Furniture boss going with the grain to maintain family values
�It may feel like you’ve been in your job forever, but Lisa Symons’s Romford company has been in her family at least eight generations – if not longer.
Lisa runs furniture business Abbey Antiques, in Maldon Road, with brother Lee Cannings, which can be traced back to their ancestors in Germany in the early nineteenth century.
But the siblings believe it could have started life as long as 200 years earlier.
Mum-of-two Lisa said: “My ancestors were cabinet makers from Alsace-Lorraine and moved to the UK, where they changed their name from Herrman to Harman at the outbreak of the First World War, because of the anti-German feeling.
“There were stories my mum remembers hearing as a child about ancestors from 400 years ago who were in the trade, but unfortunately they went to the grave with my great-great grandfather.”
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Lisa’s mum Anne Cannings, 64, was recruited as a secretary for the company by her father at the age of 17.
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Anne said: “I come from a long line of wood craftsmen – we’ve probably got sawdust in our veins by this time.
“My great-grandfather, Arthur Charles Harman, was a traditional cabinet maker along side his four brothers based in Old Ford Road, Hackney, and was well established amongst the large shops.
“He was well respected as he was a true cabinet maker and was an expert in his field.”
Widow Anne remembers the business’s first Romford factory, opening in Moss Road, before it was lost in a devastating fire in 1979.
“Everything went up in smoke,” she said, “but we worked at home, from barns from workshops till we opened in Maldon Road.
“I am so proud of the family heritage, and it means the business can never fail, we can’t let it.
“There are too many people upstairs judging us.”
But ten years ago, centuries of family toil could so nearly have come to an end when the shop faced closure after cheap furniture imports from China saturated the market.
It was then former City worker Lisa, 40, who had previously no interest in the trade, decided she couldn’t let so much history be lost.
The former personal PA turned the direction of the business from furniture making to restoration.
“Throughout my life I could not think of anything worse than joining the family business as it had no real interest to me,” she admits.
“My only love for it was the history. I was still enjoying the high life, but when it came to the crunch I was happy to step up to the task.”
Now Lisa’s children Lavinia, four, and Cameron, two, are preparing themselves to lead a ninth generation in the business.
“They do a little hand-sanding and staining,” said proud gran Anne. “they are our future.”