Oliver Buildings at the Former Shapland and Petter Factory


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Oliver buildings at former Shapland and Petter factory site, Taw Wharf, Sticklepath, Barnstaple, Devon, EX31 2AA


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Statutory Address:
Oliver buildings at former Shapland and Petter factory site, Taw Wharf, Sticklepath, Barnstaple, Devon, EX31 2AA

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

North Devon (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SS5564332853, SS5564932883


The former offices and showroom, and the surviving part of the furniture factory of Shapland and Petter, built in 1888 to designs by local architect William Clement Oliver (1832-1913), excluding the C20 link building and white-painted additions, and the later-C20 internal partitioning.

Reasons for Designation

The factory, showroom and office buildings known as the Oliver Buildings on the former Shapland and Petter site in Barnstaple, a furniture factory of 1888, are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: they were designed by William Clement Oliver, a local and regional architect whose work is characterised by the use of polychrome materials and good detailing which is evident in these buildings; * Technological interest: the buildings employ an innovative combination of fireproof and fire-retardant construction, compartmentalisation and a sprinkler system, which was designed following the loss of the firm’s previous works in a disastrous fire; * Historic interest: as the principal buildings where Shapland and Petter produced high-quality, mass-produced Arts and Crafts furniture using technologically-advanced machinery imported from the United States for the initial stages of production, combined with detailed, hand-crafted and applied elements and finishing; their work, which is now highly sought after, represents part of the democratisation of the style which saw its popularity spread throughout society.


The firm which would become Shapland and Petter was founded in 1854 in Barnstaple, by Henry Shapland, who had been apprenticed as a cabinet maker. After failing to find work in London, Shapland travelled to America, where he discovered a revolution taking place in cabinet making: the invention of modern woodworking machinery allowed the laborious sawing and planing of timber to be mechanised, leaving the skilled cabinet makers free to concentrate on the important final stages of assembly and finishing. Returning to England, he brought back drawings of a machine he had seen which was capable of producing finely-carved mouldings on curved surfaces, ideal for use in the creation of high-quality furniture, together with a commitment to the idea of mechanised manufacturing using the most cutting-edge machinery and technology. Back in Barnstaple, he re-created the machine he had seen, and began a business in a water-powered former textile mill at Raleigh in Pilton, initially making and selling mouldings to piano makers and furniture manufacturers. The business, which began making its own furniture rather than just supplying mouldings, later moved to Bear Street in Barnstaple, and in 1856, Henry Shapland was joined in partnership by Henry Petter, who had previously worked in publishing. In 1864, the firm of Shapland and Petter returned to the old mill at Raleigh, eventually taking over the whole of the large factory site. Shapland continued his interest in developments in the US, regularly importing the latest manufacturing technology; and in 1885, his son, Richard, travelled to America to research timber-seasoning methods. He went on to patent his own method, which cut the time taken to season timber for furniture to one-thirtieth of that traditionally taken, but produced better and more consistent results. The design of his drying kilns was hugely successful, and by 1891, they were much sought after in London and throughout the country.

On 5 March 1888, a devastating fire entirely destroyed the Raleigh factory, taking with it all of Shapland and Petter’s stocks of materials and extensive range of finished furniture. It was fortunate that the company had already purchased a second site, a former shipbuilding yard at Bridge Wharf on the banks of the River Taw, which had not only access by water, but its own railway siding, significant for bringing raw materials to site and shipping out finished pieces. Shapland and Petter was already running a timber merchants’ business from the site, on which they rapidly set about building a new factory complex, to be known as the Raleigh Cabinet Works. The buildings which survive date from this phase; they were constructed in 1888, and were designed by William Clement Oliver (1832-1913), a local architect whose work in Barnstaple is characterised by his good detailing and decorative use of polychrome materials. After the disastrous fire on the former mill site, the firm was anxious to guard against fire wherever possible in the new factory. To this end, the ranges were built with timber doors faced on either side with galvanised iron; 3-inch thick timber was used for floorboards; and the stairs were constructed in concrete and brick, within a stair bay which was separated from the ranges on either side by solid walls which extended the full height of the structure, emerging as raised verges at the roofs. The flat-roofed stair bays carried large water tanks to feed the Grinnell Automatic Sprinkler System, a design imported from the United States, which was a recent evolution of the sprinkler systems which had been developed there since the 1850s. Ten hydrants were installed, with hoses on every landing. Electric lighting was installed throughout, to avoid the danger of naked flames. The company also set up its own Fire Brigade, which was regularly drilled, and even loaned its services elsewhere in the town.

