For the love of Windsor Chairs
The 16th Century saw wheelwrights coping out chair spindles in the same way that wheel spokes were being made. They are thought to have developed from the Westcountry, Welsh and Irish ‘stick back’ chairs. Making their first appearance in Buckinghamshire, production then moved to High Wycombe – interestingly a market has been held in the high street in High Wycombe since the Middle Ages, so perhaps the chairs made an appearance there too.
These first chairs were shipped in 1724 to London from Windsor, which became the centre of trade between producers and London dealers. The name ‘ Windsor chair’ is thought to have come from a story involving King George III, who took shelter in a tenant’s abode during a storm, where he was given a simple rustic chair with spindles to sit in. He is said to have been so charmed by the chairs that he had his carpenters ordered to make several to furnish Windsor Castle.
In the 18th Century, steam bending was used to produce the bow that the Windsor chair is well known for. Steam was used to bend the pieces of wood to mould it into the desired shape, commonly used to make the curved sections. Without this early method, the Windsor chair would never have had their well known shape.
Most Windsor chairs of English origin, are made of yew wood, or ash and elm. Beech and fruitwoods were also used. Owning a set of yew wood Windsor chairs was confirming your wealth, and very much a status symbol.
They have also been used as outdoor seating; a London advertisement from 1730 includes "Windsor Garden Chairs, of all sizes, painted green or in the wood". Often they were placed outside in their natural state, open to the elements, gaining a rustic, weathered look.Windsor chairs generally fit into one of three basic categories:
- The low back
- The high back with a straight piece known as a ‘comb’
- The high back curved into a semicircular shape known as a ‘hoop’
The top rail of the chairs also come in a variety of styles, such as a comb with a carved ear, comb with a plain ear, carved knuckle, and handhold. A pierced splat between the rods at the back was introduced by Chippendale, whilst a wheel-like or shield shaped centre splat was introduced by Hepplewhite. The seats of the chairs are either saddle or shield shaped. The various combinations of features are seemingly endless!
So what makes them such a popular chair? They were easy to manufacture, using wood that was freely available and the lightweight construction of the chair made them extremely portable, whilst remaining sturdy and durable chairs.
This basic but brilliant design has come a long way, and they are sure to remain highly coveted pieces, and a firm favourite amongst collectors.
Kernow Furniture - online store based in Cornwall for vintage, retro & antique furniture, gifts & home accessories and quirky gifts.
We specialise in good quality 19th and 20th century furniture & have 100s of items for your home and garden in stock now. We regularly stock Ercol, G Plan, Ladderax, mid century, arts & crafts, antique pine, mahogany, solid oak, good quality vintage & antique furniture. We love vintage chairs!