Easter Fare

Although they have been on sale in most of the major supermarkets since Boxing Day, cross buns were traditionally eaten on Good Friday.

In the eighteenth-century, cross buns were sold hot, door-to-door (fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Thomas Rowlandson, Cries of London, Hot Cross Bunns two a Penny Bunns, circa 1799.

Happy Easter to one and all.

Jack Plane

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A George II Walnut Serpentine Chest – Part Seven

The external surfaces of the chest were washed down with hot soapy water to remove any wayward glue, grime and fingerprints. The chest was then stained and the first lick of spirit varnish applied to seal it (fig. 1). The colour and polish were gradually built up over several days.

Fig. 1. Initial colour.

I next applied a red lead-based wash to the chest’s underside (fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Lateritious wash protects pine surfaces.

The handles’ pommels didn’t protrude quite far enough through the 7/8″ thick drawer fronts, so I recessed the backs of the pommel holes and cut slots in the nuts (fig. 3) – a not uncommon practice.

Fig. 3. Slotted pommel nuts are tightened with a forked screwdriver.

I continued polishing the chest, being particularly careful to prevent any polish build-up in the blind frets (fig. 4).

Fig. 4. Shiny frets with dull edges.

I cut a piece of pure wool baize to size and stuck it into the shallow recess in the slide with traditional flour paste (fig. 5).

Fig. 5. Baize-lined slide.

A pair of pine stops was screwed onto the top rear of the slide, which come to a halt against the back of the top packer at the front of the chest, thus preventing the slide from being entirely withdrawn (fig. 6).

Fig. 6. Slide-mounted stop and slide cutout.

A section at each side of the slide is cut out (fig. 6) to accommodate the carcase-mounted stops which prevent the slide being pushed too far into the chest (fig. 7).

Fig. 7. Slide stops screwed to dustboard support.

With the stops all screwed in place, the panelled back could finally be attached (figs. 8 & 9).

Fig. 8. Washed pine back.

Fig. 9. Shaped rear pine brackets.

When the polish had had sufficient drying time, I mounted the brasses to the slide and drawers and waxed the whole thing (figs. 10 – 16).

Fig. 10.

Fig. 11.

Fig. 12.

Fig. 13.

Fig. 14.

Fig. 15.

Fig. 16. The completed chest of drawers.

The hours involved in the work in this post come to 30-1/4.
The total hours involved amount to 280-3/4.

Jack Plane

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The Vagaries of Mounting Ladies

Whilst viewing an estate clearance sale recently, a few old tack room fittings and stable accessories reminded me of some of the esoteric accoutrements so beloved of wealthy eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century equestrians.

Fig. 1. Extravagant mahogany boot jack by Gillow, circa 1820.

When, myself, a lithe young horserider, I would grasp the reins and a handful of mane in my left hand, raise my left foot into the stirrup and hoist myself into the saddle in the time honoured fashion (fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Jacques Swebach, Man Mounting Horse, circa 1800.

Nowadays however, to assist this old wooden Plane mount the dapple-grey mare betimes, an up-turned bucket must suffice.

Traditionally, stableyards, inns and other busy hubs were equipped with substantial mounting steps (fig. 3), which enabled corpulent gentlemen to mount their horses with relative ease.

Fig. 3. Permanent stone mounting steps.

Mounting steps were not always to hand, so eighteenth-century gentlemen would often call “leg up!” – indicating to a nearby groom or rustic that he was ready for them to clasp their hands beneath his proffered riding boot and heave him up into the saddle. However, it would have been unthinkable for a lady to be manhandled by a groom in the same undignified manner with the abiding possibility of his head and shoulders disappearing beneath the voluminous skirts of her riding habit.

At any rate, it was improper for a lady to throw her leg over a horse’s back and ride astride it (fig. 4), instead, demure ladies rode sidesaddles to protect their virtue (figs. 5 & 6).

Fig. 4. Abounding eighteenth-century innuendo.

