A Double Bow Windsor Chair – Part One

I made my last Windsor chair primarily because I admired that particular regional style, but also because it didn’t comprise any steam-bent components. At the time I made the comb-back chair I no longer possessed the requisite steaming equipage and didn’t particularly want to make a new steam box just for one chair – not to mention the headache of finding somewhere to stash it afterwards in a home that’s already bursting at the seams.

Well I still don’t have the space to store a steam box and boiler, but I have long been itching to make a handsome, double bow chair with a fretted splat, cabriole front legs conjoined by a crinoline stretcher and subtly decorated, turned back legs. This style of Windsor originated in the Thames Valley area of South East England around 1750 and grew rapidly in popularity, spreading to all chair-making regions of England by the early nineteenth-century.[1] The English bow-back Windsor was also popular in North America; on the 18th of April 1765, the New York Gazette carried an advertisement for English bow-backs.[2]

The majority of double bow chairs incorporate a central fretted splat, commensurate with Chippendale’s and other chair back designs of the period (figs. 1 & 2). Less common are those chairs with solely (an odd number of) sticks (fig. 3).

Fig. 1. Mid-eighteenth-century elm and ash chair with ‘Chippendale’ fretted splat.

Fig. 2. Mid-eighteenth-century elm and ash chair with ‘Gothik’ splat.

Fig. 3. Mid-eighteenth-century elm and yew double bow chair with an all-stick back.

The ubiquitous wheel splat (fig.4) first appeared in the 1780s and the Prince of Wales Feathers splat (fig. 5) appeared after 1811 in honour of the Prince Regent.

Fig. 4. Wheel splat.

Fig. 5. Prince of Wales Feathers splat. (Michael Harding-Hill)

One contributory factor to the Windsor chair’s growth in popularity in the second and third quarters of the eighteenth-century was in their use as garden chairs. Socialising and posing for group or family portraits outdoors became highly fashionable and the Windsor’s quaint bucolic appeal and portability lent them to life in the park (figs. 6, 7 & 8).

Fig. 6. Johann Zoffany, A Group of Gentlemen, circa 1780.

Fig. 7. Arthur Devis, Henry Fiennes with his wife Catherine and son George at Oatlands.

Fig. 8. Arthur Devis, The James Family, circa 1751.

These outdoor chairs were known as forest chairs, though it’s unclear whether ‘forest’ refers to the (beech) forests in the Chilterns where many of them were produced or the shades of green in which they were painted (figs. 9 & 10).

Fig. 9. Green-painted low back Windsor, circa 1780.

Fig. 10. Green-painted double bow Windsor, circa 1760.

I will be basing my chair on the example below and painting it in one or more shades of green when the time comes.

Fig. 11. Elm, ash and fruitwood double bow Windsor chair, circa 1760.

Jack Plane

[1] Thomas Crispin, The English Windsor Chair, Alan Sutton Publishing, Stroud, 1992, p.68.

[2] Ibid, p.67.

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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.
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9 Responses to A Double Bow Windsor Chair – Part One

  1. Glen says:

    Ahh, good to hear your making another Windsor Jack. Perhaps I can get some tips on the gothic backed number when I finally get around to making it??!
    Cheers
    G

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  2. Mark Poulsen says:

    Yours is one of my favorite blogs to read. I learn something new every time. I also love the examples of the old furniture. The chair in figure 9 has tweaked my interest, cool design and not as much out of my skill set as the others. I look forward to seeing your Windsor come together.

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  3. Adam says:

    Good old Henry Fiennes had some unusual ideas when it came to dressing his son, George. I can’t help but think the boy had a rough time of it at school. What wood were you planning on using?

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    • Jack Plane says:

      I was counting the hours until someone commented on young George! No prize I’m afraid.

      It was usual practice to dress young children of both sexes in dresses. Prior to breeching, boys were dressed in red or pink outfits until the second quarter of the twentieth-century when it became fashionable for baby girls to be dressed in pink and boys in blue.

      I’ll be using Australian grown English Elm, European Ash and fruitwood for the chair.

      JP

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  4. Glen says:

    It pays to read the fine print. Yes, on a second glance it seems the dog is most confused…..

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