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Chair

1839-1841 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

Object Type
The Glastonbury chair was a folding chair with X-frame legs, said to have belonged to the last Abbot of Glastonbury. This example was obviously not designed to fold but retains the Gothic shape and construction of the original chair.

People
There is no evidence that John Whiting, last Abbot of Glastonbury, who was executed in 1539, owned the chair at Wells. It is inscribed in Latin with the name of John Arthur, a monk of Glastonbury, and was given to the Bishop of Wells in 1824. The same inscription was carved on a similar chair bought by Horace Walpole in 1759. Since no monk would have owned elaborate, personalised furniture, it is possible that these chairs were made later. Pugin's chair retains the Medieval construction but without the spurious inscription.

Time
Versions of the Glastonbury chair became very popular with Gothic enthusiasts in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Copies of Walpole's chair had been made by 1784 for Earl Bathurst and other examples were collected for St. Michael's Mount, Cornwall by 1811. In1835 William Kensett, a dealer, had copies for sale in his London shop. Henry Shaw illustrated the Glastonbury chair in his influential book, Specimens of Ancient Furniture, published in 1836. Pugin visited Wells several times from 1832 and probably based his design on the actual Glastonbury chair.


Object details
Categories
Object type
Materials and techniques
Oak
Brief description
Oscott chair, a 'Glastonbury' chair
Physical description
Oak folding chair with X-frame legs.
Dimensions
  • Height: 85cm
  • Width: 53.6cm
  • Depth: 62cm
Dimensions checked: Measured; 24/05/1999 by LH
Gallery label
  • British Galleries: A.W.N. Pugin based his design on an ancient chair, called the Glastonbury chair. Many different furniture manufacturers later produced similar chairs in great numbers.(27/03/2003)
  • International Arts & Crafts In the early 19th century Pugin established a new role for designers. Though an architect, he also designed textiles, metalwork and other furnishings for decorators and manufacturers. This established and important precedent for Arts & Crafts designers, many of whom were trained architects. His theories, especially his belief that Gothic was a 'moral' style, were also highly influential.(17/03/2005)
Credit line
Given by the Archbishop of Birmingham
Object history
One of a set of chairs supplied for the dining room of the Bishop's House at St Chad's Roman Catholic Cathedral, Birmingham, designed by Pugin and built 1839-41.
Historical context
On the history of this chair type see See Gabriel Olive, 'The Glastonbury Chair', Regional Furniture VIII (2017), pp. 24-41 (fig. 12 illustrates one of the two V&A examples of the Bishop's House chair)



Many different versions of the Glastonbury chair, sometimes carved with decoration and inscriptions, were produced by firms such as Gillows & Co. and Cox & Sons for both institutional and domestic use in the nineteenth century. The Roman Catholic Abbey at Fort Augustus, Inverness-shire, had a large collection of these chairs in the Calefactory (see Christina M. Anderson, 'Furnishing Fort Augustus Abbey, Inverness-shire', Regional Furniture, Vol. XXI, 2007. pp. 221-240, fig. 15).Gillow, a furniture-making firm based in Lancaster with a London branch, listed in their Estimate Sketch Books an oak Glastonbury monk's chair in 1840 and a more elaborate version, with a carved panel in the back, in 1873 (Westminster Archives, GWG0344, 344/137, p. 20, March 21st 1840; 344/138, p. 140, March 1st 1873).



A letter to the Builidng News, 9th November 1866, p. 751, compared Charles Bevan's Gothic furniture designs unfavourably with the Glastonbury chair. '...I am certain that it is not by chamfering and nicking and notching, or by dabbing on round spots at intervals like red, black, or white wafers, that organ cases can be made pleasing, or mediaeval furniture satisfactory. The Glastonbury chair was neither nitched, notched nor spotted, but is held to be a good chair nevertheless.'
Summary
Object Type
The Glastonbury chair was a folding chair with X-frame legs, said to have belonged to the last Abbot of Glastonbury. This example was obviously not designed to fold but retains the Gothic shape and construction of the original chair.

People
There is no evidence that John Whiting, last Abbot of Glastonbury, who was executed in 1539, owned the chair at Wells. It is inscribed in Latin with the name of John Arthur, a monk of Glastonbury, and was given to the Bishop of Wells in 1824. The same inscription was carved on a similar chair bought by Horace Walpole in 1759. Since no monk would have owned elaborate, personalised furniture, it is possible that these chairs were made later. Pugin's chair retains the Medieval construction but without the spurious inscription.

Time
Versions of the Glastonbury chair became very popular with Gothic enthusiasts in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Copies of Walpole's chair had been made by 1784 for Earl Bathurst and other examples were collected for St. Michael's Mount, Cornwall by 1811. In1835 William Kensett, a dealer, had copies for sale in his London shop. Henry Shaw illustrated the Glastonbury chair in his influential book, Specimens of Ancient Furniture, published in 1836. Pugin visited Wells several times from 1832 and probably based his design on the actual Glastonbury chair.
Bibliographic reference
Livingstone, Karen & Parry, Linda (eds.), International Arts and Crafts, London : V&A Publications, 2005
Collection
Accession number
CIRC.352-1961

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Record createdMarch 27, 2003
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