Luxury Design, Past & Present
Each of these oak Glastonbury chairs has a pointed back and a fixed rectangular seat. The shaped arms and X-frame legs are attached with protruding pegs, giving the impression of a collapsible or folding chair. The elaborate coats of arms carved into the back are quartered multiple times and surmounted by a plumed helmet with two arms holding a victor’s wreath and flanked by two heraldic beasts, all surrounded by swags and tassels and the motto ‘tant que je puis’. English, circa 1870.
These chairs were made for a member of the Pemberton family of County Durham. The Pembertons made a significant contribution to the university and city of Durham. Ralph, Richard and John all served as High Sheriff. In addition, John was Member of Parliament for Sunderland, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, President of the Council of Durham Colleges, Recorder for Durham and chair of the Durham Quarter Sessions.
The Glastonbury chair was possibly based on a chair made for Abbot Richard Beere from a description brought back from Rome in 1504 by John Arthur Thorne, treasurer at the abbey. At the dissolution of the monasteries, Thorne was hung, drawn and quartered on Glastonbury Tor in 1539, alongside his master, Richard Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury. The Abbot sat on a Glastonbury chair during his trial at Bishop’s Palace, Wells, where one of the two original chairs survives.