Oak-The History of the Chair
There is a fascination about old oak which it would be difficult to explain, and the fact that English oak furniture of the seventeenth century had no rival in the quality of its work and the beauty of its wood does not entirely account for this.
No; the fascination seems rather to lie in that old-world atmosphere which surrounds it, the mystery and the story which belong to it, and which in idle moments we may-if we are so inclined-conjure up and reconstruct.
Let us look first at those chests which may still be picked up, and which are so admirable in our halls to hold rugs and wraps, or in our dining-rooms as buffets. Some of the finest of these are inlaid with other woods and carved, or are ornamented with applied mouldings. Others have panels of "linen-fold" design, copied from a folded napkin; or, again, plain panels may be surrounded by carving and ornamented only with the initials of the owner and a date.
These chests came-many of them-from churches and religious houses, and one is astonished that they should ever have passed from the keeping of trustees and churchwardens. That they have so passed speaks volumes for the carelessness of these guardians in other times.
Then there is the marriage, or dower, chest taken by the young bride from her old to her new home, a cumbersome and none too roomy trunk, but one which, to her, meant a little bit of the home she was leaving, and which, in those days of difficult travelling, she might never see again. The marriage chest, or "cassone," belongs to the sixteenth century, but the ecclesiastical chest is of even greater antiquity. What thrilling tales of stirring events these chests might tell us ! Tales of wars, when horses were stabled in the sacred cloisters in which they may have stood; tales of love, of devotion, of treachery; tales also of high revels in baronial halls, and, alas ! the legend of the mistletoe bough.
In the fifteenth century boards and trestles were used for tables, which is, no doubt, the origin of such expressions as "the festive board," or a "seat at the board." In the sixteenth century the "drawinge" table and the "joyned" table, as they were called, came into use. They were made with plain legs and drawers with carved or plain fronts. These gave place later on to those with flaps, known as gate-leg tables. At first as many as twelve, sixteen, or even twenty legs were used, but the fashion did not last long, and the shape as seen to-day was adopted.
This is a kind of table still to be picked up at quite a moderate figure, though, needless to say, many modern copies are on the market. The wood of a genuine old gateleg table is a fine rich brown, produced by linseed oil and plenty of "elbow grease," whilst the copy is stained, and is almost black. It would be difficult to find anything more charming than an old gate-leg dining-table, used without a cloth and laid out with old silver, glasses, and china, or with the;dainty modern copies of the same which are now so much in vogue.
Then we have the old oak bed, a thing of beauty to look at and admire, but to sleep in -no. Those ponderous bedposts and heavy canopy would induce dreams none too pleasant, and thoughts would surely haunt us of Edgar Allan Poe, and his tale of the luckless sleeper squeezed to death under the weight of a canopy let down by invisible springs.
Some of these beds are indeed beautiful specimens of old-world craftsmanship. The wood, of a rich, warm tone, is deeply carved 1, and many of them are embellished by mouldings and inlaid with woods of other colours. In the headpiece, or in the centre panel overhead, was a secret receptacle to contain the will of the owner. It would seem an act of vandalism to break up such pieces of furniture for other, uses. That this is done is testified to-day by many a fine sideboard and chimneypiece, which undoubtedly had their beginnings in old Elizabethan and Stuart bedsteads.
The dole-cupboard is an article of furniture of great antiquity. It was called the almery, and was generally of carved oak. The one illustrated is of Gothic design, and was made in England about the year 1500. It is said to have come from Ivychurch, an old house at Aldersbury, near Salisbury, formerly a monastery but now in ruins.
Court cupboards may still be found in old homesteads in some of our western counties. These are very massive, and look their best when used in the dining-room to hold old silver or china.
A dole cupboard, or almery, date about 1500. These cupboards are of great antiquity and are generally of carved oak
An old Jacobean chair that was picked up for half a crown. The chair is of walnut, often erroneously described as " old oak," and is the facsimile of one at
Holyrood, used by Mary Queen of Scots according to the state of repair-to £10 or £12 for a fine specimen. In most cases only the dresser proper is original, the plate-rack at the back having been added. It is quite possible that this was done many years ago, but if the dresser is of Jacobean design, we may be sure that the back is an afterthought. Jacobean dressers are decorated with panels and drawers outlined with mouldings, and the legs may be straight or twisted. In the Queen Anne and early Georgian periods legs were cabriole in shape. A lighter shade of oak, inlaid with shells and beading, proclaims the latter part of the eighteenth century.