The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Chair making

 

The making of wooden chairs, including Windsor chairs and frame chairs. See the separate entries for Orkney chair making and for general furniture making.

 

Status Currently viable
Craft category  Wood
Historic area of significance  High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
Area currently practised  UK
Origin in the UK 16th century
Minimum no. of craftspeople required
Current no. of trainees  Unknown
Current no. of skilled craftspeople  30 approx.
Current total no. of craftspeople

 

History

Windsor chair: solid plank seat, with the legs tenoned into the seat.

Frame chair: a woven seat, with all the components tenoned into each other

Chairs only became a part of general domestic furniture in Elizabethan times, and the demand for chairs began to grow in the seventeenth century. The Industrial Revolution and mechanisation led to a new middle class which provided customers for chairs. While fashionable chairs made from imported woods such as mahogany were mainly obtainable in London and provincial towns, rural people relied on locally made furniture from the ‘wilder’ woods of beech/elm.

Chair making became separated from other woodworking trades through its development as a wood-turner’s chair rather than a joiner’s chair.

 

Techniques

 

Local forms

 

Sub-crafts

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Market issues: There are not a lot of chair makers around (perhaps 30 highly skilled makers) – but the market can only support a certain number
  • Market issues: Hard to find the market
  • Market issues: Need for business skills, marketing skills etc.
  • Market issues: The time it takes to make a chair means that a certain amount has to be charged (e.g. £800 for an armchair which takes a week), which significantly reduces the number of potential customers
  • Dilution of skills: There are probably only 30 highly skilled chair makers, but many more fairly inexperienced makers are teaching the craft and passing on their skills
  • Training issues: Chair making courses are very popular with lots of people doing them, but very few of those go on to become serious/professional chair makers

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

 

Other information

 

References

  • Mayes, L. J., The History of Chairmaking in High Wycombe, Routledge & K. Paul, 1960
  • Sparkes, Ivan G., The English Country Chair: An Illustrated History of Chairs and Chairmaking, Spurbooks Limited, 1973
  • Jenkins, J. Geraint, Traditional Country Craftsmen, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1978
  • Williamson, Laureen, Woodcrafts in South Oxfordshire: Chair Bodging & Tent Pegging, Oxfordshire Museums Information Sheet 21, 1986
  • Area Museums Service for South Eastern England, Exhibition Information: The Country Chair, August 1975
  • Cotton, Bill, Windsor Chair making: an Oxfordshire tradition, published in Oxfordshire Country Life, n.d., pp.7-11
  • Cotton, Bill, Country Chairs, published in Antique Finder, October 1973
  • Cotton, William, Vernacular Design: The Spindle Back Chair and its North Country origins, published in Working Wood, 1980, pp.41–50
  • Cotton, Bill, The North Country Chair Making Tradition: Design, Context and the Mark Chippindale Deposition, offprint from Furniture History, Vol. XVII, 1981, pp.42–51