Seats of the Establishment

It is easy to forget just how many items in everyday use owe their names to English nobility and men of power.  From something as mundane but universally consumed as the sandwich which is attributed to John Montagu, fourth Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792), who is said to be the inventor of this convenience food in order that  he would not have to leave his gaming table to take supper, to the Wellington boot and the Derby hat. The latter was a type of hard crown hat created by William and Thomas Bowler in 1849, popularly worn at the annual races conceived by Sir Charles Bunbury and Edward Stanley, the 12th earl of Derby. In the history of English furniture there are two that stand out. One is the Davenport; a small writing desk which following its invention, was made in all fashionable styles throughout the 19th century. It was named after a Captain Davenport who instructed Messrs Gillows of Lancaster to make such a piece during the 1790's. This should not be confused with an item of the same name more used in America to describe a combination of a bed and a sofa first made by the A.H. Davenport company of Boston, Mass., in the early 20th century. But the sofa/bed conveniently brings me to unquestionably the most popular piece of English furniture to be found in fine houses, embassies, civic offices, county halls, gentlemen's  clubs and royal palaces all over the world - the Chesterfield settee.  With its distinctive deep buttoned, quilted leather upholstery and low seat it provides supreme comfort.  Identifiable by the equal height to rolled arm and back, it has become synonymous with England. It is said the politician and writer Lord Phillip Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield, 1694-1773, was the one who first commissioned a  settee that would provide the sitter with ease and grace without creasing his clothes.  How delighted he would be to know that his idea would bear his name and innumerable bottoms from its inception to the present day.