Among the objects and documents gathered in our archives there is one piece that stands out- an exceptionally beautiful chair. It is made of black wood, with purple, leather upholstery (not original one unfortunately) , almost throne-like in appearance. It is exquisitely carved and very old. It’s been around for over a hundred years. There is a mystery attached to it: the uncertain origin of its make.
You see, the chair was gifted to the principal of St. John’s by Arthur Heron Ryan Tenison and the carvings on the back states that it was in 1905. Tenison was an architect commissioned to design a carved screen for the chapel of St. John’s College in years 1900-1914. Tenison was not a sculptor so all the sculpting was done by a man of substantial renown: Nathaniel Hitch. Hitch is known for his sacral art. His works are spread around the globe: in Truro, Oxford, Washington, Calcutta, Sydney and more. Tenison and Hitch had a ‘professional patronage’ relationship and often cooperated.
So, was the chair made by Nathaniel Hitch? There are certainly reasons to believe so. There are plans to approach the Guild of Master Craftsmen and the Guild of Woodcarvers for help in establishing its origins.
The chair was for many years housed in the Drama department, where it was used as a prop. There are plans to bring the chair back to ‘active duty’ and use it for the official ceremonies. It already was used during university title inauguration. If only it wasn’t so fragile! Its back was damaged by the years of improper handling and the conditions under it was stored dried the wood and made it brittle. Still, it is a thing of beauty and prestige. Its surface unscratched and the leather upholstery unblemished. It is a true silent witness to our past.