Ye Olde English Customs - Sedan Chair


Sedan Chair 1780

This delightful little plate was made soon after 1940.  It shows part of a series of Ye Olde English Customs.

You get two layers of history for the price of one… the scene depicted is a Sedan Chair 1780 but the drawing and painting is entirely mid 20th century in style – all hand done.

There are four more of these delicious plates scattered around our shop - we are not quite sure where they are but we do know that together they would look great hanging on a wall or sitting on a dresser or some such.  These are tea plates – 6 inches across. Anchovy-paste sandwich proof, but not dishwasher proof so probably better for display than for eating tea off.

Under the inscription on the back (see photo below) is the beehive back stamp of Burgess & Leigh (later known as Burleigh).  These were made for the American market and the word Fonteville on the back was the name of the American agent.

Good condition for its age.

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The sedan chair, (the original 4x4 - on legs) first appeared for hire in London in 1634. Cesar de Saussure, a Swiss visitor to London in 1725, wrote: "the bearers going so fast that you have some difficulty in keeping up with them on foot. I do not believe that in all Europe better or more dexterous bearers are to be found; all foreigners are surprised at their strength and skill."  They had an advantage over hackney cabs in being able to go along narrow streets and alleyways, so they were often quicker, and they could carry the passenger right into his or her house so elaborate costumes and hair-dos could be saved from the rain and the splattered filth of the city streets. The disadvantage was that they only took one person. Chairmen (two per chair) were licensed and had to display a number, just like today's taxi drivers. They wore a distinctive uniform, varying slightly over the decades and between winter and summer. It consisted of a blue kersey (heavy, often poor-quality wool) coat or greatcoat, black knee-breeches, white stockings or gaiters, buckled shoes, and large cocked hat.
Many of the wealthy owned their own sedan chairs but hired chairmen to carry them as the need arose. There were also public chairs that waited on stands in the street just as hackney cabs did. London and Westminster issued 300 sedan chair permits in the early 1700's.

It cost £1.1 shilling (that’s a ‘guinea’ as any fool knows) to hire a sedan chair for a week.

"Though I came only yesterday, I have equipped myself properly for Bath already, you see," (pointing to a new umbrella); "I wish you would make use of it, if you are determined to walk; though I think it would be more prudent to let me get you a chair." (Captain Wentworth)
From Persuasion by Jane Austin. 1818

The word Sedan comes from the Italian for seat – ‘sedia’.

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