The new buildings at the Raleigh Cabinet Works housed the latest American woodworking machinery, which Shapland and Petter continued to update as new technology became available. The company flourished, and by the mid-1890s, had showrooms at Berners Street, off Oxford Street in London, as well as selling through a wide network of retailers. Shapland and Petter furniture was in competition with the likes of Liberty, selling very high quality mass-produced furniture in a variety of styles – reproduction, traditional or modern, by which was meant the Arts and Crafts style which was increasing in popularity. At this time, C R Ashbee, the renowned Arts and Crafts architect and designer, gave a twelve-week lecture course for designers at the School of Art in Barnstaple, at the request of Shapland and Petter, and his influence can be seen in the output of the company’s Design Room, which was run by William Cowie, who had links to the Glasgow School of Art, and under whom a number of well-paid designers worked, creating large numbers of designs which were patented by Shapland and Petter. The firm grew from a provincial furniture maker to one in the forefront of Arts and Crafts furniture manufacture. Although Shapland and Petter’s use of woodworking machinery was not in accord with strict Arts and Crafts principles, it was confined to the early stages of preparation, which allowed extraordinary attention to be paid to design, joinery, decoration and polishing. Shapland and Petter furniture was sold through a wide range of retailers in the United Kingdom, including Waring and Gillow, and worldwide, with offices and agents in Paris, Buenos Aires, and in North America. Their work was characterised by the use of oak or mahogany, with copper, pewter, ceramic and enamelled inlay, marquetry with exotic and native timber, and extensive use of plant motifs in the Art Nouveau manner.

Henry Shapland and Henry Petter both died in 1909, but the firm continued under new directors. During the First World War, the factory took on war work, making shell cases, timber aircraft propellers and ammunition boxes, although furniture manufacturing carried on alongside. In the inter-war years, the company diversified, moving into the manufacture of high-quality fittings and furniture for prestigious new buildings and ocean liners. Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Shapland and Petter again tendered for war work, turning much of the site over to essential production. At the end of the war, production of furniture and fittings resumed, with the company taking on restoration and refitting of war-damaged buildings across the country, including the Guildhall and Middle Temple in London, but also churches, universities, banks, laboratories, hospitals, law courts and civic buildings; and were contracted by Harland and Woolf to fit out new and refurbished liners. Shapland and Petter continued to thrive through the C20, and by the late 1970s had evolved into specialist door manufacturers. Manufacturing continued on the Raleigh site until 2012, when the factory was closed, and work moved wholly to the sister site in Nottingham. Much of the former factory site was cleared in advance of development, leaving just the present buildings standing – formerly housing the carvers’ department and their store of machined components; the blacksmiths’ stores, veneer store and marble workshop; the cabinet makers’ assembling and finishing workshops; packing and forwarding department; and in the rear range, the firm’s showrooms and offices. The buildings were empty at the time of this report (2016).


The former offices and showroom, and the surviving part of the furniture factory of Shapland and Petter, built in 1888 to designs by local architect William Clement Oliver (1832-1913), not including the later C20 link building and white-painted blockwork additions, and the later-C20 internal partitioning.

MATERIALS Cream brick with red brick dressings, partly on a stone plinth, under slate roofs.

