THE HAZELLS AND THE OXFORD WINDSOR CHAIRMAKING TRADITION
By the late 18th century, Windsor chairmakers who were supplying chairs to the rapidly expanding population of London and the South East of England became centred in High Wycombe, near the the Chiltern Hills in Buckinghamshire. Ample supplies of what came to be the primary wood used for chairmaking, beech, was available, aswell as elm for the seats. The industry which rapidly developed was prodigious in its output, with up to four thousand chairs a day being produced in essentially industrialised chair factories by the mid 19th century.
From this powerhouse of chairmaking, however, some enterprising chairmakers moved out into towns in the surrounding counties to establish workshops, which they hoped would satisfy local needs.
By 1847 those who practised this trade in Oxfordshire had expanded to twenty-eight, working in six towns including Banbury (six), Chinnor (ten), Henley-on-Thames (two), Thame (four), Wallingford (four) and Oxford (two). Unlike the chair manufacturers in High Wycombe who divided chairmaking into some twenty-three separate trades, these localised chairmakers worked in small workshops employing just themselves or at most just a few workers who made complete chairs.
Eventually the competition which the Wycombe chair manufacturers exerted on the market was such that by 1877 the number of those specifically called chairmakers in Oxfordshire had seriously declined and the majority who remained had become turners, presumably supplying turned parts to the manufacturers in High Wycombe.
However, not all of those who worked in towns outside Wycombe became merely ancillary workers to the trade there. For example, one consistently independent tradition was that of the Windsor chairmakers of the City of Oxford. This tradition was probably founded by William Wardell who came from West Wycombe and who, by 1830, was the sole maker of Windsor, Garden and Cane Furniture in Oxford, working at 101, Summertown. Two further chairmakers were to emerge: Thomas Slater and Stephen Hazell, both of whom were born in Summertown, Slater in 1824 and Hazell in 1819. It seems likely that both of these craftsmen learned their craft from William Wardell and that they both in due course branched out as craftsmen working in their own right. Slater's career seems to have been short lived, but Stephen Hazell (Snr) was to become a most significant Oxford chairmaker and unlike Wardell and Slater, he chose to stamp his name on his chairs, thus leaving behind him a firm record of those chairs which he and later his son, Stephen Charles Hazell, made.
Stephen Hazell Snr first advertised himself as a chairmaker in 1846 when he was 27 years old. At this time he described himself as a Turner and Windsor Chairmaker working in South Parade, Summertown. In 1854 he and his family moved to a house and workshop in Friar Street in the centre of Oxford; later they moved to 36, Speedwell Street. Hazell and his wife, Hannah, had several childen including Stephen Charles Hazell born in 1846 and who duly followed his father into the chairmaking tradition. He worked with his father until 1875 when Stephen Hazell Snr was last advertised as a chair maker working from 10, Albert Street, Oxford.
By 1877, Stephen Charles Hazell was working on his own account. He continued as a chairmaker until 1892 employing one man and a boy, when he appears to have retired at the relatively early age of 45. He was a member of the Oxford Liberal Club and at his death in 1898 his obituary hinted at a personal life full of troubles. The Oxford Journal and County News of Saturday 27th August 1898 reveals that The flag of the Liberal Club ran at half mast on Wednesday for the late Mr Stephen Charles Hazell of Kingston Road who died on Sunday morning last and was interred at Osney Cemetery. The deceased was formerly an active member of the old Westward Liberal Association and was for sometime Secretary. He retired from business some years ago though only 53 at the time of his death. He, and his father before him, carried on business in Speedwell Street as chairmakers and were the only makers, in the city, of Windsor chairs. Mr Hazell was not lacking in capacity, but his domestic affairs had been for some years of a most unhappy character and thus doubtless militated against his public usefulness.
The complete range of chairs made by the Hazells has yet to be identified, but in addition to their standard designs, they produced various other styles, including those with a swept tablet top and with diagonal cross splats in the back intersected by a central turned roundel, in the manner of chair back designs illustrated by both Thomas Sheraton (1751-1806) and Thomas Hope (1761-1831). A group of these were made for the Bodliean Library Reading Rooms in Oxford, and many are still in daily use today. Others are known to have furnished the offices of The Oxford University Press. This must have been a most prestigious commission for Stephen Hazell Snr. and until recently it was believed that he both originated and designed this special style of Windsor. However, a chair of this design has now been located with the stamp, Robert Prior maker Uxbridge (fl. 1816-1845) on the rear of the seat and it now seems likely that Hazell adopted this design from Prior who preceded him in the trade.
However, Hazell's most readily identifiable chair design is of the scroll back Windsor chair type. This general style was made extensively in High Wycombe and elsewhere, but nowhere was it made with greater finesse, however, than in the workshops of the Hazells' in the City of Oxford. These chairs were typically made with beech legs, arms and cross rails and with seats of elm. The armchairs were made in two styles: one, more rarely, with flat projecting arms and the other with elegant swept arms, reminiscent of those used in earlier Regency chair styles.
Throughout the English chairmaking tradition, individual chairmakers gave their work a "signature" with small difference of turnery. Both of the Hazells produced the same pattern in the barrel turning situated on either side of the flattened centre back cross rail and this provides a distinctive identification feature of their work. Their use of a single ball turning on the legs is also typical of the most refined Windsor chairs of this period. In addition to the stamp S. Hazell Oxford a general precision of construction and a lightness of structure epitomises the Oxford Windsor chairs. They also have sharply finished corners at the rear of the seat, contrasting with the rounded corners most commonly found on many, but not all chairs produced by the Wycombe manufacturers.
The void left in the Oxford chairmaking tradition by Stephen Charles Hazell's early death was not left unfilled for long. In the year of Hazell's death, 1898, chairmaker Walter Puddifer, the son of a chairmaker Joseph Puddifer of Stokenchurch nr High Wycombe moved into the city of Oxford. Such was the reputation of the Windsor chairmaking craft in Oxford, that Walter Puddifer continued to make virtually identical chairs to those made by the Hazell's in his workshop in Circus Street. He, too stamped his chairs on the rear edge of the seat W. Puddifer Oxford and although most of his chairs were sold locally in Oxford many were loaded onto a cart and transported to High Wycombe to be sold to the wholesalers there.
Dr B Cotton, September 1999.