The History of the Windsor Chair -- English Origins

A common story is that King George III (1738-1820), while fox hunting near Windsor castle, took shelter from a storm in a tenant's cottage and was given a simple, stick-built chair to sit in. So impressed was the King by this rustic seat that he had his carpenters make some for the castle, and they soon became fashionable in the area and the country.

Another story suggests that they were invented by a chairmaker in Windsor, England. However, there are no records of any chairmaker working there during the time period they are known to have emerged.

Setting myth and wishful thinking aside, then, we can assemble what facts are known and discover a more realistic tale, one of evolutionary development with ancient beginnings.

One of the basic features of the Windsor chair -- a set of legs socketed into a plank seat -- can be seen in rustic low stools of Egypt from as long ago as 1567-1320 B.C. From the period of the Roman Empire, numerous paintings depict craftsmen sitting on low, stick-built benches. There is little evidence from the Middle Ages (beginning around A.D. 476) of this sort of furniture, but beginning around the 13th century there are many illustrations of stools, benches and tables built with socketed parts. By the early 16th century simple "back stools" were in use. These used a few simple sticks socketed into the back edge of the seat, topped by a horizontal board, and were clearly precursors to what would later be understood as the Windsor chair.

The first true English Windsors may have been made as early as the 17th century, but this has never been established; little was written specifically about such plain furniture of rural origins. The first known reference is found in a will from 1708 stating: "A John Jones of Philadelphia, merchant who died possessed of a Windsor chair." Another early reference was made by Steven Switzer in 1718 in a treatise on landscaping formal gardens, in which he describes a garden walk to a promontory that contained a Windsor seat. And in 1724, Lord Percival, Earl of Egmont, describes a walk in a garden where " wife was carry'd in a Windsor chair....". The first illustration of a Windsor chair is found in a painting by Jacques Rigaud, dated 1733.

During the 1720s and 1730s Windsor chairs became very fashionable both inside and outside English homes. A London advertisement from 1730 includes "Windsor Garden Chairs, of all sizes, painted green or in the wood." In fact the first wide use of Windsors appears to be outdoors, and their use in the gardens of Windsor castle may well have lead to their name.

By the middle of the 18th century two grades of Windsors were being mass produced, mostly in High Wycombe near London: plain, strong, inexpensive chairs for use in cottages, farm houses and schools; and high-style Windsors made of woods such as yew and fruitwoods and decorated with carving, fret-work and upholstery, and finished with paint and gilding.

Back to Tips & Techniques