Regency Furnishings: the Bergère

The bergère- a low, comfortable chair. The term means shepherdess in French.  In England, they called these easy chairs barjairs–or burjairs. They were first popular in the early part of the eighteenth century.

One can almost see a buck of the ton sprawled upon this exquisite piece of furniture. He would naturally stretch his nankeen-covered legs out, displaying his physique to advantage in negligent contrast.

The Northumberland bergère is on display at the V&A Museum in London, along with other remnants of the now-vanished Northumberland House. The following is a bill of sale from the manufacturer:

‘2 bergeres, from the antique, of your Graces aburra wood, highly polished, & richly carved & gilt with ornamented trusses, foliage leaves, scroll sides, &c the tablet back, & seats stuffed with the best horsehair in canvas, standing on brass socket castors.
£225 16s
To covering the seats, backs, & tablets of the bergeres with grey silk, lined with calico, & finished with silk gimps, & cord in suit £5 18s’ 

The Northumberlands also commissioned special covers in leather for the chairs, to protect such expensive pieces when the house was closed up. Not just any old Holland covers would do for Their Graces when they were not in residence.

The chair was designed by Benjamin Dean Wyatt, eldest son of architect James Wyatt.  His clients, besides Their Graces of Northumberland, included the Prince Regent, the Duchess of Rutland and the Duke of Wellington.

His work on Lancaster House is the subject of this blog’s post from several years ago.


From the 1820s to the 1830s, Wyatt was responsible for a mini-revival of the Rococo, which had fallen out of favor decades before. As you can see, the bergère, while styled in the classical Grecian design, sports gilded scrolling .

Recalling the good times of the ancien régime.

The Duke and Duchess of Northumberland were married in 1817 in Northumberland House, which they renovated extensively during the late Regency. They had no children, so their energies were devoted to many and varied aspects of British public life, which, like their chair, live on today.

Regency Furnishings: Gothic Revival

When I photographed this Regency-era chair at the Victoria and Albert Museum, it was apparent that its style was Gothic Revival.

“The total effect is a romanticized vision of ‘Olde England.’ ” — V&A Museum See the full tag accompanying this exhibit, along with the link, at the end of this post.

The tempestuous past of its owner, however, was not so apparent.

The chair was one of set Sir Godfrey Vassal Webster ordered for his country estate, the famous Battle Abbey. The manor began as an ecclesiastical complex, established as a memorial to the Conqueror’s victory over the Saxons.  The Abbey was later dissolved and the abbot’s house became the nucleus of the Webster family country seat.

The Websters were proud to own a piece of history. Battle Abbey was a place that hearkened to the distant past–when a descendant of Vikings put himself on England’s throne.


Sir Godfrey was 5th Baronet Webster. His mother was the notorious Lady Holland, who abandoned the 4th baronet for another man, and took up the active life of a Whig hostess. His father committed suicide, and young Godfrey was brought up by older relatives. Achieving his majority, he inherited an estate already encumbered by debt, and in tumble-down conditions.

His expensive campaign to restore the estate was a long endeavor, punctuated by notable distractions elsewhere.

Sir Godfrey Webster, via Grosvenor Prints

One of those distractions was romance. Sir Godfrey was Caroline Lamb’s lover.  They carried on openly in spite of her marriage to another; their affair deplored in relatives’ correspondence. Eventually they broke off, Caro falling into a mad infatuation with Byron. Later, she sketched Sir Godfrey’s character as the devil-may-care Buchanan in Glenarvon. It seems she cared deeply for him.

The clever story of a Regency miss whose novel features a caricature leading to everlasting love.

Others did not.

I never remember to have heard of anybody more generally disliked, or more completely excluded from the pale of good company.

— John Williams Ward, April, 1810

Another distraction was politics. Sir Godfrey blew lavish amounts of money to buy his way into Parliament. His ambition in this regard remains obscure, for no one could be certain where his loyalties lay. He wanted to stand for election in Sussex for the Tories, but had been known to curry the support of ‘mobs’ with decidedly Whiggish demands.
Money, when he could get it, brought more distractions. He thought to make a splash in the racehorse business–with limited success. He might as well have stayed on land for all the blunt he spent on a yacht named Scorpion.
When these distractions ceased, Sir Godfrey was left to concentrate on Battle Abbey, which became his solace.

The Novices Common Room – Battle Abbey via

The furnishings Sir Godfrey ordered for his manor house reflect his taste for the Romantic, a movement that flourished during the Regency. The Gothic Revival style, sometimes called Elizabethan, of the Webster chair signals a desire to make Battle Abbey look the part.

George Bullock (1782 – 1818) was one of several Regency-era furniture makers who were responsible for developing the Gothic Revival style:

“Battle-axes, battering rams, Roman fasces, halberds and shields should only be introduced into military apartments. (Bullock) was the only person who ventured into a new path: though some of his designs were certainly too messy and ponderous, nevertheless grandeur cannot be obtained without it.”

— The Rudiments of Drawing Cabinet and Upholstery Furniture…, Richard Brown (1835)

The emphasis in such a design is not just a departure from the classical Greek and Roman influences, but a desire to return to one’s roots, to recall the past as it was thought to be, in Britain. Indeed, Ackermann’s boasts that this style of furniture is particularly favored there because it is the only place where the style can be fully understood and appreciated.

Note the tracery decoration in this Gothic dressing table, reflected in the matching footstool. From Ackermann’s Ser.3,v.10(1827)

Interestingly, Bullock supplied the furniture for Longwood House, Napoleon’s last home in exile. The foot-bath he designed for L’Empereur was a notable departure from his Gothic style, bearing the leaves of victory in the Greek manner.  The commissioners in charge of this task rejected the bowl, of course.

