25 jun 2013

The Design Of Furniture Tables In The Tudor Period 1500 1650

The Design of Furniture Tables in the Tudor Period 1500-1650

In early lists of household goods, tables in the form of board and trestles appear separately entered. A narrow board mounted on trestles was often set for the members of the family on the raised portion or dais of the hall and at trestle tables in the main or lower portion of the hall the household was ranged. In the trestle table, such as the early fifteenth-century pair at Penshurst Place, and two formerly at Gwydir Castle, the immense weight of the tops was sufficient to hold the supports in place, the tops of the Gwydir Castle tables being nearly four inches thick, formed of slabs of timber on which oak planks are fixed. When not required, the top of the trestle table could be dismounted, turned up and placed by the wall, and the supports removed. Trestle tables continued in sole use until the middle of the sixteenth century, when “joined” tables began to appear. From this time onwards, the “joined” table ­i.e., one joined or framed together by a joiner-gradually displaced the trestle, and the advantages of stability were so obvious that the loose board was occasionally nailed to its supports, as in the inventory of the Guildhall at Boston, in 1534, where we learn that there were eight tables on the north side of the hall, joined and nailed to the trestles, and seven on the south side similarly arranged.

When fixed to the floor, tables were termed “dormant,” and Ben Jonson uses the term in the early seventeenth century :­ ” Were not the pounds laid out . . . upon the table dormant?”

Joined long tables also had solid tops of great thickness, such as that in the hall at Ockwells, which is of two planks of elm, two inches thick. The length of these hall tables made them, in practice, fixtures. Plot’ speaks of the oak that grew in the New Park at Dudley and made the table in the old hall at Dudley Castle, which was of ” prodigious height and magnitude, out of which a table all of one plank could be cut, twenty-five yards three inches long, and wanting but two inches of a yard in breadth for the whole length.” As it was too long for the hall at Dudley, 7 yards 9 inches were cut off. A table, formerly at Holme Lacy (now removed to Beaudesert), is little less, measuring 24 feet.

Dining tables of great length went out of fashion with the decay of the household of retainers and the disuse of the great hall as a dining-room, but another variety of long table superseded it in hall and gallery, the shovel board. “The shovel board and other long tables both in hall and parlor were as fixed as the freehold” as John Evelyn wrote of the household gear of his father’s time. The shovel or shuffle board was a gaming table on which a coin was smartly pushed along so that it rested between any one of a number of transverse lines marked upon the surface. There is a shovel board table at Littlecote, in Wiltshire, and at Stanway, in Gloucestershire; and Plot records one in the hall of Chartley Castle, “measuring ten yards, in foot, 1 inch long, which was made up of two hundred and sixty pieces, each about eighteen inches long, and so accurately joined and glued together that no shuffleboard whatever is freer from Rubbs and Castings.” The top of the fine seventeenth-century shovel board at Astley Hall is parquet, doubtless for the same reason ; the top has a box at one end, the legs are of ringed columnar form, and read here a remarkable feature is the pierced panels of the frieze, which are vigorously carved.

Tables for dining parlors were made with an extending top, and inventoried as drawing or draw tables. These tops are in three pieces, a centre, and two leaves, which when not in use lie under the main leaf. The device dates at least from the first year of Elizabeth’s reign, when a joined drawing table is mentioned in an inventory of the goods at Stationers Hall. The mechanism of the drawing table is as follows ” The end leaves were fixed upon graduated bearers, and to prevent their upper surfaces from being scratched as they were drawn out, a slight vertical movement is allowed to the centre part of the table, which permits it to be lifted up till they are quite clear of it. The extent of the movement is regulated by the propelling heads of the two pins, which fit closely into the immovable cross-piece. As soon as the leaf is drawn out, the free play given to these pins in the cross-piece permits the centre piece to fall into its original position, which it does by its own gravity. The leaves being now raised by the graduated bearers to the required height, the upper surface of the table becomes level throughout. It is unnecessary to say that the adjustment of these slides is a matter of nice calculation, and that great ingenuity has been shown in bringing about so satisfactory a result.’ A fine drawing table of elm and ash is dated 1630.

Copyright (c) 2012 Mathew Jenkins