What’s more cosy than putting your feet up in a Rocking Chair? Sitting comfortably, Gallery Oldham’s Curator Bill Longshaw, will tell you more.
‘Old friends, old tales, old hearths, old chairs’
Nothing says ‘take it easy’ quite like a rocking chair and a quick trawl of the internet reveals thousands of comfy ones to choose from. There is even a model called the ‘Oldham’ rocking chair although, sadly, I have been unable to establish quite why leading furniture-maker Ebern Designs chose the name. Gallery Oldham has many old chairs in its collection, including several ‘rockers’. This scaled-down children’s chair, for example, belonged to a little boy who lived at the ‘Telegraph Post Office’ in Hollinwood in the 1920s:
We also have a number of miniature, dolls house examples, like this one:
The first rocking chairs appeared in America in the mid-1700s and were simple adaptations of existing chairs; fitted with rockers for lounging on the porch, nursing babies, or just to help sitters drift off to sleep.
Over time, they have evolved into popular and stylish pieces of furniture. However, they still seem to symbolise a laid-back approach to life and despite the best efforts of designers remain ever-so-slightly ‘naff’. You only have to think of Irish entertainer, Val Doonican, who famously closed his shows singing from a rocking chair, often sporting a cosy cardigan.
Doonican, who modelled himself on American crooners like Bing Crosby and Perry Como, began his television career in 1964, when he appeared on Sunday Night at the Palladium. From there, he went on to record a series of live shows for the BBC at their Manchester Studios on Dickenson Road, Rusholme; the converted Methodist Chapel that was also the home of Top of the Pops. The Irishman was only hired for six episodes but went on to become a regular fixture on Saturday night television. While the chair, a studio prop he is said to have inherited from a singing nun also carried on creaking well into the 1980s. Find out more about Val Doonican.
John Whittaker’s Rocking Chair
Along with half-sized and tiny rocking chairs, Gallery Oldham also recently acquired this full-size version, made by Saddleworth furniture maker John Whittaker.
In the 1970s, Whittaker left the rat-race behind to follow his dreams and make beautiful, hand crafted furniture.
He also designed and built striking, outdoor seating, including a bench that stood for many years outside Saddleworth Museum, next to the statue of the famous dialect poet Ammon Wrigley. The bench, installed in 1974, lasted over 40 years before the Pennine weather finally took its toll. It was replaced by a replica, made by Greenfield group ‘Men in Sheds’ in 2019, with financial support from Saddleworth Civic Trust. Wrigley, who obviously liked a comfy seat and may, or may not have owned a rocking chair would have approved. He once wrote:
To loll at ease in old arm chairs,
While at the door the cold wind bites.
Old friends, old tales, old hearths, old chairs,
Are all I ask, enough for me,
And he who finds no joy in them
How lone and dreer his life must be.
From ‘All I Ask’ by Ammon Wrigley, Published in ‘Songs of the Pennine Hills’, 1938.