Light but sturdy, stylish and comfortable, the Windsor has been the epitome of a good country chair for three centuries
The timeless appeal of Windsor chairs allows them to harmonize with all but the most modern interiors.
Nobody knows where the Windsor chair got its name. Windsor was never a centre of production, and attempts to link the name to royal patronage are probably fanciful.
The most likely theory is that chairs made in Buckinghamshire - the town of High Wycombe was the main centre of manufacture in Britain - were taken overland to Windsor, then shipped down the Thames to London.
Windsor chairs evolved out of the turned stool, virtually the only piece of country seat furniture made in the Middle Ages.
By the beginning of the 18th century, the basic Windsor shape had emerged; turned, slightly splayed legs joined by stretchers were fitted into the underside of a saddle-shaped seat, and a tall back, sometimes with curving arm supports, was fitted into the top of the seat.
The chairs were produced wherever suitable wood could be found, though the West Country and the Midlands were the main areas outside Buckinghamshire.
Several different craftsmen were involved. The legs, stretchers and other turned pieces were fashioned from green wood by bodgers, who lived and worked in the beech woods. Pieces of beech were sawn and split into shape, then finished on a pole lathe.
BENCHMEN, BENDERS AND FRAMERS
In the workshop, the benchman shaped the seats out of pieces of split elm, or sometimes beech, while the bender steamed pieces of yew into shape to make the curved back and arm pieces.
The final assembly was the work of a framer.
Because the chairs were usually made of several different woods, they were often painted green or japanned black for a uniform finish.
Others were heavily sanded.
Windsor chairs are still made today, though not necessarily from the same mix of woods. Techniques, too, have changed.
Bodgers no longer work among the trees, while the seats tend to be machine sawn rather than split along the grain.
Although the basic style remained unchanged, there were variations over the centuries, especially in the style of the chair backs.
From the 1720s, they tended to have comb-hacks, formed from straight, upright, plain sticks with a horizontal cresting rail.
Later that century, the cresting rail was replaced by a piece of bentwood making a hoop that was either carried down into the seat or into a curved, one-piece arm bow.
From about 1775, a carved and pierced central splat replaced some of the sticks in hoop-hack chairs.
COWHORN AND CRINOLINE
Most chairs have three stretchers arranged in an H shape, while the curved cowhorn stretcher was introduced around 1740. It's also known as a crinoline stretcher, even though it pre-dates the fashion by a century or so.
Older chairs will have acquired a rich, dark patination not seen on modern examples.
Sometimes this is faked with a stain.
If you suspect this has been done, turn the chair over.
The underside should not have had the wear and polish of the top of the seat, and, though it may be grimy with age, shouldn't be as dark as the top.
If it is, suspect a modern fake.
DESIGN OF WINDSOR CHAIRS
• Seat timber for genuine chairs
was cut and shaped with an adze by the henchman or 'bottomer'. Beware of saw marks' and look for griming en the top and the underside of the seat.
• Legs, rails and stretchers should be attached to the seat and one another with plain,
taper turned tenon joints.
• Nails indicate later repairs.
• Legs made of elm, matching the seat, are probably replacements. Beech, birch and fruitwood, the timbers usually chosen
to make the legs, are susceptible to damage from wear and woodworm.
• Sets of chairs should be identical in every respect, including the height of the seats and backs.
TO RECOGNIZE & REFINISH ANTIQUES FOR PLEASURE, 4th Editionby Jacquelyn Peake