A spectacular and apparently unique example of a typically utilitarian form, this windsor chair was obviously a possession prized above the humble garden, inn or tavern variety. Executed in rich mahogany (rather than yew, ash, elm or beech), it displays an elaborately-carved pierced design.
Few examples of this quality are known. A set of seven 'japane'd Windsor chairs' were recorded in the Duke of Chandos's library at Cannons in 1725 while another Windsor chair, covered in expensive 'quilted crimson damask', can be cited among Sir William Stanhope's effects sold from his fashionable Arlington Street mansion in 1733 (R. Edwards, ed., The Dictionary of English Furniture, rev. edn., 1954, vol. I, p. 320). A pair of similarly carved high-back windsor chairs was sold from an American Private Collection, Christie's, New York, 16 April 2002, lot 187 (acquired from Jeremy Ltd., London). Another comparable pair in walnut, carved with the cypher 'HS' and an earl's coronet, are in the collection of S. Jon Gerstenfeld, Washington, D.C. (see E. Lennox-Boyd, ed., Masterpieces of English Furniture: The Gerstenfeld Collection, London, 1998, p. 210, no. 38).
AN INTRIGUING PROVENANCE
According to the label affixed to the underside of the seat, this was the chair in which Prime Minister Spencer Perceval collapsed after the lunatic John Bellingham shot him in the lobby of the House of Commons in 1812. Perceval served as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons before he became Prime Minister in 1809. He was a younger son of the 2nd Earl of Egremont (an Irish peer who was later elevated to Baron Lovel and Holland in England). Serving at a difficult time defined by the madness of King George and an economic depression, Perceval's politics included his opposition to the Catholic emancipation and the reform of Parliament, his support of the war against Napoleon and the abolition of the slave trade. He was a follower (or self-described 'friend') of William Pitt. Perceval remains the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated while in office.
It is not known when the chair left the Palace of Westminster but, according to the same label, it was in the possession of Walter Edmondon Godfrey of Romsey at the time of his death in 1896. It would appear that Godfrey was a draper. Lands in Romsey Extra were acquired by his presumed ancester, Walter Godfrey of Romsey, in 1606 from Henry Earl of Southampton; the Godfreys continued to hold the manor of Romsey until 1758. After this date they were probably merged in the manor of Timsbury, which likewise belonged to the Godfreys (A History of the County of Hampshire, vol. 4, 1911, pp. 452-469, 486-488).
While intriguing, details of the chair's history have yet to be substantiated.