I have always been a bit of an armchair history buff. I’m not necessarily talking about political history, or global economic history, or religious history. I’m talking about local history.
Perhaps my love of antiques has spurred this on, or perhaps it is my love of history that has spurred on my love of antiques. In any case, I am always fascinated and intrigued by how things used to be, how things used to look, and more importantly, how people who have lived in our community in the past have shaped the present. Mark Butcher was one of those people.
Mark Butcher (1814-1885) was Prince Edward Island’s most prolific and perhaps most influential cabinet-maker. The manufacture of furniture was a flourishing industry in PEI in the nineteenth century, and each locality had its own chair maker just as they had their own blacksmith. Mark Butcher, emigrating from Ireland when he was 15, set up shop in Charlottetown, in and around King Square.
Mark Butcher lived in a happy time, as far as cabinet making was concerned, as politicians and newspapers continually and strongly encouraged the support of local industry. It seems their actions spoke just as loudly as their words also, for the government of the day employed him to furnish the Central Academy, the Prince of Wales College and also items for Government House and some government offices.
Butcher operated a factory on the corner of Kent and Hillsborough streets, now the site of the Maritime Christian College.
So what was produced at Butcher’s factory you ask, where at times as many as 40 men were employed? Well, along with furniture for every room of the house they also made picture frames, ladies work-tables, butlers’ trays, bidets, bootjacks, snuff boxes, venetian shades, washing-machines, office, school, and church furniture, caskets, and last but not least, croquet sets.
In 2008, the city of Charlottetown erected a monument to Mark Butcher, in the middle of historic King Square.
Though prolific in his manufacture, Mark Butcher also had a very recognizable style, especially with his chairs, which often can be identified by a ‘bell’ or inverted tulip turning on the leg. And this summer, during our much talked about shopping spree I was very lucky to come across one of these such chairs.