"The Tudor Chair" And "The Bishop's Chair" At The Chapel Of St. Lawrence, Warminster

Wednesday 21st September 2016:

The Bishop's Chair, made by Matthew Burt,
in situ at the Chapel of St Lawrence, Warminster.
Photograph taken by Danny Howell
on Tuesday 20th September 2016.

The Rev Dr Michael Ellis recently made the following enquiry to the Chapel Of St Lawrence, Warminster, website:

"I have seen the reproduction Bishop's Chair on Matthew Burt's website.  http://www.matthewburt.com/furniture-design/bespoke-furniture/product/bishops-chair/ It is a very lovely chair and I wondered if you had anything on the history of the original chair: when made, which Bishop, who made it, etc.? I would appreciate that."

Keith Rattray, Chapel Steward and one of the feoffees at the Chapel of St Lawrence, passed the enquiry to Danny Howell, saying: "We at the chapel are stumped on this one as we have no records for the original stolen Bishop's Chair. Have you any info on this item that Rev Dr Ellis is querying about?"

Danny Howell has replied

"Dear Rev Dr Michael Ellis,

Keith Rattray, a feoffee of the Chapel of St Lawrence, Warminster, has passed to me your email with regard the Bishop's Chair in the chapel.
The original chair was stolen in October 1989 (date given in a newspaper article in 1991), "in broad daylight" by "a man with a  van" who was later caught in Cornwall. He was taken to court and was found guilty of thefts in Warminster, Martock and Frome and elsewhere. The chair from Warminster was not returned and it seems its whereabouts have not been known since.
The chair he stole from the Chapel of St Lawrence, Warminster, was of Tudor origin but until I do further research I have no knowledge of it being connected with a bishop. My personal recollection is that I don't recall Geoffrey Butcher, one of the chapel feoffees (from 1975 to 2004), ever referring to the chair as a bishop's chair. When speaking to me he always called it "the Tudor chair" or "the old chair" or "the ancient chair."
Geoffrey Butcher (he died in 2004, aged about 89) was keen, after the theft, to have the chair replaced. The feoffees commissioned Matthew Burt of the Splinter Group at Sherrington, near Warminster, to make a new chair. Matthew tells me the design of the new chair was his own and the chair he made is not based on the one that was stolen. nor is it a copy. The chair he made is in the Gothic style, with the back resembling the shape of a bishop's mitre, hence the name 'The Bishop's Chair' for it. The only brief that Matthew had from the feoffees was that the chair should in some way be identifiable with the Chapel of St Lawrence, to help protect it from going astray. So, Matthew inscribed the wording " +St Lawrence + Warminster+ " on the front of the chair. The new chair was paid for by an anonymous donor (some say Geoffrey Butcher himself).
The feoffees held a party at the Athenaeum, Warminster, during late March/early April 1991, to welcome the new chair. Matthew Burt was present at the party and another guest was Bishop Cartright, former Bishop of Southampton, who had retired to live in Warminster. After the party the feoffees carried the new chair across the High Street and placed it in the chapel.
A report of the party, in the Warminster Journal newspaper, says the replacement chair was made of burr oak from a tree felled in Horningsham, near Warminster, in 1928. But Matthew Burt tells me the burr oak came from two trees which were blown down at Horningsham in the great gale of October 1987. The party report also says the Tudor chair was stolen in October 1989 but I don't recall the Warminster Journal reporting the theft at that time. Maybe the chapel didn't want adverse publicity. Geoffrey Butcher was always adamant that the chapel should be open and accessible to the public at all times.
Until I have time to undertake further research it seems the stolen chair was a chair referred to as "the Tudor chair" or "the ancient chair" and may not have had any connections with a bishop, but the replacement chair is known as the bishop's chair because the back panel of it resembles a bishop's mitre.
There is, of course, a real bishop's chair in Warminster. Bishop Ken's chair can be seen in St Boniface Hall at Warminster School, Church Street, Warminster. There are photographs of Bishop Ken's chair on my website: http://www.dannyhowell.net/2015/09/bishop-kens-chair-at-warminster-school.html
I hope my reply is of interest to you.
Best regards,
Danny Howell."

If any readers of dannyhowell.net have any knowledge of the Tudor Chair that was stolen from the Chapel of St Lawrence, including any photographs, please let us know ~ email: dannyhowellnet@gmail.com