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.
Edward Gardiner in his workshop assembling "The Clissett" in 1938. Note the high chair version in the background. (Lemington Spa Courier, 17 June 1938)
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?
Clissett ladderback arm chairs at
Chetwynd House, Clarice Cliff's
home, during the 1940s.
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. The living room at "Chetwynd House",
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.**
then known as "Northwood", soon
after it was built in 1899. Clissett
ladderback to left.
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.]
The Clissett workshop at Bosbury closed a little while after Philip’s death, apparently because of the onset of the First World War – and was never started up again. Similarly, Edward Gardiner’s workshop also closed because of WW1, but he responded to encouragement to start up again some time after the war was over. Readers will be familiar with the fact that a branch of the Clissett family was making chairs in Newport, Monmouthshire, at the same time as Philip’s workshop was operational. Recently, I found some details on-line from a 1920s trade directory of Newport that shows a Clissett workshop still in operation after the war (I should stress, we have no idea what sort of chairs were being made).
Newport Central Library has a fairly complete run of John’s Directory of Newport
, and I’ve now been able to get a little more detail on the later Clissett activities in the town. You can find details of when the Clissett family arrived in Newport in the biography section of the website.
In the mid-1890s, the directory lists four separate chairmakers from the Clissett family. Only one of these has a commercial listing (Edward), and it seems likely that the others were employees either of Edward or one of the other two chairmakers listed in the commercial section – William Green and George Hawkins.
By 1898, Edward had died, and Thomas appears to have taken over as the commercial figurehead. By this time, Newport had only two chairmakers listed commercially, the other being C.E. Hawkins. Thomas died in 1902, and his wife Elizabeth took over the business which is thereafter listed as “E. Clissett & Son”, the son being Albert Edward.
The firm of C.E. Hawkins transmuted into Hawkins & Bailey in 1903, then disappeared between 1907 and 1909 leaving E. Clissett & Son as the sole chairmaking enterprise in the Newport area. As I noted above, the firm made it through the war, though, from about 1925 onwards the commercial listing is simply in Albert Clissett’s own name. Sometime between 1927 and 1930, Albert dropped his commercial listing and, presumably, gave up chairmaking. He was only in his late forties, so I assume that he could no longer make a go of it.
If only we knew something (anything!) about the chairs that the Clissett family made in Newport. Richard Bebb’s book on Welsh Furniture
deals with many furniture makers of this period, but does not mention the Clissetts. So, if anyone knows anything about the chairs produced by the Newport branch of the family, I’d be very pleased to hear about them. Perhaps they figure in family photographs, or there might be references to the chairmaking businesses in family documents. I’m sure there’s a good story somewhere out there!
The sculptor Sir George Frampton (1860-1928)
is best known for the statue of Peter Pan
in Kensington Gardens, London. Frampton was a member of the Art Workers Guild from 1887, a committee member from 1893 to 1895, and Master in 1902. In his early days at the Guild, he would have seen the purchase and installation of many of the ladderback chairs made by Philip Clissett and still used today. No doubt this is what prompted the purchase of his own Clissett chair.
This photograph from The Tatler’s
series “Artists in their Studios” shows him in 1902 – and right in the centre of this image is one of Clissett’s lowback chairs. In about 1910, Frampton moved into a new house which featured in an article in The
Studio in that year, and many of the rooms were illustrated, including his new studio (below). The chair can be seen just to the right of the stove.
These photographs provide just a little more support for Dugald MacColl’s assertion that Clissett’s chairs, once they were on view at the Art Workers Guild “passed … into many houses”. References:
Anon. (1902). Artists in their studios: Mr G.J. Frampton, the Royal Academician, in St John’s Wood. The Tatler
, 16 April 1902.
Anon. (1910). Recent Designs in Domestic. The Studio
Sir George Frampton's studio, about 1910.
The Hall at Barnards Inn, by J. Holland Tringham, 1893.
The search continues for early images of Philip Clissett’s ladderback chairs. The earliest known purchaser of the ladderback chairs, aside from James MacLaren himself, was reputedly the Artworkers Guild in London. Eighty of Clissett’s chairs are still there, and in regular use. So, the AWG seemed a good place to concentrate on.
The Guild was founded in 1886, and hasn’t always been based in its current home in Queens Square. Earlier homes include the Century Club in Pall Mall, Clifford’s Inn, and the Hall at Barnard’s Inn. I struck lucky with Barnard’s Inn.
This drawing is by Joseph Holland Tringham
(1861-1908) and was published in the London Illustrated News
for 8th July 1893. The representation of ladderback chairs in this drawing is not perfect - they appear to have rolled ends to the arms. However, a couple of photographs taken in the previous year suggest that this is a mistake (perhaps between the original sketch and the studio version), and that the chairs are, indeed, Clissetts.
The City of London Archive holds a photograph of the interior of the hall taken in 1892
by Bedford Lemere & Co. I can’t show the photograph here because of copyright, but do check it out. It shows three Clissett low-back chairs, and a high-back. The furniture over on the right hand side includes the current AWG Master’s table, and the original Master’s chair (not the Kenton & Co chair used today).
English Heritage also has this same photograph
in its collection , and a further one
providing a clearer view of the three low-backs. The metadata for these photographs tells us the exact date they were taken, 12 November 1892.
These photographs were taken with 12x10 inch plate cameras, and should show enormous detail. Unfortunately, English Heritage charge about £25 for a high-res image – this research is done on a shoestring, so this is just too much. So, while it seems to me almost certain that these are Clissett’s chairs (whose else could they be at this early date?), final confirmation will have to wait. In the meantime, I’ll try to find another source.
