The furniture trade was a major source of employment in London in the early 20th century. The hub of the industry was in Bethnal Green and Shoreditch. Many of the workers were immigrants, particularly Eastern European Jews. By 1950, there were between 8,000 and 10,000 Jewish furniture workers in the East End.
Cabinet-making was a skilled job, since nearly all furniture was made by hand using very simple tools. Some workers specialised in particular areas such as veneering, carving or turning. Almost all the work was done by men. Women were generally involved only in polishing and upholstery, which were regarded as the most unpleasant jobs in the industry.
The industry had a strong trade union movement. The largest furniture union in London at the beginning of the 20th century was the Alliance Cabinet Makers' Association, which formed in 1865. Various smaller unions joined the Alliance, and in 1902 it merged with other unions to form the National Amalgamated Furnishing Trades Association.
Furniture workers needed very little capital in order to set up in business. Little or no machinery was used in the workshops, and most of the rough machining of timber was done in large trade mills, so small firms sprung up rapidly.
The largest London furniture-making company was Lebus, which was established in the mid-19th century. The Lebus factory in Tottenham employed thousands of people during the first half of the 20th century, and in the 1940s it advertised itself as the largest furniture factory in the world. The site was eventually sold to London County Council for housing.
During the Second World War, large workshops devoted themselves to producing ammunition boxes, landing craft, and aircraft components, as well as repairing aircraft. After the war, they adapted many of the new techniques that they had learned, and used them to produce modern furniture using materials such as bent ply, metal and plastics. However, during the last decades of the 20th century the industry declined as more furniture began to be imported from overseas.
What are these?
Social Bookmarking allows users to save and categorise a personal collection of bookmarks and share them with others. This is different to using your own browser bookmarks which are available using the menus within your web browser. Use the links below to share this article on the social bookmarking site of your choice. Read more about social bookmarking at Wikipedia - Social Bookmarking.