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A set of eight yew-wood and elm Windsor chairs, Thames Valley, early 19th century
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A set of eight yew-wood and elm Windsor chairs, Thames Valley, early 19th century

A set of eight yew-wood and elm Windsor chairs, Thames Valley, early 19th century
including a pair of armchairs, each with Gothic tracery back, on ring-turned legs joined by a crinolene stretcher, the armchairs with inswept front support and a pierced Gothic splat beneath each arm, the back legs and short stretchers in beechwood, one chair with one back leg and one short stretcher replaced, another chair with both back legs replaced, one armchair with renewed arm
See Front Cover Illustration (8)
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Lot Essay

Windsor chairs having the elegant and dynamic constructional features which these chairs display, have the characteristics of those made by the Prior family of Uxbridge, Middlesex during the first half of the 19th century. The Prior family are one of the most distinguished in the history of English Windsor chairmaking. Members of this family were Windsor chairmakers for at least three generations, from the second half of the 18th century until the third quarter of the 19th century. Some of the finest and most striking designs of Windsor chairs came from this workshop.
Typically these features include finely turned legs which were morticed and wedged through the seat. This form of leg turning, included as Type B in the Windsor chair leg typology for the Thames valley (see Dr. B. Cotton The English Regional Chair, Woodbridge, 1991, p.51) is a style which was largely abandoned in the region by 1820 in favour of blind socket joints. John and Robert Prior, who would have been taught this method by their father, continued to use this practice until they ceased working around 1850. Secondly the seats which have been recorded on Prior chairs are distinctive, too, but not unique to the Priors, in being elegantly thin and bell-shaped, and usually with pronounced concave tool marks on the underneath of the seat. A further feature which, although not unique to a Prior chair, does, in combination with other features, form part of a vocabulary of design or constructional elements common to their trade, is the use of two large square pegs driven in on the sides of the seat to secure the back bow, as evidenced in this set of chairs. Thirdly the low single bow armchairs made by the Priors typically have a feature which may be unique to them, which is the use of short splats connecting the arms to the seat. In addition to these specific points, however, Prior-made chairs are distinguished by their dynamic and thoughtful design features, including, in the case of these chairs the use of a curve at the back of the seat which allows the uprights of the 'Gothic arch' back to be set slightly to the rear of the bow, and thereby giving extra comfort to the user.

Typically, the name-stamped chairs by members of this family which are found most commonly are those by Robert Prior (1780-1853), and more rarely, those by his elder brother, John jnr. (1761-1846), who continued the business of their father John snr., (died 1816). Two such armchairs stamped I Prior Uxbridge were sold in these rooms on 25 February 1998, Lot 742 (sold for £3000) and lot 743 (sold for £3500).
From time to time, chairs which seem to have the characteristics of these two brothers' work appear, but without maker identification. Recent research indicates that there may be a number of possible explanations for this, including that these chairs may have been made by other chair-making members of the Prior family who apparently did not name-stamp their work. These family members for whom no name-stamped work has yet been recorded include John snr. (1731-1816) who worked as a Windsor chairmaker and turner in Uxbridge and who, in addition to John Jnr. and Robert, had two other chair-making sons; William (1763-1788) and Samuel (1785-1863) who moved to work in Cricklewood. As well as these four sons, and a further non-chairmaker son, Thomas (born 1769), John snr. also had eight daughters, one of whom, Elizabeth, married Richard Smewins who was also a chairmaker. Evidently, Smewins had similar standing in the family to Robert, John jnr. and Samuel, since in his will of 1807, John Prior snr. allowed that Smewins could purchase his workshop premises on the death of John's wife Martha if none of his sons took that opportunity.

For further examples of chairs name-stamped by and attributed to the Prior workshop and a detailed discussion on the Prior family, see Dr. B. Cotton The English Regional Chair, Woodbridge, 1991, pages 76-80.
Dr B. Cotton, May 2000.


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