Bedford Lemere & Co were the leading architectural photographers of their day. If you want to know more about their extraordinary work, check out the online exhibition
on the RIBA website.
While I have been able to trace Philip Clissett’s ancestry back to the 1690s, I've been aware for some time of two families of Clissetts in the City of Hereford from the 1560s onwards. Their details are easily available from the International Genealogical Index, though the surname, as usual, tends to vary quite a bit. The two families are almost certainly related, and one can be traced through to about 1650 in London. What happened to those who stayed in Hereford has not been clear, and how the Worcestershire Clissetts (Philip’s line) were related isn’t known.
Thanks to the interest and help of Jean Dobson of Hereford, it is now possible to put a little more flesh on the bones of the Hereford Clissetts. She has managed to show that the first adult male Clissett to arrive in Hereford was James Clissett who appears in the Herefordshire muster of 1542, and in tax lists for the City of Hereford in 1543 and 1545. It seems very likely that he was the father of John and William Clissett who headed the two known Clissett families, and who married in 1564 and 1571 respectively. He is also probably the father of Elenor, Margret and Christopher who married in 1568, 1575, and 1576.
There is not much evidence of occupations. Some of the Clissetts appear to have been quite well off, and a later James Clissett (1569-1610) was a Master Butcher.
The Clissetts disappeared from Hereford by the time of the Civil War. It’s really frustrating that we haven’t been able to discover where they went, and whether there is a link to the family at Earls Croome, Worcestershire in the 1690s.
I will (eventually) write up the early Clissetts in more detail. In the meantime, if you have an interest in Hereford, then you should keep an eye on Jean Dobson’s blog
where she publishes all sorts of details of the townsfolk throughout history.
Recently, I have been following up on the notion, based on the publication in 1903 by D.S. MacColl, that Clissett's ladderback chairs became very popular amongst those that saw them at the Art Workers Guild. There might, I hoped, be photographs of original Arts & Crafts interiors that featured these chairs.
As part of this line of enquiry, I pulled from the files a photocopy I was given some time ago. This showed the living room of Raymond Unwin who, with Barry Parker, was architect and planner at Letchworth Garden City. He occupied this house (“Laneside” at Letchworth) between 1904 and 1906. The photograph came from the book Raymond Unwin: garden cities & town planning by Mervyn Miller (published 1992); Miller refers to the chairs as “Clissett”. When Unwin moved to Hampstead in 1906, to the house he was to occupy for the rest of his life, it seems that the chairs went with him. (The copy of the photograph shown here comes from a copy of The Craftsman published in 1911)
Following this line of enquiry held some surprises. The National Portrait Gallery holds some photographic portraits of Unwin. In one of these, taken in the 1930s by the Bassano studio, Unwin appears to be sitting in one of the chairs seen in the much earlier photograph. The visible parts of this chair make it clear that it is Clissett's. Time to look a little further...
Unwin's partner, Barry Parker, published a long series of articles around 1910 in the American magazine The Craftsman. Each of these is illustrated by photographs of houses and interiors by Parker & Unwin, including the first photograph referred to above. Several others of the illustrated interiors feature these same ladderback chairs, showing Clissett's chairs in Arts & Crafts interiors dating from 1899 in England, Scotland and Ireland.
A final piece of circumstantial evidence. One of only two surviving bills of sale from the Clissett workshop dates from 1906, and is made out to Mr Wilson Bidwell. Richard Wilson Bidwell (1877-1944) worked with Parker & Unwin in Bakewell, and went with them to Letchworth.
And one final surprise. In several of his articles, Barry Parker claimed (personally, or with his partner) to have designed all the furniture in the interiors shown. The total number of possible designers of the “Clissett” ladderback is now four; James MacLaren (the front runner), Ernest Gimson (according to many dealers and some museums – no evidence for this), the architectural team of Arnold Dunbar Smith and Cecil Brewer (according to the V&A – but again no evidence) and, now, Parker & Unwin!
Here is another of the photographs of Clissett ladderbacks in a Parker & Unwin house. This time, it's a house in Belfast and the photos come from another copy of The Craftsman published in 1911.
A lucky find today added a second record of Samuel Clissett's (1737-c1805) occupation as chairmaker. It comes from the newspaper Berrow's Worcester Journal
for 15th November 1770, and reads: On the 20th of last Month a dreadful Fire broke out at the Dwelling-House of Samuel Clissett, of Longdon, Chair-maker and Victualler, which consumed the greatest Part of the Furniture, with all his Timber and Working Tools, to the entire Ruin of the poor Man, with a Wife and four Children. Some very worthy, humane Gentlemen have already contributed to the Relief of this distressed Family, whose Example, we hope, will be readily followed by many other well-disposed Persons.Not only does this push back the earliest record of a Clissett chairmaker (though only by 7 years), it also tells us that Samuel was not surviving by chairmaking alone, but also as a victualler
- i.e. a tavern keeper.Having been made destitute by the fire in October, and apparently having lost his first wife sometime in the previous 12 months
or so, Samuel married for the second time in December 1770. His new wife was Sarah Tayler, Philip Clissett's grandmother.I would like to be able to say that I have carefully searched newspapers back to 1770, but the truth is that this was a chance Google find. This newspaper is not on the British Library database (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk
) but turned up on a site I've not seen before at www.lastchancetoread.com