undertaking occasional framing (National Gallery archive, NG13/1/9). He was one of the few framemakers in London used by the dealer Joseph Duveen, who required work of very high quality to satisfy the American market (Simon 1996 p.24), and who used him in 1924 for carving and, exceptionally, gilding an ‘English model’ full-length frame (Nicholas Penny and Karen Serres, ‘Duveen’s French frames for British pictures’, Burlington Magazine, vol.151, 2009, p.391, n.21). 

Framing work: Remy supplied some frames for Sir John Lavery, including a Renaissance-style cassetta frame with arabesque frieze for Sir Lionel Cust, 1912 (National Portrait Gallery, repr. Simon 1996 p.109). This frame has Remy’s label: 'Specialist in restoration and reproduction of antique gilding, E. Remy, Frame Maker and Furniture Gilder... French Furniture Gilding, Enamelling and Decorating. Artists and Dealers supplied'. Remy may have supplied the exceptionally grand French rococo revival frame on Lavery’s The Royal Family, 1913 (National Portrait Gallery, repr. Simon 1996 p.79). His label is found on Lavery’s A Lady in Brown, 1920, with French-style ‘Marguerite’ frame (Sotheby’s Irish sale, 29 March 2011 lot 8).

Remy also framed many works by Philip de László, including Sir William Pulteney, 1917, and Jerome K. Jerome, 1921, the latter with Spanish-style reverse section frame (both National Portrait Gallery, the latter repr. Simon 1996 p.109). In 1926, the artist described Remy as the maker who had worked for him for 20 years (National Portrait Gallery, De László archive, 081-0031), although the first mention of Remy in the archive occurs in 1911. Remy was chosen by the Duchess of Devonshire to frame copies of de László's work, as his prices were half those of another maker, Frederick Charles Buck (qv). A letter from Remy in 1928 notes that he would charge £18 each for frames 'with the engraved corners', adding that 'if it were desired to have centres as well as engraved corners, which considering the size, would make the frames a little more ornate & decorative, this could be done at an extra cost of £3 each frame'. In the event the Duchess selected the pattern with corners and centres at £21 each. Remy’s name can be found in De László’s papers until 1937. A reference in 1932 to ‘Young Remy’ suggests that his son, William, may have entered the business by then (De László archive, 051-0051). For Remy and Philip de László, see Philip de Laszlo and picture framing on the this website).

For the Ashmolean Museum he made a swept Louis XV frame for a picture of ‘Sibella’ by Guido for £24 in 1927 ( Ashmolean Museum, Dept of Western Art, receipted bills, 21 February 1927).

Sources: Correspondence in the Chatsworth archives, kindly communicated by Charles Noble, quoted by permission of the Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement. For abbreviations, see Resources and bibliography.

Samuel Robinson, see Criswick & Ryan

*George William Rodway, 7 Durham Place, Campden Hill Road, Kensington, London W8 1909-1914, road renumbered 1914/5, 152 Campden Hill Road 1915-1938. Carver and gilder, picture framemaker, picture restorer.

George William Rodway (1866-1937) was born in Cheltenham but had moved to London by 1892 when he married in Kensington. In the 1901 census, he was listed as a picture framemaker (worker), age 34, living at 11 Holford Place Chambers, Kensington. He set up independently by 1909, with premises at 7 Durham Place, adjoining those of Charles Ives (qv), and was listed there in the 1911 census as a carver and gilder. He died at 152 Campden Hill Road in 1937, leaving effects worth £3833, with probate granted to Amelia Bowen Rodway, his widow.

On his trade label, Rodway advertised as carver, gilder and picture framemaker, offering to clean, line and restore pictures (label on Margaret Carpenter'sJohn Bird Sumner, National Portrait Gallery).

