A Set of Six Claremont Fan-back Windsor Chairs – Part One

Claremont fan-back Windsors take their name from a set of chairs (fig. 1) made, circa 1773, for Lord Clive of India during his rebuilding of Claremont in Surrey[1].

Claremont_fan-back_chair_c1773_01bFig. 1. One of Lord Clive’s extant fan-back chairs, circa 1773.

This style of chair is one of the earliest forms of Windsors, owing its origins to the basic back-stool (figs. 2 & 3) which in turn evolved from the humble cracket, or three-legged stool.

18C_ash_back_stool_01aFig. 2. Primitive ash back-stool.

mid_18C_elm_&_walnut_back_stool_01aFig. 3. Ash, elm and walnut back-stool with ‘axe-haft’ legs. Supplied to the Bodleian Library, Oxford in 1776 and described in Jackson’s Oxford Journal as “admirably calculated for ornament and repose”. (Bodleian Library)

As with back stools, fan-backs’ back sticks sprout from a relatively narrow base. Later evolved Windsor chair backs emanate from a much broader arc which affords immense strength to the superstructure.

The fan-back acquires its strength quite simply from two or more bracing sticks which rise from the bob-tail – an extension at the rear of the seat – and converge with the back sticks at the crest rail (figs 1, 3 & 4).

Claremont Fan-back_chairs_c1760_01eFig. 4. Claremont Windsor chair, showing the bob-tail and bracing sticks, circa 1760. (Martin Murray)

The Claremont Windsor bears more than a close resemblance to another iconic Windsor, the Goldsmith chair (fig. 5), sharing the same bob-tail, bracing sticks and leg turnings (known as ‘hoofed legs’ or ‘Goldsmith’ legs).

Oliver_Goldsmith's_chair_c1770_02aFig. 5. Oliver Goldsmith’s Windsor chair, circa 1770. V & A

The six chairs I will be making will be based on the very early example in figure 6 which has, unfortunately, been deprived of its feet (mine shall be resplendent with a full compliment of hooves!). The seat is boldly shaped and its bi-lobed bob-tail and broad lively crest rail give it great character. The leg turnings too, are bold and commensurate with the baluster legs of other chairs and tables of the second quarter of the eighteenth-century.

18C_ash_&_elm_Claremont_fan-back_chair_c1730_01cFig. 6. Early ash and elm Claremont chair (the legs, reduced), circa 1730. (Christie’s)

Jack Plane


[1] Thomas Crispin, The English Windsor Chair, Alan Sutton Publishing, Stroud, 1992, p.12.

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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 Set of Six Claremont Fan-back Windsor Chairs – Part One

  1. Phil Spencer says:

    looking forward to this one

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  2. handmadeinwood says:

    Are you able to obtain Elm in wide enough dimensions, these days?
    Elms have almost all gone here and seat-width blanks are getting very scarce.
    There’s the possibility of joining boards, but Elm (in the UK, at least) was plentiful in full-width billets until recentl deades.

    If you can’t get Elm what would you consider an authentic alternative?

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    • Jack Plane says:

      Australia possesses the largest number of disease free elms in the world. I have cut elm up to 43″ (1100mm) wide and there are larger trees around than that too.

      I have made a number of Windsors in the past few years with large seats that required elm up to 24″ (600mm) wide… here , here and here.

      In Britain, elm was the sole timber employed by traditional chairmakers (apart from the all-mahogany Windsor chairs that were made by cabinetmakers), so there isn’t really an historic alternative to elm.

      The North Americans, despite having plentiful elms, chose pine and poplar for their seats which you may consider as alternatives. North American Windsor seats are frequently joined, so again, that could be a consideration if you wanted to make a trans-Atlantic style chair.

      JP

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  3. Do you know the name of the maker of the Claremont chairs ??? Were they made in the same area as the Oliver Goldsmith chair ???

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    • Jack Plane says:

      It’s not recorded who made the Claremont chairs, but it’s safe to assume they were made in or around the beech forests of the Chilterns in the Thames Valley.

      The Goldsmith chair is undoubtedly from the Thames Valley.

      JP

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      • Thank you for your swift reply . I asked the question above as I rather thought that I recognised the double bow windsor in fig 1 of your article on the Gillows windsor chair . I think that it was made by James Eathorne of Penzance around 1850 . I can see the obvious similarities to the Gillows turnings and hence my question of where the Claremont chairs were made .
        Best wishes …..

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        • Jack Plane says:

          James Eathorne was listed simply as a cooper in Pigot’s Directory of Cornwall in 1844, a cooper and chairmaker in Kelly’s Directory, Penzance in 1856 and solely a cooper again in Coulson’s Directory of Penzance in 1864.

          The chair in The Gillows Windsor Chair, figure 1, has all the hallmarks of an accomplished chairmaker, not a part-timer. I may be wrong; my chair books are still packed in boxes.

          This particular style of chair was made across the breadth of southern England.

          JP

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          • wilser66 says:

            You are quiet right in your comments about the professional abilities of James Eathorne however there are signed chairs by him similar to your picture with the arm bow of three piece construction . It’s the design of the front leg with the lozenge towards the foot and the dart towards the top that interests me . It appears on the Goldsmiths chair and similar examples appear from time to time at auctions that I view but I have yet to see one with a makers name to give it a firm provenance . Like you , I am beginning to think it was an early generic design used across the south of England .
            There was a chair that that sold at Golding Young Mawer on 11th March at Bourne , lot no 586 , which got me thinking about this design of leg .
            Regards William .

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  4. Pingback: Picture This CII | Pegs and 'Tails

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