Is there a more iconic chair in the Ercol range? The 203 armchair maybe? But the 203 dates from just 1953; whereas the chair that we know as the Ercol Windsor dining chair, the 400, dates from 1943 and it is fascinating to chart its progress over the years.
It all began during World War II. Raw materials were scarce, workshops and factories had their output redirected to help the war effort, yet there was still a need to product new furniture; people got married and needed to set up new homes, countless other homes had their contents destroyed by enemy bombs. The solution to this problem was the Utility Furniture Scheme, set up in 1942 under the control of The Board of Trade – with Gordon Russell in charge of design. The result was an initial set of 28 pieces of furniture which expanded to 60 or so pieces by the time the first catalogue was produced in 1943. And it was that catalogue that first brought to the attention of the world a chair called the Model 4a – priced at 14/3 (which is about 76p).
As the war ended and the availability of raw materials improved various manufacturers were approached by the government to ramp up production to meet the increasing need for furniture. One of these manufacturers was Lucian Ercolani who agreed that his factory would produce 100,000 dining chairs, based on the Model 4a. These chairs were produced from 1945 to 1953.
The design was amended in 1954 (the 100 Windsor Chair), the main difference being that the new version had 5, rather than 6, spindles at the back.
The final change brought about the 400 chair, which was in production from 1958 to 1985. And this chair again reduced the number of spindles, this time to 4.
The 400 became known as the Kitchen Chair and was mirrored for all of its life by the 370 Dining Chair, a very close relative but this time with 6 spindles. The 370 had a slightly lower seat but was both wider and deeper than the 400. In 1987 the seat width of the 370 was increased by about 3cm to accommodate the somewhat larger bottoms with which many of us were then blessed.
The 370 has made it into the current Ercol Originals range (now made from ash and known as the 1877) but, sadly, the 400 is now no more. Which is a shame as it is a classic and rather elegant piece with a great history.
If you want to know more, there is an excellent book, Ercol Furniture in the Making by Lesley Jackson (ISBN 978-0-9553741-9-7), which can help with identifying Ercol pieces. There is also an archive with some old brochures at http://www.ercol.com/about/archive/. Or you can contact me here – I am always happy to help.