*John Rorke by 1839-1886, John Rorke & Sons 1885-1914, John Rorke & Co 1915-1927 John Rorke & Co Ltd 1928-1951 or later. In Lambeth, London: Bishops Walk 1839, 3 Bishops Walk 1841-1867, 12 Bridge St 1858-1860, 75½ Oakley St 1862, 73 Oakley St 1865-1877, 10 Union Place, Lambeth Road 1867-1876, 194 Lambeth Road 1877, 123 Oakley St 1879-1886, 6 Edward St, Belvedere Road 1885-1889. In Westminster and St James’s: 8 Bridge St 1867-1868, 54 Parliament St 1871-1884, 35 Parliament St 1876-1887, 17a Great George St 1887-1898, 5 Jermyn St 1899-1904. In Fulham: 104 Fulham Road 1891-1951 or later, 150a Fulham Road 1903-1912. Wood letter makers from 1839, carvers and gilders from 1862, picture dealers from 1876, gilders and decorators from 1886, picture restorers 1889-90.

The Rorke family business was carried on over at least three generations in Victorian and Edwardian London and it continued as a limited company into the second half of the 20th century. Initially, it made wood letters for shopfronts, broadening out in the second generation as carvers and gilders and in the third as decorators and picture restorers.

The first John Rorke (c.1805-1856) started as a wood letter cutter in Lambeth in 1839 or before. He was born in Ireland in about 1805 but was in London by the early 1830s. In the 1841 census he was listed as a wood letter maker at Hope Place, Lambeth, with his son John, age 9, born Surrey, his brother Patrick, also a wood letter maker, and sister Cathrine, both born in Ireland. In 1851, still listed as a wood letter maker, he was at 3 Bishops Walk, Lambeth, his age given as 45, with his son John, age 18, now recorded as born St Giles, Middlesex, his brother Patrick, age 35 and his sister Catherine, age 37. He died in 1856 in the Lambeth district. In his will, made 24 June and proved 4 August 1856, John Rorke of 3 Bishop Walk, Lambeth, left his tools in trade and business to his son John, and made other bequests to his daughter Mary, and to his brother and sister. He made Sarah Susannah Lewis his executor, leaving her his portrait.

The son, John Alfred Rorke (c.1833-1908), married Lucy Whittall at St George Southwark in 1857. In census records, in 1871 he was listed at 10 Union Place, Lambeth, as a carver and gilder, age 37, born in the Strand, with his wife Lucy and eight young children, in 1881 at 54 Parliament St as a master carver and gilder, age 48, employing 10 men, with wife Lucy and five children, the eldest daughter, Mary, an actress, the two older sons, John, age 20, a decorator, and Alfred, age 18, a carver and gilder, and in 1901 in Ealing as a carver and gilder. He died in Putney in 1908, age 75, leaving effects worth £4023, with probate granted to Francis William St Aubyn, architect, and to his two sons, John and Alfred.

In the third generation, John Rorke (1861-1935) and his brother, Alfred (c.1863-1944), continued the business. In census records, John Rorke was recorded in 1891 at 104 Fulham Road as a decorator, age 30, with his brother Paul, a carpenter and joiner, age 20, and in 1911 John Rorke was living in Hurlingham, Fulham, by now described as ‘Draughtsman and designer. Employer of Decorators, Carvers, Gilders, Manufacturers of Furniture, overmantles, in wood, plaster, composition &c’, with his wife, Lydia, and two sons, the younger, David, age 16, an apprentice carver in his father’s business. John Rorke died in 1935, leaving effects worth £4091, with probate granted to his widow Lydia and a solicitor. Alfred Rorke in 1891 was recorded at 110 Lambeth Road as a carver and gilder, age 28, with wife Helena and young son Alfred (b.1888), in 1901 as a carver at Barnes and in 1911 as a carver and gilder living in Brixton, with son, Oliver, age 18, also a carver and gilder. The third brother, Paul (1871-1942), living with John in 1891 (see above), was recorded in 1901 as a carver and gilder at 50 Ringmer Avenue, Fulham.

The ownership of the business once it became a limited company in 1928 is not explored here. John Rorke& Co Ltd was listed to be struck off the company register in 1975, and was subject to the appointment of liquidators in 1979 when described as antique dealers at 104 Fulham Road(London Gazette 4 December 1975, 30 July 1979).

