I AM grateful to Edwin Janes, a direct descendant of the Janes family who founded the iconic Wycombe furniture makers Nicholls and Janes (N&J), for the information contained in this article.

The story concerns an elaborately carved side-table over 100 years old that has just been found in an old cottage in a village called Mells, near Frome in Somerset. What has that got to do with Wycombe and justify its inclusion in the Bucks Free Press you might ask. Read on and all will be revealed, as they say.

The Side-table

The table is a draw-leaf extendable table; being a side-table it has been designed to be placed with its reverse side to a wall. On this reverse side has been carved the manufacturer’s name, Nicholls & Janes (N&J) of High Wycombe, along with the date May 16,1914. Furthermore, whereas the rear two legs are plain, the front two have elaborate carvings representing lions, an elephant’s head, a griffin, and fleur de lis. These are all elements of the coat of arms of the Wynn- Carington family.

The carved name and location of N&J and the date on the table, are probably unique features for such an item of furniture. The depiction of the Wynn-Carington heraldic emblems does suggest that the table was a specific commission or gift, probably for a specific event.

The precise provenance of this table and how it ended up in an old cottage in Somerset are unknown, and the subject of further investigation. The fact that it was manufactured here in High Wycombe by the iconic firm N&J does however allow at least part of its origin to be determined.

Reproduction antique furniture made by N&J

N&J were founded in 1869; they soon diversified and moved away from the staple trade of Wycombe’s manufacturers of ordinary chairs with cane seats, and Windsor chairs. To quote Ralph A Janes, Managing Director and then Chairman of the company for over 50 years ‘we began making what were then fashionable black and gilt drawing room chairs and fine strong upholstered dining room chairs, followed some years later by sideboards, tables and other kinds of furniture’.

Then in the early 1900s Ralph Janes saw an opportunity to begin making reproductions of antique furniture from different periods. This type of business proved to be extremely popular and dominated N&J’s design and production facilities thereafter.

Again quoting the words of Ralph Janes ‘As the demand for reproduction increased, we were put to all sorts of shifts to get hold of old models to copy, such as hunting around among all the small antique dealers, hoping to buy a piece worth reproducing, taking surreptitious photographs, visiting museums, and sometimes having the luck to find a private owner not averse to lending some of his treasures to be copied. The late Lord Lincolnshire was one of these. After seeing one of his pieces in Gwydyr Castle, North Wales, illustrated in Percy Macquoid’s books, I plucked up enough courage to ask him if I might copy them. He answered “Most certainly, I shall be pleased for you to do so, and will give you a letter of introduction to my housekeeper at Gwydyr, instructing her to allow you to take particulars of anything you like in the Castle”. As soon as possible I went to Lianrwst and fixed up a hotel there. But on presenting my letter to the housekeeper , I found that his Lordship had not only instructed her to allow me to take moulds and drawings of the furniture, but to put me up in the Castle during my stay. I spent quite a time there, and secured material for making many interesting and beautiful chairs, court cupboards, tables, and stools. Very many of them are now gracing British, American, and Russian homes.’

Lord Lincolnshire

The Lord Lincolnshire referred to above is of course Charles Robert Wynn-Carrington. His ancestral home was Wycombe Abbey, which he sold in 1896 and then took up residence at Daws Hill House. In 1895 he had bought the Gwydir Estate, including the Castle, which he then used as his primary seat. In 1921, not many years after the visit of Ralph Janes, the Castle and its contents were sold at auction.

The catalogue for the auction of the contents still exists and the description for Lot 55 reads:

‘A MAGNIFICENT AND RARE ELIZABETHAN OAK CENTRE TABLE, with finely carved frieze in nulling and scroll design, the corners being well carved in acanthus design, and the whole supported upon four massive turned legs with square bulbous centre, which are tooled and upon which is boldly carved on each face the crests of the Wynn family, the square base being shaped and magnificently carved in acanthus design and the whole being in perfect preservation.’

This table was acquired by an American family and shipped to Texas but has recently been generously donated by John and Maureen Winn to the current owners of Gwydir Castle. They are Peter Welford and his wife Judy Corbett who bought the Castle in 1994 and since then have undertaken the restoration of both house and garden. The rooms are now furnished with their collection of early furniture. These include some pieces originally from Gwydir Castle that have now been brought back following their dispersal by the auction sale in 1921, the Elizabethan table being an example.

It would seem highly likely that this table was seen by Ralph Janes during his visit, and the drawings he made of it formed the basis for the design of the side-table which has recently been found in Somerset. But the question is, who commissioned and bought the table from N&J and what is its provenance in the 100 years or so since then.?

The antique side-table has now been acquired by Ed Janes, and the family are keen that it is returned to High Wycombe and available to be seen by the general public.

If you have any information about the side-table, or any observations on this article, please contact me on 01628 525207 or deweymiked@aol.com, or email the Janes family info@nandj.org.uk.

For further information regarding Gwydir Castle go to https://www.gwydircastle.co.uk, and accommodation is available on a B&B basis.