Saturday, 15 February 2020

1718 - 1729 The comparative value of an early 18th century Windsor chair

The Regional Furniture Society 2018 Journal included an article about the earliest known Windsor chair maker ever recorded, Joseph Newton of Fenton, Lincolnshire, who placed two advertisements in the Stamford Mercury during 1725 and 1729. In 1725 he stated that his chairs could be found for viewing at Newark and Grantham, along with the price of an individual chair, namely 7s 6d each, plus an extra 6d if transport by water to Lincoln was required. In the 1729 advertisement his chairs could be found for viewing at Newark, Grantham and Nottingham, the cost remaining 7s 6d, but the water transport to Nottingham, Gainsborough or Lincoln now being only 3d. He also stated that he had furnished a great many Gentlemen and Gardeners with his chairs: this implies that he was producing substantial Windsor chairs for use in the garden, often referred to as Forest chairs.

It can be difficult to exactly gauge the comparative value of an individual chair in the context of when it was produced. An inspection of the Lincoln archives catalogue by fellow researcher Julian Parker revealed the following entry:

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

This looked promising: handwritten notes and accounts from exactly the period came to hand. It had been written by various people over many years, recording prices paid for services, food and various objects. Within the folio are 38 pages of neatly written notes, recording the weekly household expenditure between Ladyday (26th March) 1718 until September 1722. An entry for the week ending 20th March 1719 gives a clue as to the writer, here it states " clothes and other things for Mr Caudwell " for a value of £7-5s-9d and the next line reveals " clothes and other things for myself " for £5-16s-9d. This would indicate that the ledger was being kept Mrs Caudwell as housekeeper for her husband. 

Records elsewhere reveal that a William Caudwell was vicar at Flitton, Bedfordshire from 1671 for 51 years and died on 20 September 1722. This fits exactly with the accounts as immediately after that date, the writer records moving to board at Pulloxhill which is adjacent to Flitton. Also, in the accounts there are references to Silso and Ampthill, which are close by as well. It would appear that Mr Caudwell had held a position of some considerable importance at Lincoln Cathedral towards the end of his life. At this period Flitton was, perhaps remarkably to the modern eye, part of the Diocese of Lincoln.

Within the 38 pages is a simple entry which unwittingly helps us hugely in judging the value of one of Newton's chairs. During the week of 25th July 1720, the author "paid the carpenter for a day's work" the amount of 1s-6d. We will probably never know the name of this tradesman but as he is denoted as a carpenter then it's fair to assume that he was someone who had completed an apprenticeship and was now working as a journeyman or even a master. This also directly implies that if he had been employed for 5 days then the earnings would have been exactly 7s-6d, the same price as one of Newton's chairs. Here then, we have the direct equivalent value of a locally-made Forest chair from a primary source. A similar entry is made on 2nd February 1718 where it is noted that Jack Pepper was paid one shilling for a day's work. It is telling that no trade or profession is associated with his name and it could be that he was paid for a day's labouring, which would equate to two thirds of a carpenter's day rate.

There is one more simple entry that will intrigue the furniture historian, namely that on 6th October 1718 two words are clearly written: " chair bottoming " followed by the sum of 3½d. Was this the sum paid to a local tradesman or a peripatetic artisan in return for renewing the rushing on a simple turnpin chair?

© William Sergeant 2020

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