HJ Berry: Rare chairs offered free-of-charge to someone with a special conenction to Britain's oldest chair maker

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A special offer of rare chairs from Britain’s oldest chair maker is being made to someone with a special connection to the Lancashire factory.

Geraldine Rowe, who grew up in Lancashire before moving to Buckinghamshire, inherited six wooden, rush seated, Shaker-style dining chairs upon the death of her father Gerard Swarbrick five years ago.

In a bid to honour his love and support of local craftsmen, she is offering the full set, free-of-charge to some connected to the HJ Berry and Sons, who made the set in 1961.

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She said: "I could put them on eBay, because nobody in the family wants them, but my father saw beauty in well-made things, was interested in their preservation, and wanted to make sure they were appreciated not just for their monetary value.

Kirk Mills in Chipping, the home of historic chair makers HJ Berry and Sons, which was placed into administration in 2010.Kirk Mills in Chipping, the home of historic chair makers HJ Berry and Sons, which was placed into administration in 2010.
Kirk Mills in Chipping, the home of historic chair makers HJ Berry and Sons, which was placed into administration in 2010.

"I have inherited that ethos and I thought it would be nice if these chairs went to someone who wouldn't normally be able to afford them and who was in some way connected to H J Berry."

The background

Geraldine’s father – a well-known cartographer, historian, County Councillor and owner of Swarbricks of Ormskirk – bought the chairs in 1961 from the factory in Kirk Mill, Chipping.

She said: “They were very fashionable at the time and we've had them all of our lives. They were our everyday chairs and so they've been there for Christmas dinners and birthday parties and everything else.

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Two of the carver chairs on offer from the setTwo of the carver chairs on offer from the set
Two of the carver chairs on offer from the set

"When we were clearing my Dad's house out I found a copy of a letter he'd sent to H J Berry's asking if he could buy another six matching chairs, as he'd made a 12-seater table.

"But it must have coincided with the time they went out of business, because he didn't end up getting them."

Mr Swarbrick moved the chairs from Scarisbrick to Ormskirk, and upon his death, they moved to Geraldine's house in Buckinghamshire.

She is offering the chairs to the right person free-of-charge, but would ask that the transportation costs are covered.

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The dining chairsThe dining chairs
The dining chairs

She said: "They're nice pieces of furniture and are in good condition.

"Everything's original - the rush seating is all intact with no breakages, it's just darkened with age.

"It's very fine wood, very smooth. They're elegant and classical in design, so they would fit into a modern home."

Geraldine said she has tried to find the same chair design online, but hasn't managed, so believes the chairs are quite rare.

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Demolition in progress - the site of the former H.J. Berry and Sons chair works in 2017Demolition in progress - the site of the former H.J. Berry and Sons chair works in 2017
Demolition in progress - the site of the former H.J. Berry and Sons chair works in 2017

H J Berry and Sons

Reputed to be Britain’s oldest chair maker, family-firm H J Berry and Sons made chairs at their base in Chipping from 1840 until it went into administration in April 2010.

The company specialised in using native, mainly locally-grown timber for its chairs and has won awards for its environmentally friendly approach.

As part of that, for every piece of furniture made, HJ Berry planted a tree in the British countryside, to sustain the broadleaf woodlands of oak, birch and ash, either in their own woodland, or through the donation of trees to groups such as woodland trusts.

Anyone interested in the chairs should email their details to: [email protected]