Fig. 9 from the Victoria and Albert Museum, has the appearance of being earlier than the fifteenth century, which is the date given l>y the Department of Woodwork. This chest has the thirteenth century pin-hinged lid. although the 1id itself has the.
Fig. 6. Oak Chest. All Saints' Church. Stansfield, Suffolk. 5 ft. long by 1 ft. 9 ins. total height - Early fourteenth century.
The earliest chests of which we have any knowledge date from the middle thirteenth century. The tops nearly always open on pin-hinges, that is, on two pins fixed at the ends of the back under-clamp of the top and socketed into the uprights of the sides. These are rarely, if ever, found in the fourteenth century, heavy iron clamp-hinges being substituted. Fig. 1 is the thirteenth-century type of chest, from Great Bedwyn Church, Wiltshire. It is roughly constructed, yet in a characteristically thirteenth-century manner. The front is a solid board of oak of great width, roughly finished with the saw marks left in its surface, tenoned into heavy uprights. These project over the ends and are united from front to back by two heavy cross pieces, the tenons of which are carried through to the front. The lower one supports the bottom of the chest, which is made from stout wood to carry heavy weights. The ends are housed into the heavy styles, and are fixed to the cross-pieces. There is no attempt at ornamentation, although, originally, the bottom of the upright styles may have been carved with simple cusping. The ironwork at present on the chest is all of much later date.
Fig. 1. Oak Chest With Deal Top From Great Bedwyn Church, Wiltshire. - 4 ft. 2 ins. wide by 2 ft. I in. high by 1 ft. 9 ins. from back to front. Early thirteenth century.
The next type, Fig. 2, which also belongs to the thirteenth century, is where the front is formed with very wide upright styles fixed flush to the centre and acting as huge clamps. The tenons of the central panel are secured in the mortises of these vertical clamps by large wooden pegs, which are here allowed to project, and are finished off as ornamental features. The entire front is fixed to the sides with heavy wrought-iron nails. This chest is rare, for its date, in being ornamented with roundrls and geometrical devices in chip-carving. As a rule, thirteenth-century chests are plain, and tracery was never applied. This Earl Stonham chest is supported on large runners, kept well away from the ends to minimise any tendency to sagging of the bottom.
There is a still earlier type of chest than those illustrated here, which shows the woodworker copying the methods of the stonemason. This is the dug-out kind, of which several examples exist, where the chest is hollowed out and fashioned from one great piece of timber. Very few have survived, nor is this method calculated to produce a chest w'hich is likely to remain for many years without falling to pieces, owing to the cracking and warping of the timber, which in this large scantling could not possibly have been seasoned before using. Where the reference occurs in the parish accounts of the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries to " item, 1 Great Old Ark," it is usually one of these dug-out chests which is described. Unfortunately, all chests of this type are not thirteenth century; the practice was still followed for nearly two centuries afterwards, and as the later copies are usually devoid of ornament of any kind, it is impossible to date them with any accuracy. Fig. 3 from Groton and Fig. 4 from Chelsworth are of this ark form, but are constructed chests. The way in which both are heavily banded with iron suggests that they were intended to contain articles of valuable and precious nature. The tops, in each case, are hewn from the solid trunk. Both of these chests are from poplar, a soft wood which is now much perished.
Fig. 2. Oak Chest. Earl Stonham Church, Suffolk. - Late thirteenth century
Boxford Church has one of these iron-bound chests, Fig. 5, of a crude form, made from deal. The front and back are carried over the ends and spiked to them. The wood, generally, is about 1 1/2 inches in thickness.
All Saints' Church, at Stansfield in Suffolk, has one of these primitive oak chests, Fig. 6, with heavy iron clamps, vertical on the front and horizontal on the sides. This has the appearance of being of the late thirteenth century, but, if so, the ironwork is a subsequent addition, probably from the next century. The feet date from Jacobean times.
It is extremely rare to find these plain chests of the fourteenth century enriched with heraldic or other paintings. One of these exceptional examples is shown in Figs. 7 and 8. This oak chest dates from the early fourteenth century. It measures 6 ft. 4 1/2 ins. in length, 2 ft. 1 in. in height and 1 ft. 4 ins. in depth from back to front. It is constructed, in the primitive manner of its period, of wide oak boards cut into solid thick ends and strapped with iron. At each end are iron handles, made with a double link, so that the chest could be slung between two horses or mules during its carriage from place to place. These long chests were nearly always intended for monastic or ecclesiastic use, to contain vestments, deeds or other treasures. Both the ends and the top are slightly domed, and on the inside of the latter, in the centre, is depicted a conflict between a dragon and a figure, half man and half leopard; the figure wears a coif of the period and what may be a hauberk or brigandine of chain mail. At the extreme left hand of the top is a representation of the English lion rampant, and at the other is a gryphon, or one of those unnamable beasts which were very popular from the fourteenth to the early sixteenth century, as supporters in heraldry. Henry VII was the last to indulge in this unknown beast, and in some of his coats the supporters strongly resemble greyhounds. Of the four shields, - allowance being made for the yellowing of the tinctures, - one is that of Sir John Daungerville or d'Aungerville of County Leicester, temp. Edward I, a name also spelt Angervile or Angervill. The latter is the form which is used by Richard de appearance of being a reconstruction. This type of chest persisted well beyond the fourteenth to the early fifteenth century, as in Mr. Smedley Aston's example, Figs. 10 and ii, but here the top and the uprights are scratch-moulded, a sure indication of the fifteenth century. The wood here is not left rough from the saw, but is dubbed smooth, and with the plane, not the adze. Although of early type, it is possible that this chest may date from the very end of the century.