Above - the common bulrush
Above - Chair in the middle of being re-rushed, showing the underlying structure.
(Click to see larger photo.)
RUSHES FOR SEATING - the background
Pictured left is the common bulrush,
Scirpus Lacustris commonly used in the UK and Europe for chair
seating. Materials used for this purpose vary from country to country, and the issue
can be confused because the generic term, 'rushes' is often used for completely
different seating materials! In the US, for example, rush seating is commonly done
with the leaves of the Cattail plant, but most American seat weavers refer to their
material as 'rush'.
The origins of rush seating are lost in the mists of ancient history.
the use of rushes goes back at least to the 4th millennium BC: there's evidence of
excavations at Ur in southern Iraq. In ancient Egypt, about 3,500 years ago,
seats of plaited reeds or rushes were used.
basket that the baby Moses was hidden
in was not made of rushes but probably of Papyrus antiquorum. Paintings of
confuse things even further by showing the great reed mace rather than the true
Evidence of rush seating turns up throughout history. The Vikings almost certainly used it,
and in mediaeval Italy simple rush-seated ladderback chairs were commonly used.
Strangely, considering that the best rushes grow in England, there's no direct evidence of
rush-seating in Britain before the 17th century, though it's quite likely it was used before
RUSH CHAIRS IN ART
During the middle ages in the Low Countries and Spain rush seats were used, as can be
seen in the painting by Nicolaes Verkuje (1673-1746) The Tea Party.
Various house inventories included rush seats: 1708, Robert Hilliard of Writtle, Essex had '5
chairs rush ones'; 1705, a blacksmith's house had 'an oval gateleg table and 6 rush chairs to
set around it'. Sheraton, the great furniture maker, described 'small painted chairs with rush
Above - Big low-seated rush chair with arms. (Click to see bigger photo.)
Above - 2 old church chairs seated in rush. Note the hymn book racks at the back.
(Click to see bigger photo.)
THE ARTS AND CRAFTS MOVEMENT
After about 1720 rush seats became unfashionable as upholstery gained prominence, but by
the middle of the next century William Morris (1834-1896), founder of the Arts & Crafts
Movement helped repopularise them. At this time there was a yearning amongst city folk for
a more rustic way of life and rush seats seemed to typify this daydream.
Above - Unusual Arts & Crafts Movement stool seated in natural rush. (Click for
HEALTH PROBLEMS AMONGST RUSH SEATERS
Rush seaters were known as 'bottomers' or 'matters' and they often suffered chest
problems, known as 'matter's chest' due to inhaling dust & mildew from badly stored
rushes. This danger is still amongst us, and it's always safer to strip off old chairs outside -
you never know what nasties are lurking inside the weave. We are also prone to other
physical side-effects, such as backache, sore fingers and various repetitive strain injuries
such as carpal tunnel syndrome - it's not a job for the faint-hearted!
SHAKESPEARE'S BOTTOM THE WEAVER
Perhaps Bottom (A Midsummer Night's Dream) was a 'bottomer' - a rush seater - rather
than a loom weaver as is commonly supposed?