The story of a Buckinghamshire furniture company. From its beginnings in 1870 until closure in 2001 and its rebirth as Whiteleaf Ltd.
Where it all began...
WILLIAM GOODEARL, born in 1811, was a Windsor Chair maker and commenced business on his own account in 1870 at premises in Dovehouse Mead, High Wycombe.
By 1875 he was listed in a local directory as a Chair Manufacturer at West End Road.
Four of his sons, Henry (b.1838), Richard (b.1843), Benjamin (b.1849) and Arthur (b.1851) were all working within the furniture trade. Henry, at Dovehouse Mead, was a cane seat framer. Richard at 7 Water Lane, Newland. Benjamin, a benchman, was at 11 Oxford Road. Arthur at 20 Mendy Street was also a cane seat framer.
By 1887, the brothers appear to have joined forces at
Mendy Street and during the next decade strengthened
their position as High Wycombe chair manufacturers.
Exciting early developments
Richard Goodearl, by J.P.Starling, Artist & Photographer
Frogmore Studio, Frogmore Gardens, High Wycombe.
1903 saw A.E.Barnes joining the company as a carver. He
was to play an important role in the Company as a
designer, and eventually became its Chairman.
At this time machinery was being introduced to an ever
increasing extent. A Timber Yard and Sawmill were
working, and other factories were also being supplied
with plank and sawn parts. Richard became head of the
firm, with two of his sons, Albert and Percy, working with
him. The eldest son, George, had emigrated to Australia
and was manufacturing bedding in Sydney after a short
time of importing furniture from Wycombe.
The family firm
In 1907, the firm became incorporated as
Goodearl Brothers Ltd.
Product range expansion
By 1914 a wide range of windsor chairs, cane seat chairs,
upholstered 7 piece suites etc. were being made in
quantities. They were mainly sold in London, being
transported there by horse and van.
A display panel in the Wycombe Chair Museum says that
the return journey took 36 hours, the wagons often
travelling in convoy through the night. Only the lead
driver needed to be awake.
Early in 1915 a former mill at Navan in County Meath, Ireland was bought and equipped as a sawmill and chair factory. It was managed by Percy with Wilfred Dean and employed about 70 men and boys.
Athlumney Mill was half a mile downstream from Navan beside the Boyne Canal and built as a flax mill. Though immediately before the Company took it over, it was being used by the Navan Bacon Factory Ltd.
The same range of chairs was being produced there, and during the War great quantities of tent-pegs and other wooden products were made.
Staff photo: Percy is on the extreme right, Wilfred Dean on the extreme left. Next to Percy is Albert Matthews with his young son. He was a former employee in England, where he returned after the Navan factory closed, and worked at the Risborough Sawmill until he retired. His son later worked as a cabinet maker for the Company.
Do what you've got to do
In March 1919, with civil unrest becoming increasingly violent, the factory was shut down and the family moved back to High Wycombe.
The Risborough Unit was started in 1920. Chair parts were assembled and finished in the old ‘British School’ at the junction of Wycombe Road and Station Approach.
Demand was increasing and in August 1920, a site by the Railway Station was purchased and building commenced to house machinery and assembly facilities. Power was provided by Robey ‘Portable’ Steam Engines.
Goodearl, Dean & Co.
During this period, Albert and Percy were joined by Ernest Dean and Harold Dean. The latter being married to Edith, Percy’s sister. The Company at Risborough was styled Goodearl, Dean and Co. but on 14th January 1924 the name was changed and incorporated as Risboro’ Furniture Ltd.
By 1924 further land had also been acquired making the site up to approximately ten acres. A modern Sawmill with a 250 HP Marshall Steam Engine, travelling overhead gantry crane and railway sidings were established.
The Sawmill had a long overhead crane gantry. The Picts Lane end was where timber delivered by road was unloaded and stored.
