- Place of origin:
England, Great Britain (made)
- Materials and Techniques:
Oak, panelled construction
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Arks (or hutches as they tended to be known in southern England) were used to store grain, meal or bread at home, from the medieval period onwards. The concave top was normally removeable and could be turned over to form a kneading trough for the making of bread. This ark could be taken apart relatively quickly, using cross-pegged tenons to separate the panelled front and back from the lid and the boards that form the ends and base. It could thus be moved from room to room inside timber-framed farmhouses as the need arose. The loose boards have been carefully shaped along their edges to fit tightly together in a V shaped tongue-and-groove. Its stout construction using riven, or split, oak, its demountability and tight fitting joints explain the usefulness of such containers for storing precious grain, safe from pests.
Ark or hutch of panelled construction with a removeable lid on joined hinge sockets, the front and back made up (not demountable using cross-pegged tenons). The front and back with three panels. The front feet shaped on the inner with a concave cut-out.
Mason's mitres on front, and panelled back.
Original nailed iron lock and ring with good iron stain (hasp missing).
Plain sawn very knotty oak, with planed surfaces of varying smoothness. The rails and some panels quartered.
The angled grooves that hold the ends into the front and back were probably cut with a plough plane, run out at the top (which is why the channel shallows to nothing)
Note that front and back are made up, and lid removeable (doubling as a dough trough) but ends and bottom demountable. The end lower rail and 3 planks slot into an angled groove, then held firmed by an outer clamped rail passing through its own. The planks with bird's mouth joints to ensure a snug fit for grain/flour. Note the distinctive form of the solid end lower rail which tenons into the legs, provides a bird's mouth joint for end plank above it and overlaps base boards.
Note some glue repairs.
Note chiselled assembly marks on the stiles of front and back sections
Note that front left panel has guilloche and round bead pattern in very low relief (possibly raised scarring after a chisel and punch have been used) suggesting that it has been reused (after 1600).
Left upper rail has sapwood decay.
Keyhole shape looks to be 16th century
Place of Origin
England, Great Britain (made)
Materials and Techniques
Oak, panelled construction
Height: 113 cm, Width: 112 cm to projecting wedge at the back, Depth: 82 cm
Object history note
Bought for £63 from Messrs Beckwith & Sons Ltd, Old Cross, Hertford, and stated by the vendor to have been removed from Arundel Castle when the mother of the Duke of Norfolk went there as a bride (which statement was regarded with suspicion by V&A curators at the time of acquisition).
This ark could be taken apart relatively quickly, using cross-pegged tenons to separate the panelled front and back from the lid and the boards that form the ends and base. Chiselled assembly marks assisted the process. It could thus be moved from room to room inside timber-framed farmhouses as the need arose. These individual boards have been carefully shaped along their edges to fit tightly together in a V shaped tongue and groove (what Millar calls V-groove and chamfer). (Millar says that the 'twybill' or 'axe-adze' was used for forming grooves on the edges of planks.) Its stout construction using riven oak, demountability and tight fitting joints explain the usefulness of such containers for storing precious grain at home, safe from pests.
Note that the pegs all seem to be replacements, and that the front left panel has 'embossed' (or is it painted?) renaissance guilloche and bead pattern (post-1550) suggesting that this timber has been reused. The use panelled front and back probably indicates that the ark was made after 1550. Ironwork all seems original.
The distinctive, decorative cut-out on the front legs derives from a much earlier type of chest, cf. the Ditchling (Sussex) church, or Little Canfield church (Essex) chests, usually dated to the 13th century, but such survival may not be surprising given the conservative character of such utilitarian objects.
Formerly on loan to The Commandery, Worcester, 1977-2006.
A replica ark, similar in various respects (but not identical), to W.54-1950 is at the Weald and Downland Museum, Singleton (2016).
Historical context note
The so-called 'clamped-front' chest, common in Germany, France and England from about the 13th century was the first use of joined work in chests. The front consists of wide stiles or 'standards' with a long mortice-groove down their inner edges, with one or more horizontal boards clamped between. Arks, derived from Latin arca, chest (or hutches, derived from French huche, chest, as they may have been more usually known in southern England) used this technique well into the 17th century. They were used to store grain, meal or bread at home in the period, and the concave top was normally removeable and able to be turned over to form a kneading trough (or, with the help of two poles a hand barrow). They tend to be constructed from riven (or split) oak. In Wales they were still made into the 18th century.
See Luke Millar, 'Some plain oak farmhouse chests from South Wales', in Regional Furniture 1992, pp.74ff
Victor Chinnery, Oak Furniture. The British Tradtion (Woodbridge, 1979), pp.356-8
Mainwaring Johnston, Philip ‘Church chests of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in England’ (Archaeological Journal, LXIV 1907, pp. 243-306).
VON STÜLPNAGEL, Karl: Quellen und Studien zur Reigionalgeschichte Niedersachsens Band 6: Die gotischen Truhen der Lüneburger Heideklöster. (Museumsdorf Cloppenburg, 2000)
Ark, oak, with loose tenon construction, made in England, 1550-1650
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Therle Hughes, Grandeur and Simplicity - Oak furniture, in Country Life, January 28, 1982, vol. CLXXI, pp.244-6, fig. 1
Furniture; Household objects; Containers