The Original Campaign Chair

Almost two hundred years before the Roorkhee chair was adopted by twentieth-century adventurers and militias, Windsor chairs were commonplace anywhere cheap, lightweight and portable seating was required. Black- or green-painted Windsors known as ‘forest chairs’ were used outdoors from the early eighteenth-century and found themselves in all manner of unusual situations (figs. 1 & 2).

Johann_Zoffany__John_Wilkes_and_his_Daughter-c1779_01a
Fig. 1. Johann Zoffany, John Wilkes and his Daughter, c1779.

Robert_Pollard__Angling_from_a_Punt_c1823_01aFig. 2. Robert Pollard, Angling from a Punt, c.1823.

The design, light, strong and elegant, and relatively inexpensive, could be as simple or elaborate as taste or customer required, and thus the Windsor made its way in to houses both rich and poor, indoors and out, in the kitchen and hall, library and dining room, in wardrooms of Royal Navy ships and great noble households“.[1]

Windsors were ideal for use on the high seas, not only did they barely impact the ship’s payload; they were easily hoisted into the rigging when the decks were cleared for battle.[2]

Augustus_Earle__Divine_Service_as_it_is_Usually_Performed_on_Board_a_British_Frigate_at_Sea_c1720-37_01aFig. 3. Augustus Earle, Divine Service as it is Usually Performed on Board a British Frigate at Sea, c1820-37. (National Maritime Museum)

A set of cartoons by the soldier-cum-artist Abraham James – who served with the 67th Regiment from 1799 to 1801 while posted in Spanish Town – satirized Creole life in Jamaica. The Army and Navy officers depicted in James’ print below are all seated in a type of Windsor known as a ‘smoker’s bow’.

Abraham_James__Segar_smoking_society_in_Jamaica_c1802_01aFig. 4. Abraham James, Segar Smoking Society in Jamaica, c1802.

Another form of Windsor, unique to the military, was the one-armed chair used by officers to accommodate the swords that hung by their sides (fig. 5).

scroll-back_Windsor_mess_chair_c1890_01a

Fig. 5. One armed scroll-back officer’s chair c.1890.

Removing an arm from a Roorkhee chair might result in a somewhat less than favourable outcome.

Jack Plane


[1] Michael Harding-Hill, Windsors at West Wycombe, A Definitive Exhibition of 18th Century English Windsor Chairs, 6 to 31 May 2012, West Wycombe Park, Buckinghamshire.

[2] Michael Harding-Hill, Windsor Chairs: An Illustrated Celebration, Antique Collectors’ Club, 1999, p.21.

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About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
This entry was posted in Maritime Furniture, Seating and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Original Campaign Chair

  1. burbidge says:

    I’m sure if one looks hard enough, there will be a report of one Jack Tar striking Jean Crapaud with a Windsor (either a full or half-Windsor…) during a naval engagement.

    Both arms or no, it would be entertaining to watch sword wearers sitting on Roorkhees!

    Now, it remains to be see if will Mr Schwarz includes the Windsor chair into his upcoming Campaign Furniture book?

  2. I love the haircut the dog has in the Johann Zoffany painting.

  3. Simon Clarke says:

    Reblogged this on clarkeltd and commented:
    An interesting article with great images of Windsor chairs on their travels.

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