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Antique Windsor Chairs

Below is an excerpt taken from an article about antique Windsor Chairs written by Sandy Summers of Adams Antiques for lovetoknow.com

1. How did the Windsor Chair get its name?

Nobody really knows the answer, but there are various theories. The most likely reason is that from early times in the 18th century stick back chairs were being made in the Thames Valley area of England, and the town of Windsor (the location of Windsor Castle) was the distribution point from where they were transported to London and other counties.


2. What is a Windsor Chair, exactly?

A Windsor chair is a chair, where the design construction is centred around the seat. Meaning that the legs are jointed up into the underside of the seat, and the back of the chair and arms are jointed into the top of the seat.

Earlier chairs, and other styles of chair, where constructed as a framework of right angle joints, with the seat dictated by the space created by this framework.

The development of the Windsor chair reflected a growing understanding that chairs with shaped seats and curved backs suited the human body shape better than the older style square and right angled chairs. So Windsor chairs were an ergonomic design development in their day.

Windsor chairs were first made in the Eighteenth Century, but examples made before about 1790 are rare. You tend to find only single chairs before this date.

Windsor chair making increased during the Nineteenth Century, particularly with the increasing mechanisation which took place during the Victorian era. The majority of good quality Windsor chairs date from 1820 to 1870 while this was still a small cottage industry.


3. Are there different styles of Windsor’s?

There are no standard definitions of different styles, but a broad way of categorising based on the style of the back is:

Stick back – a hoop shaped back, with long vertical spindles forming the interior of the back

Splat back – a hoop shaped back, with long vertical spindles either side of a central back splat

Comb back – long vertical equal-length spindles going into a straight horizontal top piece to form a comb shape. Some comb backs have a central back splat and some don’t.

Within these different styles, some chairs have a horizontal hoop which forms the arm supports and runs through the centre of the back (sometimes called double hoop or double bow chairs).

Others have arms formed by pieces which attach separately to either side of the back.

And some were made without arms.

Within these broad styles there are distinct variations in design depending on the region of England where the chair was made.


4. What woods were Windsor Chairs traditionally made from?

Most English Windsor chairs are made of either yew wood, or ash and elm, although other woods were also occasionally used.

“Yew wood” Windsor’s were the best quality Windsor’s, made from yew wood, with an ash or elm seat. The back legs may be yew wood, fruitwood or beech.

“Ash and Elm” Windsor chairs were made with cheaper ash instead of yew wood, again with an ash or elm seat.

As yew wood was relatively rare compared to the common ash, yew wood Windsor’s were a status symbol. Owning a set was a demonstration of your wealth. The ash and elm Windsor’s were made for those who could not afford yew wood.

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