In November 2008 architects from Purcell Miller Tritton, approached N.E.J. Stevenson and invited us to tender for a project of significant cultural and historical importance. English Heritage, the guardians of Dover Castle, had appointed ‘PMT’ to identify suitable organisations with the skill to help fully restore and refit The Great Tower, one of the last rectangular Keeps ever built, intending to refurnish it as it would have appeared during the reign of Henry II.
The project would require us to develop concept designs and recreate a range of over sixty authentic furniture items, including ‘The Kings Bed’, ‘Kings Chair’, ‘chests’, ‘armoires’, ‘lecterns’,’ tables’ and benches that will eventually be positioned in complete room settings on three floors of The Great Tower.
In January 2009 we were appointed to the task, the greatest challenge of which would be interpreting the ‘feel’ and quality of early medieval furniture, with few current examples in existence, and practically no written records to guide us. Our designers and craftsmen are used to working to exacting standards, but a re-education was necessary if we were to avoid producing the items with a particularly cultured finish.
Replicating the techniques of the 12th Century furniture maker would be a step too far in the time permitted, so basic machining was utilised for the timber conversion. All the joints are as authentic as possible, with wedged and dowelled tenons being used widely. To achieve the feel of an adzed finish we utilised specially shaped plane blades, and hand planed every face to achieve a slightly uneven finish.
The quality of manufacture is very high although utilitarian, as it was evident that the craftsmen of the period took great pride in their work. If we were to achieve a plausible facsimile of medieval furniture it would need to reflect the high standards demanded by the Royal Court, without looking either to new, or too much of a pastiche.
It would also be necessary to include the support of others in order to fulfil this unusual challenge, and we are fortunate that over our twenty-five years of craftsmanship, we have built up a great network of skilled sub-contractors to assist with specialist skills. This project has tested those networks but came up trumps with experts in medieval ironwork, leather and painting, all of which were brought into the project to help deliver the ambitious vision that English Heritage had set.
Even though we have worked in royal palaces and stately homes, and provided furniture for clients in all manner of styles, this project epitomised our approach from concept to delivery, ensuring our skill and art was in the detail.
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