Chair Arches: A History

by ercol on August 24, 2009

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This article looks at the history of the chair arch.  ercol and Wallpaper* are joining forces to produce a modern interpretation of the chair arch at the V&A, which will form one of the major installations at this year’s London Design Festival.

During the late 1800s towns would mark any particularly special occasion, such as a visit by a dignitary, with an arch adorned with the town’s main commodity and constructed over the main street.  The arch would form the focus of the festivities and be a source of civic pride.  So it was only natural that the High Wycombe area, renowned for its chairmaking skills, particularly the Windsor chair, should have made several chair arches.

The most famous of these chair arches locally was for Queen Victoria’s visit  in 1877 to Disraeli at his home, Hughenden Manor.   The idea originated with the Town Council, who deputised one of its members, Walter Skull, to organise it through the Chair Manufacturers Association.  Just over fifty years later his company, Walter Skull & Son, would become part of ercol.

At the bottom of the arch were the more common Windsor and cane seated chairs, through drawing-room, lounge, library and other seats, getting grander as the arch ascended and crowned with the state chair of the Mayor, covered with red velvet and bearing the gilded crest of the borough.  Her Majesty is said to have had her coach stopped in order to better admire the arch.  However, this was not the largest – a spectacular arch containing around 400 chairs was erected at the Guildhall in 1884 to mark the visit of the Prince of Wales.  Millennium chair arch

There have been several chair arches built in more recent times – in 1962 an arch of modern chairs was put up inside the High Wycombe Town Hall to mark the visit of Queen Elizabeth and later a Millennium arch was also erected; spanning the end of the High Street it featured over 200 chairs and was more than 9.5m tall.

The new arch at the V&A, whilst drawing inspiration from this history of arches, will be radically different in its modern design, comprising two overlapping spans made all from one type of chair – ercol’s stacking chair.  In the next blog posting on the arch, we will look a little more at the designer behind this.

LDF Chair Arch:


{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Kevin Figg August 29, 2009 at 16:05

I have a table and chair that say Ercol Production. They were bought at an antique store in 1969. The side chairs have the markings like two pies with a piece out of it (or a clock faces at 1:20) and the number 290, the two arm chairs have the same 290 but also a number F189.
Does anyone know about this set?


ercol September 1, 2009 at 12:29

Hi Kevin,

I’ve had our design team look in our archives. We did a 290 chair. From the records we have this was a rocking chair with the shaping you describe to the seat and with a decorative central slat with a Windsor type bow. I’m afraid I don’t have any other information, but hope this is some help.


dennis morgan January 22, 2010 at 23:40

i have a ercol oval table with two drop leafs, it is complete with 6 chairs, the chair backs have 3 uprights with a fleur de lis type carving, they also have seat pads which are attached by webbing and press studs, the chairs underneath are marked 1960 2056 ce can you tell me what model etc.


ercol January 25, 2010 at 13:29

Hi Dennis,

Would you mind e-mailing us a photograph of the table and chairs and we’ll see if anyone recognises them. e-mail us on

Thanks, Mark


Isabel April 2, 2011 at 20:57

Hello Kevin,
I have just bought 2 Ercol chairs exactly as you describe,((at auction) I think the mark is a post war “utility” (am old enough to remember it being on lots of things , like blankets) mark . Yes mine are 290 too. I really like them ,they are sound as the day they were made. Need to give the finish of mine some attention but don’t want to destroy the “patina”. I now know to look out for the carvers to match.
Ps have 4 other chairs very like these with the “utility ” mark but not Ercol and not robust.


Duncan January 2, 2013 at 13:37

I have three wooden chairs which I believe to be Ercol, that have the following mark on them – “BS 1960 KF 2056”. There are a further two high back chairs with the following mark “1276 Made in England”. Finally I have a matching wooden dining table which was purchased at the same time but does not appear to have any kite markings on it.
I understand that Ercol furniture was made from oak, elm or beech. Is there a way I can find out what wood my pieces are made from?


ercol January 2, 2013 at 14:40

Hi Duncan,

If you haven’t already, have a look through our catalogue archive: You might well be able to find your furniture there and that should then tell you the timber. If these are old pieces I doubt they are oak, as we used to work mainly in beech and elm. These two timbers look very different – have a search on the web for some examples. The beech has a flecky structure to the grain which is quite characteristic.

Kind regards,



amanda June 4, 2013 at 10:14

I have acquired a 3 piece lounge set consisting of a 3 seater sofa with soft arms and button back and front and the matching armchairs, look egg like with swivel, in a green velour, I think they are 1960’s. please can you let me know the range name and if any pictures available. Thank you.


ercol June 4, 2013 at 12:21

Hi Amanda, your best bet would be take a look at our catalogues – we have one per decade on the archive section of our website Hopefully that will help.


Tony. January 14, 2014 at 21:49

I have to research antique and retro furniture for my Japanese client who buys a 40 foot container every fortnight. Over the last couple of years, I have built up an extensive library of manufacturer’s trade labels and their marks or stamps that appear on their furniture.
I am researching at present the BSI kitemark that appears on a lot of Ercol Furniture.
I have only come across the 1960 impressed stamp that appear on some of the Ercol kitchen chairs.
One of these impressed stamps being BS1960 KF2056
However, there are examples of post 1970 Ercol Furniture with the 1960’s stamp.
Have you any examples of a later BSI kitemark that Ercol have used.
Also did Ercol have a different reference number Kitemark to the 1960 stamp?
This information is important in dating exactly within 5 – 10 years the circa date of the furniture that they buy. They do buy a lot of Ercol furniture on each container.
Any help or assistance would be appreciated.
Yours sincerely,


ercol January 16, 2014 at 09:11

Hi Tony,

May I suggest you consult a copy of the book “ercol Furniture in the Making” by Lesley Jackson and published by Richard Dennis Publications (ISBN 978-0-9553741-9-7). As well as a very detailed and fascinating history of ercol on page 180 it has a list of ercol labels and marks. Obviously copyright prevents me from sharing this page here, but this might be useful for you.

You can purchase a copy from the publisher’s website, or you may be able to access it through the library services.–furniture-in-the-making

Kind regards,


Terry January 26, 2014 at 21:11

Hello Tony,

We have had an Ercol dining room suite for 30 years that we bought used. Sadly the time has come for us to update and we are preparing to sell our wonderful suite. Underneath the chairs are the BSI Kitemark logo and the letters and numbers BS 1960 and KC 2056. I have checked your catalogues and seen similar suites but I was hoping for a clearer date of manufacture and I am hoping the stamp on the chairs would be able to help me. If you could shed any light on this I would be very grateful. Thank you.


ercol January 27, 2014 at 11:04

I’m afraid we don’t have any information on the date during which this was applied.


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