The furniture trade was a major source of employment in London in the early 20th century. The hub of the industry was in Bethnal Green and Shoreditch. Many of the workers were immigrants, particularly Eastern European Jews. By 1950, there were between 8,000 and 10,000 Jewish furniture workers in the East End.

Cabinet-making was a skilled job, since nearly all furniture was made by hand using very simple tools. Some workers specialised in particular areas such as veneering, carving or turning. Almost all the work was done by men. Women were generally involved only in polishing and upholstery, which were regarded as the most unpleasant jobs in the industry.

The industry had a strong trade union movement. The largest furniture union in London at the beginning of the 20th century was the Alliance Cabinet Makers' Association, which formed in 1865. Various smaller unions joined the Alliance, and in 1902 it merged with other unions to form the National Amalgamated Furnishing Trades Association.

Furniture workers needed very little capital in order to set up in business. Little or no machinery was used in the workshops, and most of the rough machining of timber was done in large trade mills, so small firms sprung up rapidly.

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