There is above, an illustration of one of the
two livery cupboards, which formerly stood on the daïs, and these are good
examples of the cupboards for display of plate of this period. The lower
part was formerly the receptacle of unused viands, distributed to the poor
after the feast. In their original state these livery cupboards finished
with a straight cornice, the broken pediments with the eagle (the Company's
crest) having most probably been added when the hall was, to quote an
inscription on a shield, "repaired and beautified in the mayoralty of the
Right Honourable William Gill, in the year 1788," when Mr. Thomas Hooke was
master, and Mr. Field and Mr. Rivington (the present clerk's grandfather)
Chair upholstered in Spitalfields silk.
Hampton Court Palace.
Carved and upholstered Chair. Hardwick
Chair upholstered in Spitalfields silk.
Period: William III. To Queen Anne.
There is still preserved in a lumber room one
of the old benches of seventeenth century work—now replaced in the hall by
modern folding chairs. This is of oak, with turned skittle-shaped legs
slanting outwards, and connected and strengthened by plain stretchers. The
old tables are still in their places.
Another example of seventeenth century oak
panelling is the handsome chapel of the Mercers' Hall—the only city Company
possessing their own chapel—but only the lining of the walls and the reredos
are of the original work, the remainder having been added some ten or twelve
years ago, when some of the original carving was made use of in the new
work. Indeed, in this magnificent hall, about the most spacious of the old
City Corporation Palaces, there is a great deal of new work mixed with
old—new chimney-pieces and old overmantels—some of Grinling Gibbons' carved
enrichments, so painted and varnished as to have lost much of their
character; these have been applied to the oak panels in the large dining
The woodwork lining of living rooms had been
undergoing changes since the commencement of the period of which we are now
writing. In 1638 a man named Christopher had taken out a patent for
enamelling and gilding leather, which was used as a wall decoration over the
oak panelling. This decorated leather hitherto had been imported from
Holland and Spain; when this was not used, and tapestry, which was very
expensive, was not obtainable, the plaster was roughly ornamented. Somewhat
later than this, pictures were let into the wainscot to form part of the
decoration, for in 1669 Evelyn, when writing of the house of the "Earle of
Norwich," in Epping Forest, says, "A good many pictures put into the
wainstcot which Mr. Baker, his lordship's predecessor, brought from Spaine."
Indeed, subsequently the wainscot became simply the frame for pictures, and
we have the same writer deploring the disuse of timber, and expressing his
opinion that a sumptuary law ought to be passed to restore the "ancient use
of timber." Although no law was enacted on the subject, yet, some twenty
years later, the whirligig of fashion brought about the revival of the
custom of lining rooms with oak panelling.
It is said that about 1670 Evelyn found
Grinling Gibbons in a small thatched house on the outskirts of Deptford, and
introduced him to the King, who gave him an appointment on the Board of
Works, and patronised him with extensive orders. The character of his
carving is well known; generally using lime-tree as the vehicle of his
designs, the life-like birds and flowers, the groups of fruit, and heads of
cherubs, are easily recognised. One of the rooms in Windsor Castle is
decorated with the work of his chisel, which can also be seen in St. Paul's
Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace, Chatsworth, Burleigh, and perhaps his best,
at Petworth House, in Sussex. He also sculptured in stone. The base of King
Charles' statue at Windsor, the font of St. James', Piccadilly (round the
base of which are figures of Adam and Eve), are his work, as is also the
lime-tree border of festoon work over the communion table. Gibbons was an
Englishman, but appears to have spent his boyhood in Holland, where he was
christened "Grinling." He died in 1721. His pupils were Samuel Watson, a
Derbyshire man, who did much of the carved work at Chatsworth, Drevot of
Brussels, and Lawreans of Mechlin. Gibbons and his pupils founded a school
of carving in England which has been continued by tradition to the present
Silver Furniture at Knole. (From a Photo by
Mr. Corke, of Sevenoaks.)