Fig. 5. George Stubbs, Lady Laetitia Lade, circa 1793. (The Royal Collection)

Fig. 6. Charles Hancock, Lady Portarlington on a Grey Horse, circa 1845. (National Trust, Mount Stewart)

Exertion of any sort was deemed unladylike, so other means of mounting ladies in a courtly manner was preferable.

In 1739 a London gunsmith, Henry Marsh patented a portable spring-loaded contrivance for elevating ladies into their sidesaddles. The device met universal approval and was  produced by such makers as Bainbridge, Gillow and Fowler (figs. 7, 8 & 9).

Fig. 7. Bainbridge mahogany ‘lady’s elevator’, circa 1790.

Fig. 8. Gillow mahogany elevator, circa 1810.

To operate a lady’s elevator, a brace of hefty serfs would sit on the seat in order to compress the two enormous internal coil springs whereupon the operative would insert two chocks through apertures in the rear of the base, engaging the springs and securing them in a ‘loaded’ state. The serfs would then retire.

With the aid of a pullout step in the front of the elevator, a lady would take a seat on the contraption and an attending groom would position her horse, side-on, in front of her. When composed, the lady would call out “chocks away!”[1] whereupon the operative would reef the chock ropes, releasing the springs and her ladyship would be propelled aloft and onto the back of the waiting horse.

Predictably, things didn’t always go so swimmingly.

Prior to Rotherham spring-maker, Richard Tredwell’s patent of 1763, coil spring manufacture wasn’t an exact science – in spite of Robert Hooke’s much earlier Law of Elasticity. Elevators’ substantial coil springs made no allowance for the variable weight of individual female projectiles and as a result, the outcomes were many and irregular.

Some ponderous women were merely ejected, quite gently, onto their feet and other, petite women frequently attained frightening heights and occasionally overshot their mark. Further, the release of the elevator could startle inexperienced horses, causing them to bolt, leaving the rider to indecorously impact the ground.

Spring elevators remained largely unaltered throughout the eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries with the exception of a few notable modifications to their release mechanisms. In 1770 Fowler introduced a convenient release knob atop the right rear leg of their ‘self ejecting elevator’ (fig. 9).

Fig. 9. Fowler mahogany elevator with release knob, circa 1770. (Christie’s)

However, Fowler’s self-ejecting model only enjoyed brief popularity: The mechanisms wore rapidly and frequently misfired, releasing only the right hand spring and inelegantly discharging its human missile some distance off to the left.

U.S. manufacturer, Hammer McCavity produced an adjustable gas-powered elevator with self-contained cylinder and a rider-operated release lever (fig. 10).

Fig. 10. Early gas-powered mahogany elevator, circa 1845.

The attraction of gas elevators was that they could be finely tuned to suit the weight of an individual by adjusting the in-built pressure regulator. However unreliable gauges and misuse of the device resulted in numerous accidents and some horrendous injuries.

Although occasionally unpredictable and somewhat perilous, elevators were broadly welcomed by both ladies and gentlemen. The wealthy Yorkshire wool merchant and Parliamentarian, Thomas Goode famously attributed his wife’s elevator (and several heavy landings on her sidesaddle) to her eventual success in bearing him an heir.[2]

Fig. 11. John Sergeant, Fanny Goode, circa 1774.

Jack Plane

[1] The cry later made famous by World War I pilots when preparing for take-off.

[2] Hilary Legges-Askew, The Lady’s World, Cassell, London, October 1886, p. 18.

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Picture This CVI

When preparing another post recently, I noticed something a little peculiar about this rather glorious chest of drawers (fig. 1). Study figures 1, 2 & 3 for the foible before scrolling down to figure 4.

Fig. 1. “George II mahogany serpentine commode with fine original rococo handles, circa 1755”. (James Graham-Stewart)

Fig. 2. Rococo escutcheon. (James Graham-Stewart)

Fig. 3. Lovely rococo handle. (James Graham-Stewart).

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Fig. 4. That’s better! (James Graham-Stewart)

The top of the escutcheons are too tall for the offset of the chosen locks’ drill pins, necessitating them being rotated 180° in order to clear the cockbeading.