As for Webster’s check made out to  Bullock, that too was rejected!

Ceremonial chair for Battle Abbey:

Regency Furnishings: the Drawing Room Chair

Hope’s Egyptian chair, featured in June’s post, is of a very eclectic design, meant for the most discerning, ‘top of the trees’ consumer. So, too, was the Trafalgar. As the Regency period wore on, however, the masses discovered these trends in the ton’s furniture fashions. Thanks to the furniture pattern-book, now the public could order such furnishings, and emulate the private elite.

George Smith mahogany hall chair with acanthus back. via

It was, after all, a time when information was more easily disseminated than in the past.

George Smith (1786 – 1826) was the most prolific in furniture pattern book publication. Still associated by name with British master craftsmen of furniture, (with showrooms in London, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles), he believed the designs of Hope and others ought to be made directly available to cabinet and furniture makers.

It was a system the French had implemented many years before.

His pattern book displays of chairs, draperies, couches and desks sported the latest decorative carvings, finishes and trim. To make the unusual more appealing to a wider range of tastes, he often combined various styles into one design, but was careful to advise the consumer on some basic ground rules that both Quality and bourgeois should heed:

Mahogany, when used in houses of consequence, should be confined to the Parlour and Bedchamber floors; in furniture for these apartments, the less inlay of other woods, the more chaste will be the style of work…

George Smith, Collection of Design for Household Furniture and Interior Decoration (1808)

The mahogany hall chair, pictured above, is perfectly suited for a grand country house or town home in Hans Crescent. The carved back makes the sturdy chair stylish, without sacrificing function. Regardless of societal status, one need not blush at owning such a piece, as long as it is employed according to the rules.

In chambers where one receives visitors, the expectation is for fancier pieces. Furnishings for the Drawing Room must be more than “chaste.” In the following illustration, note the varying degrees of decoration in these drawing room chairs.

“Chairs for Drawing Rooms admit of great taste and elegance, as well as variety, and are constructed of rich and costly materials in accordance with the room.” — Plate 56, Smith, Collection of Designs

The chair on the left might be the principal ornament of a modest drawing room in a Bristol rectory. In a great country house like Forde Abbey, a set of ten like the one on the right, with basket-weave sides and back, would be quite grand in the saloon or library.

Indeed, the drawing room chair on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London is part of such a set, and closely copies the Smith design of the basket-weave chair above. Other members of the set also survive, in varying conditions, at the Brighton Pavilion as well as up for auction on the internet — dispersed from estate sales of great country houses.

This drawing room chair at the V&A Museum is thought to come from Leigh Court in Somerset.

The Regency period was a time when many more could participate in the elevation of taste, thanks to George Smith and other publishers of pattern-books. The danger came, however, when a popular design became over-exposed. In the hands of an amateur, sphinxes, gods’ heads and animal parts got amplified in size and ostentation:

‘Number 8 is a design for a drawing-room chair. The back and body represent a female crocodile couchant…being as may perceived by the mammaluea. or little teats, a crocodile sui generis.’

Satirist: or Monthly Meteor, Volume I, George Manners, et al (1808)

What was all the crack could easily become not at all the thing.






Regency furnishings: Egyptian

“Mr. Chawleigh had fallen victim to the fashionable rage for the Egyptian…”

— A Civil Contract, Georgette Heyer (1961)

“..chimney piece of Mona marble, or verd antique, and decorated in the Egyptian style. ” —Ackermann’s Repository, Vol. 14, December, 1822

In 1798, Britain scored a major triumph over Napoleon in the Battle of the Nile. Naturally, the Egyptian motif was in order, recalling the Nation’s exploits in a land most had never seen, but assumed was covered in sphinxes and other sorts of ancient artifacts.

A recent trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London confirms a lot of furnishings in the Egyptian style had been made during the Regency. Certainly a good deal of the stuff managed to survive two hundred years.

Egyptian chair, by Thomas Hope — Victoria and Albert Museum

Much of this was due to Thomas Hope (1769-1831), a wealthy merchant of Scot and Dutch extract. As a young man, he traveled extensively throughout the Ottoman Empire. He used these experiences, and the vast collections he had acquired, to establish himself as an interior decorator to the Regency.

You can still purchase his 1807 book, Household Furniture and Interior Decoration.

They called him ‘the costume and furniture man.’ Thomas Hope, by Beechey (1798)

His London house was in Duchess Street, Cavendish Square. It acted as a sort of showroom for those who sought eclectic ideas to freshen up the neoclassical style that had been the vogue for some time. His country house, Deepdene, had a resort-like reputation. Guests would relax in rooms equipped with personal libraries and enjoy excellent advice on all things fashionable.

One could get carried away with the Egyptian style, as is often the case with anything that becomes all the rage. In one sentence, Heyer tells us of Mr. Chawleigh’s excessive predilection for the Egyptian.

We know his character better than if she’d described it several.

Hope’s possessions were dispersed by descendants. His son demolished the town residence and British Rail replaced the country mansion with an office block of ‘unsurpassed mediocrity.’  Only his mausoleum survives, on the grounds of vanished Deepdene.

Even this structure was forgotten, buried beneath a huge mound of earth, until it was discovered and restored. Now it can be seen along the public walk outside Dorking. If newspaper accounts are to be believed, a variety of persons and organizations hand a hand in this, including the Lottery Fund, an intrepid Council worker and Julian Fellowes.

The Hope Mausoleum. Resurrected like an ancient Sphinx from the desert sands that buried it.