The stools - part of a larger suite comprising at least sixteen dining-chairs, another pair of stools and a pair of card tables - were almost certainly supplied for George Weller-Poley for Boxted Hall, Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk in about 1760. George Weller-Poley, the only son of Elizabeth Poley of Boxted Hall and Robert Weller of Tunbridge in Kent, inherited the estate in 1751 at the age of 41. His efforts to improve the estate are supported by two letters, as cited by Anthony Coleridge in the Christie's July 1997 catalogue entry. The first, dated 5 November 1757, is to George from a Mr. Nelthorpe who writes 'However I am glad that you have the whole estate at last. I wish you a succession of many happy years to enjoy it after you have made it compleat and elegant in every part' (Weller-Poley archives, Suffolk Record Office, Bury St. Edmunds, HA519/204). The second, dated 8 September 1767, by which time the work must have been completed, was written by a kinsman William Croftes and includes the following 'I have the misfortune to be deprived of the use of my limbs by hereditary gout that will not permit me to make any visits, or I should most certainly have paid my respects to you at Boxted, and it would have given me a double pleasure in waiting upon you at a place, where in my younger days, I had been so kindly and hospitably received and which my worthy good friend Mr. Elwes has told me is so much improved by your elegant taste' (op. cit., HA519/189).
Family tradition holds that the suite had been at Boxted Hall for many generations. Sadly, there are no family papers or inventories of the period to provide any details or shed light on a possible maker, although the quality of timber and carving supports an attribution to a leading shop. The 'Chinese' fretwork legs (and chair-back design for the matching chairs) takes inspiration from patterns published by Thomas Chippendale, Mayhew and Ince and Robert Manwaring.
Thomas Chippendale published designs for 'New Pattern Chairs', in plates IX and XII of the 1754 Director and the splats of the Weller-Poley chairs should be compared with these designs. However, of the six chairs illustrated in these two plates, four have cabriole legs and only two have square legs with carved ornament and only one has a stretcher. Chippendale does not mix Chinese ornament with chairs of this form and design. There is a set of mahogany 'parlour' chairs at Nostell Priory, Yorkshire, with similar backs and plain square legs, which were possibly supplied by Chippendale, otherwise no sets of chairs of this form from his Director period are known to exist.
The stools' most unusual feature is the bell-design incorporated into the fretwork pattern. Manwaring's The Cabinet and Chair-Maker's Real Friend and Companion (1765), plate IV illustrates a design for a 'parlour' chair with a square leg headed by a bell; additionally, the splat and top-rail are designed in the same tradition the Weller-Poley chairs. Plate XII shows designs for two 'Chinese Chairs', one of which has Chinese fret carved legs with bells. These are the only known chair designs of the period with bells on the legs. No documented pieces of furniture by Manwaring are recorded, whether chairs or anything else, although he claimed that his designs 'are actually Originals, and not pirated or copied', adding 'there are very few designs advanced, but what he has either executed himself, or seem completely finished by others'. Manwaring also designed a rectangular stool with a Chinese fret leg which can be compared with the Weller-Poley examples.
In 1762, Mayhew and Ince published their Universal System of Household Furniture which included two plates of designs for 'Parlour Chairs'. Plate IX includes one of a chair with comparable splat and top-rail, and with square carved legs which are united by pierced shaped stretchers. The Universal System also includes a plate showing designs for card-tables, one of which is carved with variations of Chinoiserie fret ornament (pl. LII).
Tables featuring the same fretwork design and almost certainly from the same workshop include: a side table illustrated in G. Beard and J. Goodison, English Furniture 1500-1840, London, 1987, p. 135, fig. 5; a pair of serpentine card tables sold Christie's, New York, 12 April 1996, lot 169; another serpentine card table from Earl Howe's collection at Gopsall Hall, Leicestershire illustrated in M. Harris & Son, Antique Furniture and Works of Art, London, n.d. (c. 1930), p. 49).