Jack Plane

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Patches II

Having read the earlier post Patches, Pablo Bronstein sent me a few pictures of a walnut escritoire in his possession with an unusual patch in its lower left side (figs. 1 & 2).

Fig. 1. Inlaid quadrant ebony stringing. (Pablo Bronstein)

Fig. 2. Measure twice, inlay once. (Pablo Bronstein)

I assume the inlay was added post 21st October 1805.

Jack Plane

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A George II Walnut Serpentine Chest – Part Six

Eighteenth-century bow and serpentine drawer fronts were constructed in one of two ways: The most basic method was to simply saw the sweeping shape out of the solid (fig. 1). The other technique (to minimise distortion and ultimately, poor fit) was to laminate the drawer fronts using either short blocks of wood (akin to brickwork), or with continuous lengths of wood.

Fig. 1. Solid oak serpentine drawer front, circa 1770.

Not having many details of this chest, I based the drawers on a similar, mahogany chest and sawed a series of shaped lengths of pine (fig. 2) which were then glued-up into the respective drawer fronts (fig. 3).

Fig. 2. Partially shaped drawer front laminations.

Fig. 3. Glued-up drawer fronts.

Once the drawer front interiors were faired, I used the flat outer face of each drawer front as a register from which the dovetails were laid out. That done, the dovetails were cut and the drawer fronts’ outer faces were then sawn to shape. The drawer linings were prepared, the dovetails all cut and the drawer shells assembled.

The main veneers were glued to the drawer fronts (fig. 4) and trimmed, after which the feather- and cross-banding were added to the peripheries (fig. 5).

Fig. 4. Book-matched veneers glued onto drawer front.

Fig. 5. Top edge of veneered and banded drawer front.

The drawer edges were cleaned up and the partially finished cockbeads were glued in place (fig. 6).

Fig. 6. Rough-sawn interior edge of cockbead.

When dry, the cockbeads were also cleaned up (fig. 7)

Fig. 7. Finished drawer front interior.

The drawer bottoms comprise a couple of boards, rubbed together and cleaned up, with their front edges sawn to fit the grooves in the drawer fronts. The bottoms were nailed into rebates planed in the drawer sides’ lower edges (fig. 8).

Fig. 8. A few nails secure the drawer bottoms to the sides.

The drawer runners were prepared and rubbed into the angles created by the drawer bottoms and side rebates. Once dry, the runners were carefully planed down to provide sufficient clearance for the drawers to glide freely and smoothly within the carcase (fig. 9).

Fig. 9. Runner rubbed in place and cleaned up.

The dressing slide consists of a free-floating pine panel retained within a simple walnut framework. The slide is also cock-beaded in a similar fashion to the drawer fronts.

A pair of drawer stops was rubbed onto each drawer divider (fig. 10).

Fig. 10. Simple pine drawer stop.

The slide however, requires two pairs of stops; one pair (screwed to the rear of the carcase sides) prevents the slide disappearing inside the carcase and a second pair (screwed to the rear of the slide) stops it being completely withdrawn.

Fig. 11. The serpentine chest in-the-white.

The hours involved in the work in this post come to 89-3/4.
The total hours involved to-date come to 250-1/2.

Jack Plane

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Picture This CV

… where decay and fashion collide.

Joyner-made late seventeenth-century chests of drawers employed pegged, frame-and-panel construction methods adapted from coetaneous building technology. The four stiles extend beneath the base moulding, raising the carcase clear of uneven, damp floors (fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Oak geometric chest, circa 1680. (David Neligan)

The bottoms of the stiles however, often succumbed to rising damp and wet mopping resulting in decay with reduction in height, or total loss of the feet.

I have restored dozens of early stile-feet over the years: It’s not difficult grafting on some timber and colouring it to make a seamless repair although the niceties of the task escaped the person responsible for the huge replacement feet in figure 2.

Fig. 2. Nice chest – shame about the feet. (Horn Antiques)

At such times, these early chests were frequently modernised by the addition of bun feet (fig. 3).

