Triple pointed arch Gothick chair c1756.
This is one of a set of very fine and most unusual mahogany Windsor elbow chairs on display at St Michael's Mount , Cornwall (National Trust), ancestral home of the St Aubyn family. The central 'gothick' arch has an heraldic shield with the arms of St Aubyn impaling those of Wingfield. This commemorates the marriage of the 4th baronet, Sir John St Aubyn, to Elizabeth Wingfield in 1756. The chairs, which were probably made around this time, may have been intended for use as entrance hall or library seats. The unknown makers were likely to have been a London firm of chair and cabinet makers.
Courtesy: National Trust & James St Aubyn
Photo Credit: National Trust
The Enmore Castle Chair, 1756.
This is one from an important set of six low-back Windsor chairs made for John Perceval (1711-1770), second Earl of Egmont, for his Somerset residence Enmore Castle, near Bridgewater. These chairs are of particular historical significance because they are the only known examples that provide information about when (‘1756’ – painted in Roman numerals) and for where (‘Enmore’ – painted in gothic script) they were made. They retain their original polychrome painted decoration, including an armorial tablet showing the arms of John Perceval impaling those of his second wife Catherine Compton, Baroness Arden of Lohort Castle, whom he married in 1756. There also exists a second set of chairs, similarly decorated, commemorating Perceval’s marriage to his first wife Lady Catherine Cecil (1719-1752), daughter of the 5th Earl of Salisbury.
These chairs may have lined the entrance hall of the now demolished Enmore Castle and, stylistically, there is no reason to suppose that they were made anywhere else but in the West of England. The seats of the chairs are elm but the other wood(s) used in their construction have not been identified.
Courtesy: Moxhams Antiques
Photo credit: Chris Challis Photography
A ‘Gothick’ pointed bow armchair, c1760s
The ‘Gothick’ is the most unusual variant of the Thames Valley Windsor form, being the only design with a pointed back-bow made of two bentwood elements joined at the top. Characteristically, this arched bow is supported by fretwork splats instead of the usual spindles. However, it is a style of chair that has long been admired and highly sought after. The design probably emerged during the 18th century gothic revival (hence ‘gothick’), a stylistic movement popularised by Horace Walpole’s remodelling of Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham, Middlesex. Although the actual origin of the design is unclear, chairs of this type were advertised for sale in 1754 by William Partridge of Banbury and were still being made in the 1790’s by William Webb near the Elephant & Castle in London. The design has also been reproduced in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is worth noting that rare three-seater ‘Gothick’ settees were also made in the 18th century but most of these now seem to be in American collections.
‘Gothick’ Windsors are invariably constructed of yew with cherry-wood or elm bell-shaped seats with a grooved edge and bentwood (crook) underarm supports. The front cabriole legs which are joined by a bow stretcher also have a single pierced spandrel (corner bracket). This chair design does not seem to have been made in a four cabriole leg version but does occur with at least two subtly different back splat designs. The fretwork tracery of the splats, although essentially gothic, also seems to have been influenced by Chinese and Indian designs. Because this style of chair remained popular over a long period the quality of the workmanship, which depended on the availability of suitable pieces of yew, is variable in its execution.
These chairs were always a “Best Chair” and would have been used in taverns, university colleges and other places where they would have been held in high regard as an example of fine C18th furniture. Highly prized today, and the most sought-after style of Windsor chair, it is quintessentially English and looks superb in most settings.
Photo credit: Chris Challis Photography
A cabriole leg comb-back with ‘fetlock’ feet, c1750s.
A large and most unusual Thames Valley chair probably dating from the middle of the 18th century. This chair is made of fruitwood and ash with a grooved elm seat and is notable for having four cabriole legs with stylised fetlock feet. It also has a good yoke-shaped comb-rail, simplified vasiform (ie vase-shaped) splat and well-formed flat underarm supports. Unusually, there are just two thick spindles either side of the back splat and only three under each arm, making for an open and sturdy appearance. Normally on a Thames Valley chair at this time one would expect to see a minimum of three long and four short spindles. These design features may have been to order or, more likely, were the whim of a particular maker; altogether, however, this is an impressive and rare chair.
Photo Credit: Chris Challis Photography
An early C18th low-back Forest chair with a diminutive comb-rail (Private collection)
This is one of a rare pair of early 18th century Forest chairs retaining an old grey/green paint finish. It has a broad elm saddle seat with two deep edge grooves and cigar-shaped legs with an upper and lower turned ring detail; the chair also has box stretchers, two of which have decorative baluster turning. The chair also has the unusual feature of what appears to be a very small comb-rail fixed above the centre of the arm bow. The paint finish seems to have been applied over a whitish base coat and the underside of the elm seat has never been painted.
These two chairs, together with the pair no.23 (below), are the only known examples of their type and no contemporary paintings showing the garden use of low-back Forest chairs have been found. These rare chairs were discovered in the Glandford Shell Museum (c1915) which was built on the Bayfield estate in North Norfolk. It is thought that all four chairs were originally from the nearby Bayfield Hall, an Elizabethan house altered mid-C17th and again in 1740. It is interesting to note that low-back Windsor-type chairs were being made this early and that, like comb-backs, they were considered suitable for outdoor use.
