Chapter I

The Development of the Chest and Standing Cupboard.

HE chest or coffer was a most important article of furniture, especially during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, both in houses and monastic establishments. Some idea has already been given of the wealth, in carved and decorated woodwork, which must have been general even in small parish churches, until the first quarter of the sixteenth century. Enough has persisted to our day to give some vague idea of the amount and richness which must have been stored in these churches throughout the length and breadth of England. \\ hat has not survived are the treasures in the way of vestments, altar-cloths, jewels and ornaments of gold, silver and enamel, in chalice, paten, altar candlesticks and the like, as these were the prey of the despoiler long ago. Many accounts have been preserved of the wholesale destruction by fire of copes, vestments, banners and altar-cloths. There were many edicts, not onljr permitting, but even authorising and commanding the burning of canonical vestments as idolatrous trappings. In 1551 the order to demolish all high altars, and to substitute plain wooden tables, went forth, and was generally obeyed.1 Parish registers give innumerable accounts of the insensate destruction which was carried on from the middle of the sixteenth century, at intervals, until almost the end of the seventeenth. The spoliation of portable church wealth became almost a profession !

The safe custody of these rare fabrics, jewels and vessels of gold and silver, demanded the chest, and the greatest care was taken in its making, especially in the selection of the wood. The huchers or huchiers, \\ ho were employed in the manufacture, were a class of workmen of lower grade than the makers of purely architectural woodwork, but they were under the direct control of the Master Guild, the officials of which enacted stringent laws regarding the selection and seasoning of the timber. In the smaller churches, however, oak was not always used, deal being substituted, which, although an inferior wood, was more highly esteemed than oak, in panellings, from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries, deal-panelled rooms being referred to in inventories, whereas wainscotting of oak is rarely mentioned.

1 This explains the presence of so many late sixteenth and early seventeenth-ccntury tables to be found acting as altars, especially in country churches.

The earliest chests of which we have any knowledge date from the middle thirteenth century. The tops nearly always open on pin-hinges, that is, on two pins fixed at the ends of the back under-clamp of the top and socketed into the uprights of the sides. These are rarely, if ever, found in the fourteenth century, heavy iron clamp-hinges being substituted. Fig. i is the thirteenth-century type of chest, from Great Bedwyn Church,. Wiltshire. It is roughly constructed, yet in a characteristically thirteenth-century manner. The front is a solid board of oak of great width, roughly finished with the saw marks left in its surface, tenoned into heavj7 uprights. These project over the ends and are united from front to back by two heavy cross pieces, the tenons of which are carried through to the front. The lower one supports the bottom of the chest, which is made from stout wood to carry heavy weights. The ends are housed into the heavy styles, and are fixed to the cross-pieces. There is no attempt at ornamentation, although, originally, the bottom of the upright styles may have, been carved with simple cusping. The ironwork at present on the chest is all of much later date.

OAK CHEST WITH DEAL TOP FROM GREAT BEDWYN CHURCH, WILTSHIRE.

4 ft. 2 ins. wide by 2 ft. i in. high by i ft. g ins. from back to front. Early thirteenth century.

OAK CHEST WITH DEAL TOP FROM GREAT BEDWYN CHURCH, WILTSHIRE.

4 ft. 2 ins. wide by 2 ft. i in. high by i ft. g ins. from back to front. Early thirteenth century.

The next type, Fig. 2, which also belongs to the thirteenth century, is where the front is formed with very wide upright styles fixed flush to the centre and acting as huge clamps. The tenons of the central panel are secured in the mortises of these vertical clamps by large wooden pegs, which are here allowed to project, and are finished off as ornamental features. The entire front is fixed to the sides with heavy wrought-iron nails. This chest is rare, for its date, in being ornamented with roundels and geometrical devices in chip-can ing. As a rule, thirteenth-century chests are plain, and tracery was never applied. This Earl Stonham chest is supported on large runners, kept well away from the ends to minimise any tendency to sagging of the bottom.

There is a still earlier type of chest than those illustrated here, which shows the woodworker copying the methods of the stonemason. This is the dug-out kind, of which several examples exist, where the chest is hollowed out and fashioned from one great piece of timber. Very few have survived, nor is this method calculated to producc a chest which is likely to remain for many years without falling to pieces, owing to the cracking and warping of the timber, which in this large scantling could not possibly have been seasoned before using. Where the reference occurs in the parish accounts •of the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries to " item, 1 Great Old Ark," it is usually one

OAK CHEST. EARL STONHAM CHURCH, SUFFOLK.

Late thirteenth century.

OAK CHEST. EARL STONHAM CHURCH, SUFFOLK.

Late thirteenth century.

of these dug-out chests which is described. Unfortunately, all chests of this type are not thirteenth century ; the practice was still followed for nearly two centuries afterwards, and as the later copies are usually devoid of ornament of any kind, it is impossible to date them with any accuracy. Fig. 3 from Groton and Fig. 4 from Chelsworth are of this ark form, but are constructed chests. The way in which both are heavily banded with iron suggests that they were intended to contain articles of valuable and precious nature. The tops, in each case, are hewn from the solid trunk. Both of these chests are from poplar, a soft wood which is now much perished.

Boxford Church has one of these iron-bound chests, Fig. 5, of a crude form, made from deal. The front and back are carried over the ends and spiked to them. The wood, generally, is about inches in thickness.

All Saints' Church, at Stansfield in Suffolk, has one of these primitive oak chests, Fig. 6, with heavy iron clamps, vertical on the front and horizontal on the sides. This has the appearance of being of the late thirteenth century, but, if so, the ironwork is a subsequent addition, probably from the next century. The feet date from Jacobean times.

