De wortels van Fleming & Howland gaan terug naar 1780, toen de schoenmaker Solomon Howland omschoolde naar het vak van stoelenmaker. De Howlands bleven zelfstandige vaklieden totdat George Howland, van de vierde generatie, een klein atelier ‘met twee werknemers’ begon (1881 census).
De familietraditie zette zich voort tijdens de 19e eeuw, en specialiseerde zich in het stofferen van stoelgeraamten voor de verscheidene modehuizen van Londen. De moderne productiemethoden van de 20e eeuw namen het snel over en halverwege de eeuw raakten veel van de oudere technieken uit de tijd. De bloedlijn van de Howland familie als meubelmakers zou verdwenen zijn, als John Howland in de zesde generatie niet zijn neef, John Fleming, als jonge leerling in dienst had genomen.
Vijftig jaar lang, onder het merk Fleming & Howland, werden de oorspronkelijke, en lang in ere gehouden vaardigheden weer nieuw leven ingeblazen. De Classic collectie werd gelanceerd met gebruik van de beste moderne stoffeermethoden, en de Heirloom collectie vertegenwoordigde de oudere, meer tijdrovende technieken met handgekleurd leder.
In 2009 werd het handelsmerk ‘Chesterfields’ aan Fleming & Howland toegekend vanwege hun erkende erfgoed. Vandaag de dag werken zij nog steeds als familiebedrijf nauw samen met huiseigenaars, binnenhuisonterwerpers en -architecten.
It started with Solomon Howland. Born in 1761, he was the son of a cordwainer, and seemed destined to go into the family business. Indeed, that is exactly what he did until, at the tender age of 19, he spotted an opportunity and branched out into a new trade – chair making.
Like others in the business at the time, Solomon worked on his own, at home, completing just one of the many specialist tasks that were involved in making a chair from scratch – in his case, covering ready-made chair frames with deep-buttoned upholstery.
The area in and around High Wycombe became the biggest producer of chairs in the country thanks to the beech, elm and ash woods that surrounded it.
Nephew George Howland, born 1848, moved up to Ancoats, Manchester in 1876. In the 1881 census George is shown as 'Chair maker employing 2 men' initiating the very first production facility.
George’s son, Charles Alfred (4th generation), began his chair making occupation at the age of 15.
By this time, expertise and knowledge of the craft became fully established in the north as Manchester’s textile industry was at its peak.
It was around this time the word ‘Chesterfield’ was used to describe the deep-buttoning technique used by the Howland family. Possibly named after the Earl of Chesterfield, a known trendsetter who famously commissioned a deep-buttoned leather sofa ‘with arms and back of the same height’.
With workshops springing-up all over town, young apprentices were in much demand. In 1959, John Howland (5th generation), took on his eager nephew, John Fleming, as an apprentice.
At the age of 22, John Fleming used a £46 tax rebate to buy a sewing machine and other upholstery equipment, and set up on his own, renting a room above a shop in Miles Platting.
Over the years, ‘John Fleming Upholstery’ grew, to the point where it employed around 150 people, while at the same time maintaining a smaller, specialised unit making bespoke Chesterfields.
Cheap Chinese imports flooded the market causing mass closure of many UK manufacturers. John’s specialist unit survived, preserving the Howland’s time-honoured skills.
John’s son Paul, who had been involved since he was a boy, officially joined the business in 2002, followed by his daughter Sylvia in 2011.
The family firm was rebranded as Fleming & Howland, a name that signified the union of the two families and the best of past and present craftsmanship.
After acquiring a second workshop in Kent, F&H invest in their ‘Revival Project’ initiating an extensive revival of archived designs.
F&H introduce exclusive colours in the form of the Monochrome collection. Such unique tones can only be achieved by applying the dyes by hand with a rag. This hands-only technique creates the softest patina possible, surpassing any other tannery-produced leather currently available.
‘The Anatomy Of A Stuffed and Stitched Chair’ by Fleming & Howland.
Celebrating British furniture making, the book gives a rare insight into a brand known for their modesty. The book captures in step by step format how an object of beauty and great design is lovingly crafted.
F&H become founding members of the Chesterfields Trade Association. The CTA represents the high standards required to produce an officially certified Chesterfield and in turn protects the consumer by safeguarding the heritage of such an iconic British design.