We have, however, a meagre groundwork with which to commence, in ecclesiastical furniture of the movable type, and especially in such woodwork as pulpits or choir stalls. We can say in the case of fixed woodwork in churches, with a fairly close approximation to the truth, that this is of local manufacture, and once made and placed in position was not likely to be removed elsewhere. The preserved records of the Church itself frequently establish this beyond doubt. Even in the case of clerical establishments prior to and during the period when Henry VIII was waging his campaign against the power and property of the monasteries, the same applies. Country churches were comparatively little affected by the strife which destroyed monasteries, abbeys and priories, as the activities of Henry VIII and his son were directed, principally, against the larger clerical establishments.2
By reasoning from the fixed woodwork to the movable furniture contained in country churches, it is possible, with care, to reconstruct the local styles of the various periods, even though wide reservations have to be admitted. Thus Kentish woodwork and furniture of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are unmistakable.
With greater production and complication of influences, as in the East Anglian counties, it is not so easy to localise the work of Suffolk or Norfolk as that of Kent, but the difficulty is partly removed if we reason from the basis of maximum standards of production in each case.
Where fashions became widespread, and when the London manner was adopted, in various parts of England, with little or no modification, the task of localising manufacture becomes more difficult, or even hopeless, but in this case there are minor factors which are often of great assistance in arriving at a decision. The growth of oak or walnut is not the same in the Western as in the Eastern Counties of England. In the case of timber imported from Holland we could expect, naturally, to find a preponderance of furniture made from this foreign wood in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Middlesex or Kent, rather than in Wiltshire, Gloucestershire or the Welsh bordering counties. We have some idea, from historical records, of the wealth and industrial conditions of the various counties at different periods, as far back as the reign of Henry V, and we would look, therefore, for the richest secular work in the wealthier districts, although this would, for obvious reasons, not apply, necessarily, to ecclesiastical woodwork or furniture, as the monastic establishments, prior to Henry VIII, were enormously wealthy even in the poorer counties.
1 Again clerical furniture and woodwork of the periods prior to the Suppression of Monasteries, must be excepted.
2 We must except the activities of William Dowsing and his fellows from 1640 to 1650, when so many of the church rood screens were defaced or mutilated, especially in East Anglia.
In a general sense, also, the art of the secular woodworker was centred in certain towns of importance, and radiated from them in a very traceable way. These principal towns where the trade traditions were fostered during the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were London, Bristol, Norwich, Ipswich, Coventry, Southampton, Exeter, Shrewsbury, Chester, York and Winchester. From these towns the apprentice-work was carried to adjoining country districts, and the original trade traditions were perpetuated, with little or no modifications, often for very long periods. It is, therefore, sometimes possible to postulate a sphere of origin with far more certainty than a date of manufacture, and we are compelled to limit a statement of period to the date when a certain style originated in one of the centres mentioned above.
A few words here are necessary to explain the association of names on the title page of this book. Since the publication, some eleven or twelve years ago, of " English Furniture of the Eighteenth Century," I have always had the idea of writing another book which should cover the whole of the available ground of English furniture, with its contemporary woodwork. The collection of suitable examples, both for text and illustration, involved some considerable labour and research, and conditions associated with the Great European War, still further protracted its publication. One has also the disturbing consideration that the longer a book of this kind is kept in manuscript and photographic form, the more one has the chance of improving it by the addition, periodically, of further facts and additional examples.
The author learns, perhaps, more than his readers, from an examination and comparison of a large number of pieces and photographs, providing that they are authentic productions of their time. It is in the examination of these examples, especially in remote districts, and in photography under the most difficult conditions, where the collaboration of Ernest Gribble has been so valuable. It is proposed to follow up this book on " Early English Furniture and Woodwork " by another, dealing with the work of the eighteenth century, thereby making the two books complete in their way. In this first book it was necessary that one only should be responsible for the writing, and this task has fallen to me. I may confess, at the outset, that without Ernest Gribble this book would either never have been written, or would have been a very different production. His knowledge and experience of English woodwork, especially of the early examples prior to 1530 has been more than an assistance; it has been indispensable. For many years he has employed the whole of his leisure time in visiting churches and houses of the lesser type, in places practically unknown, and quite " off the map," photographing (often under conditions of incredible difficulty), detailing and examining, with the eye of a skilled craftsman, examples of English woodwork, remarkable alike for their obscure location and their high quality.