Antique Dealers: the British Antique Trade in the 20th Century

Phillips of Hitchin

Phillips of Hitchin began trading under the name F.W. Phillips in 1884 out of The Manor House in Hitchin, Hertfordshire and was established by Frederick William Phillips (1856-1910), a celebrated antiquary and naturalist who was the son of a pawnbroker. Frederick moved into The Manor House, a Georgian Townhouse, in 1884, which he initially rented before purchasing some 20 years later.   Manor House remained the home for the family business until Jerome Phillips (b. 1939) retired in 2014. The business did not only deal with antique furniture, selling a large variety of antiques that could be used to furnish a whole house which can be found throughout the business’ catalogues and brochures from the mid 1880s onwards, which Phillips was well-known for producing. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the business had over 80 rooms of antiques in The Manor House and was also involved in the reproduction of historic wallpapers and textiles, such as 18th century English chintzes.

Throughout its long history, Phillips of Hitchin has had many distinguished clients around the globe. The business has sold to many distinguished collectors including Henry Ford II, Jim Joel, Samuel Messer, Judge Irwin Untermyer and Ralph Moller, as well as selling to many museums, including:

  • - The Victoria & Albert Museum in London
  • - The Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery in Hobart
  • - The National Museum of Ireland in Dublin and Turlough
  • The National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne
  • - The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City
  • - The Higgins Art Gallery & Museum in Bedford
  • - The David Collection in Copenhagen
  • - Bolling Hall in Bradford
  • - Temple Newsam in Leeds
  • - The Castle Museum, Cape Town

Following F. W. Phillips' death in 1910, the business was taken over by his sons Hugh Phillips (1886-1972) and Amyas Phillips (1891-1962). The business was soon renamed H. & A. Phillips, with one of the earliest major projects undertaken by the brothers being the dismantling of Sir Isaac Newton's residence at 35 St Martin's Street in Westminster, London in 1913. They created a detailed plan of the house's structure with the intention to fully reconstruct the house elsewhere. The house was taken apart carefully, with H. & A. Phillips keeping all the demolished house's material. A room from Isaac Newton's house was eventually recreated in The Manor House in the 1930s.The panelling from Sir Isaac Newton's house were later sold to Babson College in the United States. Starting in the 1910s, H. & A. Phillips began to display their antiques in situ, creating historical 'period room' settings, which led to the business flourishing. 

In the early 20th century, there was great interest in period style furnishings, to which H. & A. Phillips responded to with a focus on older English furniture and extending their business to historical style furnishing and architecture. A large architectural project undertaken by Amyas was the design and construction of Bailiffscourt in Climping, West Sussex, which was completed in 1935. He was commissioned by Lord Moyne, who had purchased the Bailiffscourt estate in 1927, to build a new 'ancient' manor house. Amyas primarily used material salvaged from demolished stone houses to create a Medieval style house, reminiscent of 'The Georgian House' catalogue that the business published in the 1920s which promoted the re-use of historical material. H. & A. Phillips was also involved with refurbishing, furnishing and restoring historical properties, including the restoration of Prior Castell's Clock in Durham Cathedral, as well as providing historical material for new properties, like the Guildford Estate (first known as 'Lane's End') in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, USA, which was a replica of Sutton Place in Guildford, Surrey.

Hugh Phillips retired from the business in 1935, with Amyas Phillips and his wife Mary taking over and renaming the business to Phillips of Hitchin. After the Second World War, Phillips of Hitchin concentrated much more on circa 1690-1790 walnut and mahogany English furniture. Phillips of Hitchin also started to have a presence at The Antique Dealers' Fair (later re-named as the Grosvenor House Art and Antiques Fair), as well as later attending the Northern Antiques Fair, Camden Antiques Fair and Burlington House Fair.

Jerome Phillips took over the business in 1962 following Amyas' death, though he had joined the business the year prior. The furniture collected and sold by Phillips of Hitchin expanded to those of later periods, including furniture dating from the early 19th century for which there was a growing interest for at the time. In the 1970s, Phillips of Hitchin held an exhibition on 'Patent Metamorphic Furniture', making them the first antique dealers to hold specialist furniture exhibitions. They held more exhibitions throughout the 1980s, including one on 'Dining Room Furniture 1730-1830' in 1981, one on 'Travelling and Campaigning Furniture 1790-1850' in 1984, and one on 'Furniture for Travel 1760-1860' in 1987. When Jerome retired in 2014, he closed the business and gave the Phillips of Hitchin business and pictorial archives to Leeds University Library's Special Collections, containing stock books, customer records, correspondences and catalogues. The webpage for the Phillips of Hitchin collection at Leeds University Library's Special Collections can be found here.

Two items sold by Phillips of Hitchin, a Gothic oak cupboard and a medal cabinet, were featured in the 'SOLD! The Great British Antiques Story' exhibition at the Bowes Museum from 26th of January to 6th of May 2019, alongside catalogues and photograph albums. The exhibition catalogue can be found here.

You can also listen to our interview with Jerome Phillips in the Antique Dealers Research Project here.

You can also read the Wikipedia page on Amyas Phillips here.

The biography of Phillips of Hitchin was composed by Tomas Henry-Roitberg, 2021.

Trading Names

Phillips of Hitchin 1935 - 2014
F.W. Phillips 1884 - 1920
H & A Phillips 1920 - 1935


General Antiques: General Antiques 1900
Antique Furniture: Antique Furniture 1950


Antiquary 1903

Trading Classifications

No Trading Classifications


F.W. Phillips 1884 - 1910
Jerome Phillips 1962 - 2014
Hugh Phillips 1910 - 1935
Amyas Phillips 1910 - 1962


BADA 1925 - 2000

Objects Sold

No Objects Sold

Objects Bought

No Objects Bought