Framing work: J. Rorke is documented as making the frame for Joseph Adam's Balmoral for £3.4s.6d in 1877 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, see Payne 2007 p.137). The same year he supplied ten oak frames for cartoons by Horsley for £2 each (information from John Payne, 2009). ‘J. Rorke. Agent’ advertised ‘The R.A. Frame. 4 inch Gilt Oak. 2/6 per foot’ in 1881 in an attractive printed postcard reminding the recipient artist, Sidney Trefusis Whiteford, of the forthcoming deadline for receiving works of art at the Royal Academy (Banks coll., added item, 29.9). J. Rorke & Sons’ stretcher label from 17a George St can be found on John Mathews's The Royal Scots, 1895 (Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, see Renne 2011 p.146).

For the business’s activities in picture restoration in the 1890s, see British picture restorers on the National Portrait Gallery website.

For abbreviations, see Resources and bibliography.

Robert Rose, 19 Old Brompton Road, South Kensington, London SW7 1946-1953. Picture cleaner and restorer, picture framemaker.

See British picture restorers on the National Portrait Gallery website.

*David Ross 1786-1819, James Noel Ross 1816-1836. At 96 Portland St, London 1786, 113 Great Portland St 1786-1793, 98 Great Portland St 1794-1833, 35 Charles St, Middlesex Hospital 1835-1836. Joiner and composition ornament manufacturers, carvers and gilders, picture framemakers.

David Ross’s Adam-style trade card, engraved by Pergolesi, describes him as ‘Joiner, Carver, Gilder & Picture Frame Maker’, also advertising chimney pieces, and giving his address as ‘his Composition Ornament Manufactory, No. 113 Great Portland Street, Portland Chapel’ (Banks coll. with added date 1786, repr. Heal 1972 p.157; Johnson coll. Trade Cards 24 (91). He took out insurance with the Sun Fire Office as a joiner and composition manufacturer from 113 Great Portland St in 1786 and from 98 Great Portland St in 1794. He took William Adams as an apprentice for a premium of £5 in 1791.

David Ross charged Lord Howard for two pedestals for Audley End, Essex in 1786 (DEFM). He is better known for his picture framing. James Northcote used 'Ross' to supply frames for his portraits on four occasions between 1804 and 1809. Interestingly, in 1811 Sir George Beaumont wrote to David Wilkie comparing two framemakers, Benjamin Charpentier (qv) and Ross, ‘Charpentier has made a pretty frame; but I think he loads his work too much with little ornaments. I like a frame with rich corners, and then more plain in the middle. Ross, although he did not finish them well, had an excellent pattern with shields at the corners; I have never seen frames set off pictures better’ (Cunningham 1843, vol.I, pp.326-8). There is a reference in Sir William Beechey's account book on 1 August 1821 to a frame made by Ross.

James Noel Ross (1787-1854), son of David and Margaret Ross, was christened at St Marylebone Church in 1787 and married Louisa Hoare in this church in 1810; however, it should be noted that an individual by this name apparently died in 1798. James Noel Ross was listed in the 1851 census as a carver and gilder, age 63, living at 10 Dufour’s Place, Golden Square, and he died in Grafton St in the St Pancras district in 1854.

James Noel Ross supplied Sir John Leicester in 1825 with a richly ornamented frame for £35 for George Jones’s Col. Sir John Leicester and the Kings Cheshire Yeomanry Cavalry at exercises (Tabley Hall, Cheshire, see Hall 1962 p.81; a letter from Ross requesting payment makes it clear that the frame was made in 1825 rather than 1826, see Cheshire Records Office, DLT/C37/34, information from Susannah Brooke, June 2012).

Sources: London Metropolitan Archives, Sun Fire Office policy registers, vols 338/522677, 401/630117; Jacob Simon, 'The Account Book of James Northcote', Walpole Society, vol.58, 1996, p.25. For abbreviations, see Resources and bibliography.

