Tuesday, 8 February 2022

Two late medieval trestles

Original real medieval trestles (not the X-trestle tables or the trestle tables that have a horizontal support between the two trestles) are extremely rare. There is a table top with several trestles in the museum Onze Lieve Vrouwe ter Potterie in Bruges, Belgium. The Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, France has a table top with two trestles on display, as well as one trestle hidden somewhere in the depot.

An illumination from 'Anciennes chroniques d’Angleterre' by author Jean de Wavrin ((1400?-1474?) showing some fallen trestles of the type where the three legs are at the sidesof the supporting rail.  Français 81, fol. 262r. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Paris, France. Note that also a strycsitten (a bench with a turnable backrest) is shown.

A few years ago I discovered another pair of medieval trestles in Chateau Bois D'Orcan in Bretagne, France. The castle museum has a small but superb collection of medieval furniture. All these trestles are more or less similar in construction: they are very robust, made of heavy pieces of oak, with two legs in front and one at the back. The ones in Bois D'Orcan and the Musee des Arts Decoratives being the most decorated. 

This year I discovered another set of trestles - this one with a modern glass tabletop - when I visited the antique shop of Bruil and Brandsma in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. In contrast to the other trestles, these are "lightweight" and have a different construction. Here, the three legs of the trestle are at the sides, instead of at the front and back. 

Finally, when I started preparing this blog I did a quick internet search on trestles and found an early 16th century set of trestles originating from the UK, also with the legs to the sides. These trestles are the most simple in their construction, and made of heavy oak. Similar type of trestles with side legs are often found in medieval illuminations and paintings. Interestingly, one of the English trestles has four legs, instead of the usual - more stable - three.

Bruil and Brandsma, the Netherlands


The left and the right trestle; photos taken frontal and slightly diagonal. The carved designs of the two are different.

This set of oak trestles originates from the Abby of Herkenrode in Belgium. The abby was founded around 1179 by the earl of Loon. It had a turbulent past: it became a place of pilgrimage, suffered from wars between the regional lords and bishops. During the 18th century it was sold as well as the furniture and other properties. The abby buildings then became an industrial site, suffered from a fire, before it returned in relegious hands in 1972. The trestles could have remained at the abby, or were acquired by locals somewhere in its past with the knowledge of their origin remaining.

Both ends of the horizontal support rails are carved with a floral design. Also note that the legs are inserted into the horizontal rail and secured with a wooden pin.

The decorative rose of the other trestle. This one has a small repair.

The middle boards are carved with a slightly different design. Note the metal nail in the cross of the left photo that connects to the supporting rail to the third leg.

The connecting rail from the middle board to the third leg. Also a metal nail is driven through the third leg. 

The undecorated other side of the trestle. Note that the top part contains no decorative rose. This might indicate that the trestle table is a set of two, and complete except for the table top. Or these trestles are the two outer ones of a larger table with more trestles, where any undecorated middle ones are gone. 

Sutton Hall, United Kingdom

The Sutton Hall trestles (and tabletop) were on sale at an English antique shop (Period Oak Antiques). This table is one of two identical tables from the great hall of Sutton Place in Guidford, Surrey, UK. Sutton Place was a great renaissance mansion build by Sir Richard Weston, a loyal and influential courtier of King Henry VIII. It is believed that these two trestle tables have been in the house since its construction in 1521-1533. 

The two trestle tables as seen in their original site in Sutton Place hall.

The tables date from the 16th century. The table top consists of a large 10 feet long hewn single plank of English oak 4" thick and 30.5" wide. It stands on two trestle supports: one with four legs, the other with three. The trestles are of very simple construction, bascially a large block of oak with the legs sticked into it. The trestles are undecorated, except for the initial JW found at one of the ends of a block.

The trestle on the right has three legs, the one on the left four.

The four-legged trestle.

The table top shown from the 3-legged trestle side.

One trestle is stamped with the initials J.W., According to the antique dealer these marks stood for John Weston, the builder of Sutton Place. This is a bit peculiar as Richard Weston was the first Weston owner of the mansion. It is possible that the initial stand for a later owner, John (Webbe) Weston, an 18th century related family member who inherited the mansion.

Again the four-legged trestle.


Bruil and Brandsma are greatly acknowledged for their permission to take photos and allowing them to be published on this blog.

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