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Distinguishing Marks

The simplest plan to adopt when wishing to understand the chief features of Tudor furniture is to note carefully isolated pieces which have been obtained from different parts of the country, to compare their designs, and when approximate dates are known, or can be fixed with some degree of certainty, to familiarise oneself with the points of advance in the evolution of chair, table, or other object (see chapters xxii.-xxv.)

It will be convenient here to mention points of interest noticeable in Tudor days. The chair, practically the earliest domestic piece of furniture, seems to have retained the solidity of the Middle Ages until the Tudor days were well advanced. It was, however, even in the earlier Tudor period, further decorated by bolder and more frequent carvings, not always adding to its comfort, especially so in the case of the Master's Chair or chair of honour.

As in earlier days the benches (bans) used as seats were plain, and so were the stools. About the middle of the sixteenth-century Italian chairs became popular in England. They were without backs, but velvet or some other material was stretched across the spaces between the arms which were formed of semi-circular pieces of wood, the legs being of similar shape, inverted. The small settles or benches with backs were favoured somewhat, a feature of this time being the monk's bench, which was a small settle, the back of which folded over so as to form a table top.

The tables of early Tudor times are grand in their solidity, and are imposing pieces of antique oak. The legs are bulbous, the bulb affording the carver an exceptional opportunity of giving bold strokes with his chisel. These legs—four in number—were joined by stout rails, and there was generally a rail between each pair of legs, crossed again by a middle layer. Carvings are seldom met with either on the tops or the panels, the legs affording the chief ornament.

The four legs of the oak tables are suggestive of the four bulbous supports of the massive beds of that day. The tester was then large and heavy, and the cornice often equally as massive. Strength and solidity were indeed striking characteristics of such furniture.

The livery cupboard is essentially a relic of the sixteenth century. According to Parker the livery cup-board was owned by those who did not possess little ambries, and was chiefly used for placing the dishes upon as they were brought into the hall. In the livery cup-board, however, cups were hung in rows on hooks, and there was usually a ewer and basin provided for washing them after use. The " cup " board was originally open ; that is to say merely shelves on which to place cups and similar articles ; the addition of doors was an after-thought. Some authorities say that the cupboard doors were first added to the dole cupboards, on the shelves of which were placed the fragments of the feast which were afterwards given to the poor. It is not at all unlikely that servants and others who had access to the victuals would be tempted to make too free with them, and the doors upon which there were strong locks would act as a deterrent. It is noticeable that many of the older cupboards still remaining can be traced to ecclesiastical buildings. Hence the prevalence of Gothic design in the dole cupboards.

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

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