These 'japanned' tea tables, from Oakley House, combine European octagonal form with Oriental elements, which include feet that form small stems, and lacquer work depicting convincing Chinese landscapes, clouds, mountains, ancients, boats and ho-ho birds (S. Houfe, 'Furniture for a Hunting Box', Country Life, 14 March 1991, p. 56). Their form was possibly based upon '4 satinwood pillar & claw octagon tables' supplied by Seddon, Sons & Shackleton at a cost of £20 to the 5th Duke of Bedford for Woburn Abbey in 1793 (Ed. G. Beard, C. Gilbert, Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, Leeds, 1986, p. 797). 'Claw' describes the peg feet of the present tables, illustrated in engraved designs signed Hepplewhite for 'claws' in the Cabinet-Maker's London Book of Prices (1793).
In the 1861 inventory, one of the present tables was in the 'Sitting Room', and its pair in the 'Library' at Oakley House, described respectively as, 'An Octagon Centre Table on pillar & claws Japanned White', and 'An Octagon Table on pillar & claw Japanned white & gold Holland Cover'. The significant amount of white japanned furniture recorded at Oakley in the 1861 inventory reflects the taste of the Russell family in this period.
By 1920, one table was in the 'Drawing room', and its pair in the 'Chinese bedroom' (S. Houfe, Sir Albert Richardson, The Professor p. 54, fig. 2 and p. 55, fig. 6).
Although the cabinet maker cannot be identified with any certainty, these tables were perhaps supplied under the direction of the Professor's favoured architect, Henry Holland (d. 1806), who was remodelling Oakley between 1789 and 1792. and their original decoration could have been an early work by John Crace (d. 1819), who was paid the modest sum of £31 17s 2d for work at the house in 1791. The Craces, father and son, are known to have incorporated lacquered furniture in their repertoire and were working under Holland at Woburn Abbey for the same patron, and whilst analysis of the decoration of these tables has shown the present decoration to be the fourth scheme it is possible that it was in place by the time of the 1861 inventory when they were described as 'white Japanned' and may be a later work of the Crace dynasty which continued to flourish throughout the 19th century.