Just uploaded. A revised version of the section on Philip Clissett's workshop and chairmaking methods. This adds some new material and corrects some errors and omissions. Click here to go directly to the chairmaking page and download your copy.
A great new find!
Recently, I was contacted through this website by Sally Horsnett. Sally owns this charming high chair which she bought from a farm sale in 1991, close to Philip Clissett's home (many thanks to Sally for allowing me to photograph and publish this image).
This chair is fascinating for being stamped PC on the tops of the back legs - previously unknown in a ladderback. In fact, this chair is a blend of Clissett's two principal styles. The legs are turned in the same way as his spindleback chairs, while the back and arms are based on his ladderbacks. The only other Clissett high chair I have seen has all the usual characteristics of his ladderback (see the ladderback gallery).
Furthermore, this new chair is built without pegs, except for two which secure the upper back stretcher into the back legs. These stretcher pegs are not a normal feature of Clissett's work – I know of one other chair with these.
I am fairly sure that Sally's chair is a Clissett family piece.
If anyone knows of other unusual Clissett chairs, please do get in touch.
Unusually, this is not a Clissett-related item, but should be of interest to anyone interested in regional chairs, or furniture in general. I received an email recently from William Sargeant who has a remarkable collection of Lincolnshire chairs. These include rush-seated chairs which make an interesting comparison with the West Midlands tradition that the Clissetts worked in. William’s collection can be viewed on-line as the Lincolnshire Chair Museum. He has also produced three instructive Youtube videos on Lincolnshire chairs:
Do have a look…
A couple of additional Clissett chair images have just been uploaded to the spindleback chair gallery - they both have arms with the relatively rare ball feature, as in the photograph shown here.
I've also re-ordered the images in the spindleback gallery, hopefully into a sensible sequence that reflects the variety of Philip Clissett's output. I've also expanded the explanatory text. Hope it all makes sense!
Despite the interest in Philip Clissett over the years, his workshop and tools have been lost. Luckily, we have a couple of photographs taken in the early 20th century, and some memories of his methods collected many years after his death. I've made an attempt to bring all this together in one place in the lastest part of the Clissett biography.
Some of the recorded memories are contradictory, so I've had a go at sorting them out as far as possible. In the end, although you couldn't build a chair based on my text, there may be something there of interest to the modern chairmaker - and it's the nearest thing so far to a historical record of what Clissett actually did.
You can download this new section on the workshop and working methods from the biography page.
As usual, any comments welcome.
Two PC-stamped spindleback designs have recently come to my attention, and I've now added them to the Spindleback Chair Gallery.
One is a low-back armchair with four spindles, the significant variation being a rush seat.
The other is the more up-market style of side chair where the significant variation is the spindle shape - a type more commonly seen on the less elaborate design with dowel top rail and plain front legs.
You will find illustrations of these in the Spindleback Gallery
One of the many possible lines of enquiry is the Clissett legacy. In other words, how did Philip Clissett's life's work live on after he was gone?
The Clissett workshop folded soon after Philip's death in 1913, apparently because of the First World War. Despite this, Clissett-style ladderbacks have been made throughout most of the ensuing period - right up to the present day.
The tradition was continued principally, at least in the first instance, by Edward Gardiner who had been Ernest Gimson's chairmaker partner. Gardiner produced a range of chairs he called "The Clissett" (it's often claimed that Gimson designed this range, but this is almost certainly not true - I'll write about this some other time). A photograph of Gardiner making "The Clissett" is reproduced below. "The Clissett" continued to be made after Gardiner's death by his apprentice, Neville Neal, and more recently by Neville's son Lawrence.
Who would have thought that "The Clissett" would find its way into one of the Festival of Britain exhibitions in 1951, yet here it is listed in the Guide to the Exhibition of Architecture, Town-Planning and Building Research. Quite why it was exhibited in this particular context, I really don't know. Gardiner had another chair, "The Gimson" exhibited in the Travelling Land Exhibition; it would have been seen all over the country. Good to know that these more or less traditional designs were still being appreciated at that time.
