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Exercise chair

Exercise chair

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    1790 - 1820 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Mahogany, with horsehair and leather upholstery

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Lt. Col. G. B. Croft-Lyons FSA

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Exercise chairs like this mahogany example were sometimes called 'chamber-horses', because the users bounced up and down, exercising their legs in a way similar to riding a horse. They were an early equivalent of the modern indoor exercise bicycle. They were advertised from as early as 1740, and were evidently still used in 1803 when the designer Thomas Sheraton illustrated one in his Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Drawing Book. From the 1740s they were constructed from several layers of boards separated by metal coiled springs, although springs were not used for the upholstery of easy chairs until the 1830s.

Physical description

A large mahogany armchair, the back with openwork forms of intersecting arches. The seat is covered in black horsehair, forming the top of a leather sided box which contains a spring mechanism. Two vertical poles, outside the arms from handles. The apparent drawer beneath the chair pulls out as a foot rest.

The lower part of the chair is built as a low table, the back legs continuing above the height of the chair arms, with a deep frieze or apron all round. The front frieze of this ‘table’ appears to contain a drawer with a key hole and two brass bail handles. This in fact pulls forward, including the apparent lower rail of the frieze, to provide a foot rest for the exercise chair, and is supported on a fifth leg, placed centrally.

The legs and uprights are square-sectioned. The visible faces of the front legs are moulded, with the sides plain above the frieze rail. All the front legs and uprights show evidence of applied spandrels carved with acanthus, some now missing. Behind the centre leg is a small shaped block, attached with a screw (probably machine-made). The foot rest is constructed like a bottomless drawer with the top (mahogany) set within the sides and front.

The top of the stand section is approx. 2cm thick and is moulded on the front and sides, which are serpentine in plan. The front of this has a double recess to allow for the heels of the user.

The arms and arm supports are serpentine and moulded, the supports elongated to allow for the mechanism. At the outer side of each arm, at the junction with the support, is screwed a hinged iron ring to support the tall vertical pole handles. They are of mahogany, each one with a turned brass collar on the lower edge and with a captured bolt on the end. The poles taper upwards towards a point about 7/8ths of the way up, which forms a thicker hand hold. About half way along is a simple turned decorative collar and the hand holds are marked by double scored, turned lines. Above them the poles taper again to turned acorn finials. The captured bolt on the pole base screws into brass plates set just outside the arms supports, which are in turn screwed to the surface of the stand. These can fold flat when the poles are not used. Each pole is 125cm, visible length when installed.

Part way behind the arm supports on each side are two flat vertical rails, set parallel with the front of the stand and approximately 3cm apart. These are cut with a single, central aperture and serve as guide rails for the short turned rods that protrude from the top section of the seat, ensuring that the seat remains in alignment as it rises and falls.

The spring mechanism is located within a narrow frame of moulding, which is positioned on the top of the stand section. It consists of 5 wooden boards, covered at the sides with red Russia leather, which is pinned to the outer edge of each board with brass nails. The top board appears to support shallow rails on each side, which form the basis of the upholstery of black horsehair. The leather rises to a peak at each corner, fixed over the horsehair. The warp of the horsehair runs laterally on the seat. Between the boards of each layer there are eight conical steel springs fixed to the boards with heavy staples. The boards are connected on their long sides by two bands of linen webbing, which regulate how far the boards can separate.

The back of the chair is detachable, with iron straps attached to the back of each upright and protruding 15.6cm below it. These straps fit into iron plates fixed to the back of the lower uprights, each formed with two integral slots.

The back is gently curved in plan. It is composed of overlapping rounded arches, forming pointed arches, between four narrow pierced splats, each with an elaborate quatrefoil piercing in the middle and with foliage carved at the junction of the arches. The splats are otherwise entirely flat, although the back uprights are gently rounded on the front face with a raised moulding on the outer edge, which repeats on the top edge of the arches as far down as the foliage carving. The top front edge of the lower rail of the back is cut with recessed quarter round moulding. The splats are cut on their paired tops with through tenons that locate into the underside of what is constructionally a continuous top rail, and the joint reinforced with triangular sections added below the joint at the back. The back of the splats are chamfered.

Place of Origin

England (made)


1790 - 1820 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Mahogany, with horsehair and leather upholstery

Marks and inscriptions

Chisel marked II on the top of the lower back left upright.
Chisel marked II on the top left of the lower rail of the back.
‘726’ printed in black on a small, rectangular, paper label.
Second label, printed within a lined border: ‘Woodwork Section / on loan from / Col. Croft Lyons [hand written in ink] / No. 728 [hand written in ink] / Mar 7 1913 [the ‘19’ printed, the ‘13’ added in ink]’.


Height: 157.2 cm, Width: 88 cm, Depth: 60 cm approx

Object history note

Historical significance: An exercise chair known as a 'Chamber Horse'.

Descriptive line

Mahogany exercising chair with openwork back and deep leather-covered sprung seat.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Pinto, Edward H., 'The Georgian Chamber Horse', Country Life, 20 October 1955, pp. 846-7, illustrated as fig. 1.
Pinto, Edward H., 'Losing Weight the Georgian Way', Country Life, 11 March 1971, pp. 528-529, illus. as fig. 4.


Mahogany; Horsehair


Images Online; Furniture; Furniture


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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