It is extremely rare to find these plain chests of the fourteenth century enriched with heraldic or other paintings. One of these exceptional examples is shown in Figs. 7 and 8. This oak chest dates from the early fourteenth century. It measures 6 ft. 4I ins. in length, 2 ft. 1 in. in height and 1 ft. 4 ins. in depth from back to front. It is constructed, in the primitive manner of its period, of w ide oak boards cut into solid thick ends and strapped with iron. At each end are iron handles, made with a double link, so that the chest could be slung between two horses or mules during its carriage from place to place. These long chests were nearly always intended for monastic or ecclesiastic use, to contain vestments, deeds or other treasures. Both the ends and the top are slightly domed, and on the inside of the latter, in the centre, is depicted a conflict between a dragon and a figure, half man and half leopard ; the figure wears a coif of the period and what may be a hauberk or brigandine of chain mail. At the extreme left hand of the top is a representation of the English lion rampant, and at the other is a gryphon, or one of those unnamable beasts which were very popular from the fourteenth to the early sixteenth century, as supporters in heraldry. Henry VII was the last to indulge in this unknown beast, and in some of his coats the supporters strongly resemble greyhounds. Of the four shields,--allowance being made for the yellowing of the tinctures,— one is that of Sir John Daungerville or d'Aungerville of County Leicester, temp. Edward I, a name also spelt Angervile or Angervill. The latter is the form which is used by Richard de

POPLAR CHEST. GROTON CHURCH, SUFFOLK.

4 ft. 6 ins. long by 2 ft. 5 ins. total height by 1 ft. 9i ins. back to front. Late fourteenth century.

POPLAR CHEST. CHELSWORTH CHURCH, SUFFOLK.

4 it. 5 ins. long over lid by 2 ft. 3 ins. high by 1 ft. S ins. back to front. Late fourteenth century.

POPLAR CHEST. CHELSWORTH CHURCH, SUFFOLK.

4 it. 5 ins. long over lid by 2 ft. 3 ins. high by 1 ft. S ins. back to front. Late fourteenth century.

Bury, Bishop of Durham. The coat is gules a einquefoil or ermine pierced within a bordure sable charged with bezants.

The second shield from the left, gules a cross or between four cinquefoils ermine pierced, is not an English coat at all. It may be that either of the abbot of an associated monastery, probably in France, or of a foreign benefactor of Durham Cathedral. That this chest was once the property of the Cathedral is almost certain.

The third is the form, novel at that date, of England quartering France, which may account for the error of the heraldic luminer in placing the lions of England in the wrong quarter. This form was not adopted until 1340, w hich in a way fixes the maximum age of this chest. There are several instances, at this date, of similar mistakes in emblazoning, where England is given the preference, in quartering, over France.

Fourth, gules a saltire or1 (should be argent). This is the coat of Nevill, Earl of Westmorland.

This chest was originally either the property of Durham Cathedral or of a large monastery close by. The emblazoning is sufficient to indicate that it was made not earlier than 1340 and during the time when Richard de Bury (himself a d'Aungerville) was Bishop. As he died on August 13th, 1345, the period of this chest is narrowed down to one of five years.

Representations of tilting, in lists, or on the field, may have a definite significance in coffers of this date. Sometimes these tilting scenes were painted, but more often they were carved on the chest-front. We know, at this date, that armour of plate was the

1 Due to the yellowing of the tinctures by later varnishing.

DEAL CHEST. BOXFORD CHURCH, SUFFOLK

5 ft. long by 1 ft. 6\ ins. high-by i ft. 10 ins. front to back.

DEAL CHEST. BOXFORD CHURCH, SUFFOLK

5 ft. long by 1 ft. 6\ ins. high-by i ft. 10 ins. front to back.

usual wear, not only of the knights and nobles, but often of the bishops themselves. Odo of Baveux, although of earlier date, was a good example of a fighting bishop. It is reasonable to suppose that armour, which was a highly valued possession at all periods,, may have been kept, for safe custody, in these chests, and that the significance of the contents may have been indicated by the tilting figures on the front. How highly prized armour was, may be gathered from the fact that the victor despoiled the vanquished of his armour only, leaving his other possessions often intact. It is not suggested that this is an armour chest, as the painted scene in the centre of the inside of the lid is not properly a tilting scene at all, but the length is suggestive, as armour, if placed in a chest, would not be thrown in carelessly, as the edges would scratch, not only the surface, but also the damascening or the engraving. It would be laid out, in proper order, and the length of this chest would allow of the display of the complete suit from sollerets to bassinet. The original lock, which is now missing, was probably a very ornate and cumbrous affair, but its type would indicate that the contents of this chest were highly prized, and were to be secured against theft by the best possible means.

Fig. 9 from the Victoria and Albert Museum, has the appearance of being earlier than the fifteenth century, which is the date given by the Department of Woodwork. This chest has the thirteenth-century pin-hinged lid, although the lid itself has the

OAK CHEST. ALL SAINTS' CHURCH, STANSFIELD, SUFFOLK.

5 ft. long by i ft. g ins. total height (fest 7 ins. high) by 1 ft. 4 ins. back to front. Early fourteenth century.

OAK CHEST. ALL SAINTS' CHURCH, STANSFIELD, SUFFOLK.

5 ft. long by i ft. g ins. total height (fest 7 ins. high) by 1 ft. 4 ins. back to front. Early fourteenth century.

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