Revealing the Five Masters' Chairs

By Sally Gilbert, School Archivist 


Last week I was asked to check the archive for references to five ancient wooden chairs before we sought advice on their restoration. I had an idea that they were at least as old as our time at the Charterhouse site (1875-1933) had maybe even come from Suffolk Lane.

I turned to the digital Taylorian as the majority of our records from the early years are stored at Guildhall Library, which means a trip to central London. Luckily I discovered a number of reminiscences about Merchant Taylors’ in Suffolk Lane, which describe in detail the ‘classroom’ and practice of teaching over 150 years ago…

In the middle of the left hand side was a great fire-place, protected by a very high wire fender that completely enclosed it, and at the far end the floor was raised about eighteen inches, forming a sort of platform extending the whole width of the room, on which stood the headmaster’s desk, the
monitors’ table, the prompters’ bench, and the upper and lower sixth form seats.

The stern simplicity of the whole could scarcely be said to give it a cheerful aspect, and there was an air of solemnity and age about the place that was added to by the heaviness and solidity of the furniture in the form of the great black oak carved chairs used by the masters, which stood by the places occupied by the different forms.

…At 9 o’clock all the boys assembled according to their forms in the great school-room. The masters, robed in their gowns and caps, entered, and took their places by their forms standing by their great chairs. (‘The Taylorian’, Vol 31, 1908-09)


… The big hall of the old School in which we assembled daily for prayers was long and narrow, and as we arrived we were shepherded by our form master to our places, form facing form across the hall. Each master ostentatiously carried his cane to inspire in our juvenile breasts a feeling of due respect for authority. These handy little weapons were allowed during prayers to rest tranquilly on the fine old carved oak chairs provided for the use of the masters. (‘The Taylorian, Vol 53, 1930-31).

These eyewitness accounts, along with drawings from the 18th century show clearly that the chairs have been part of the School furniture from our time in Suffolk Lane. The conservator confirmed this by independently dating the chairs from 1690 or earlier. It could be that they were purchased to replace items lost when the school was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. Our ambition is to restore them and ensure their survival for another 350 years of School life.

October 2019

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