Fig. 237, of somewhat earlier date and of Lancashire origin, originally came from Hessop Hall, Derbyshire, the former seat of the Earl of Newburgh, whose earldom could hardly have been created at the date when it was made. A comparison of this chair with some of the examples already illustrated will show the similarity in type of this flat-modelled character of carving. The bobbin-turning of the arm supports here indicates the period of the Commonwealth.
Another of the chairs in the Lady Chapel of St. Albans Abbey is shown in Fig. 238. Of similar character to Fig. 235, the back is closely framed, without surrounding mouldings, and with very little recessing of the panel. It has the overhanging top rail with brackets to the back uprights in the manner of its time.
Fig. 243. - W. Smedley Aston. Esq. - Fruit-Wood Bobbin-Turned Chairs. - Early seventeenth century.
An interesting chair from Thorpe Arch Hall, Yorks, dated 1682, is shown in Fig. 239. This is a recent Museum acquisition. The date is, of course, the period of the Restoration walnut chairs, and oak overlaps with walnut towards the end of the reign of Charles II. Although carved in oak, the cresting rail of the back possesses the walnut details of this time, as exemplified in the richly carved and pierced stretchers which are to be found tenoned between the middle squares of the twist-turned legs of the Restoration walnut chairs. Examples of these will be illustrated in a later chapter. This model represents the last phase of the English oak chair.
We have now to retrogress and take up another channel of development in the history of our subject. Mention has already been made of the so-called "tourneyed" chairs of the period of Henry VIII, which were referred to as novelties and objects of great value in inventories of the time. None of these chairs of original date appear to have survived, and an examination of the two later copies shown in Figs. 240 and 241, will show their fragile character. Here we have the art of the wood-turner running riot, especially in Fig. 241. This chair consists of a multitude of bobbin-forms, each piece socketed into another. The woods are apple-tree and yew, both chosen for their toughness. In Fig. 240 ash, elm and either apple or almond tree are used.
This type of turned chair appears at several periods, and for reasons which may be conjectured. It is, obviously, a conceit of the woodturner, produced without the aid of the joiner or his tools. Construction-ally, these chairs are absurdities, and, in design, they leave a good deal to be desired. Thus the seat of Fig. 241 is triangular on plan, so that the chair could be placed in a corner, but the back is parallel to the line of the front seat, so that the attempt is abortive. All the stresses, in both chairs, bear directly on the joints, which have to depend, for stability, on glue or other adhesive. Fig. 240 is somewhat more logical, and the genesis of the modern Windsor chair of the stick-back type can be traced in this model. There is no method here, however, of bracing the front legs firmly to the back. Any forward strain on the ends of the front legs, on the part of the sitter, would force the cross-rails of the arms out of their sockets.
Fig. 244. Oak Chair. - Height, 3 ft. 3 ins.; width, 2 ft.; depth, 1 ft. 9 ins. - Date about 1645-50. - H. Clifford Smith, Esq.
This revival of turning coincides with the beginning of the Commonwealth period. The Puritan disdained ornament, and as an iconoclast he had few equals in English history. The fine woodwork of the fifteenth century, especially that in churches, suffered more at Roundhead hands than at any other period, the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI not excepted. It is doubtful how far from London this wave of Puritanism extended. Carving on chairs or other furniture, of home-county origin, is rare during the years from 1645 to 1660, yet the same cannot be said of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Westmorland, Cumberland or Durham. That this neglect of ornament was only a pose, there can be little doubt, viewed after the lapse of two centuries and a half, when events and tendencies can be appreciated in proper perspective. Commonwealth silver is the rarest of all from the reign of Elizabeth onwards; the Puritan inclined to pewter. That did not prevent him, nevertheless, from seizing, and melting down as much of the earlier silver as he could lav his hands upon. It is a curious reflection, but one which is substantiated by historical evidence, that an age of religious zeal always discounts artistic production, whereas an era of vice and extravagance encourages it. The Commonwealth in England, and the middle eighteenth century in France can be selected, at haphazard, from many historical examples of the two influences.
Fig. 245. Oak Chair. - Dated 1640. - The bobbin-turned chairs, such as Figs.
Fig. 246. Oak Chair. - Height, 3 ft. 5 ins.; width, 1 ft. 10 ins. Date about 1650. - H. Clifford Smith, Esq.
Fig. 247. Oak Chair. - 3 ft. 4 1/2 ins. high by 1 ft. 7 1/2 ins. across seat, 1 ft. 4 ins. deep. - J. Dupuis Cobbold, Esq.
242 and 243 are, essentially, of Commonwealth type. The lavish use of turning was, evidently, the Laodicean attitude of the Puritan towards ornament. These chairs possess what may be described as a busy severity, but they are well constructed, top rails tenoned between uprights and the legs heavily stretchered. The sunk seats presuppose the use of a squab-cushion. It is a characteristic of Commonwealth chairs that, if made in pairs, the two are rarely of the same height. It was not because, if intended for male and female use, the lady would demand a chair of lesser seat height, but the fact that this slight indication of relative importance epitomised the Puritan attitude towards their womenfolk, If man was created first, the Roundhead did not intend the fact to be forgotten.