*Albert James Rowley 1899-1931, trading as The Rowley Gallery by 1916, The Rowley Gallery of Decorative Art Ltd 1932-1939, The Rowley Gallery Ltd by 1941 to date. At 11 Silver St, Kensington, London 1899-1904,Hornton Place,Hornton St 1903-1904, 6 High Row, Silver St 1905, 5 High Row 1906-1908, street renamed and numbered 1908/9, 140 Church St, Kensington 1909-1941, 161 Church St 1918-1919, 142 Church St 1919-1941, 87 Campden St, Kensington Church St 1937-1968, 86 Campden St 1964-1968, 15 St Mary Abbots Terrace, Kensington High St W14 1946-1953, 115 Kensington Church St W8 7LN from 1967. Picture framemakers, decorators and furnishings.

Albert James Rowley (1875-1944) was born in Notting Hill, London. He married Emma Ham in the Kensington district in 1898, the year that he is said to have set up the Rowley Gallery with her. They had 10 children, namely two boys and eight girls. He died at West Mersea in Essex in 1944, leaving effects worth the considerable sum of £56,650.

Rowley was recorded as a picture framemaker, age 25, living at Barnes, Surrey in the 1901 census, and as a picture dealer and framemaker at West Mersea in Essex in 1911 with his wife and three daughters. At this time, his son, Lawrence Albert, age 8, was boarding nearby. Rowley traded as A.J. Rowley of the Rowley Gallery, describing himself as a house decorator, providing picture and photograph frames amongst other furnishings (Johnson coll., trade cards 1(69)).

Promoting his business was always important for Rowley. In 1902, he advertised, ‘Artist’s Framing Tastefully Carried Out’ (The Year’s Art 1902). His distinctive 1912 advertisement, in bold sans serif capitals at a time when most framing businesses were using more old-fashioned typefaces, carefully positioned the Rowley Gallery, claiming that, ‘Experts all agree that the Frame is a vital part of a Picture. Mr. Rowley has reserved a Gallery for Artists to study the effect on their work of Frames in various styles. Fine design and subtle colour characterise the inimitable quality of the Rowley frames' (The Studio, vol.55, February 1912, p.xxv). In 1921, the Rowley Gallery was offering 'Distinctive gifts with a touch of colour. Home decorations' (The Studio, vol.82, November 1921, p.ix), and in 1922 simply, ‘Carved Frames in all sizes’ (The Year’s Art 1922).

Apart from picture framing, Albert James Rowley took a special interest in decorative inlaid wood panels, holding a series of exhibitions in the early 1920s in London, Cheltenham and Sunderland (various exhibition catalogues are held by the Victoria and Albert Museum, four by the National Art Library and others by the Furniture Dept). Among the artists designing such panels were Rowley himself, Frank Brangwyn, W.A. Chase and Edward King. Four of these panels are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, two given by Rowley himself in 1916 and 1924, a mirror designed by Chase and a panel by Rowley, and two acquired in 1968 and 1976, a screen by Chase and a panel by Brangwyn.

In 1928 Rowley was listed as an artist craftsman. In 1929, his invoices described his business as ‘Designers and Producers of Original Decorations for the Home. Picture Restorers: Carvers: Gilders: Mount-cutters and Liners. Artists’ Agents’, identifying the following specialities: ‘Rowlian Wood-inlay Pictures, Mirrors, Screens, Decorative Furniture, Pottery, Wall panelling’ (National Portrait Gallery records, 22-B-4). He was a member of the Art Workers Guild, 1922-36, and a committee member, 1929-31 (Art Workers Guild website at

The business was formed into a limited company in 1932. The directors were listed as A.J. Rowley and his son, L.A. Rowley the following year. The premises were rebuilt, with an exterior to the design of Frank Brangwyn, including three large carved wood panels depicting activities carried on in the Rowley Gallery studios and workshop, and a remarkable interior designed and carried out by the Rowley Gallery itself, with walls panelled in Japanese golden senwood with burnished silver fittings and black floors (The Studio, vol.106, 1933, pp.106-7; vol.108, September 1934, p.ix). The premises were destroyed in 1941. By this time Lawrence Albert Rowley (1903-70), son of the founder, had taken over management of the business, and he in turn was followed by his own son, Christopher.

