Until the 18th century, poorer folk in England had only the simplest sort of furniture, with little or no account taken of bodily comfort. Then, and through much of the following century, quite sophisticated chairs were produced in a wide range of regional and local patterns by craftsmen chairmakers usually working on their own account.
Of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of craftsmen who produced these "common chairs", Philip Clissett is probably the most well known. Born into a chair-making family in 1813, he followed his father's, and his grandfather's, occupation producing chairs from green ash turned on a pole lathe. The Clissett family's chair-making tradition dates back to well before the 1770s, and probably to at least the 1750s.
Philip might well have been condemned to obscurity if he had not continued to work into old age. By chance, during the 1880s, his work was introduced to the developing Arts & Crafts movement. He made a large set of chairs for the newly formed Art Workers Guild, and eighty or so of his chairs still grace their Meeting Hall in London. He taught designer and architect, Ernest Gimson, how to make chairs on a lathe, and many of the Arts & Crafts cognoscenti furnished their homes with Clissett's chairs. More recently, Clissett's work has inspired a new generation of amateur and professional chair-makers.
Click on the menu above to learn more about Philip Clissett and his chairs. You can discover details of Clissett's life, his working methods and range of chair styles, associated chair-makers, and Clissett family genealogy.
The best way to find out more about regional chairs in general is to read Bill Cotton's wonderful book The English Regional Chair. Make sure you check out the Regional Furniture Society as well.
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Philip Clissett depended on freshly cut timber from local woodlands for his craft. You can help conserve woodlands today by supporting the Woodland Trust. If you have enjoyed this site, then please make a donation to this charity. Thanks!