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Victorian Era Chair Making

Practically the only branch of traditional furniture work that survived the great decline of the nineteenth century, the early Victorian era, and all that it implied in cheap nastiness, was chair making, and even into the twentieth century "Windsor" chair types, simple examples of fitness of form and beauty of line, were still being made in Buckinghamshire, the legs and rails of the chairs being turned by hand, and in the neighbourhood of High Wycombe the old pole lathe still used by some chair makers.

Windsor Chair
Windsor Chair

The famous furniture colony of High Wycombe preserved many antique chair types, and from the time when the abundant material offered by the beech woods that clothed the rolling country about Wycombe first tempted chair makers to settle there and work, to the present day, when local supplies of timber are nearly exhausted and raw material from other localities and from overseas feeds Wycombe's industry, the maintenance of traditional models has been the practice of many factories, and in some cases where work is done almost entirely by hand the very spirit of country craftsmanship is maintained also, simple and sound and as straightforwardly satisfying as it was a century and a half or two centuries ago.

In parts of Gloucestershire and Worcestershire the making of rush seated chairs with turned legs and ladder backs also survived, as Ernest Gimson was to discover late in the nineteenth century when, in despair of finding traces of good, honest workmanship, he turned to the West Country, and found that the ancient inspiration of British woodworking still lived.

Some idea may be gained of the accumulated knowledge and skill of generations that backed that tradition if any particular branch of it is studied. Knowledge of wood and its ways; ability to handle tools so that timber was humoured into the perfect performance of its particular task, and not jammed into so many hundred shapes in one pattern by means of a machine where speed made careful selection impossible; understanding of good workmanship and pride in it - the habits of thought and conditions of life that made pre-Victorian craftsmanship possible almost disappeared, but the tradition of old-fashioned quality lingered in many branches of wood-working.

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