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Robert Prior

John and Robert Prior, flourishing in the heart of the 19th century, were distinguished rustic chair makers and turners, carrying forward the legacy of their father, John Prior, in Uxbridge, Middlesex. Their craftsmanship in the production of Windsor chairs and their adeptness in turning established their repute beyond mere local fame, intertwining their story with the broader narrative of English vernacular furniture.

The Prior Legacy

Rooted in a tradition that dates back to 1817, the Priors operated from Hillingdon End, with their presence recorded until 1859. Their journey from humble beginnings to becoming noted Windsor chair makers in 1832 encapsulates a story of skill, dedication, and familial legacy. Their operation was not confined to crafting alone but extended into the realm of turning, showcasing their versatility and deep understanding of woodcraft.

Community and Commerce

Robert Prior’s affiliation with the Providence Congregational Chapel and the baptism of his son William there in 1814 highlights the intertwining of personal life with communal ties. The business acumen of the Prior brothers was evident in their comprehensive approach to trade, dealing “Wholesale, Retail & for Exportation,” as noted on their billhead from 1818–20. This document, adorned with the engraving of a Windsor chair, symbolizes their pride and commitment to their craft.

Artisanal and Commercial Ventures

Their commercial ventures extended beyond local borders, establishing trading links with London. An instance of this is their consignment of six yew armchairs to Hagley Hall, Worcestershire, in 1818, which underscores their capability to cater to the aristocracy and the intricate network of trade that existed during the period. Moreover, their dealings in stakes, poles, and pea sticks with Samuel Hall in 1820 reflect the diverse nature of their business, rooted in the traditional coppice crafts essential for chair making.

The Stamped Legacy

A Windsor chair stamped ‘ROBERT PRIOR/MAKER/UXBRIDGE’ stands as a testament to their craftsmanship, a physical embodiment of their legacy that has been recognized and celebrated in exhibitions and catalogs, highlighting the significance of their work in the context of English vernacular furniture.

Generational Transition and Legacy

The narrative of the Prior family is marked by transitions, with the passing of John junior in 1846 and the continuation of the craft by Robert and his son, also named Robert. The census records of 1841, documenting both as chair makers in Hillingdon End, alongside Robert senior’s death in 1853 and Robert junior’s in 1859, punctuate the end of an era for the Prior family’s direct involvement in chair making.

The legacy of John and Robert Prior, as chronicled in sources such as DEFM, Gilbert’s “English Vernacular Furniture 1750-1900,” and Parker’s detailed study in “Regional Furniture,” speaks volumes of their contribution to the craft of chair making and turning. Their work not only reflects the artisanal excellence of the period but also provides a window into the social and commercial fabric of 19th-century England. The Prior family’s dedication to their craft ensures their lasting place in the annals of English furniture making history.

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