Decorated initial T

he Crace family ran "the most important firm of interior decorators working in the 19th century," according to the Victoria and Albert museum (see "Drawing"). They operated from around 1768 to the end of the nineteenth century. The founding father was a coach-decorator Edward Crace (1725-1799), and the firm continued through his son John (1754-1819), grandson Frederick (1779-1859), greatgrandson John Gregory (1809-1889) and great-great-grandson John Diblee Crace (1838-1919). The family had a history of working with eminent architects on important buildings: the first John Crace had been commissioned by such figures as Henry Holland of Holland House in Kensington, and the architect John Soane. His son Frederick was patronised by the royal family and worked on the lavish decoration of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, including the spectacular Music Room there. The business had become rather run down by the time Frederick's son, John Gregory, entered into partnership in 1830 (see Hill 315), and to him goes the credit of building it up again, with an eye to the new interest in all things Gothic. His "frank and humorous" relationship with A.W.N. Pugin started in late 1843 (Ashton 315 and n.18, 561; Aldrich) and continued for the rest of Pugin's life (Hill 316).

Left: Bookcase. Right: Wheel of Fortune table. [Click on the images to enlarge them, and for more information.]

Since the Craces designed whole interiors, including furniture and stained glass, furniture-making was only one part of their activities. Upholstery had always been part of the services they offered, and John Gregory Crace designed some elaborate library furniture for the 6th Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire; but the firm only began making furniture themselves, and engaging wood-carvers, in the 1840s. Moreover, they designed mainly one kind of furniture – "predominantly oak furniture in the gothic style based on the designs of Augustus Welby Pugin" (Aldrich). This was the point at which they set up workshops in the mews and small lane (now called Welbeck Way) behind their showrooms in Wigmore Street — this was in the same year (1844) that Pugin designed their showroom for them in a Gothic style (Lewis 129). They left the production of other styles of furniture to "leading makers principally in London and Paris – notably Jackson’s of Rathbone Place, London, and the firm of Paul Mazaroz in Paris" (Aldrich).

The Victoria Hall in Leeds Town Hall. [Click on the image for more information.]

The firm continued using Pugin's designs, and flourished for several decades after the architect's death. Other major interior decorating commissions came to them, including Leeds Town Hall, for the architect Cuthbert Brodrick, and Two Temple Place, for Lord Astor and his architect, J. L. Pearson. In fact Megan Aldrich tells us that "the firm was at its largest extent with about 100 employees" in the years 1872-86. John Gregory's son, John Dibblee Crace (1838-1919), gradually wound it down, finally giving up the business in 1899, just a few years after the completion of Two Temple Place. The Wigmore Hall now stands in the site once occupied by their premises. — Jacqueline Banerjee





Aldrich, Megan. "Crace, Edward, John, Frederick, John Gregory and John Dibblee (1768-1899)." BIFMO (Dictionary of British and Irish Furniture Makers, 1500-1914. Web. 16 February 2022. [This is a brilliant resource for the Craces, since it is hard to find Aldrich's book on the firm — see "Further Reading."]

Crace, J. G. "Proper Colours in Decoration." The Decorator and Furnisher 1, no. 3 (1 December 1882). Internet Archive, from Jstor. Web. 18 February 2022.

"Design for the Decoration of the Drawing Room at Eastnor Castle, Hertfordshire ca. 1850." Met Museum. Web. 15 February 2022.

"Drawing" (scroll down to read the summary). V&A. Web. 16 February 2022.

The Fine Art Society Story. Part I. London: The Fine Art Society, 2001.

Hill, Rosemary. God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain. London: Penguin, 2008.

Lewis, David Frazer. A. W. N. Pugin. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2021.

Further reading

Megan Aldrich. The Craces: Royal Decorators 1768-1899. London: John Murray and the Royal Pavilion Art Gallery and Museums, Brighton, 1990. [Exhibition catalogue.]

Created 15 July 2016

Last modified 17 February 2022