Furniture, friendship and fun: the Furniture History Society’s first fifty years

Last night, at the Mansion House, the Furniture History Society celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. By extraordinary and happy chance Fiona Woolf, the current Lord Mayor, is a member of the FHS and a great enthusiast for the subject of furniture history.  In her words during the evening, the Lord Mayor, herself the daughter of the eminent textile historian Margaret Swain (1909-2002), summed up what makes the Society so special, and why it should be proud of its achievements.

Many of us who have belonged to the FHS all our adult lives, if not since 1964, will concur with the Lord Mayor that we value the friendships we have formed through the Society, and the fun we have had on visits, at symposia and on trips, as much as we have benefited from the collective scholarship embodied in Furniture History and the Newsletter. The Society’s senior figures have always been generous and welcoming to younger members, and this has ensured that the subject of furniture history continues to flourish.  The presence last night of Geoffrey Beard, a founding member of the Society, was a reminder of how he and his generation were unfailingly encouraging to those who arrived later.

That furniture history is now accepted as a serious field of study is in no small part due to the Society, and this role was eloquently summarised by the President in Furniture History: Forty Years On (2004).  And as scholarship has developed and ideas and approaches have changed, I have always been struck by the modest generosity that nearly always pervades revisions made by later writers.  As a group, we hold in great esteem those who have broken ground before us.

On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary, the Society has raised substantial funds (and benefited from one particularly generous bequest).  Thus, we shall be in a better position than in the past to offer support to a wide range of scholarly projects, as well as making grants to individuals.  It may now also be viable to consider revising the Dictionary of English Furniture Makers (1986); a task that has hitherto been beyond our means.

The party at the Mansion House, where we were surrounded by Lord Samuels’ wonderful Dutch paintings, which were always a far greater passion for him than the (rather good) furniture he acquired from my grandfather, typified the camaraderie that makes the Furniture History Society so special.