History

Frederick Parker 1845-1927

“Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd;
without innovation, it is a corpse”

If Frederick Parker could have heard these words, spoken by Winston Churchill at the Royal Academy dinner on May 1st 1957, perhaps all he would have said would have been “Amen”. He was adamant that the only way he could produce fine new furniture for contemporary use would be by studying “the Old Masters”. Determined to excel, he purchased a library of books on furniture and, from auction sales and various antiques dealers, examples of furniture from the 17th to 19th centuries, together with carvings and textiles. These he used faithfully as models, giving his workmen the opportunity of acquiring the skill and feeling of earlier craftsmen. Many pieces needed restoration which was carried out “in house” as authentically as knowledge at the time would allow. By the time of his death in 1927 his collection of English furniture (mostly chairs, with some tables and cabinets), numbered over 360 pieces and formed a fascinating document of collecting at that period.

Frederick Parker was born in 1845 and, after completing his apprenticeship at his father's furniture company, he set up a chair-making business in the loft above his father's stables. As the enterprise grew, he moved his production facilities at least five times in the East End and North London and finally to High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire in 1898. In 1901 the company was registered as Frederick Parker and Sons Ltd.

With the help of four of his sons, he built a substantial high quality business supplying ocean liners, country houses and palaces: for example eighty Chippendale-style chairs for the P&O liner Ophir, when it was commissioned as the Royal Yacht for the Prince and Princess of Wales's first royal tour of the Dominions in 1902; cabinets and upholstery for Sir Edwin Lutyens's Viceroy's House in New Delhi; and the carved throne for Emperor Haile Selassie of Abyssinia. By 1930 Parker’s, as the company was known, had a fabulous reputation for quality, second to none amongst the London furnishing trade, but not known to the general public because the leading retail furnishers of the time put their own labels on all the furniture they sold, giving the impression that it was made in their own workshops.

Frederick's sons continued to develop the business, and in 1929 Tom met Willi Knoll from Stuttgart, who was trying to licence or sell his revolutionary seating system of laterally sprung “tension suspension”. The Parker brothers liked the idea and, at the British Industries Fair in February 1931, a new brand was launched called Parker Knoll.