|Historic area of significance||High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire|
|Area currently practised||UK|
|Origin in the UK||16th century|
|Current no. of professionals (main income)||30 approximately|
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
|Current no. of trainees|
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
|Current total no. of leisure makers
|Minimum no. of craftspeople required|
- 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.
Windsor chairs have solid plank seats which are generally hollowed slightly for comfort. A tool called an adze is used for this, and a travisher is used for finer shaping. All the other components of the chair are socketed into this seat. The legs and spindles are generally turned on a lathe, and fixed into the seat using round tenons. Traditionally, these components were made from unseasoned or ‘green’ timber, which are then thoroughly dried before assembly. Often Windsor chairs incorporate curved pieces. These are generally steam bent, a process which makes wood pliable after being placed in a box containing steam for some time. Often the parts of the chair are finished with a cabinet scraper, a small metal tool with a fine burr edge. Traditionally Windsor chairs were dyed with a mixture of shellac and oil. Many contemporary Windsor’s are often left in their natural state.
Windsor chair making
Greenwood chair making
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
Craftspeople currently known
Mayes, L J, (1960) The History of Chairmaking in High Wycombe (Routledge & Kegan Paul)
Sparkes, Ivan G, (1973) The English Country Chair: An Illustrated History of Chairs and Chairmaking (Spurbooks Limited)
Jenkins, J Geraint, (1978) Traditional Country Craftsmen (Routledge & Kegan Paul)
Williamson, Laureen, (1986) Woodcrafts in South Oxfordshire: Chair Bodging & Tent Pegging (Oxfordshire Museums), Information Sheet 21
Area Museums Service for South Eastern England (August 1975) Exhibition Information: The Country Chair
Cotton, Bill, ‘Windsor Chair making: an Oxfordshire tradition’, published in Oxfordshire Country Life, n.d., pp.7-11
Cotton, Bill, (1973) ‘Country Chairs’, published in Antique Finder, October 1973
Cotton, William, (1980) ‘Vernacular Design: The Spindle Back Chair and its North Country origins’, published in Working Wood, 1980, pp. 41–50
Cotton, Bill, (1981) ‘The North Country Chair Making Tradition: Design, Context and the Mark Chippindale Deposition’, offprint from Furniture History, vol XVII, 1981, pp. 42–51