Early English furniture, up to the middle of the 17th century, was predominately made of oak and had changed little in design from the Middle Ages. It was of fairly basic construction, namely mortise and tenon joints fixed with dowels. Generally pieces were turned and heavily carved often taking on the Italianate style from pagan and classical sources, or geometrical decoration borrowed from the Netherlands with bulbous turned legs which became popular from the Elizabethan period.
Change came with the use of walnut. It’s tight grain and beautiful colourations provided a wood that could be used for marquetry and veneering which became very popular from the late 17th century onwards. It was during this period that the distinctions between joiners and cabinet makers was based on the types of furniture they produced, where country oak furniture became the preserve of the joiner and the more refined and heavily veneered walnut pieces the preserve of the cabinet maker. Also, the arrival of French Huguenot craftsmen escaping persecution during this period speeded up the transition from joined carved oak furniture to the Baroque influenced curves, veneers, lacquers and marquetry furniture with floral motifs that was replacing it. The buttery patinas and barley-sugar twisted legs showed off the marvellous texture of walnut and some of the most prized pieces of early English antique furniture come from this golden age of walnut which ended with the near extinction of the wood through overuse and blight in the early 18th century.
Period and revival pieces of antique walnut veneered and marquetry furniture can be found in antique shops in Lancashire, and all over the UK.
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