The Gillows Windsor Chair

The rustic and oft clumsy wooden-seated chairs of the early eighteenth-century were initially employed as outdoor seating and painted (usually in green) to better resist the elements. Over the following decades the Windsor chair’s shape and form were refined and they found their way into the homes of both rich and poor.

Better known for their innovative designs and peerless cabinetwork, the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Lancastrian firm of Gillows surprisingly produced literally ship loads of painted Windsor chairs. Gillows’ chairs, however, were not intended for the domestic market (though some did remain in England).

After the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War in April 1775, Gillows realised an opening in the supply of Windsor chairs (at 8s. each) to the West Indies. In a letter to John Swarbrick of Kingston, Jamaica, dated September 1775, Robert Gillows wrote “We thought the North Americans would be so busy fighting that they would not have time to make and send you any Windsor chairs, therefore have dropt. a dozen”.[1] And in May 1776, Gillows wrote to Captain John Calvert, bound for Grenada: “We expect the Windsor chairs will sell to great advance as they do in all other islands, as we presume you can now have no more from America”.[2]

The Windsor that Gillows based their design on was the traditional elegant double bow chair that was produced in the south of England from Essex to Wessex in a number of regional variations (figs. 1 & 2).

18c_ash_&_elm_double_bow_Windsor_chair_01a

Fig. 1. Eighteenth-century double bow Windsor.

18c_elm_&_yew_double_bow_chair_04a

Fig. 2. Eighteenth-century double bow Windsor with crinoline stretcher.

Gillows_painted_garden_Windsor_c1800_02e

Fig. 3. Design for a Windsor chair from one of Gillows’ sketch books.

Although Gillows’ double bow chair retained the iconic upper structure unadulterated, its undercarriage comprised rather insipid tapering legs and a strangely shallow-curved and protuberant crinoline stretcher (figs. 4, 5 & 6).

Gillows_painted_garden_Windsor_c1800_01b

Fig. 4. Late eighteenth-century Gillows painted chair. (Yew Tree House)

Gillows_painted_garden_Windsor_c1800_02a

Fig. 5. Late eighteenth-century Gillows painted chair. (Arabesque Antiques)

late_18C_painted_Windsor_chair_01a

Fig. 6. Late eighteenth-century Gillows painted chair – the legs shortened. (Wakelin and Linfield)

So intent were Gillows on their chairs arriving in good order, they charged ships’ captains with the task of touching-up – or entirely painting – the chairs prior to delivery. In July 1775 Gillows instructed Leonard Stout, bound for Antigua: “Have sent 2 Windsor chairs in the cabin and 10 ditto in two matted parcels with the legs and rails loose which you’ll to get put together and paint over; have also sent green paint ready mixed and a brush (for that purpose)…” [3]

Compare with: A Double Bow Windsor Chair and Another Double Bow Windsor Chair.

Jack Plane

[1] STUART, Susan E., Gillows of Lancaster and London, Antique Collectors’ Club, 2008, vol. I, p. 113.
[2] ibid, p. 114.
[3] ibid, p. 115.

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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 The Gillows Windsor Chair

  1. Glen says:

    Not exactly ‘pretty’ chairs Jack. Having said that you could commend him for staying true to his original drawings in the sketch book….

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    • Jack Plane says:

      Well, except for the shape of the seat! The Gillows chair’s superstructure is quite beautiful (as are those of the chairs it’s based on), but the legs are weak in comparison and not at all in keeping with Gillows’ strong design cues seen in their formal chairs and cabinetry.

      Their crinoline stretcher is also a terrible faux pas.

      JP

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  2. My first encounter with “crinoline” stretcher. I was given the opportunity to repair a very old Windsor Chair that had no stretchers,none. Only holes that pointed my dowel to no other hole. After two attempts I came up with the right curve and proportions. I liked the chair so much, I made one for me and three for other people. I found a pic of the exact chair in the enclyclopedia of furniture by Joseph Aronson, pg. 314. The chair pictured is in the Victor and Albert Museum. I made the chairs a few years before I got the book. Prettiest Windsor I have ever seen. I look at it every day and see nothing I would change. A recent friend told me it is the most comfortable chair he has ever sat in. He has a very bad back and can only stand up, bent over at a ninety degree angle.

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  3. Pingback: Picture This LIVII | Pegs and 'Tails

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