29 March 2021
Visitor Assistant Andrew Smith takes a closer look at some of the furniture in the Kettle’s Yard House.
This rather plain chair can be found in Helen Ede’s sitting room. In a carefully considered arrangement it sits next to a simple round table and under a hanging corner cupboard. A handwritten label under the seat states; “Gift of Mrs EQ Nicholson”.
This is a ‘comb-back’ Windsor chair constructed almost entirely of ash (one beech rail may be a later replacement) and unusually we know who made it. The maker has been identified as James Taylor of Stamford, Lincolnshire, who made it sometime around 1850. It’s the only example of a comb-back Windsor chair in the House as the rest are all bow-back chairs.
The Taylor family were influential chair makers in the Lincolnshire area. Roger Taylor set up in Grantham in 1800 and the relatively simple design he developed became the template for many subsequent Lincolnshire makers. Roger died in 1801 and his wife Sophia took over the business. Her first two sons took apprenticeships with other craftsmen, probably arranged when Roger knew that he was unlikely to survive. Sophia continued chair making, employing ‘journeymen’ crafts people. Under her leadership the business was successful and within a few years she was employing 14 craftsmen, and turning out thousands of chairs.
On completion of their apprenticeships Sophia’s sons returned to help their mother in the business, but in 1811 the eldest son, John, left to become a ‘mail coach guard’, and her second son William took over. Three years later William also became a ‘mail coach guard’ (for the most part it was easier work than chair making, more exciting and much better paid!). In 1815 the business in Grantham passed to William Shirley, formerly an apprentice to the Taylors (we have one Shirley chair in the collection, though currently not on display).
James Taylor (1815 – 1875), the maker of this chair, was the son of John Taylor, and grandson of Roger and Sophia Taylor. Although born four years after his father gave up chair making he decided to follow the family tradition. He set up his own business in Stamford, twenty-odd miles south of Grantham, and was later assisted by his two sons William and James junior.
Although the Taylor family were better known for bow-back Windsor chairs, Roger’s design influence can be detected in the economy of construction and lack of unnecessary ornament in this chair. To the trained eye it is details like the turning pattern on the front legs that prove it to be the work of James.
And Mrs EQ Nicholson, who gifted the chair? Elsie Queen Nicholson (1908 – 1992), née Myers, was Ben Nicholson’s sister-in-law. She was married to Ben’s younger brother, the architect Christopher Nicholson. At one stage she worked in her husband’s architectural practice, but was also a textile designer and painter in her own right. She admired and was much influenced by the work of Georges Braque. Her self-portrait, in wax crayon and coloured ink, is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to William Sergeant for identifying the maker of this chair. The story of the Taylors is told in much greater detail in his presentation to the Regional Furniture Society, ‘The Beginning of Windsor Chair Making in Grantham, Lincolnshire’, available on YouTube. And thanks as always to Robert Williams for generously sharing his encyclopaedic knowledge of vernacular furniture.