Posted by: internationalroutier | February 10, 2010

Table Talk by the Reverend

…and all the kids are after that beer for articles promise.
Here is the Reverend’s offering.

“In a vain attempt to distract ourselves from the filth most of us were wallowing in at the recent working bee, discussion turned to the furniture items in the trailer. The tables are obviously in need of work with one top needing to be cut down to fit inside the trailer and the other having been clench nailed at only one end during the last emergency repair. Rather than simply repeating the errors of the past, it’s time we reviewed table forms in use in the early to mid seventeenth century and made our decision to repair or replace based on the evidence available. This post attempts present various examples of suitable table types, putting some emphasis on the trestle options as, in the humble opinion of the author, that is a particular weak point in our representation. This presents some challenges from an historical viewpoint as you will see below.
Our modern requirements
The current trestles have a number of drawbacks – being rope hinged, they have an exceptional amount of slop leading to lateral instability; with four points of contact, they are better suited to a 1920s church hall floor than a rough patch of ground and; stylistically, they derive from the same 1920s church hall school of design.
The selected solution must be stable on uneven ground, fit inside the trailer, be light enough to be manageable yet heavy enough to not blow over and must be largely ape proof. It must be capable of withstanding our normal Wintercamp climate of -6 C at 98% humidity and our invariable Oktoberfest extreme of +40 C at 6% humidity. Small, loose parts must be captive to avoid being lost and the materials, finish and construction must be historically accurate yet withstand repeated assembly and disassembly attempts by a group of enthusiastic amateurs who are largely unaware of their own strength particularly when applied to fine furniture joints.

Historical precedent
The late sixteenth/early seventeenth century was a time of change in furnishings, the rise of the middle class and their need to be seen to be improving their station drove a change from portable furnishings such as trestle tables and benches that could be demolished and leant against a wall to provide space in the hall to a more substantial form of table with chairs suitable for dedicated rooms for eating. These changes can be seen in the movement away from the traditional triangular trestle pedestal tables that have upright ends held together with stretchers and rails (or slightly later, to gate-leg tables). [Ref, Blackburn, A Short History of Tables here ]
In some way, our needs run contrary to the fashion at the time. Armies on the march were more frequently billeted overnight in towns, barns or occasional hedges than set up encampments during this period and the need for furniture was therefore not a primary concern of the commanders. Some equipment would have been carried on carts, with not dissimilar requirements to ours above, but would tend to be smaller, intended for the use of the officers only. A nice 16th C Italian example is in the V&A Museum, a similar table was found in the Mary Rose. A similar build project is here with plans. We therefore need to skew the review of evidence to provide a somewhat higher rating to those older style items that were more portable or those at the lower end of the social order, where the use of halls and open spaces was still a feature in 1642.
Review of styles
Historical trestles are almost universally three-legged as this makes them stable on uneven floors. Table tops to a degree tend to follow the trestle style, rough trestles with tree branches for legs tend to have heavier, unfinished tops while the finer styles of trestle are usually associated with a top of better construction.
Original Examples and Depictions
Bunratty Castle collection; A large pedestal table of 17thC manufacture as well as a 17thC refectory table
The Reverend’s excellent holiday photos of tables here
These pics show trestles from Barley Hall – A town house in Coffee Lane, York, rebuilt to its 15th Century condition and furnished in a style as closely as possible to the 1480s. Medieval Merchant’s House– A fully-restored 13-14th century timber-framed house at 58 French Street, Southampton furnished in mid-14th-century style. Hampton Court Kitchens– late Tudor industrial kitchens rebuilt with reproduction cookware and serving ware. Plas Mawr – An Elizabethan town house in High Street, Conwy, restored to the condition listed in a 1665 inventory.
Gladstone’s Land – An Old Town tenement in Lawn Market, Edinburgh, completed in 1620 and furnished in 17th or 18th century styles in different rooms.
Argyll’s Lodging – An upperclass 17th century town house in Sterling built in the 1630s but finished in the 1670s.
Modern reconstructions
There’s a lovely write up of a reconstruction of a 1480s style trestles with the same requirements. Her construction techniques can be documented to 1687, but are obviously earlier. She also provides proof not only that her designs are ape-proof, but are able to be assembled by apes.

A 1520s table was published in Current Middle Ages some time ago:
The bi-lingual Companie of St George published a review of trestle types in 1995.

back to the ed; So what do we think kids? Obviously something needs to happen to our tables. Which of the designs above will best suit our needs? Discuss!

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