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History of Shapland and Petter - Arts and Crafts Manufacturers

The History of Shapland and Petter.

The Museum of North Devon in Barnstaple have an archive of Shapland and Petter which includes some company records and a small display of furniture and related items. The following text gives history of the company and is reproduced from the display boards in the museum with kind permission of North Devon Museums.

For over 100 years the Shapland and Petter factory has stood at the end of Barnstaple Long Bridge. Manufacturers of doors, door sets, and custom wood interiors, NT Shapland and Petter Ltd are still one of the towns largest employers. The company was established by Henry Shapland (b. 1823), a cabinet maker by trade. He embarked on a voyage to America in 1848, where he was inspired by an invention for a wave-moulding machine. He was only allowed to see it if he left the country immediately. Returning home with only rough notes, he reproduced the machine and in 1854 began a cabinet making business in one room at the Raleigh woolen mill in Pilton. Later the firm moved to Bear Street in Barnstaple. Henry Petter was an accountant who entered into partnership with Mr Shapland. The business progressed and in 1864 they bought the Raleigh Factory where Shapland first began his work. Success was rapid, but in 1888 the building burnt down. Immediately work began on a bigger and better factory - their present site by the Long Bridge - which included many modern inventions.

The Shapland and Petter Cabinet Works in Barnstaple.

The two Henrys died within two years of each other - Petter in 1907 and Shapland in 1909. In 1924 Shapland and Petter merged with the Barnstaple Cabinet Company, producing North Devon's biggest industry. During the First World War Shapland's skilled craftsmen turned their hands to wooden propellers for the aircraft of the Royal Flying Corps. After the war, public tastes changed, and hand carved furniture was too expensive for many. Shapland's output now included elegant veneered pieces with smooth Art Deco lines. The company fitted out Pullman carriages and ocean liners and made hand-carved church furniture. The famous England Rugby Captain W. W. Wakefield was appointed Company Director in 1927. Throughout the depression of the late 1920's and early 1930's the company still managed to produce high quality work.

Furniture manufacturing continued until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. Many workers left to fight, while the factory worked on Air Ministry contracts for ammunition boxes. After the war came radio cabinets and laboratory and contract furniture, until eventually large quantities of doors were being produced for hospitals, hotels, schools, offices and other buildings. Examples of Shapland and Petter's work can be seen all over North Devon. In Barnstaple, the shop front at no.109 High Street is a good example, and the interior of the old Lloyd's Bank, now Chamber's Brasserie, was also Shapland's work. Examples of carving by Shapland's men can be seen in two chairs and a reading desk in Barnstaple Parish Church.

Researched and written by Tony Geering.

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