North Devon in 100 Objects: 97. A Shapland and Petter Desk

A 100 year old desk and chair. They are painted white and ornate in deign, with golden features and patterns.

This beautiful desk was made over 100 years ago by Shapland and Petter of Barnstaple in their state of the art factory, part of which still stands just over the bridge from the museum.  The company survived until 2016, latterly making high quality doors, and was Barnstaple’s biggest employer for many years.

Henry Shapland and Henry Petter set up the company as a high-quality furniture making business.  Their aim was to produce furniture of the best materials and design, but at affordable prices by using the latest machinery. The factory was set up with efficient production lines and produced a very wide range of pieces with different details which customers could choose from a catalogue.

Today, it is the furniture produced in Arts and Crafts style which is most valued.  Shapland’s designers, notably William Cowie, took their inspiration from nature but maintained a simplicity of design, following the example of significant designers like Ashbee, Voysey and Baillie Scott.  This particular desk is painted white, with unusual white celluloid veneer and fruitwood inlays.

When many of us were children, our mothers insisted that we write a letter of thanks for a gift received, or a social event enjoyed.  Today letter writing is becoming a lost art, and a hand-written note is a rarity to be cherished.  We can imagine a woman of the prosperous middle class 100 years ago sitting at this desk, writing to friends, enriching their lives and her own with the written word.

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