When Lawrence Rowley became ill in 1969, two long-standing customers, Jack Rutherford and Jonathan Savill continued the business (see summary company history, typescript, June 1982). In 1995 it was purchased by three employees, Christopher Hamer, Ka Yin Lam and Cathy Williams, who became directors, carrying on trade as framemakers, gilders and restorers. A history of the business can be found on their website at

Framing work: Several well-known artists went to the Rowley Gallery. Harold Speed used distinctive polished oak Whistler reeded frames for his portrait drawings, some of which were made by the Rowley Gallery, including his John Redmond, 1907, Sir Charles Dilke, 1908, and Marquess of Lincolnshire, 1909 (all National Portrait Gallery, all with Rowley label). Lucien Pissarro’s Wild Boar Fell, Brough, 1914, has a gilt Whistler reeded moulding, with Rowley Gallery label (Manchester Art Gallery). Edward Wadsworth used the Rowley Gallery for some frames, restrained in appearance, apparently in the 1920s and 1930s (Barbara Wadsworth, Edward Wadsworth: A Painter's Life, 1989, p.239). Wadsworth's Self-portrait, c.1937, is in a plain gilt moulding frame, marked Rowley (National Portrait Gallery). The artist, Gluck, used Rowley on occasion in the 1940s, for example for the white Whistler frame on her Self-portrait, 1942 (National Portrait Gallery, repr. Simon 1996 p.22).

Other works framed by the business include Minnie Agnes Cohen's crayon, William George Aston, 1911, labelled from 140 Church St, within a green wreath, 'THE/ ROWLEY GALLERY/ Frame Makers', and Charles Buchel's Marguerite Radclyffe Hall, 1918, with pictorial label from 140 Church St, 'Rowley Frames' (both National Portrait Gallery). Rowley framed Dora Meeson’s Venice in London, 1920 (National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, see Payne 2007 p.139). The business undertook occasional day-to-day framing work for the National Portrait Gallery, 1928-37. The Rowley Gallery also sold works of art, as well as making frames, so the presence of a label does not necessarily mean that a work was framed by the business.

For abbreviations, see Resources and bibliography.

Updated August 2019
*Charles Rowley by 1845-1876, Charles Rowley & Co Ltd 1874-1909, Charles Rowley & Co (1910) Ltd 1910-1916. In Manchester, at 38 Oldham Road, Ancoats 1845-1855, 36 Oldham Road 1855-1864, works at Boond St, Ancoats from 1862, 22 Boond St, New Cross 1876-1891, street renamed 1891/2, 22 Luna St 1892-1903 or later, 24? Luna St 1906-1910, shop at 27 Princess St by 1883-1886 or later, shop/central showroom 21 St Ann St 1888-1897, showroom 5 Barton Square, St Ann’s Square 1897-1916, 39 Wilmslow Road 1909, works 27 Robert St, Cheetham 1911. Picture framemakers, carvers and gilders, initially also a periodical publications dealer and a bookseller, later also printsellers, art dealers and artists' suppliers.

Charles Rowley senr (1803-1886), initially a warehouseman and a warper, built up a considerable framing business in Manchester. He was listed in the 1851 census as a printseller and picture framemaker, in 1861 as a picture framemaker employing 55 men, women and boys, with his son, Charles junr, listed with him as a picture framemaker, in 1871 as employing 36 men, 14 boys and two women, including his wife and daughter as assistants in the sales department, and in 1881 as a 78-year-old retired picture frame manufacturer, living at Crumpsall, Lancashire. Rowley exhibited renaissance-style picture frames at the International Exhibition in London in 1862; he also exhibited at the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1867, where he showed carved frames designed by Muckley (headmaster of the Manchester School), Harry Rogers and J. Whitehead (Art Journal Illustrated Catalogue of the International Exhibition, 1862, p.193; The Illustrated Catalogue of the Universal Exhibition published with the Art Journal, 1867, p.47). He died in 1886, leaving a considerable personal estate of £10,867.

