These George II heraldically charged parlour chairs, bearing FitzHerbert armorial escutcheons in their triumphal Gothic arched and flower-fretted backs, are designed in the British antiquarian manner promoted by B. Langleys' Gothic [Ancient] Architecture improved by Rules, 1742. Commissioned by the patriot William FitzHerbert (d. 1772), they formed part of the banqueting hall suite designed for Tissington's Hall or great-room-of-entertainment - echoing the architecture's pointed arcading both on its walls and on its Hopton stone 'Gothick' chimney-piece, the latter executed in 1757 by Joseph Hall of Derby.
As Alistair Rowan has pointed out in Batty Langley's Gothic, Studies in Memory of David Talb ot Rice, Edinburgh University Press, 1975, p. 207, the Tissington chimney-piece is in actual fact an amalgamation of two plates from Langley's Gothic, whilst the frieze is taken from a third plate from Langley's spurious 'Order of the Gothick Architecture'. Gervase Jackson-Stops convincingly proposed that, given his interest in architecture, William FitzHerbert could well have acted as his own designer for the 'Gothick' treatment of the Hall at Tissington - and it is interesting to note, therefore, that this same FitzHerbert was also friendly with that great champion of the 'Gothick' taste, the poet Thomas Gray, as well as Garrick, Johnson and Burke.
Whether William FitzHerbert might also have had a hand in the design of the two suites of 'Gothick' chairs at Tissington is unknown; however they similarly recall recently published patterns for 'Gothic Chairs' contributed by the chairmaker Robert Manwaring to The Society of Upholsterers, Household Furniture in genteel Taste for the Year 1760 (pl. 15), as well as to the related pattern of 1759 for a Gothic arcaded armchair features in Thomas Chippendale's, Gentleman and Cabinet-maker's Director, 3rd ed. 1762 pl. XVII. Although Thomas Chippendale's original receipt for the Tissington chairs is reputed to have still existed at Tissington in the early 20th Century, an alternative and more tentative attribution has been suggested to John Hobcraft.
William FitzHerbert's extensive 'Gothick' furniture commissioned for Tissington is described succinctly in the 1775 Inventory. As well as 'a large mahogany sideboard table' and '2 large mahogany therms or pedestals' which remain in the house, the Great Hall contained '17 Mahogany Gothic Hall chairs with Leather seats' and '4 Elbow chairs to correspond' (the suite offered here; two armchairs and one side chair remain at Tissington). The Study, meanwhile, contained 'a mahogany Card Table with fret work frame' and 'a Chimney Glass with a Gothic frame', whilst the Withdrawing Room upstairs had '6 Small Chairs & 2 elbows all Gothick and Mahogany with Leather seats', with other chairs from this suite spread throughout the house.
This second Gothick suite - published by H. Cescinsky, English Furniture of the Eighteenth Century, London, 1910, vol. II, p. 227, fig. 232 - may well provide the clue to the maker of all of Tissington's Gothick furniture. In 1760, an identical set of 11 Gothick mahogany side chairs was supplied to Sir John Griffin Griffin of Audley End by John Hobcraft. Hobcraft, a carpenter and builder of Titchfield Street, seems to have been a protégé of Capability Brown and later worked with Robert Adam on several occasions, including at Padworth House, which has a fishing pavilion with a similarly inspired Batty Langley chimney-piece. This second suite remained at Tissington until 1983, when they were sold at Boardman Fine Art Auctioneers, Haverhill, Suffolk, 30 November 1983, lot 367.
The seats are likely to have been upholstered in red leather appropriate to the heraldic colours for the armorials or 'three lions rampant or'.