There are several similarities between these low-back Forest chairs and another very early comb-back in the exhibition, including the fact that they all have twenty-one spindles, which points to the likelihood is that these low-backs were also made in the Thames Valley region.
An unusual bow-back with ribbon slats, c1770s
A fine, large bow-back Thames Valley armchair, perhaps dating from the 1770’s, constructed of yew and fruitwood with an elm seat grooved around the top edge. It is similar in form to the much more common ‘Webb-type’ bow-back but also incorporates certain features only seen on comb-back Windsors. The design of the fretted back-splat, bentwood (crook) underarm supports and the front cabriole legs are typical of ‘Webb-type’ bow-backs. Unusually, however, as well as the three long spindles either side of the central splat, additional support to the back bow is provided by a pair of outer ribbon slats. In a comb-back chair these slats would mortice into either end of the comb-rail. Also, whereas ‘Webb-type’ armchairs normally have rear turned legs this chair has cabriole legs instead. The presence of four cabriole legs is a characteristic of the best quality comb-back chairs but is rather unusual on a bow-back. At least two chairs of this design are known.
Photo Credit: Chris Challis Photography
Windsors at West Wycombe:
A Definitive Exhibition of 18th Century English Windsor Chairs
May 6- 31, 2012
The most important collection of earliest-known Windsor chairs ever publicly displayed, comprising some 35 of the finest 18th century examples, will be shown from 6-31 May 2012 at West Wycombe Park (National Trust). The area around the nearby town of High Wycombe has been synonymous with the manufacture of Windsor chairs from the late 18th to the mid-20th century. The chairs are on loan from public and private collections.
Among exhibits will be:
Captain Cook's comb-back Forest chair. It travelled with Cook on his last voyage, dating the chair to c1776. (Trinity House Collection)
A painted 'Pitt-type' comb-back (see fig. right), mid-C18th, one of five or six identified as by John Pitt (1714-1759), the earliest-known Windsor chair maker who worked in Upton-cum-Chalvey, now part of Slough. (Wycombe Museum)
An unusual bow-back chair (see fig. left) with ribbon slats, c1770s (Private Collection)
Opening Times: Sunday to Thursday, 2pm - 6pm
Admission: Free to NT members. Please click here for full details
VENUE: West Wycombe Park, National Trust, 01494 513569
With thanks to Wycombe Museum for their generous support
click here for their website
Michael Harding-Hill www.thewindsorchair.co.uk
and Robert Parrott
The exhibition was organised by the West Wycombe Charitable Trust by kind permission of Sir Edward and Lady Dashwood in association with the Wycombe Museum, the National Trust, Michael Harding-Hill and Robert Parrott.
A SHORT HISTORY ( courtesy of the exhibition): The earliest known documentary evidence of the term ‘Windsor’ chair is in 1720. At that time the style was also referred to as a ‘Forest’ chair, as they were designed primarily for use outdoors. One of the first recorded mentions of a Windsor chair was by Lord Percival of Hall Barn, near Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, in 1724 when he wrote that because of the numerous walks and paths on the estate ‘My wife was carry’d in a Windsor chair…’.
In time the term ‘Windsor’ usually referred to the polished indoor chair whilst ‘Forest’ implied an outdoor chair. It was not until the 19th century that Windsor became the universal term for the design, by which time it had become so popular that, combined with the rise of mass-production methods, it is thought some 4,500 were made every day in the High Wycombe area.
The Windsor chair is perhaps the most quintessential of all English furniture designs, and the essence of practicality. Its defining characteristic is a one-piece wooden seat into which the legs are inserted from below, while the spindles and other elements supporting the back and arm-bow slot in from above (effectively a stool with a back). The design, light, strong and elegant, and relatively inexpensive, could be as simple or elaborate as taste or customer required, and thus the Windsor made its way in to houses both rich and poor, indoors and out, in the kitchen and hall, library and dining room, in wardrooms of Royal Navy ships and great noble households.
The Windsor chair commonly takes one of three different forms. These are referred to as: comb-back with a straight top, low-back a reduced height comb-back and bow- or hoop-back chairs with a curved top. Variations in design are widespread, including some exotic creations, such as the ‘Gothick’.
CONTEMPORARY WINDSORS: The Windsor chair continues to be made today in a contemporary fashion, with makers such as Gudrun Leitz remaining true to the purity of form and manufacture. Students at Bucks New University, based in High Wycombe (home to the National School of Furniture), are required to design and construct by hand their own interpretation of the chair as part of their 1st Year Course. A selection of these exciting chair designs will be displayed for public viewing at the University’s Gallery in the centre of High Wycombe throughout May, to coincide with the exhibition of 18th century chairs at West Wycombe Park. The Wycombe Museum also exhibit one chair selected annually from the 1st Year Course, which will be on display from 1st May 2012.
For more information please visit: www.windsorchairs2012.co.uk