Deck Chair

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As the Summer swelter continues, up goes an impassioned plea “Lead me to my deck chair!!”.

The humble deck chair ….Perhaps? Or the well travelled ship’s “deck chair” – if this linen and teak could talk imagine the gossip it holds – from a Golden Era of luxury transatlantic ocean liner travel. Or the End of The Pier, seagull serenaded, fish and chips frying, spearmint rock munching of Brighton, Cromer or Southend – the World’s longest.

Called a Lawn Chair in the US, the Deck Chair has an illustrious history. It was the victim of some on board snobbery. Around the turn of the 20th century, first class passengers would typically enjoy the padded loveliness of a “Steamer” deck chair -Port Out Starboard Home – their legs raised and clad in a woolen rug, invariably sipping broth, if the climate demanded, whilst more lowly passengers would enjoy their trip on a slung hammock canvas and teak deck chair that could be positioned to follow the sun around the deck and be folded for easy stowage.

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The origins of the folding chair has its history in Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt. More recently, patents were obtained in the 1880’s in the US and UK for the classic steamer chair. R Holman & Co of Boston (Mass) were the manufactures of the Steamer Deck Chairs that graced the deck of the SS Titanic. Of the 600 supplied only six survived – below is a shot of one.

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There is some debate as to the precise origins of the more rudimentary wooden framed version. Primarily it comprises two rectangualar wooden frames, hinged, with an adjustable back piece and a single length of canvas forming the seat and backrest. Some sources  attribute it to a British inventor, Atkins, in the late 19th Century whereas others credit its design to being similar to “The Yankee Hammock Chair” as advertised in 1882.  The name “Brighton Beach Chair” also seems to predate our currently understood use of “Deck Chair”.

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In my Grandmother’s house in Hertfordshire – I think it was 1976 – she had a row of Edwardian faded green canvas chairs which not only had arms and a footrest but also a large sun canopy that flapped in whatever pathetic excuse for a breeze we had that summer. I recall that the covers perished quite frequently and the local nurseryman supplied rolls of 18” wide canvass to restring your chair. The look was completed by a white parasol, two Lloyd Loom chairs – see our previous post here – Lloyd Loom Chairs – and a bentwood table covered in a circular linen tablecloth with a jug of iced lemonade and tall glasses covered in weighted net – to avoid the flies.

Similar products are still made today by people such as Southsea Deckchairs Southsea Deckchairs

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Images used with grateful thanks – Southsea Dechairs and The V&A Museum

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Brooks Brothers Shirts

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There is every possibility that it’s a sin. Not one of the Seven Deadly – the major ones – but a guilty pleasure that I, and I am certain many other men, equally enjoy…..wow where’s this going? Pull yourself together. I am talking about the sensual feel of a box fresh/pins still in or freshly laundered/well ironed, one hundred cotton shirt. Bliss!

In my view, the shirts made by Brooks Brothers are not only iconic, given their extensive heritage including the Original Polo Shirt – my very own is our featured image – but their fabrics are simply beautiful and each shirt is a complete joy to wear. 2018 see the 200th anniversary of the launch of this US style icon – some classic Americana – but what’s the story behind these remarkable products?

On 7th April 1818 Henry Sands Brooks, aged 45, opens H. & D. H. Brooks & Co. on the corner of Catherine and Cherry Streets in New York City as both shirt makers and merchants. By 1833 Henry Sands Brooks called upon his sons to assist him with the business. His eldest son, Henry, Jr. took the helm upon his father’s passing a year later. Heny is in charge until 1850, when younger brothers Daniel, John, Elisha, and Edward, assume leadership and change the firm’s name to Brooks Brothers.

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In 1849, Brooks Brother’s scored a first with the introduction of  Ready-Made clothing – a modestly priced alternative to made to measure tailored suits.

In 1850, Brooks Borthers adopted the Golden Fleece, the historical symbol of wool merchants, as their trademark which has remained their distinctive logo ever since.

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In 1865 a regular, Abraham Lincoln, was presented with a Brooks jacket with an embroidered lining bearing the words “One Country One Destiny” below a spread eagle. He wore the jacket at his second inauguration as President. He wore the same jacket two weeks later, on 14th April 1865, to the Washington’s Ford’s Theatre where he was fatally shot by, actor and pro-slavary activists, John Wilkes Booth.

