A walnut, cherrywood and elm Windsor armchair, Thames Valley, mid 18th century

A walnut, cherrywood and elm Windsor armchair, Thames Valley, mid 18th century
with an eared top-rail and solid vase splat, outswept arms with incurved front supports and cabriole legs with pad feet and joined by turned stretchers, repair to the lower portion of the splat, bearing a label beneath the seat declaring the maker to be John Pitt, Wheelwright and Chairmaker ..., also with a metal plate stating that THIS CHAIR WENT WITH CAP. COOK AROUND THE WORLD
See Illustration
Purchased by the current vendor's father at a Red Cross sale in Norfolk after the Second World War.
Country Life, April 1976, open letter asking readers for information about the chair.
Antique Collecting, April 1977, Two labelled Comb-back Windsor chairs by John Stabler.
Bernard Cotton The English Regional Chair, Woodbridge, 1990, p.45, fig.TV14.

Lot Essay

Unfortunately the paper label beneath the seat of this chair is in poor condition, but it clearly declares the maker to be John Pitt. The label continues Wheelwright and Chairmaker .. at SLO ..... DSO, these letters being part of the words Slough and Windsor.
Pitt is recorded in the register for Upton-Cum-Chalvey Parish, of which Slough was then part, in an entry on January 13th 1959, which reads John Pitt, Wheelwright, buried.
This chair has the distinction of being the earliest provenanced English Windsor chair to whom a maker can be attributed. It also provides us with positive evidence that Comb-back Windsor chairs with cabriole legs were being made in the middle of the 18th century.
The reference to Wheelwright itself is possibly the earliest written reference on a trade label to this unusual combination of trades. It is known that Slough became a staging post on the London-Bath journey and therefore the services of the Wheelwright would have been only too necessary for repair and replacement of damaged wheels. John Stabler in his article suggests that it was possibly the Wheelwrights that realised the potential for and developed the chairs with bowbacks since the techniques of bending timber (mostly ash) for wheel construction and hoop-back chair manufacture are identical.

The metal plate suggesting that this chair accompanied Captain Cook on his famous voyages appears to date from the turn of this century (c.1880-1910) and its claim is difficult to substantiate. It is perfectly possible of course since the last of Cook's voyages began in 1776. Cook's widow, who died in 1835, had been committed to carefully keeping all documents and related items to honour her husband's memory. These were donated to institutions or passed down the family generations, so it is possible that the vendor at the Red Cross sale may have been a relative.

Amongst the documents which accompanied the chair was correspondence with the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne and the Mitchell Library of the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney where there are extensive holdings of Cook material. The librarian in 1976 could find no reference to this chair in their documents but noted that in the Dixson Library there was copy of The Descriptive Catalogue of the Cook Bicentenary Exhibition in The Pannett Gallery, Whitby, October 3rd -November 1st 1928, which included a chair which belonged to Cook's parents, lent by Lady Dorothy Duncan. Tantalisingly, there are no further details.


All the correpondence (mainly from the 1970's) relating to this chair have been donated by the vendor to the British Regional Furniture Study Centre in High Wycombe to be held on file and made available for anybody who wishes to research the chair further.

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