Bennet Furnishing Company

Suppliers of furniture

Colour photograph of Bennet Furnishing Company's invoice to the Glasgow School of Art, 1909

The Bennet Furnishing Company was founded by Charles Bennet, who emigrated from Edinburgh to Canada in 1855. He entered the timber trade in London, Ontario, and started making school furniture in 1862. His four sons all joined him as partners in due course. 1

In 1880, Bennet returned to Glasgow, seeing an opportunity to expand thanks to the requirement for new schools under the Education (Scotland) Act of 1872, which made elementary education compulsory for the first time. Bennet imported prefabricated timber desk components from Canada, which were then assembled at his works in Tennant Street, Townhead. By the time he died in 1885, he had been joined by his eldest son, Charles Junior, who ran an English branch of the firm from London. A younger son, James Dick Bennet, supervised the Glasgow works at Old Keppochhill Road, Springburn and in Ladywell Street, Townhead, from the head office at 40 (later 36) Tennant Street.

The company supplied many School Boards in Liverpool, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Glasgow, including Partick Public School in 1887. It exhibited 'strong and comfortable desks' at the 1886 Edinburgh International Exhibition. 2 At the 1888 International Exhibition in Glasgow, it showed a 'large stock of church, school and hall furniture, all manufactured from Canadian oak and orham', the latter a hardwood used for cheaper ranges. Its main ecclesiastical exhibit was a Perpendicular-style oak pulpit with matching communion table. 3 The firm also mass-produced plush theatre seating, as used at Glasgow's Scotia Music Hall (1893).

At its Glasgow works the company continued to assemble pre-shaped Canadian boards, using mechanical saws, planing and jointing machines, which could produce mortice and dovetail joints. It assembled blackboard frames and laboratory benches, but most of its desks were built at the Keppochhill works, where the iron desk frames were made in the smithy. Church and domestic furnishings were made at Ladywell. In 1898, one of the company's accounts collectors was prosecuted for embezzlement – he was imprisoned as a warning to others that 'in a large commercial community ... the confidence of employers in their employees was essential'. 4

The four brothers had 'unfortunate differences' and resorted to the courts in 1902, James being prosecuted by the other three over the terms of their partnership agreement. 5 Although James won the case, the firm separated into two independent concerns, with James D. Bennet Ltd operating from Mile-end, Glasgow, and the Canadian and English concerns remaining with his brothers. 6 Both firms continued into the 1920s, with the Bennet Furnishing Co. moving c. 1923 to larger premises in Bridgeton (to make 'unbreakable stands and fittings' for desks), and James eventually taking over the other firm's old headquarters in Tennant Street. 7 In 1934, the Bennet Furnishing Co. won a 25,824 contract to refurbish tramcars for the City Council, while James was making paint, showing their entrepreneurial energy even during this economically depressed period. 8

Notes:

1: William S. Murphy, 'Captains of Industry: Bennet Furniture Co., Glasgow, London and Canada' Glasgow Weekly Herald, 12 October 1901, p. 19.

2: Glasgow Herald, 30 June 1886, p. 4.

3: Glasgow Herald, 1 September 1888, p. 9.

4: Glasgow Herald, 23 August 1898, p. 8.

5: Scotsman, 19 November 1903, p. 8.

6: Edinburgh Gazette, 8 January 1904, p. 40.

7: Scotsman, 2 October 1923, p. 10.

8: Scotsman, 19 April 1934, p. 7.