By the time that Charles Rowley junr (1839-1933) joined his father’s business as an apprentice, there was a shop in Barton Square, workshops in Luna St and a timber yard in Chapman St. He was recorded as picture framemaker at the time of his marriage in 1862 to Jane Cocks. In 1871, now living in Moston, he was listed as a manager carver and gilder. The business was registered as a company, Charles Rowley & Co Ltd, in 1874, with Charles Rowley junr as managing director and a shareholder, and William Whitehead, carver and gilder, Thomas George Waite, artist, and John Pocock, glass merchant, among many other shareholders (National Archives, BT 31/2019/8735; see also Capital and Labour 23 September 1874, accessed online through ’19th Century UK periodicals’). Charles Rowley junr suffered from ill-health, but he was still listed in the 1881 census as a carver and gilder, living in Moston, with no children, and in 1891 as managing director, dealer in works of art and picture frames. He died in 1933, leaving effects worth only £205, with probate granted to Jean Duncan Rowley, his widow.

Charles Rowley junr was influenced by John Ruskin’s idealistic socialism and by his interest in art; he sat on the committee of the Art Museum, and he went on to become head of the Manchester Municipal School of Art, lecturing on art. Rowley was concerned by the plight of the poor and in 1875 he stood as a Liberal councillor for Manchester City Council, later introducing activities designed to bring 'higher feeling' into the slums; these developed into the Ancoats Recreation Committee, with its Sunday lectures. In 1911 Charles Rowley published his memoirs, Fifty Years of Work without Wages. The business, Charles Rowley & Co Ltd, was wound up voluntarily in 1909 (National Archives, BT 31/2019/8735; see also London Gazette 19 November 1909). It was subsequently continued by the Tattersall family, who formed a new company, Charles Rowley & Co (1910) Ltd, which continued until 1916 when it closed as a result of the absence of staff during the war (see National Archives, BT 31/19519/110149).

An insight into the nature of employment in the framemaking business is provided by the agreement for William Ashworth’s seven-year apprenticeship with Charles Rowley in 1871, which includes on the reverse a notation dating from 1878 and signed by Rowley, indicating that by then Ashworth had completed his apprenticeship, and that ‘we have very much pleasure in retaining him as a journeyman in our Employ’, giving his wages as increasing year by year from 4s a week in the first year, to 5s, 6s, 7s, 8s, 10s and finally 12s in the seventh year (information from Ashworth’s great-granddaughter, Judith Stephens-Wells, Kitchener, Ontario, 2007).

Framing work: For Joseph Gillot, Charles Rowley provided frames for Hunt’s print, The Restless Sitter in 1860 (Jeannie Chapel, ‘The Papers of Joseph Gillott (1799–1872)’, online appendix, p.7, Journal of the History of Collections, 2008, vol.20, pp.37-84).

In 1896 the business advertised in The Year’s Art as Charles Rowley & Co Ltd, ‘For the Manufacture of all kinds of Picture Frames, Carving and Gilding Work, etc’, and in 1897 additionally as Ormolu Frame Makers. The business had an account with the artists' suppliers, Roberson, 1887-1908 (Woodcock 1997). It advertised as the sole Manchester agent for Cambridge colours, made by Madderton & Co (The Year's Art 1900).

Rowley came into contact with the Pre-Raphaelites, apparently through John Ruskin, who frequently visited Manchester. He met Ford Madox Brown in 1875 and commissioned several works from him and purchased others in his capacity as a dealer. He managed to promote his work in Manchester to the extent that Brown was awarded the commission to provide murals for Alfred Waterhouse’s new Manchester Town Hall in 1878. Brown moved to Manchester temporarily and lived in one of Rowley’s properties for a time. Rowley appears to have used one of his showrooms, probably that in St Anne St, to exhibit Brown’s paintings. In 1885 Brown drew Rowley’s portrait in coloured chalks (Manchester Art Gallery). Rowley’s label is found on several of Brown’s works, including Cordelia’s Portion, c.1865-9 (Fitzwilliam Museum) and Madeline Scott, 1883 (Manchester Art Gallery), and on some works by Brown’s close supporter, Frederic Shields, including his drawing, The Angel of the Passion, 1880 (Fitzwilliam Museum). Lynn Roberts has identified other works which could have been framed by Rowley (Bennett 2010 p.562 n.9).

