Most readers will be acquainted with the form of the humble Windsor chair – a solid seat into which the back sticks, arm supports and legs are joined. The arm supports are often shaped components rather than shaved sticks and for convenience, the arms are often made in three pieces (figs. 1 & 2).
Fig. 1. Primitive ash and elm low back Windsor. (Bonham’s)
Fig. 2. Ash and elm comb back Windsor. (Bonham’s)
Early stick chairs provided seating for ordinary folk, but the gentry soon saw the appeal in them and adopted painted versions for outdoor use (fig. 3).
Fig. 3. Green painted Windsor garden or ‘forest’ chair, circa 1770.
As fashions evolved with other domestic furniture, elements such as shaped splats and cabriole legs found their way into Windsor chairs too (fig. 4), though they remained artisan-made.
Fig. 4. Elm and Yew Gothic Windsor, circa 1760.
However, in the same echelons as eighteenth-century cabinetmakers were the chairmakers, who predominantly used walnut, mahogany and other fashionable timbers for their formal chairs. As fashions dictated, chairmakers produced Windsors in mahogany, though they were commonly clumsy looking with oversized components to compensate for mahogany’s lack of elasticity (figs. 5 & 6).
Fig.5. George II mahogany comb back Windsor, circa 1750.
Fig. 6. George II mahogany Windsor, circa 1760.
Which leads me to the Spencer Perceval Windsor chair (fig. 7), about whose origins, sadly little is understood. The first record of the chair was in 1812 when the then Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, was shot in the lobby of the House of Commons by John Bellingham, an aggrieved businessman from Liverpool who had been imprisoned in Archangel for five years by the Russians (seems like a perfectly reasonable fate for the majority of Liverpudlians whom I have met). According to a label affixed to the underside of the chair, the fatally wounded Perceval died thereon.
Fig. 7. The Spencer Perceval Windsor chair, circa 1750. (Apter-Fredericks)