Moving up in the world
By 1930 a new factory had been built on the Risborough site. The main Factory buildings were single storey, apart from the brick faced Office block and the two shops behind. Natural lighting was provided by a partly glazed roof on the ‘northern light’ principle.
A plan of the Mendy Street site in 1930
By 1930, trading conditions had become more difficult. To strengthen the two separate companies, which were virtually controlled by Albert at Wycombe and Percy at Risborough, and were pursuing separate policies, it was decided to merge.
In October of that year, Richard, their father died aged 87. In 1931 Goodearl Brothers Ltd acquired the shares of Risboro’ Furniture Ltd. The directors were A.T and P.R.Goodearl, E. and E.H.Dean with A.E.Barnes as Chairman.
The Goodearl Bros. Showroom at the Mendy Street Factory in 1937
From this period improvements at both factories continued, but with expansion at Wycombe being limited by space. In 1934, the ‘Peacock’ Public House, which adjoined the works in Mendy Street, was acquired and a new Showroom block built on its site.
1936 saw the retirement of A.E.Barnes and A.T.Goodearl, when P.R. Goodearl became chairman and Max Goodearl was moved to manage the Mendy Street end. Alan, Percy’s second son started work in 1938.
In 1937 the retail price for the 4087 was £2 16s 6d and the 4085 was £2 15s 0d
Production in the 1930’s
Improvements and expansion continued and the Corduroy covered, flock or spring filled, loose cushion, adjustable Chair, became their major product.
Hold it together
A Wartime product: Goodearl Bros Snow Shoes
The outbreak of War in 1939 saw the factory at Risborough requisitioned by the Ministry of Aircraft Production (Phillips & Powis Aircraft Ltd), leaving only the Sawmill in operation.
Half the area at Mendy Street was also requisitioned for storage. The limited production of chairs for the various Ministries and other wooden wartime needs were sufficient to hold the much reduced labour force together until hostilities ceased.
In the immediate post war period, the two companies were successful in being designated to produce Utility dining chairs and upholstered easy chairs. E.L.Clinch, who had joined the company design staff in 1932, played a large part on the committee set up by the Board of Trade for the designing of Utility furniture.
With the War over, de-requisitioning took place and the major task now was to re-establish the Risborough factory, where little of its wartime operations were any longer of value. New machinery had to be acquired and new layouts planned. E.E.Hain who had started in 1931 as a cost clerk, rejoined the company after a wartime absence, and together with Alan, they took charge of the re-commencement of production at Risborough.
Output proceeded to expand in spite of the difficulties of timber rationing, and every effort was made to utilise materials in plentiful supply. One successful range embodied diecast aluminium chair parts, another, extruded aluminium sections and laminated plastics. These led to a more diversified production and a large range of Plastics surfaced tables that found a ready market.
Max was elected to the Board of Directors in 1942, followed by the addition of E.L.Clinch in 1944. Ronald, Percy’s third son, started work with the company in 1947.
Having, by this time, successfully established a range of tables in the kitchen departments of many stores, a range of kitchen units was introduced to supplement them.
High Wycombe in the 1950’s. The Mendy Street Factory is outlined in white.
Crossing from left to right is the A40 London to Oxford road with the River Wye running along side, in front of the houses – Remington Terrace. Bridge Street leads up the picture to the right.
The Board strengthens
In 1953 Alan and E.E.Hain joined the Board making seven in all, with Percy as Chairman.
Stepping up to the plate
In 1955 Ernest Dean, who had been Secretary, died and S.V.Goodchild, who had started in the office in 1930, and had ‘grown up’ under E.Dean’s tuition, took over his role. Ronald was elected to the Board in 1958.
The Risborough Site in 1956
All under one roof
A new machine shop was built at Risborough in 1958. This greatly increased efficiency by enabling all machined parts to be produced under one roof. It also permitted a new kitchen cabinet assembly and finishing operation to be established at Wycombe.
