In the illustration of a child's
chair, which is said to have been actually used by Cromwell, can be seen an
example of carved oak of this time; it was lent to the writer by its present
owner, in whose family it was an heirloom since one of his ancestors married
the Protector's daughter. The ornament has no particular style, and it may
be taken for granted that the period of the Commonwealth was not marked by
any progress in decorative art. The above illustration, however, proves that
there were exceptions to the prevalent Puritan objection to figure ornament.
In one of Mrs. S.C. Hall's papers, "Pilgrimages to English Shrines,"
contributed in 1849 to "The Art Journal," she describes the interior of the
house which was built for Bridget, the Protector's daughter, who married
General Ireton. The handsome oak staircase had the newels surmounted by
carved figures, representing different grades of men in the General's army—a
captain, common soldier, piper, drummer, etc, etc., while the spaces between
the balustrades were filled in with devices emblematical of warfare, the
ceiling being decorated in the fashion of the period. At the time Mrs. Hall
wrote, the house bore Cromwell's name and the date 1630.
We may date from the Commonwealth the more
general use of chairs; people sat as they chose, and no longer regarded the
chair as the lord's place. A style of chair, which we still recognise as
Cromwellian, was also largely imported from Holland about this time—plain
square backs and seats covered with brown leather, studded with brass nails.
The legs, which are now generally turned with a spiral twist, were in
Cromwell's time plain and simple.
The residence of Charles II. abroad, had
accustomed him and his friends to the much more luxurious furniture of
France and Holland. With the Restoration came a foreign Queen, a foreign
Court, French manners, and French literature. Cabinets, chairs, tables, and
couches, were imported into England from the Netherlands, France, Spain, and
Portugal; and our craftsmen profited by new ideas and new patterns, and what
was of equal consequence, an increased demand for decorative articles of
furniture. The King of Portugal had ceded Bombay, one of the Portuguese
Indian stations, to the new Queen, and there is a chair of this
Indo-Portuguese work, carved in ebony, now in the museum at Oxford, which
was given by Charles II. either to Elias Ashmole or to Evelyn: the
illustration on the next page shews all the details of the carving. Another
woodcut, on a smaller scale, represents a similar chair grouped with a
settee of a like design, together with a small folding chair which Mr. G.T.
Robinson, in his article on "Seats," has described as Italian, but which we
take the liberty of pronouncing Flemish, judging by one now in the South
In connection with this Indo-Portuguese
furniture, it would seem that spiral turning became known and fashionable in
England during the reign of Charles II., and in some chairs of English make,
which have come under the writer's notice, the legs have been carved to
imitate the effect of spiral turning—an amount of superfluous labour which
would scarcely have been incurred, but for the fact that the country
house-carpenter of this time had an imported model, which he copied, without
knowing how to produce by the lathe the effect which had just come into
fashion. There are, too, in some illustrations in "Shaw's Ancient
Furniture," some lamp-holders, in which this spiral turning is overdone, as
is generally the case when any particular kind of ornament comes into vogue.
Settee And Chair. In carved ebony, part of
Indo-Portuguese suite at Penshurst Place, with Flemish folding chair.
Period: Charles II.
Carved Ebony Chair of Indo-portuguese Work,
Given by Charles II. to Elias Ashmole, Esq. (In the Museum at Oxford).
Probably the illustrated suite of furniture
at Penshurst Place, which comprises thirteen pieces, was imported about this
time; two of the smaller chairs appear to have their original cushions, the
others have been lately re-covered by Lord de l'Isle and Dudley. The
spindles of the backs of two of the chairs are of ivory: the carving, which
is in solid ebony, is much finer on some than on others.
We gather a good deal of information about
the furniture of this period from the famous diary of Evelyn. He thus
describes Hampton Court Palace, as it appeared to him at the time of its
preparation for the reception of Catherine of Braganza, the bride of Charles
II., who spent the royal honeymoon in this historic building, which had in
its time sheltered for their brief spans of favour the six wives of Henry
VIII. and the sickly boyhood of Edward VI.:—
"It is as noble and uniform a pile as Gothic
architecture can make it. There is incomparable furniture in it, especially
hangings designed by Raphael, very rich with gold. Of the tapestries I
believe the world can show nothing nobler of the kind than the stories of
Abraham and Tobit.11
... The Queen's bed was an embroidery of silver on crimson velvet, and cost
£8,000, being a present made by the States of Holland when his majesty
returned. The great looking-glass and toilet of beaten massive gold were
given by the Queen Mother. The Queen brought over with her from Portugal
such Indian cabinets as had never before been seen here."
Evelyn wrote of course before Wren made his
Renaissance additions to the Palace.
After the great fire which occurred in 1666,
and destroyed some 13,000 houses and no less than 80 churches, Sir
Christopher Wren was given an opportunity, unprecedented in history, of
displaying his power of design and reconstruction. Writing of this great
architect, Macaulay says, "The austere beauty of the Athenian portico, the
gloomy sublimity of the Gothic arcade, he was, like most of his
contemporaries, incapable of emulating, and perhaps incapable of
appreciating; but no man born on our side of the Alps has imitated with so
much success the magnificence of the palace churches of Italy. Even the
superb Louis XIV. has left to posterity no work which can bear a comparison
with St. Paul's."
