Frederick Parker & Sons Ltd/Parker Knoll Company Archive

Scope and Content

Records of the Frederick Parker & Sons and Parker Knoll companies spanning the late 19th to early 21st century; which includes:

  • business, financial and legal records
  • advertising, marketing and sales material
  • employee records
  • public and private company contracts
  • records of international business
  • glass plate negatives
  • photographs
  • press cuttings
  • industry reference books
  • company catalogues
  • competitor catalogues
  • product drawings, tracings and sketches
  • architectural plans
  • scrap books
  • wooden carvings
  • textile and upholstery samples
  • Parker family ephemera
  • Frederick Parker & Sons and Parker Knoll companies ephemera
  • documentation relating to the Frederick Parker chair collection and the Frederick Parker Foundation
  • publications on furniture design and manufacture

The Archive compliments the Frederick Parker Collection of chairs, which is also held at London Metropolitan University Special Collections. The collection of over 200 chairs covers 300 years of British furniture making and design from 1660 to the present day. The collection was established by Frederick Parker as a learning aid for his craftsmen and is now an internationally renowned educational and industry resource.

Administrative / Biographical History

Frederick Parker (1845-1927) established his furniture and upholstery business in 1871, and formed Frederick Parker & Sons Ltd with his three sons, Harry, William and Thomas Cornwell in 1901. Parker took inspiration from the past and focused on high quality furniture which was made by hand. A large part of the business was the construction of furniture for ocean liners such as the Cunard's RMS Aquitania and the P&O HMS Ophir.

In the 1930s the Parker brothers met Willi Knoll, a German furniture designer who had developed a tension suspension system for chairs. Negotiations ensued resulting in manufacture of the designs under licence; to be marketed as 'Parker Knoll' alongside traditional Frederick Parker models. The Parker Knoll chair was successfully positioned as a quality product which was built to last. The creation of an identifiable logo of the 'man on the spring' and the unusual strategy of marketing by manufacturer as opposed to retailer cemented the Parker Knoll brand in retail history.

In the 1930s the company furnished Cunard's RMS Queen Mary and the BBC's Broadcasting House in Portland Place, where, in 1935, King Edward VIII was photographed addressing the nation seated on a Parker Knoll chair.

By the early 1960s Parker Knoll entered a new period of transition with the decision to increase the rate of mass production and the construction of a new factory in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire in order to enter the three piece suite market. Another early Chipping Norton product was the iconic 'Recliner' chair which debuted in 1966, and was inspired by the American 'Lazy Boy' but refined to suit British tastes.

In 1976 the great grandchildren of Frederick Parker, Martin and Tom Jourdan, became the fourth generation to take responsibility for the leadership and future of the company.

The Parker Knoll brand continued to expand during the 1970s in areas of contracting and in international business with Europe, South Asia, Australia and New Zealand. This trend was sustained in the 1980s with considerable growth including in upholstery, with the establishment of Parker Knoll Textiles.

In the 1990s Parker Knoll remained a leader of the fireside chair and recliner market, and in 1996 was named the number 1 furniture brand in the UK. In 2005 the company became part of Sofa Brands International Group. Throughout the 20th century Parker Knoll positioned itself as a staple of British furniture quality and design and it continues to do so in the 21st century. Its archive tells the story of a business which continually adapted and reacted to change in one of the most diverse periods in British history.

Conditions Governing Access

Currently the archive inventory is being upgraded to a catalogue, which when complete, will be accessible online. This will enable students and researchers to identify specific items from the archive and request access to them by appointment for study and research purposes. All enquiries should be made to the Special Collections project team

Acquisition Information

The collection and archive have been on long-term loan to London Metropolitan University since 2002, and both are now housed in the University's Special Collections Gallery at Old Castle Street, London E1.