A somewhat important immigration of French
workmen occurred about this time owing to the persecutions of Protestants in
France, which followed, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, by
Louis XIV., and these refugees bringing with them their skill, their
patterns and ideas, influenced the carving of our frames and the designs of
some of our furniture. This influence is to be traced in some of the
contents of Hampton Court Palace, particularly in the carved and gilt centre
tables and the torchères of French design but of English workmanship.
It is said that no less than 50,000 families left France, some thousands of
whom belonged to the industrial classes, and settled in England and Germany,
where their descendants still remain. They introduced the manufacture of
crystal chandeliers, and founded our Spitalfields silk industry and other
trades, till then little practised in England.
The beautiful silver furniture at Knole
belongs to this time, having been made for one of the Earls of Dorset, in
the reign of James II. The illustration is from a photograph taken by Mr.
Corke, of Sevenoaks. Electrotypes of the originals are in the South
Kensington Museum. From two other suites at Knole, consisting of a looking
glass, a table, and a pair of torchères, in the one case of plain
walnut wood, and in the other of ebony with silver mountings, it would
appear that a toilet suite of furniture of the time of James II. generally
consisted of articles of a similar character, more or less costly, according
to circumstances. The silver table bears the English Hall mark of the reign.
As we approach the end of the seventeenth
century and examine specimens of English furniture about 1680 to 1700, we
find a marked Flemish influence. The Stadtholder, King William III., with
his Dutch friends, imported many of their household goods12,
and our English craftsmen seem to have copied these very closely. The chairs
and settees in the South Kensington Museum, and at Hampton Court Palace,
have the shaped back with a wide inlaid or carved upright bar, the cabriole
leg and the carved shell ornament on the knee of the leg, and on the top of
the back, which are still to be seen in many of the old Dutch houses.
There are a few examples of furniture of this
date, which it is almost impossible to distinguish from Flemish, but in some
others there is a characteristic decoration in marqueterie, which may be
described as a seaweed scroll in holly or box wood, inlaid on a pale walnut
ground, a good example of which is to be seen in the upright "grandfather's
clock" in the South Kensington Museum, the effect being a pleasing harmony
In the same collection there is also a walnut
wood centre table, dating from about 1700, which has twisted legs and a
stretcher, the top being inlaid with intersecting circles relieved by the
inlay of some stars in ivory.
As we have observed with regard to French
furniture of this time, mirrors came more generally into use, and the frames
were both carved and inlaid. There are several of these at Hampton Court
Palace, all with bevelled edged plate glass; some have frames entirely of
glass, the short lengths which make the frame, having in some cases the
joints covered by rosettes of blue glass, and in others a narrow moulding of
gilt work on each side of the frame. In one room (the Queen's Gallery) the
frames are painted in colors and relieved by a little gilding.
The taste for importing old Dutch furniture,
also lacquer cabinets from Japan, not only gave relief to the appearance of
a well furnished apartment of this time, but also brought new ideas to our
designers and workmen. Our collectors, too, were at this time appreciating
the Oriental china, both blue and white, and colored, which had a good
market in Holland, so that with the excellent silversmith's work then
obtainable, it was possible in the time of William and Mary to arrange a
room with more artistic effect than at an earlier period, when the tapestry
and panelling of the walls, a table, the livery cupboard previously
described, and some three or four chairs, had formed almost the whole
furniture of reception rooms.
The first mention of corner cupboards appears
to have been made in an advertisement of a Dutch joiner in "The Postman" of
March 8th, 1711; these cupboards, with their carved pediments being part of
the modern fittings of a room in the time of Queen Anne.
The oak presses common to this and earlier
times are formed of an upper and lower part, the former sometimes being
three sides of an octagon with the top supported by columns, while the lower
half is straight, and the whole is carved with incised ornament. These
useful articles of furniture, in the absence of wardrobes, are described in
inventories of the time (1680-1720) as "press cupboards," "great cupboards,"
"wainscot," and "joyned cupboards."
The first mention of a "Buerow," as our
modern word "Bureau" was then spelt, is said by Dr. Lyon, in his American
book, "The Colonial Furniture of New England," to have occurred in an
advertisement in "The Daily Post" of January 4th, 1727. The same author
quotes Bailey's Dictionarium Britannicum, published in London, 1736, as
defining the word "bureau" as "a cabinet or chest of drawers, or 'scrutoir'
for depositing papers or accounts."
