The tables in the old refectory of the Bablake Schools at Coventry, Fig. 126, are also of this trestle type, and have their forms to match. They vary in length from the one in the foreground, to the short table shown at the end. The tops, which appear to be original, are of elm, in three boards, bolted together with long iron dowels bored right through from the one side of the top to the other. The two tables shown here differ from each other somewhat, in construction. The small one, at the end of the room, has a heavy top-framing, tenoned into the shaped cross-pieces into which the trestles are fixed. The long table has a massive central rail, running parallel to the length of the top on its centre line, and into this, at right angles, are tenoned broad clamps, which serve to keep the top from warping. In both tables the trestles are tied together by long rails, carried through them in rounded tusk tenons, secured at the outside by wedges. The entire construction is simple and logical, admirable for its purpose in every way. These tables, with their forms, are of early sixteenth-century type, but their actual date is uncertain. The chimney-piece in this room, removed from the house of Sir Orlando Bridgman, has already been illustrated in Vol. I, Fig. 300.
Fig. 131. Oak Sideboard Table. - 4 ft. 7 ins. wide by 2 ft. 3 ins. deep by 2 ft. 5 ins. high. c. 1550. W. Smedley Aston, Esq.
It appears to be almost a fixed law, in the case of English furniture, that development is always in the direction of lighter construction. Thus, the table shown in Fig. 127, originally from Cowdray Priory, and now restored, as nearly as possible, to its former home, is late for its type, which is that of the fifteenth rather than of the sixteenth century. There are details, such as the thin top, the slender trestles, and the light stretcher-railings, which indicate a later date, beyond question. The lesson has been learned here, that massive baulks of oak are not necessarily permanent by reason of their size, as proper seasoning of bulky timbers is difficult, if not impossible. It is safer to use oak of lesser scantling, which has been thoroughly dried and matured.
Certain table patterns from the fifteenth century remained stabilised for many years after. In the absence of the original types, which have, long since, disappeared, these later copies are useful in indicating a bygone fashion. Thus, Fig. 128 is of early character, but the tapered legs, pierced through from all sides, with the suggestion of a keystone to the arch, cannot be referred to a date earlier than about 1550. This remarkable table, from Rainham Hall in Norfolk, is really the half of one twice its present length, originally on three central supports. Being cut into two portions, demanding a support at either end, one new leg had to be made. In the illustration here, both are original. Before it was divided, the table had a length of 20 ft. with a width of 2 ft. 7 ins. The top is 4 ins. thick, clamped at the ends, but is lined up to this by a solid 3-inch framing. There is a suggestion of the earlier Gothic in the cross-bearers above the legs. The wood is English oak, quartered in the original fine manner. The former traditions, however, were usually well maintained throughout the whole of the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries, although the stringent regulations of the Trade Guilds were no longer enforced with the old-time severity. It is rare, at all periods, up to the close of the sixteenth century, in the history of English oak furniture, to find timber cut in planks without quartering. The durable qualities of quartered oak were too well understood for the practice to be discontinued.