Wren's great masterpiece was commenced in
1675, and completed in 1710, and its building therefore covers a period of
35 years, carrying us through the reigns of James II., William III. and
Mary, and well on to the end of Anne's. The admirable work which he did
during this time, and which has effected so much for the adornment of our
Metropolis, had a marked influence on the ornamental woodwork of the second
half of the seventeenth century: in the additions which he made to Hampton
Court Palace, in Bow Church, in the hospitals of Greenwich and of Chelsea,
there is a sumptuousness of ornament in stone and marble, which shew the
influence exercised on his mind by the desire to rival the grandeur of Louis
XIV.; the Fountain Court at Hampton being in direct imitation of the Palace
of Versailles. The carved woodwork of the choir of St. Paul's, with fluted
columns supporting a carved frieze; the richly carved panels, and the
beautiful figure work on both organ lofts, afford evidence that the oak
enrichments followed the marble and stone ornament. The swags of fruit and
flowers, the cherubs' heads with folded wings, and other details in Wren's
work, closely resemble the designs executed by Gibbons, whose carving is
referred to later on.
It may be mentioned here that amongst the few
churches in the city which escaped the great fire, and contain woodwork of
particular note, are St. Helen's, Bishopgate, and the Charterhouse Chapel,
which contain the original pulpits of about the sixteenth century.
The famous Dr. Busby, who for 55 years was
head master of Westminster School, was a great favourite of King Charles,
and a picture painted by Sir Peter Lely, is said to have been presented to
the Doctor by His Majesty; it is called "Sedes Busbiana." Prints from this
old picture are scarce, and the writer is indebted to Mr. John C. Thynne for
the loan of his copy, from which the illustration is taken. The portrait in
the centre, of the Pedagogue aspiring to the mitre, is that of Dr. South,
who succeeded Busby, and whose monument in Westminster Abbey is next to his.
The illustration is interesting, as although it may not have been actually
taken from a chair itself, it shews a design in the mind of a contemporary
Of the Halls of the City Guilds, there is
none more quaint, and in greater contrast to the bustle of the neighbourhood,
than the Hall of the Brewers' Company, in Addle Street, City. This was
partially destroyed, like most of the older Halls, by the Great Fire, but
was one of the first to be restored and refurnished. In the kitchen are
still to be seen the remains of an old trestle and other relics of an
earlier period, but the hall or dining room, and the Court room, are
complete, with very slight additions, since the date of their interior
equipment in 1670 to 1673. The Court room has a richly carved chimney-piece
in oak, nearly black with age, the design of which is a shield with a winged
head, palms, and swags of fruit and flowers, while on the shield itself is
an inscription, stating that this room was wainscoted by Alderman Knight,
master of the Company and Lord Mayor of the City of London, in the year
1670. The room itself is exceedingly quaint, with its high wainscoting and
windows on the opposite side to the fireplace, reminding one of the
port-holes of a ship's cabin, while the chief window looks out on to the
old-fashioned garden, giving the beholder altogether a pleasing illusion,
carrying him back to the days of Charles II.
The chief room or Hall is still more
handsomely decorated with carved oak of this time. The actual date, 1673, is
over the doorway on a tablet which bears the names, in the letters of the
period, of the master, "James Reading, Esq.," and the wardens, "Mr. Robert
Lawrence," "Mr. Samuel Barber," and "Mr. Henry Sell."
The names of other masters and wardens are
also written over the carved escutcheons of their different arms, and the
whole room is one of the best specimens in existence of the oak carving of
this date. At the western end is the master's chair, of which by the
courtesy of Mr. Higgins, clerk to the Company, we are able to give an
illustration on p. 115—the shield-shaped back, the carved drapery, and the
coat-of-arms with the company's motto, are all characteristic features, as
are also the Corinthian columns and arched pediments, in the oak decoration
of the room. The broken swan-necked pediment, which surmounts the cornice of
the room over the chair, is probably a more recent addition, this ornament
having come in about 30 years later.
There are also the old dining tables and
benches; these are as plain and simple as possible. In the court room, is a
table, which was formerly in the Company's barge, with some good inlaid work
in the arcading which connects the two end standards, and some old carved
lions' feet; the top and other parts have been renewed. There is also an old
oak fire-screen of about the end of the seventeenth century.
Another city hall, the interior woodwork of
which dates from just after the Great Fire, is that of the Stationers'
Company, in Ave Maria Lane, close to Ludgate Hill. Mr. Charles Robert
Rivington, the present clerk to the Company, has written a pamphlet, full of
very interesting records of this ancient and worshipful corporation, from
which the following paragraph is a quotation:—"The first meeting of the
court after the fire was held at Cook's Hall, and the subsequent courts,
until the hall was re-built, at the Lame Hospital Hall, i.e., St.
Bartholomew's Hospital. In 1670 a committee was appointed to re-build the
hall; and in 1674 the Court agreed with Stephen Colledge (the famous
Protestant joiner, who was afterwards hanged at Oxford in 1681) to wainscot
the hall 'with well-seasoned and well-matched wainscot, according to a model
delivered in for the sum of £300.' His work is now to be seen in excellent
The Master's Chair. (Hall of the Brewers'
Mr. Rivington read his paper to the London
and Middlesex Archaeological Society in 1881; and the writer can with
pleasure confirm the statement as to the condition, in 1892, of this fine
specimen of seventeenth century work. Less ornate and elaborate than the
Brewers' Hall, the panels are only slightly relieved with carved mouldings;
but the end of the room, or main entrance, opposite the place of the old
daïs (long since removed), is somewhat similar to the Brewers', and presents
a fine architectural effect, which will be observed in the illustration on