In the latter half of the eighteenth century
those convenient pieces of furniture came into more general use, and
illustrations of them as designed and made by Chippendale and his
contemporaries will be found in the chapter dealing with that period.
Dr. Lyon also quotes from an American
newspaper, "The Boston News Letter" of April 16th, 1716, an advertisement
which was evidently published when the tall clocks, which we now call
"grandfathers' clocks," were a novelty, and as such were being introduced to
the American public. We have already referred to one of these which is in
the South Kensington Museum, date 1700, and no doubt the manufacture of
similar ones became more general during the first years of the eighteenth
century. The advertisement alluded to runs, "Lately come from London, a
parcel of very fine clocks—they go a week and repeat the hour when pulled"
(a string caused the same action as the pressing of the handle of a
repeating watch) "in Japan cases or wall-nut."
The style of decoration in furniture and
woodwork which we recognise as "Queen Anne," apart from the marqueterie just
described, appears, so far as the writer's investigations have gone, to be
due to the designs of some eminent architects of the time. Sir James
Vanbrugh was building Blenheim Palace for the Queen's victorious general,
and also Castle Howard. Nicholas Hawksmoor had erected St. George's.
Bloomsbury, and James Gibbs, a Scotch architect and antiquary, St.
Martin's-in-the-Fields, and the Royal Library at Oxford; a ponderous style
characterises the woodwork interior of these buildings. We give an
illustration of three designs for chimney-pieces and overmantels by James
Gibbs, the centre one of which illustrates the curved or "swan-necked"
pediment, which became a favourite ornament about this time, until
supplanted by the heavier triangular pediment which came in with "the
The contents of Hampton Court Palace afford
evidence of the transition which the design of woodwork and furniture has
undergone from the time of William III. until that of George II. There is
the Dutch chair with cabriole leg, the plain walnut card table also of Dutch
design, which probably came over with the Stadtholder; then, there are the
heavy draperies, and chairs almost completely covered by Spitalfields silk
velvet, to be seen in the bedroom furniture of Queen Anne. Later, as the
heavy Georgian style predominated, there is the stiff ungainly gilt
furniture, console tables with legs ornamented with the Greek key pattern
badly applied, and finally, as the French school of design influenced our
carvers, an improvement may be noticed in the tables and torchéres,
which but for being a trifle clumsy, might pass for the work of French
craftsmen of the same time. The State chairs, the bedstead, and some stools,
which are said to have belonged to Queen Caroline, are further examples of
the adoption of French fashion.
Three Chimneypieces. Designed by James Gibes,
Architect, in 1739.
Nearly all writers on the subject of
furniture and woodwork are agreed in considering that the earlier part of
the period discussed in this chapter, that is, the seventeenth century, is
the best in the traditions of English work. As we have seen in noticing some
of the earlier Jacobean examples already illustrated and described, it was a
period marked by increased refinement of design through the abandonment of
the more grotesque and often coarse work of Elizabethan carving, and by
soundness of construction and thorough workmanship.
Oak furniture made in England during the
seventeenth century, is still a credit to the painstaking craftsmen of those
days, and even upholstered furniture, like the couches and chairs at Knole,
after more than 250 years' service, are fit for use.
In the ninth and last chapter, which will
deal with furniture of the present day, the methods of production which are
now in practice will be noticed, and some comparison will be made which must
be to the credit of the Jacobean period.
In the foregoing chapters an attempt has been
made to preserve, as far as possible, a certain continuity in the history of
the subject matter of this work from the earliest times until after the
Renaissance had been generally adopted in Europe. In this endeavour a
greater amount of attention has been bestowed upon the furniture of a
comparatively short period of English history than upon that of other
countries, but it is hoped that this fault will be forgiven by English
It has now become necessary to interrupt this
plan, and before returning to the consideration of European design and work,
to devote a short chapter to those branches of the Industrial Arts connected
with furniture which flourished in China and Japan, in India, Persia, and
Arabia, at a time anterior and subsequent to the Renaissance period in