In 1896 John E. Brooks the founder’s grandson was at a polo match in the UK when he saw that the polo players wearing shirts with disctivtive buttoned down collars. He told his colleagues in New York and the Button-Down shirt, a Brooks classic was born. To this day the Brook’s Polo Shirt includes the expression “The Original Polo Shirt” on its label.

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In 1915 Brooks Brothers relocatesd to 346 Madison Avenue – see below including a list of earlier locations prior to arriving on Madison – set in the heart of New York’s Universities and social clubs.

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Madison Avenue in the decades to come became the corporate homes to the advertising, illustration and marketing communities. It’s no surprise that Brooks Borthers have acted as costume advisors on and made suits for the “Mad Men” TV series set in the late 1950’s early 1960’s.

F. Scott FitzGerald was a very keen Brooks customer and drew heavily of his favourite stores in his writing. In this way Brooks effectively created Jay Gatby’s style for “The Gatsby Gatsby”.  Indeed the 2013 remake of the movie featured a cast entirely dressed in Brooks.

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From the mid-1920’s the Halls of the Ivy League were being dressed with Brooks shirts, striped Repp ties, khaki trousers and blue blazers in the definitive preppie style that I really like to this today and continues yes to be hugely popular.

During a slightly earlier era, the Ivy League students local to Bridgeport CT were throwing Frisbie tins – see our earlier post here – Frisbee

In 1946, Winthrop Holley Brooks, the great-great grandson of the founder sold the business to Julius Garfinckel and Company of Washington DC. The business is now owned and managed by the Italian “Retail Brand Alliance”.

The breadth of customers is truely fascinating – talk about voting with their feet! Whilst John F Kennedy loved their slimmer fitting suits, Andy Warhol, Richard Nixon and Clark Gable, apparently, shopped for clothes no where else. It is said that 39 out of 44 Presendients have chose to wear Brooks clothing.

Would you like to know more about the fastinating story of this American style icon? If so please click on the link below the image

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Brooks Brothers: Two Hundred Years of American Style

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Images from Brooks Brothers with grateful thanks

Robin Wood – Traditional Wood Turning

When I was at school pre-O levels one of the elements of the scholastic week that I really enjoyed was our time in the Woodwork shop.

Overseen by a reliable older teacher dressed in a long brown workshop coat – probably with a breast pocket full of triangular pencils – I forget his real name but I think we all called him “Sid”.  I suspect he was a retired carpenter who wasn’t there to teach as any form of an academic subject. His role, at which he was unassumingly brilliant at, was to impart the wonders of working with wood and in so doing he sparked a life long affection for this beautiful material.

The Woodwork shop had a vaulted glass ceiling that echoed to the whirl and clatter of a series of old electric lathes, I say “old” as they probably pre-dated me by thirty plus years making them nearly over forty in the late 1970’s. We’d be taught to centre the wood on a spike which had a back plate that we screwed into the wood making it firm for turning. We’d be shown how to sharpen chisels to achieve a desired cut. After the Master has placed the blank in the lathe we then be shown how to rest the chisel and work it to cut into the timber. There was minimal Heath & Safety input but we probably had perspex glasses borrowed from the Chemistry lab.

Sometime around half-term we be the proud owner of a four and a half inch diameter freshly beeswaxed bowl which our Mother’s would then fill with peanuts and offer them at drinks parties to admiring friends who’d remark on the quality of the bowl.

Aged 14 I came top in the year end exams in two subjects, Woodwork and Religion. Shrugging off the suggestions of a Second Coming, to this day I have loved wood, particularly turned wood, and have sourced all manner of examples including spindles for chair back, table legs and stair bannisters.

What I have never attempted is to operate a manual lathe – indeed until recently I didn’t know that they existed but exist they do and they are seeing a revival in the craft of Traditional Turning one of its best exponents is a very engaging chap from Sheffield named Robin Wood – yes, seriously!

