Fine 17th Century Oak Wainscot Chair, Leeds

Yorkshire Born and Bred

By Louise Phillips of Elaine Phillips Antiques.

Fine 17th Century Oak Wainscot Chair, Leeds.

When I bought this chair recently I hadn’t really thought about how similar ‘we’ were. Both with ties to the textile industry and to Yorkshire - Leeds to be precise - the city of my birth and the place where most likely this chair was made. Although three generations of my family were born in Leeds and involved with textiles, the origins of furniture making in Leeds dates back to the 16th and 17th century. My aim in writing this article is to show how closely these two trades were linked. 

17th century Wainscot Chair
Leeds originated as an Anglo-Saxon township on the River Aire. In the 14th century Flemish weavers introduced domestic weaving and by the 16th and 17th centuries, Leeds had become a major centre for woollen cloth production – rivalling the established centres of York and Beverley. The unfinished cloth was sold to wealthier merchants and yeoman clothiers who organised the skilled finishing processes and also inland and export sales. The Leeds merchants obtained their royal charter as a free borough in 1626. This gave them great advantages over their rivals.  

The merchants commissioned houses to be built which would house their ‘plate and furniture’ and demonstrate their wealth and position. The tradition of owning one single large arm chair for the master and lesser chairs and stools for everyone else was replaced with a large amount of  good and ‘new’ pieces – some owners commissioning over 100 pieces for their grand, new homes. 

This gave rise not only to an increase in the number of joiners working in the city but also to furniture which was finely carved and inlaid to meet the new demand.  In the 1660s there were 6 joiners working in a concentrated area of 100 yards of  Briggate – now a shopping street – but then a centre of excellence. The most celebrated furniture maker was Francis Gunby (1600-1656) whose work can be found in Shibden Hall (home of Anne Lister/Gentleman Jack), the Church of St John the Evangelist, New Briggate, Leeds and Oakwell Hall, Birstall. The cost of building the Church of St John the Evangelist (built between 1631 and 1634) was met by the Leeds merchant and philanthropist, John Harrison, demonstrating the wealth of the these men.

My recent acquisition is 17th century, most likely made in the area described above in Leeds. The crest is carved with a central bunch of grapes – a style seen most often in Leeds workshops, flanked by flower heads and leaves. The crest ending in scrolls which also appear on the sides below. The central panel of a cushion lozenge form with the distinctive Leeds feature of stylised pennants to the outer edges. The centre of a stylised flower head.  The original seat over a front rail with incised decoration, inverted turning to the legs which are united by straight stretchers.

Illustrated here are a settle and chairs with similar grape, lozenge carving and features.

Settle (Oakwell House)








Similar 17th century Oak Wainscot Chairs in Oakwell House.

Oak Wainscot Chairs Oakwell House









Leeds 17th century Wainscot Chair in St John The Evangelist Church, New Briggate, Leeds.

17th century Wainscot Chair in St John The Evangelist Church

I am hoping that this article will show that the old saying ‘Yorkshire born and Yorkshire bred – strong in the arm and weak in the head’ !! is far from accurate.


The 17th Century Oak Wainscot Chair is currently available on from Elaine Phillips Antiques, click here to view.


To make an enquiry or for further information on the 17th Century Oak Wainscot Chair contact Louise at Elaine Phillips Antiques on +44 (0)7710 793753 or email [email protected].