PLAN Two unequal ranges, the longer running roughly east-west and with a recessed central stair bay; and a shorter range at right-angles.

EXTERIOR The buildings are each of three storeys, the main range with a basement to the rear. The walling is of cream brick, with red brick quoins, window and door surrounds, and red brick string courses between the floors. The fenestration is regular, with very slightly segmental arches openings with flat red-brick voussoirs, each housing multi-paned, timber-framed windows. The gable ends have raised, coped verges, and decorative red-brick bands towards the apex. The principal building, facing north, has two seven-bay ranges separated by a wide stair-bay, with paired narrow windows to each floor. There is a shallow stone plinth to this elevation, which extends downwards to the rear to create a full basement storey as the ground level is lower. The fenestration to the south is similar, but with single, wider windows to the stair bay. There are several door openings to the basement, and an external stair gives access to the raised ground floor. There is a later, single-storey, flat-roofed rendered and white-painted extension at the eastern end of the building, which is excluded from the listing.

The construction of the range which stands at right-angles to the main range is similar, though its fenestration to the main, eastern elevation consists of paired, top-hung sash windows to all three floors, and its plinth is red brick. There are continuous red-brick cill and lintel bands, with a third band between these two. The western elevation is of three storeys and basement, with a projecting stair turret at its northern end, with a monopitch roof. The elevation has been extended by the addition of a lean-to of two storeys and basement, built in red brick with rectangular timber windows and plat bands between storeys, extending to the same depth as the stair turret. This element is included in the listing. Attached to the southern end of this range is a later-C20, concrete block-built stair bay, painted white, which is excluded from the listing.

This range is linked to the northern ranges by a single-storey link at ground-floor level, which is excluded from the listing.

INTERIOR The buildings share common construction and detailing. The floors are 3-inch timber planks, on timber joists. The internally expressed brick piers, door and window recesses have chamfered edges. Both ranges have their original roof structures, formed from queen-post trusses with angled king-struts and twin purlins.

The main E-W range was historically used as stores and workshops. It is divided into two by a fireproof stairwell, separated from the floors on either side by full-height brick party walls; the dog-leg stair is solid concrete, and the wall around which it turns is brick. A lift is also housed in the stairwell, with metal shuttered doors to each landing. The water supply for the sprinkler system is evident in the hydrants with taps which stand on each landing. The historic sprinkler system is evident in the extensive water piping running along the ceilings. A renewed sprinkler system has been installed alongside, making use of some of the historic installation. The building retains a suite of rooms – boardroom, office and showroom – with later-C20 or early C21 panelling and doors, with inlay and marquetry in various timbers, demonstrating the continued use of the site by Shapland and Petter, later Leaderflush Shapland through the C20 and into the C21.

The N-S range, historically the showrooms and offices, is narrower, but was widened by a lean-to extension to full height soon after its completion. Wide, segmental-arched openings with chamfered edges, aligned with the window bays, give access from the main range into the extension. The basement is partly supported on cast-iron columns.

Some of the spaces have been subdivided into smaller offices, using fairly lightweight partitioning, which appear to date from the end of the C20. Most of these do not extend to full height, and they have not compromised the historic fabric of the buildings. Some areas also have suspended ceilings. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the later C20 internal room partitioning and suspended ceilings are not of special architectural or historic interest. They are excluded from the listing.

This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 13/09/2016


Books and journals
Andrews, J, Arts and Crafts Furniture, (2015), 127, 189, 275-285, 290, 291, 293
Bennett, D, Shapland and Petter of Barnstaple - Arts and Crafts Furniture, (2005)
Greensted, M, The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, (2010), 77, 78 + illus.
Reed-Shapland, M, Shapland and Petter of Barnstaple - Celebrating 150 Years, (2004)
Furniture and Decoration & The Furniture Gazette, September 1894


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

The listed building(s) is/are shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building (save those coloured blue on the map) are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.

End of official listing

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