A sad loss to the team
In 1959 E.H.Dean passed away after being in failing
health for some time.
...But the future is bright
Progress was such that it became necessary to extend one or other of the companies facilities each year. Before his death in 1965, Percy was able to see that while a considerable part of the large site, which he had had the foresight to acquire, was now employed as a successful furniture factory, there was still space for future developments.
Change of roles
Max succeeded Percy as Chairman, and in 1966
S.V.Goodchild was invited to join the board.
The Company Trade Marks
The Wycombe company was known as Goodearl Bros. Ltd with the trademark of a vase of flowers. The Princes Risborough factory was called Risboro’ Furniture Ltd, and it used the symbol of Whiteleaf Cross. Since the amalgamation of the two factories, the name Goodearl-Risboro’ Ltd has been adopted, with ‘Whiteleaf Furniture’ as the brand name. The trademark is now the shape of a White Beam leaf from the trees grow on the local hills. These also supply some of the Beech timber that provide much the raw material that the company uses.
The frontage in Station Road.
The Ireland building was later used as a corn mill, but after falling into a dangerous state, it was demolished in the mid 1970’s.
Bridging the gap
The site in 1973. The new machine shop joining the sawmill buildings to the main factory.
Bricks & Mortar
Mendy Street Factory in 1974
The New Sawmill
The Bandmill being installed.
In the mid 1970’s, a major reinvestment programme was undertaken at the Sawmill. The Bandmill was replaced by a new electric semi-automatic machine from the Belgian company Brenta. The steam engine was scrapped, and the elegant chimney dismantled brick by brick. Waste wood would now be chipped and stored, along with sawdust from the Machine Shop, in a large silo.
Two new boilers were installed. They burned the wood chips as well as being able to run on oil. The steam produced heated the factory, the kilns and was used in the Bending Shop.
In the 1970’s the Machine Shop was relocated into a new building which joined the main Factory to the Sawmill. Because the slope of the land, this was constructed as partly two storey, the upper floor being level with the Sawmill, and the lower with the rest of the Factory. A lift connected the two.
Kitchens & Bedrooms
Kitchen Furniture Catalogue from 1957
For many years the Company made fitted kitchen units, at Wycombe as well as at Risborough, along with fireside chairs, dining chairs and tables. In the mid 1980’s the cabinet shop’s production was switched to the newly established range of bedroom wardrobes and chest of drawers, and the manufacture of kitchen units ceased.
The increased capacity of the new shops allowed most of the old Factory to be sold off. With the growing popularity of the new Bedroom ranges, some of the Sawmill’s under-utilised storage sheds were refurbished to provide a modern working environment. A new building was erected, which although reducing the length of the gantry, providing greater production capacity, and enhanced loading facilities for the companies fleet of delivery vehicles.
In 1999 the company name was changed to Whiteleaf Furniture Ltd.
Sawmilling to the end
The Sawmill continued to cater for the Factory’s timber requirements, though in the final years there was a
change of policy to buying in home grown plank rather than milling the trees. It also provided the sawmill
service of Kiln Drying for the trade. Steam Bending was also undertaken for other manufacturers, from as far away as Scotland and the West Country, either by supplying the timber or using that provided by the customer.
All about bedrooms
On the 28th January 2001 the Company ceased trading. However, following a management buyout the Bedroom cabinet department continued in production at the present site.
Another door opens...
Neil Thompson and Richard Hughes bought the cabinet side of the old business.
Whiteleaf Furniture Ltd. moved to Thame, Oxon
Taking over, step-by-step
Acquired Igoe Furniture Ltd
In the bag!
Won our first £1m+ project supplying bedrooms to the new Centre Parcs at Woburn
'Turning over a new leaf'
Buy-in Management Buy-Out in which Ben Algate joins the business as MD
Our 150th Year of Manufacturing!
The designer awards 2020 – Gold Winner – Innovation & Design of Commercial Products.