Part of the Furniture: The Library of John Bedford

This new exhibition of rare and beautiful books on furniture history celebrates a transformational gift to the University’s Special Collections.

Part of the Furniture charts the evolution of furniture design over the centuries, through books from the world-leading library of antiques dealer John Bedford.

Ornate patterns by a renaissance pioneer, designs by Chippendale, Sheraton, Pugin and Morris, elaborate trade cards, colourful catalogues, drawings and manuals  follow the journey of furniture and furnishings from drawing board, to workshop, to home.  Precious volumes spanning five centuries reveal how ideas and trends took shape, gained influence, and were eventually revived as fashions came full circle.

Highlights from the display include the only complete coloured copy of ‘The ladies amusement’ an 18th-century book of decorative designs for cutting and pasting; and Henry Lawford’s gloriously garish 1855 fold-out sofa catalogue, sweeping away ideas of dismal Victoriana in a colour-lithographed riot of puce, lavender and pea-green.

On his death in February 2019, John Bedford left his collection of rare books, manuscripts, artworks and objects to the University of Leeds. A further generous bequest also enabled the updating of the Brotherton Research Centre, the creation of a completely new flexible teaching space, the John Bedford Room, and the establishment of the John Bedford Fellowship.

The exhibition is curated by Professor Mark Westgarth (School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies), alongside Dr Rachel Eckersley and Rhiannon Lawrence-Francis (both from Special Collections, University of Leeds).

A celebration of John Bedford

Join the curators on Tuesday 6 February to see the exhibition, discover more about John Bedford and raise a glass to his memory from 5.30pm (with welcome speeches at 6.15pm).

Book your free ticket.

More information

Full details can be found on the Leeds University Galleries website.


Henry Lawford, The cabinet of practical, useful and decorative furniture designs, London, 1855. Image © Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds.