Sunday, 16 February 2020

1663 - Bishop Sanderson's Flagg-Bottomed Chairs and Other Stories

William Sergeant has written in this post about the price of an 18th century Lincolnshire Windsor chair compared to contemporaneous day rates for labour. That material was found under the following reference at the Lincolnshire Archives:

Lincoln Cathedral Library: Account Book including: coroners' verdicts 1660; household accounts 1718-1729;  inventories of goods of Bishop Sanderson (1663) and Anne Sanderson (1669). Account book including: debts owed by and inventories of Robert Sanderson (bishop's son) 1663-1667; household accounts 1681-1709; rent accounts 1826-1866; tenancy agreements 1860. Loose papers 1674-1822. Date: 1660-1866 Repository: Lincolnshire Archives [057]Date: 1660-1866 D&C/LIB/21

The household accounts 1718-1729 were those of Mrs Caudwell.  She turns out to have been Susanna Sanderson, granddaughter of Bishop Sanderson, b.1679 
to his son Robert Sanderson b.1630 and Mary Oxwick b.1631, baptised at South Carlton, Lincolnshire on 9th June 1769.  She married William Caudwell at Pulloxhill, Bedfordshire on 17th November 1709. William Caudwell was the Vicar of Flitton cum Silso in Bedfordshire.


The Bedfordshire Archives catalogue (Reference Fasti/1/Flitt Title FLITTON (St.John the Baptist) listing the parish incumbents since time almost immemorial has the following entry: 


"William Cauldwell - 17 Aug 1686 [B.A.; on death of William Harris; Patron the Bishop, by lapse. Married Mrs Sanderson at Pulloxhill on 17 Nov 1709 and was buried 21 Jul 1722]"

William Caudwell's will (
National Archives' reference PROB 11/587/249), proved 16 October 1722, apart from a small bequest to the poor of Flitton cum Silso, left two closes of land in Coventry and everything else to his wife Susannah.  The will of Susanna (sic), (
National Archives' reference PROB 11/659/144), proved 9 May 1733, by her sister Jane Clarke left £20 each to sundry nieces and nephews and the residue to said sister Jane. 


The parish of Flitton cum Silso(e) is in Bedfordshire, which until 1837, was perhaps improbably, part of the Diocese of Lincoln.  There must lie the explanation for how the Bishop's granddaughter laid her hands upon a volume, later in the Cathedral Library, which had for 55 years contained her grandfather the Bishop's inventory, which she recycled as her household account book.


Turning to her grandfather, Izaak Walton's The Life of Dr. Robert Sanderson may be found here
A graduate of Lincoln College, Oxford, in 1631 he was appointed Chaplain to King Charles I, who is alleged to have said: "I carry my ears to hear other preachers; but I carry my conscience to hear Mr. Sanderson, and to act accordingly." During the Commonwealth he was seized and carried prisoner to Lincoln and was for some years in straitened circumstances. At the Restoration he presented an address of congratulation from the clergy of Lincoln on 23rd July 1660. The following month he was retstored to the Regius Professorship of Divinity in the University of Oxford from which he had been removed by the Parliamentarians in 1648. He was consecrated Bishop of Lincoln on 28 October 1660 and died on 29th January 1663. 


Upon his death, as was routine, an inventory of his dwelling was taken, room by room and a value placed on each item. This list accounts for one of the wealthiest premises in the county and as such is of great interest to the furniture historian.  Extracts relating to seating are as follows:


"An inventary of the goods and chattells of the late Reverend Robert Lord Bishop of Lincoln deceased who dyed the 29th day of January 1663



Imperiis
in ye little Parlor and withdrawing rooms thereunto adjoyning.[...]
£
s
d
+10 turkey chayres +a(?)
009
:00
:00
+ 1 turky Couch
004
:06
:00
[...]
In ye Greate Parlor and rooms adjoyning 
[...]
12: Cushoons
00
:10
:00
6: Lether Stooles and 2 Chayres
00
:12
:00
6: ould turkey Ch: and Stooles
00
:12
:00
2: chayres wth flagg botts
00
:02
:06
1: little childs chayre
00
:02
:00
12: joyned stooles
00
:10
:00
[...]
In the Greate Roome
[...]
1: woodden chayre
00
:01
:06
[...]
In the Hall Chamber
[...]
1: grt: chayre 4: lesser 2: stooles
02
:00
:00
[...]
In the Bps Chamber
[...]
1: grt: cha 3: lesser 2: stooles
01
:10
:00
[...]
2: chayres
00
:03
:00
[...]
In the Chaplaines chamber
[...]
2: chayres wth flagg bottoms
00
:02
:00

[...]"


The most valuable seating was the turkey work chairs. A glossary of the terms used in late 17th century Lincoln inventories may be found in this post.  Bishop Sanderson's inventory however uses a term that does not appear there: flagg bottoms.  The Oxford English Dictionary sheds light:


"Flagg — or Flag, one of various endogenous plants, with a bladed or ensiform leaf, mostly growing in moist places. Now regarded as properly denoting a member of the genus Iris (esp. I. pseudacorus) but sometimes (as in early use) applied to any reed or rush — OED (1989)."


There is no doubt, therefore, that Bishop Sanderson's appraisers were referring to rush seated or matted chairs but to my recollection, this is the first time that either I or William Sergeant have come across this expression. 


It has long been assumed that rush-seated chairs were produced for the less well off in society but here is clear evidence to suggest otherwise: some at least found their way to the Bishop's Palace.


An internet search reveals one or two 18th century American inventories containing references to flagg-bottomed chairs.  An examination of the British Newspaper Archive reveals 4 references to flag-bottomed chairs in 1773, 1802 twice, and 1848.  The last is a short story from the Newry Telegraph of 15 February 1848 called 'The Sleigh Ride' which contains the following passage: "Mother, these flag-bottoms are very unfashionable. I really cannot bear the sight of them. Why, everybody has mahogany chairs now-a-days. I wish you could see uncle’s!” and uncle’s chairs were so often alluded to, that "old flag-bottom” from that time forth became the cognomen of a parlor chair."  Furniture historians may make of that what they will! 


© Julian Parker 2020



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