Ladderback chair heritage

I have received two interesting emails lately which add more detail about the background to the Castle Drogo and Jennie chairs. They tie in beautifully with discussions I’ve been having elsewhere on the web about crediting your craft references and inspirations and, by doing so, becoming part of a heritage of makers.

Jennie Alexander two-slat chairJennie Alexander wrote to explain that the two-slat chair is a progression from a one-slat Shaker dining chair which she copied and taught during the first two chair making courses at Drew Langsner’s country Workshops in the late 1970s. This one-slat has straight back legs so is a simpler introduction to chair making. It wasn’t until the third of these courses that they bent the bent the back legs in order to build a two-slat chair. So the original credit goes to the Shaker craftsmen who designed the chair though Jennie admits to have altered the construction enough for it to be classed as the ‘Jennie chair’. Developments have continued on the construction so that a third edition of ‘Make a chair from a tree’ is underway at the moment.

Jennie also came to England and taught chair making at John Makepeace’s school at Parnham House “a long, long time ago”. During this class there wasn’t time to bend the back legs so they built one-slat dining chairs from that original Shaker design. Who was one the course? David Drew, who went on to build 100 of them for Castle Drogo in Devon where I found them.

David Drew's Castle Drogo chairsMeanwhile Jane Schofield wrote with more information regarding those Castle Drogo chairs. Her husband commissioned the chairs for the restaurant following the ‘Great Storm’ of 1990 which felled many trees on the National Trusts properties. The actual timber for the chairs came from Knightshayes Court in Tiverton rather than Castle Drogo itself as I’d been led to believe. A set of photographs of the making process were also commissioned at the time and hung in the restaurant; I wonder where they are now? Something to follow up..

Steve Tomlin Black and white chairFrom the Shakers through Jennie Alexander to David Drew the stories of the two chairs are form a heritage with each successive craftsperson adding their own identity. I am even more proud to be making them now myself and hope I can do them justice.

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About Steve Tomlin

I am a greenwood worker and scythe tutor. I carve spoons, bowls and other products from locally sourced greenwood. During the summer I teach scything around the UK.
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One Response to Ladderback chair heritage

  1. linda says:

    cool Steve, interesting to follow the lineage, shamefully I still have one of my Drew /Drogo chairs awaiting repair….. I’ll get to it one day. After Easter I will go up to Drogo and ask the manager if he knows anything about the photos recording the making.
    Congrats on your scholarship, fantastic news, look forward to reading about your trip.
    All best Linda

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