The history of the Jacksons

The origins | Revolutionising manufacturing | Diversity of work | 1900 - onward | Want to know more?

In 1780 craftsman George Jackson founded the company George Jackson & Sons Ltd. This London based firm was dedicated to the production of decorative plaster ornament.

Jackson and Sons were instrumental in revolutionising the way in which relief decoration was created. They introduced the use of composition plaster into England, which was formed using wooden moulds and meant that the work could be prefabricated as opposed to created on site, which had meant extreme discomfort to the workers in the past. The company also introduced the use of fibrous plaster into England, which was particularly suitable for ceilings, cornices and large ornaments.

Jacksons also produced work in papier-mache, carton pierre, cement and carved wood. In fact, the company also had a wood-carving workshop where they produced decorative woodwork and relief ornaments for items such as chimney pieces.

The origins of George Jackson and Sons

The origins of the company present somewhat of a mystery. On one hand, evidence from sources including official Jackson and Sons brochures, would suggest that George Jackson established the firm in association with the architect Robert Adam.

However, recent research by George Jackson’s living relative Marion May, has cast a very different perspective on the subject. Rather critically, her research on the Jackson lineage has revealed that George could have been born in 1779, in which case the company could not have been founded in 1780. It would also make a working relationship between George and Robert Adam impossible, since Adam died in 1792. Incidentally, it is interesting to note that Clark & Fenn (the name under which Jackson’s traded from 1968 - 2007) currently hold a copy of a Robert Adam book, which would indicate a Jackson/Adam connection.

The company could have been originally founded by George’s father, Thomas, who owned a frame-making business.  It could be proposed that George Jackson embellished the providence of Jackson and Sons by declaring a much earlier date of origin.

Revolutionising the manufacturing

Jackson and Sons were manufacturers of all kinds of interior and exterior ornamental relief work, and were in some instances instrumental in revolutionising the way in which this was created. They produced plaster and composition work from earliest years, evidence of which can be found in an account book from 1805.

Their use of composition plaster, which was formed using intricately carved wooden moulds, meant that the work could be prefabricated as opposed to created on site, which had meant extreme discomfort to the workers in the past. These original wood moulds, carved with extraordinary delicacy and precision, remain in the possession of the Company, and some are still in use.

George's son John was the one to introduced the use of fibrous plaster into the country. He bought the patent rights in 1856 from Owen Jones, the architect, who had acquired it from the inventor; French modeller De Sachet. The plaster was combined with canvas and built up in the workshop. In a Jackson catalogue from 1902, they list numerous advantages to this method, including ‘great lightness’, ‘increased strength’ (due to the fibre in the plaster) and ‘simplicity in fixing’.

Their diversity of work

The earliest recorded evidence of Jackson’s work can be found in the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, where they were employed by Frederick Crace between 1815 and 1822 to embellish some of the rooms, including the music room. Could it therefore also be possible that the work of Jacksons is to be found in the Regency town houses of the same era?

When Prince Regent became King George IV, Jacksons where once again assigned work. This time to convert Buckingham House into a Palace. Years later Queen Victoria needed work done on her State Banqueting Hall at Osbourne House and had a fibrous plaster ceiling erected by Jacksons. The moulds were produced under the supervision of Ram Singh. The skirting and dados were made using Honduras mahogany with enrichments in Carton Pierre.

The 1902 Jackson catalogue provides a list of works undertaken by the company, which appear to be presented in order of importance. Buckingham Palace appears at top of the private works and at the bottom are the smaller properties. Under the public buildings section the following are a small selection of the examples that appear: Clothworkers’ Hall (ceiling in court drawing room), Empire hotel (bath – spiers and pond) and South Kensington Museum  (beams and aches). Numerous theatres are also listed, such as, the Haymarket, Edinburgh Theatre Royal, Empire theatre, Prince of Wales theatre in Liverpool (box fronts and ceilings). They also provided ornamental decorations for British steamships, one example is the S.S Great Western made in 1837.

The period from 1880 to 1910 the majority of Jacksons work revolved around the ‘nouveax riches’.

20th century and onwards

Up until the First World War period, Jackson & Sons continued to be key producers of classical work. However, with the rise of the Modernist Movement in the 1920s, which decreed that form should follow function and therefore omit any superfluous decoration, the demand for classical ornamentation declined.

Consequently, Jacksons were involved in the reconstruction of buildings that were damaged during the Second World War, which proved to be a busy period for the company. They also became involved in the restoration of properties, for which there was a trend in the 1970s.

Over nearly two centuries, Jackson’s moulds were used to create ornaments in composition, papier-mâché and plaster, while the firm would hold the Royal Warrants of four English sovereigns. The firm eventually amassed over 20,000 carved wood, brass and plaster moulds, and thousands of plaster models - a staggering archive of architectural decoration. The Jackson family sold the company in 1947 and today it's owned by an independent family business.

A collection of sample boards of 'composition' ornaments, reverse cuts and positive hardwood and softwood blocks, and ornaments such as swags and trophies have been distributed to a number of museums, including The Regency Town House.

Want to know more?

Why not learn more by taking a look at these links:

or read Marion R. Mays book about the Jacksons:

The Ornamental Jacksons – A Brief History of Jacksons & Sons Limited – Ornamental Composition Manufacturers