16-01-22-2225NE02A Judges Lodgings.jpg
Among the highlights of the Judges’ Lodgings collection is this commode writing desk made in 1778 for Sir James Ibbetson of Denton Hall, West Yorkshire. Sir James ordered the desk at Gillows’ London shop, but it was made in Lancaster where labour was cheaper. Sir James objected to the price, and a dispute followed. Richard Gillow argued that it deserved the ‘money charged or more’. Sold at Sotheby’s in 1993, it was blocked from export and acquired for the museum using grants totalling £315,000.

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Following a decision by Lancashire County Council to close the museum at Lancaster's oldest townhouse, Judges' Lodgings, concerns have arisen over the future of the collection of predominantly 18th and 19th century cabinetmaking housed there.

Susan E Stuart, author of the monumental work Gillows of Lancaster and London 1730-1840, issued a call to action after hearing the council's plans in November.

"It's so depressing," she said. "The Gillows collection is absolutely outstanding, the best in the country if not the world.

"There are questions about the future of pieces in the collection. Will they be consigned to a store room in another museum and never see the light of day again? Or will they be sold off?"

Gillows Showroom

The museum closure, one of five proposed by the council to save £1.13m, is scheduled for April with the building expected to be redeveloped as a hotel.

Judges' Lodgings collection highlights both the quality of the Gillows craft and the longevity of the company.

Its current placement in the Grade I-listed Judges' Lodgings means the collection is located just across the street from the site of the original Gillows showroom.

Among the major pieces shown as part of Regency room settings are a bookcase made in 1772 for Mary Hutton Rawlinson, a Lancaster Quaker merchant's widow (acquired for £260,000 from London dealer Apter-Fredericks), and a specimen woodwork box together with a catalogue of the 72 'curious English and foreign woods' used in its manufacture.

"Fantastic pieces are all together where they should be, just across from where they were made," Stuart says. "It is a complete, wonderful thing that could never be repeated."

Lennox Cato of Edenbridge, Kent, a dealer and specialist in antique furniture, has joined Stuart in raising awareness of the situation.

"This is just as important as saving Dumfries House," Cato says in reference to the ultimately successful campaign in 2007 to preserve the Ayrshire collection of Chippendale and Trotter furniture before its sale at Christie's. "It's our heritage and too much of it is going. Decisions are being made with short-term aims in mind."

Readers who want to comment can sign a petition online at change.org and email a letter of concern to Jo Turton, CEO of Lancashire County Council, at jo.turton@lancashire.gov.uk.

"We've got one chance and this has come out of the blue," added Cato.