The dining-chairs, with fretted ribbon splats rising to Gothic-pointed arches, are likely to have been commissioned for the ancient family mansion, Lumley Castle, Durham by Richard Lumley, 4th Earl of Scarbrough (d. 1782), 'Cofferer of George III's Household' and deputy Earl Marshal of England. While sharing various elements with patterns in Thomas Chippendale's The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Directors, London, 1754-62, their richly ornamented backs and fret-enriched pilaster legs relate in particular to patterns in Robert Mainwaring's The Cabinet and Chairmaker's Real Friend and Companion, 1765. Their flowered ribbon-guilloche nailing, follows their original pattern, and relates to those illustrated in Ince and Mayhew's The Universal System of Household Furniture, 1762 (pls. X and XI), as well as to the carved rail illustrated in one of Mainwaring's 'Gothick' patterns (pl. 13).
A related chair-back features on a chair acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1937 (illustrated in R. Edwards, English Chairs, London, 1951, fig. 65).
A set of twelve dining-chairs with almost identically pierced backs was sold at Elveden Hall, Thetford, Christie's house sale, 21-24 May 1984, lot 455. One of a pair of armchairs from Flitwick Manor, Bedfordshire, again with almost exactly the same back, is illustrated in M. Harris, The English Chair, London, 1946, p. 133. In view of their Lumley Castle provenance, it is possible that these chairs were produced in Yorkshire and it is interesting that in his correspondence with Amyas Phillips of Hitchin, R.W. Symonds expressed the view that they were of North Country origin, principally because of their plain stretchers.
Lumley Castle was commissioned by Sir Ralph Lumley (d. 1399 1400) who was granted a license to crenellate in 1389 and save for some minor alterations carried out under the ardent medievalist, John, Lord Lumley (d. 1609), around 1580, it remained essentially as originally built until the succession of Richard, 2nd Earl of Scarbrough (d. 1739) in 1721.
The 2nd Earl employed Sir John Vanbrugh (d. 1726) as architect for the very necessary refurbishment and improvement of his ancestor's castle. The works included a rationalisation of the interior, with a new, monumental staircase, a library, a wainscotted dining-room and the refenestration of the south and west fronts. The finest interior was the new Banqueting Hall, with elaborate plasterwork punctuated with medallion portraits of Roman Emperors, attributed to the Italian stuccatori, Paul and Philip Francini (fl. 1730-60).
THE SAMUEL MESSER COLLECTION
Samuel Messer assembled one of the most oustanding and distinguished collections of English furniture, clocks and barometers since the last war. Advised by R.W. Symonds (d. 1958), the great furniture historian, the Messer Collection was essentially concentrated on the Chippendale period with particular attention being paid to untouched condition, original patination and fine quality of timber, combined with good proportions, an elegant line and a balanced use of crisply carved ornament. Many of the pieces in the collection came themselves from other distinguished collections, including those formed by Percival Griffiths, Fred Skull and J.S. Sykes. Interestingly, a letter dated 27 May 1955, from Messer to Symonds regarding the present chairs, mentions the discovery of the original nailing patterns which were revealed when the needlework was removed and which were then reinstated.