For almost a century, from the 1850s to the 1940s, South Shoreditch in south east London was the hub of the international furniture trade. The area manufactured, sold and supplied furniture of all types and quality to retailers in the West End of London, provincial cities and throughout the British Empire.
The Light family were present in Shoreditch from the mid-19th century, working as successive generations of cabinet makers. Charles Light was present at 144 Curtain Road by the 1850s. By 1874 Charles Light occupied numbers 140-144 which included a five-storey warehouse. Following Charles’s death in 1877, his sons Charles and Richard took control of the business which became known as C. & R. Light.
The brothers expanded the company and rebuilt the premises, which were desdribed by Cabinet Maker in 1878 as “an enormous place, which is crammed from one end to the other with furniture” filled with “an almost endless variety of goods from hall, office, library, dining-room, drawing-room and bedroom, in the styles and treatments now in vogue.”
Furniture ensembles were grouped together in separate rooms which ran along the front of the building and there was a separate bent wood department. A fitting up shop enabled orders to be finished and despatched as quickly as possible. Some indication of the sheer range of furniture supplied by C. & R. Light is given by the company’s catalogue of 1880, which was 435 pages in length and listed over 1,900 items.
In 1892 the firm was incorporated as a limited company, by which time it had expanded further and had a separate timber department in Rivington Street.
In 1897 C. & R. Light Ltd. established a bedroom furniture factory in Great Eastern Street and took on additional manufacturing premises in Rivington Street as production of machine-made furniture increased. The company had to look outside Shoreditch to continue expansion, and opted to build a new works in Bedfordshire. However, the scale of expenditure was such that it created severe financial difficulties and in 1911 the company went into voluntary liquidation.