30 June 2020
Visitor Assistant Andrew Smith takes a closer look at some of the furniture in the Kettle’s Yard House.
With antique furniture it’s often the case that close examination reveals a story. Every repair, alteration or repurposing is part of the history of the object. This chair in the extension to Kettle’s Yard House is a good example.
At the head of the library table is what you would assume is a carver chair, but it didn’t start life as a carver.
Stylistically we can tell that it’s a chair that was probably made in East Anglia. It’s made from elm, but the stretcher rails are newer and appear to be made of oak. The top rails are walnut, and looking closely at the legs, shows that the original rails were much deeper; what the experts describe as an ‘apron’. The only conclusion is that this chair was originally made as a commode, the deeper apron would have concealed a porcelain potty, and would have provided enough structural rigidity without the need for stretcher rails.
So were all the new pieces added at the same time? If so, why are they in different timbers? Were these the only pieces of wood available to the restorer at the time? It’s reasonable to assume that the alteration was done for commercial reasons; the widespread introduction of indoor plumbing meant there was no need for a commode in the bedroom. And nobody wanted to buy someone else’s toilet.
What we do know is that at some stage, someone, maybe an antique dealer, maybe a carpenter, thought this piece good enough to deserve saving. We can be sure that many such examples didn’t survive.