Robin, who holds an MBE – awarded in 2014 for services to Heritage Crafts and Skills – is a master wood turner who for the last 20 years has been making wooden bowls, plates and utensils on a simple foot powered lathe. His products, if respected and treat with some care last and age beautifully. His extensive studies have influence his design and techniques.

Fuelled by a simple mantra of “Never to do a day’s work he did not enjoy” it was the experience of working close to nature with the National Trust that introduced Robin to traditional woodland crafts and ignited his and he started to make spoons and bowls bringing “a little quiet beauty into everyday life”.

Robin was inspired by the work of George Lailey, who died in 1958. He was last person in England to make his living turning wooden bowls on a foot powered pole lathe. Seeing the great beauty in the simplicity of the craft Robin sought to revive the technique. His first task was to learn how to create the cutting tools required which involved him training as a blacksmith. It has become a source of some pride that no sandpaper is used and the smoothness of the finish is achieve by the sharpest of tools.

Clearly evangelical about the simple pleasure and satisfaction to be achieved from wood turning Robin teaches and also, in addition to hang his own tools, make tools for others help others learn to carve.

Robin has assured us despite the bitter weather that he is hard at work restoring his stock of bowls  – but it will take some time. So for those wishing to make a purchase please be patient. Please complete the Contact section of our site

In this film, Robin can be seen at work in his idyllic outbuilding/studio. Enjoy!

Film used by kind permission of Artisan Media/Image courtesy of Robin Wood

Jeremy Atkinson – The Last English Clog maker

There is a quite confidence that comes from knowing exactly what you are doing.

Jeremy Atkinson is a highly skilled and time-served craftsman who is also lamentably described as the last – no play on words here – maker of English traditional bespoke clogs, a craft going back to Roman times.

Based in the Hereford, Jeremy turns “green” unseasoned timber – sycamore, birch, cherry and alder into the soles of really very beautiful shoes with wooden soles – classically designed English clogs. Perhaps unsurprisingly Jeremy is also a skilled at cutting, dyeing and stitching leather uppers.

Having first split the timber with a froe, the half log is marked with the desired bespoke foot pattern and is then taken through a cutting process which sees Jeremy exert some force to manipulate a three foot long oversized cut-throat tool called a “blocker” or “stock knife” to slice the wooden blank to gradually take the shape of a sole.

The “blocker” is pivoted from the bench via a hook and eye arrangement so that Jeremy applies purchase with his right hand guiding the blade with pin-point accuracy where he want the cuts to be made.

Finer adjustments to the instep, cast and camber of the sole are achieved with two more swivel blade tools, the hollower for the footbed and the gripper for the welt ledge in which the upper is nailed.

The upper is shaped over a wooden last and then lightly tacked to the wooden sole prior to a final fitting with the client – if they are able to visit.

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The finished clog is completed with a brass toe piece and either clog irons – similar to horse shoes – or a rubber sole – clogs have a particularly good reputation wherever it’s wet underfoot.

Jeremy has been taught his craft, one that has experienced great longevity in the many regions of the United Kingdom and he travels extensively demonstrating his skills and picking up ideas for his continued work.

Given the physical nature of the work his wrists bear the brunt of the repetitive slicing of the “blocker” and he is worried that he may only have a few more years left in the craft.

Jeremy notes that a number of satisfied customers have used his clogs successfully to provide support for poor feet and in the management of painful foot conditions.

He’s not particularly sentimental about his unwilling role as the last in England to pursue this centuries old craft but he is realistic and in part doing his best to impart his skills having taught Geraint Parfitt (based in Wales).

The struggle to obtain recognition for the social and economic value of crafts and their exponents may well have a quiet champion in Jeremy who in the film below notes that in other parts of Europe people are given state funding to ensure that these crafts do not die out.

I for one would be willing to work much more closely with the Heritage Crafts Association – of which the Prince of Wales is the President – to see what can be done to harness both respect and funding for these legacy crafts.We are becoming increasingly involved in an effort to raise the profile of these crafts and through us I want to market and hopefully sell the work of craftsmen like Jeremy.

Please complete our Contact section so that we can introduce you to the more of the amazing products made with great affection and skill by Jeremy and his colleague.

Film used by kind permission of Artisan Media/Image courtesy of Jeremy Atkinson