Born near Loughborough into a family of tenant farmers, Robert Bakewell (1725-95) is recognised as an important figure in the Agricultural Revolution – a pioneer of the grassland irrigation he saw while travelling in Europe and an innovator in the selective breeding of livestock.
Separating males from females to 'breed in' desirable
characteristics, his advancements not only led to specific
improvements in sheep, cattle and horses, but contributed to the
general knowledge of artificial selection that remains the
blueprint for all modern farm breeds.
We also know what his favourite chair looked like.
The inscription in copperplate writing to the back rest of this
George III armchair reads thus: This chair was made under
the direction of the Celebrated Robert Bakewell of Dishley out of a
Willow Tree that grew on his farm. It was his favourite seat and
the Back which thus records his Memory, served as a Screen when
seated by his Fireside, calculating on the Profits, or devising
some Improvements on his Farm. Thousands of Pounds have been known
to exchange Hands in the same… Mr. Bakewell Died in 1795.
It is unusual to know with any degree of certainty the original
owner of any vernacular chair and to know the circumstances of its
making. The information accompanying this example, made c.1750 in
willow with oak and elm as secondary woods, however has doubtless
survived due to the fame of its owner.
Measuring a generous 2ft 7½in (80cm) wide and showing signs of
repair and renewal consummate with its two and a half centuries,
the Robert Bakewell chair was the one piece of furniture among the
group of items that formed the collection of the Royal Agricultural
Society of England.
Pension Fund Deficit
Removed from the RASE base in Stoneleigh Park, the collection
was sold by
Dreweatts & Bloomsbury in London on July 11 to clear a
pension fund deficit and raise funds for an Innovation in
Agriculture scheme. More than 40 cattle society trophies were
withdrawn prior to sale after objections from breed societies and
the descendants of original donors.
Alongside the Society's portrait of HRH Princess Elizabeth
painted in 1950 by Sir Oswald Birley, sold for £40,000, the chair
ranked high among the lights of the sale, selling at £9000 (plus
24% buyer's premium). The successful buyer was the Arundel dealer
Spencer Swaffer, who bought it for stock but has already sold it to
"It is a remarkable chair in both scale and provenance," he told
ATG. "Ever the optimist, and with an estimate of £500 to £800, I
was convinced it would slip through unnoticed. No such luck, but I
still thought the price was reasonable."
After the sale he found himself being interviewed by a
journalist from Farmers Weekly who had covered all
the run-up to a controversial sale with interest. "That was a
first," he said.
An interview with Spencer Swaffer will appear in next week's
issue of ATG's printed newspaper. More highlights from the £400,000
Royal Agricultural Society of England collection will be reported
in the same issue.
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