I’ve known for some time that Clissett produced his ladderback side chairs in three-, four- and five-rung versions, but I’d only ever seen three- and five-rung armchairs. When I first saw this chair, I thought that perhaps it wasn’t by Clissett, but it has all the right characteristics – and fills the gap nicely! Perhaps it could have been predicted that one would turn up sooner or later. Do let me know if there are any others out there.
I’ve added this image to the Ladderback Gallery. Do have a look and let me know if any other models can be added to the range.
Amongst Hereford Museum’s small collection of Philip Clissett’s chairs is this strange little chair. It’s quite unlike anything else by Clissett, but one of them (there are two) is clearly stamped PC on the tops of both the front legs. The tops of the front legs are visible, because the seat lifts up, making these the only known examples of metamorphic chairs by Clissett.
The museum has these classed as “chapel chairs”, but nothing else is known about them. The lift-up seat led to the suggestion that these were stacking chairs, but the low front stretcher wouldn’t allow this. I think the clue to their function is in two holes drilled in each of the lower stretchers, one of which contains the remains of a broken screw. My view is that the chairs originally had kneeler boards (hopefully with padding!) screwed to the lower stretchers, and that these were originally kneeler or prayer chairs. This explains the single low front stretcher, and the lack of a font rail below the seat.
Another clue to the function of these chairs is the top rail, angled so that the arms can be comfortably rested when in the kneeling position. One of the chairs has a number, 106, fixed to the top rail suggesting that there may have been a large number of them originally.
I knew nothing about this type of chair, but a trawl of the internet threw up a range of examples in a variety of styles, including a mid-20th century plywood version attributed to Hans Pieck. I’ve included some of them below.
There seems little doubt that the chairs in the Hereford Museum were made by Clissett. Aside from the stamped initials, the construction is clearly a modification of the standard West Midlands elm-bottomed chair, and retains the slotted back rail which holds the fixed part of the seat. They also show Clissett’s usual method of marking up the legs for the side stretchers.
Are there any other examples of these Clissett-made chairs out there? And does anyone know who they were made for? [This chair has now been incorporated into a page on the main website.]
In an earlier post, I put up photographs showing Philip Clissett’s chairs being used by the well-known Arts & Crafts architects Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin. They seem to have first used Clissett’s chairs to furnish a house called “Northwood” that they built in 1899 for Mr C.F. Goodfellow at Northwood Lane, Clayton, Nr Stoke-on-Trent.* Photographs published with this article (see below) show Clissett’s chairs – highback armchairs and both five- and three-rung side chairs – scattered throughout the house, in the entrance hall, living room and dining room. Charles Frederick Goodfellow, as part of Goodfellow, Birks & Co, founded the well-known Vine Pottery in Stoke-on-Trent in 1894.
In 1926, the Goodfellow house was bought by another Potteries businessman, Colley Shorter of Shorter & Son Ltd. Shorter renamed the house “Chetwynd House”, and lived there until his death in 1963. Ceramics enthusiasts will know Shorter’s name because his factory produced Clarice Cliff’s iconic wares and, in 1940, he married the designer.
What has this got to do with Philip Clissett? Only that, it seems, Shorter bought “Chetwynd House” with many or all of the original furnishings, including the Clissett chairs. The photograph at the head of this post shows Clissett’s chairs in the house during Clarice’s time, with Cliff-designed Shorter products on the dresser behind.**
Clarice died in 1972, and the contents of the house were auctioned off. Of course, we don’t know whether the chairs were kept until then; does anyone know what happened to Clarice Cliff’s Clissett chairs?
*Parker, B. (1910). Modern country houses in England: number three. The Craftsman, Vol 18(3), pp324-334; also plates B84 and B85 in The Studio Yearbook of Decorative Art 1908. [Thanks to Paul Shutler for drawing the latter to my attention.]
**This photograph appears in Griffin, L. (1998). The Fantastic Flowers of Clarice Cliff. Pavilion, London. [The ownership and whereabouts of this photograph is not clear. If anyone knows, or if there are copyright issues, please let me know.]