For 4 years I worked in High Wycombe, the one-time capital of the world chair industry, due to Buckinghamshire beechwoods and skilled craftsmen.
In Gloucester they roll cheeses down a hill and wave two fingers to the Health and Safety Managers. These are a very different group to the Health and Safety Professionals, who are usually sensible and practical, know what they are talking about, and become even more infuriated by bureaucrats appointing themselves as faux H&S Professionals than do the public.
In the Firth of Forth they have seal-seeing tours that guarantee repeat business, because you need to come back many times should you wish to actually see a seal.
And walking down the street in High Wycombe one day I discovered that in 1877 they had a Great Chair Arch to celebrate Queen Victoria’s 40th Anniversary, organised by one Walter Skull of the Chair Manufacturers Association. Presumably Skull was the Chairman (sorry).
The larger fundamental problem in the question of seating, especially of church seating, is now being addressed. A competition to design a lightweight, ergonomically sound, comfortable chair for under £100 has just been announced.
I quite like Mr Bayley’s rhetoric:
This is interesting not only because the design of an efficient, elegant and comfortable stacking chair is, like the bishops themselves, at the outer limits of human capability and therefore an exercise worthy of encouragement, but because the Church of England may slowly be rediscovering its extraordinary potential as a patron. There are about sixteen thousand churches in England and 90 per cent of them, at least by John Betjeman’s reckoning, are ruined by rubbish furniture, especially rubbish Victorian furniture.
No one wants St Enodoc to look as though its interior could be mistaken for a coruscating Norman Foster-designed arts centre in Uzbekistan, but dignity and elegance are not enemies of piety and contemplation. Even more interesting is what business from sixteen thousand churches could do to stimulate local manufacturing and therefore local wellbeing.
Though quoting a poet of nostalgia who has been dead for a generation, and did most of his writing about Church Interiors a generation before that is an interesting idea. Perhaps things have changed slightly since 1964.
There are three competitions; one for students for designs deliverable for £100, one for £200, and one for designs already in production.
A church chair has a demanding specification, which is roughly:
- a lifetime of perhaps 50 years in continuous, public, use,
- to be stackable,
- to be very abuse-proof,
- to be cost-effective,
- to be comfortable,
- to be storable in a small space,
- and to be easily portable by everyone from little old ladies organising Beetle-Drives upwards.
I’d benchmark any new pretenders against a metal chair which has been on the market since just before – coincidentally – 1964, after 8 years waiting for a manufacturer to accept the design.
This chair is known as the David Rowland 40/4 chair, and was designed primarily to be efficient in storage:
David Rowland’s award-winning 40/4 stackable chair is arguably one of the most important designs of the 20th century. The 40/4 chair is featured in design collections and museums the world over, in recognition of its elegant lines, excellent ergonomics, unsurpassed stacking and handling, as well as space-saving advantages for flexible interiors. With over eight million sold since its inception in 1964, the 40/4 stackable chair is an indisputable icon of multifunctional design, which continues to attract architects and designers who are amazed by its ability to create space – without taking up space.
These have been sold by the million; St Paul’s Cathedral, for example, has several thousand, and they cost around £100-£200 each.
That, on the right, is 40 chairs. They also come in modules of 4 chairs, which put 160 on a different version of the trolley.
I wish the new designers luck; they will need it to outdo the 40/4.
And that brings me to teapots.
My favourite teapot was also around in 1964, and I haven’t seen anything else that comes close.
These days you have your sexy and fashionable transparent teapot.
Like the one on the right, which was – surprise, surprise – designed by an architect.
It succeeds in allowing you to see that you tea is tea coloured, and provides you with a Heath-Robinson tea steeper.
But it will also display tea stains, and can only be cleaned by using:
- Far too much time,
- a maid,
- a waterjet,
- or Ken Dodd and his tickling stick.
You also have your Phillipe Starck teapot, which – like the pointy-headed lemon-queezers and Mr Starck himself – is highly aesthetic but more than a little futile should you wish to use it for its alleged purpose.
And then you have your timeless teapot.
This is a teapot which – rather than requiring a baroque, silver or stainless-mesh-shaped-as-an-idealised-teabush strainer – simply redesigns the whole lot into history.
No need or a strainer, as the leaves fall to the bottom and the spout is right at the top. A low surface-area-to-volume ratio, so the tea-cosy can be consigned to history. A simple shape so that it will wash easily.
50 years young, still going strong, and available on Ebay several times a month for under £50.
There’s another lesson here, though; the Old Hall Company which made these could perhaps have been part of a British Mittelstand, but it was sold, eventually to an American combine, and then closed down. The problem was the availability of finance to a private company.