Designed in the antique fashion promoted in the 1770s by the architect James Wyatt (d. 1813), the suite of furniture to which this pair of chairs belong is likely to have been commissioned by John Harvey for the Breakfast parlour at Ickwell Bury, Bedfordshire. It would have originally comprised twelve armchairs and two window-seats. Harvey was described by the Hon. John Byng (1742/3-1811), later 5th Viscount Torrington, as 'studious, quiet, prudent, and polite with never failing duty ...' (The Torrington Diaries, vol. IV, 1794). Ickwell Bury was built for the John Harvey (the first of many descendents of that name) in the 1680s, and the Harvey family lived in the house until 1924. Sadly Ickwell Bury was destroyed by a fire in 1937; the house was illustrated before the fire in Country Life, 5 May 1955, p. 1177, no. 10.
The suite was probably supplied to John Harvey by the firm of Gillows of London and Lancaster. A comparable design for the heart-shaped back of the chairs and seats is illustrated in L. Boynton, Gillows Furniture Designs 1760-1800, Royston, 1995, fig. 272. Though the design is typical of the furniture Gillows was producing at this time, the 'RE' stamp found on all the components of this suite may suggest it was made by another cabinet-making firm, sub-contracted by Gillows. Claxton Stevens suggests one possible explanation for the 'RE' stamp: it may refer to Richard and Robert Edmunson or Edmonson. This Liverpool-based cabinet-making firm was started in 1781, with an upholstery branch added in 1788. Both Richard and Robert are recorded as freemen of Lancaster and are known to have worked for Gillows on a number of occasions. Further evidence is provided by a pair of George III hall chairs, also stamped 'RE', sold anonymously, Christie's, London, 11 February 1999, lot 2. These chairs follow a design by Gillows, illustrated ibid, as fig. 255.
It is also possibe, however, that the RE stamp is the brand of a journeyman in the employ of Messrs. George Seddon, Sons and Shackleton, as it can be found on a caned painted beech chair similar in design to a set of eighteen painted satinwood chairs supplied by George Seddon, Sons and Shackleton to D. Tupper for Hauteville House, Guernsey, in 1790 (C. Claxton Stevens, 'A group of Seat Furniture stamped RE', The Journal of the Regional Furniture Society, Vol. XII, 1998, p. 158, fig. 6).
Norman Adams sold six armchairs from the suite in 1959 and again in 1963. A further set of four armchairs, including the present pair, and the window-seats from the suite were also handled by Norman Adams in the mid-1980s, who sold them to Mr Heathcote of Badlingham Manor. Norman Adams subsequently reacquired them following the sale of Heathcote's collection in 1999.