Pair of Arts & Crafts ‘Sussex’ Chairs
by Morris & Co., 1864
A pair of completely original ‘Sussex’ chairs designed Philip Speakman Webb circa 1860 and made by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. (later Morris & Co.), London, before 1900.
The turned wood frames of the chairs are dark-stained solid beech and their seats woven rush. The patination on the chairs (which have always been together) is nothing less than exquisite. Thanks to over a century of gentle wear, in places the natural beech has re-emerged from the original dark-stained finish. Resultantly, parts of the wood such as the spindles in the backrest glow a honey colour similar to the hues in the natural rush.
Webb’s ‘Sussex’ chair is based on a vernacular design from the county of Sussex (South East England) which was fashionable between 1790 & 1820.
Morris & Co.’s revitalisation of the design (which they produced from 1864 until WW1) was related to their mission in promoting the importance of art & design to the health and happiness of society.
A belief of the original Arts & Crafts practitioners was that conscientious handmade objects with ‘decorative honesty’ possessed a soul which positively affected interiors and users. Key to achieving well-thought-out objects was consideration for the welfare of those responsible for the manufacture of items. Arts & Crafts designers were not arbitrarily against the use of machines, but felt that the division of labour in industrialised production (which results in individuals having a very weak relationship with the results of their labour) was damaging to workers as well as the products they made and so, in turn, all of society.
The ‘Sussex’ range sold by Morris & Co. was the firm’s most popular and successful furniture. Variations of the design were famously used by the Morris’ at their family homes Red House (Bexleyheath) and Kelmscott House (Hammersmith), and by their friends Edward Burne-Jones and Alfred Gilbert. Newnham College and the Fitzwilliam Museum, both in Cambridge, also used the Sussex chair.
Aside from the humanitarian theoretics of the ‘Sussex’ chair the competitive price point at which the design was sold also helped its appeal. Sales catalogues from 1864 up until 1910 show that a ‘Sussex’ chair could be purchased for 7 shillings throughout this period. This was the equivalent of a day’s wages of a skilled tradesman in each of the five decades the chair was sold.
Specifications:Width: 45 cm
Height: 87 cm
Depth: 53 cm
Seat Height: 44 cm
Materials: Beech, rush
Date of Design: Circa 1860
Date of Manufacture: Before 1900
Designer: Philip Speakman Webb
Maker: Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. (later Morris & Co.)