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Anglo Saxon Furniture

Anglo-Saxon art was derived from two sources—the Continent of Europe and from Ireland. Thus it was that the classic art of the old Roman Empire which had prevailed in Britain during the Roman occupation passed away. A new inspiration came from France, Germany, and some other parts of Italy, and Anglo-Saxon workmen, by no means devoid of artistic tendencies, copied the new styles which were springing up in Europe whenever they had an opportunity of doing so. We can quite understand how when freed from the Roman rule they would discard the inspirations they had received from their conquerors, and if possible they would wish to make new departures. Reference has already been made to the independent line of thought prevailing in the Sister Isle. Celtic art was something apart, independently nourished, and even in Anglo-Saxon days moulded from other influences than those which governed English craftsmen. Incidentally, it may be mentioned that Irish cabinet-makers developed the style which became known as Irish Chippendale, rather from its similarity to English cabinet-work than to the source from which it came. Celtic art in the Anglo-Saxon period was sufficiently strong to influence British workmen, and we find that much of the jewellery and art metal work of that period was Celtic in design. Indeed, some furniture, by no means unimportant, indicates another origin to that which influenced so-called Continental inspirations. There is little or no Saxon furniture left. There are a few chests, it is true, mostly preserved in old churches. One of the most reliable examples is a chest of St Beuno, in Clynnog Church, in Wales. It is little more than a tree trunk hollowed out and bound with iron. There is another not unlike it in Wimborne Minster.

Just as the Chair of St Peter is one of the earliest examples of wooden furniture in Italy, so that of Venerable Bede is one of the earliest examples of English chair-making. Of other early chairs there is, of course, the Coronation Chair, which was made about the year 1300, still showing traces of colouring and gilding. In the Pyx Chapel, in Westminster Abbey, may be seen a coffer which tradition says belonged to Edward II. An example of secular furniture is the Dunmow Chair, in which the winners of the Dunmow flitch of bacon are annually chaired according to the custom which began in the reign of Henry III. That chair, however, is of Gothic design and may possibly have once had a place in Dunmow Church.

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

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