Fig. 3. Circa 1680 oak geometric chest with later bun feet. (Lucy Johnson)

As trends evolved, bracket feet were also added to early chests in the name of fashion (fig. 4)…

Fig. 4. Implausible bracket feet. (LVS Decorative Arts)

… though in the case of this oak chest, the feet’s dark stained wood and what appears to be PVA adhesive point to recent conversion (fig. 5).

Fig. 5. Modern handiwork. (LVS Decorative Arts)

Jack Plane

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A George II Walnut Serpentine Chest – Part Five

I prepared the triangular packers for the recesses in the canted corners and sawed the frets out of pre-sized 1/8″ (3.2mm) thick veneer (fig. 1).

giiwsc_37bFig. 1. Walnut packers and frets.

Once the corner packers were glued in place, I moistened their faces and the sized faces of the frets and then pressed them in place (fig. 2).

giiwsc_38bFig. 2. Blind fretted canted corner.

The hours involved in the work in this post come to 16-1/2.
The total hours involved to-date come to 160-3/4.

Jack Plane

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One Million

I began this blog on the 14th of September 2009 primarily to keep my far-flung family apprised of my activities. The power of Google slowly started directing strangers to my blog from all corners of the globe and then one day, an email notified me that someone in distant England had commented on one of my posts. Visitor hits grew steadily and readers started signing up to follow my blog!

At the outset, I had no idea whether I could sustain the intended weekly posts, nor did I have any expectations of reaching an astronomic number of visitor hits. When I logged in this morning, my visitor counter had clicked just over one million hits which gave me cause to reflect on the past seven and a half years of blogging.

I don’t always succeed, but I attempt to keep my writing succinct and to the point. For instance, to a recent reader’s comment, I replied, “I keep fingers in several pies and consider myself more of a resourceful problem-solver than cabinetmaker and much of the time, I’m more enthused by the destination than the journey.”

I could have added: ‘My memory is in such a state of deterioration that now, after a period of only a few weeks, I usually forget the entire cabinetmaking process and when I sight one of my items of furniture, I merely recall the original antique (that inspired it). Thus I have the opulence of walking round the place under the delusion that I have acquired all this heart-fluttering seventeenth- and eighteenth-century furniture.’

Even though I’m a little embarrassed by them, I do appreciate readers’ commendations; however I can take little credit for any apparent capabilities. Unlike a doctor or lawyer, I have not applied myself to lengthy academia on the subject – I simply inherited ‘good hands’. My father has hands like feet (sorry!), but my mother was exceptionally talented in many artistic and crafty disciplines. Her father was also highly gifted and her grandfather was invited to exhibit at the RHA on three separate occasions.

I am grateful to those readers who raise their heads above the parapet to comment on my posts. Though I seldom publish them, I also get many a laugh from trolls’ contributions (particularly when irony eludes them).

The furniture itself continues to mellow through daily use and biannual waxing. Accommodating all the (predominantly case) furniture is an ongoing headache. The four chests I made for the ill-fated book though lovely, cause me great consternation (I will likely abnegate a few of them, so if you are at all interested in owning one of the chests, feel free to email me).

In conclusion, I enjoy writing the blog. It has renewed old friendships, acquainted me with new friends and the furniture making has helped keep me active.

Two million hits? I doubt it. And to be prepared, I’m making a start on my coffin once the serpentine chest is finished.

Jack Plane

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Picture This CIV

A simple, stylish eighteenth-century comb-back Windsor chair comprising a D-shaped seat, one-piece bent arm, blade arm posts, plain crest rail and Goldsmith-esque legs with H-pattern stretchers. The seat, arm and crest rail appear to be sycamore and the remainder is ash (fig. 1).

geo_iii_ash__elm_comb_back_windsor_c1760_03bFig. 1. An elegantly proportioned rustic Windsor chair. (Yew Tree House)

Though now of a lovely melichrous colour, this forest chair still bears traces of its original cool green paint (fig. 2).

geo_iii_ash__elm_comb_back_windsor_c1760_03hFig. 2. Remnants of green paint. (Yew Tree House)

Jack Plane

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