Rowley also worked for Dante Gabriel Rossetti, claiming in his autobiography, ‘I made some fine frames for Rossetti, and so saved him much over London prices’ (Simon 1996 p.88). This was probably in the late 1870s, judging from a letter from Rossetti to Rowley, dated 15 February 1879 (Fredeman 79.20.1).

Rowley was recommended in successive numbers of Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo and Herbert Horne’s Century Guild Hobby Horse magazine in 1889 and 1890 for picture frames, as was H.J. Murcott (qv) in London.

Sources: With thanks to Lynn Roberts for her research on Charles Rowley. See also M. Hewitt, ‘Rowley, Charles (1839–1933)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004; online edn, Oct 2005 (, accessed 23 Nov 2007); Obituary, The Times 7 September 1933; Prof. Michael Rose, ‘Charles Rowley: The Ancoats Rough and The Ancoats Don’, The Ancoats Journal, no 13, summer 2005, pp.4-5. For abbreviations, see Resources and bibliography.

John Lewis Rutley, see British picture restorers on this website.

*James Ryan 1832-1833 or later,Criswick & Ryan by 1836-1839, James Ryan 1840-1877. At Bramwell’s Yard, Rose St, Soho, London 1832-1833 or later, 6 New Compton St, Soho 1836-1839, 7 Great Newport St 1840-1842, 13-14 Long Acre 1842-1852, 116 Long Acre 1853-1877, also at 66 Warren St 1842-1843. Carver and gilder, composition picture and looking glass framemaker.

James Ryan (c.1807-1877?) was born in London. He appears to have traded independently until joining in a short-lived partnership with James Creswick or Criswick by 1836, trading as Criswick & Ryan (qv). This partnership was dissolved in 1839 (London Gazette 15 October 1839). Ryan then set up in business on his own once more and by the age of 44 he was employing 41 men including apprentices and boys, according to the 1851 census. He was listed in the 1847 Post Office London directory as James Joseph Ryan. He was a customer of the specialist composition ornament maker, George Jackson & Sons (qv), 1840 (see Jackson account book, V&A Archive of Art and Design, AAD/2012/1/2/3). His premises were damaged by fire in 1840 and again in 1853 (Caledonian Mercury 13 January 1840, The Era 27 March 1853). In the 1861 census he was recorded at 116 Long Acre as a gold beater with a 23-year-old son, William, a framemaker, and in 1871 at the same address as a frame manufacturer. He appears to be the individual who died in 1877, age 68, in the St Giles district. His son, James Joseph Ryan (c.1835-1868) died before him, at 116 Long Acre in January 1868, age 36, leaving effects work under £300, with administration of his estate granted to his father.

Framing work: Ryan advertised in The Art-Union: his 'Splendid Stock of Glass and Picture Frames, the most modern and elegant patterns ever offered to the public; at prices that will defy competition', also offering console tables, girandoles, brackets, cornices etc, as well as fancy wood frames (December 1842 p.291), claiming that every article was manufactured on the premises at his wholesale and retail manufactory (January 1845 p.3), and offering gilt portrait frames at wholesale price to artists presenting their card (July 1845 p.243). Subsequently he advertised his stock of gilt portrait frames and fancy wood frames (The Art-Union Advertiser April 1848 p.lxix). He was listed as a composition ornament, looking glass & picture frame manufacturer, carver & gilder in 1852 and as a composition framemaker, carver and gilder in 1862.

One of Ryan’s most regular and significant clients was his Long Acre neighbour, the artists’ suppliers, Charles Roberson & Co (see British artists' suppliers on the National Portrait Gallery website). Between 1844 and 1877, Ryan undertook frame repairs, supplied a few new frames, various framing components and packing cases and, from about 1864, also supplied picture strainers (Hamilton Kerr Institute, Roberson Archive, MS 944-1993, 180-1993, 183-1993). In 1877, his entry in the Roberson ledger was amended in pencil, apparently to C. Ryan, and a new address at 200 Ebury St was given. As well as sales to Roberson, James Ryan also made purchases from them and was the holder of an account, 1844-53 (Woodcock 1997).

For abbreviations, see Resources and bibliography.

Found a mistake? Have some extra information? Please contact Jacob Simon at [email protected].

[RA] [RE] [RO]



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