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  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

Mystery heirloom

I’m always fascinated by (and often a little envious of) the family heirlooms which are brought into The Repair Shop (BBC TV programme, filmed at The Weald & Downland Museum, West Sussex) for attention by the experts – everything from jewellery, musical instruments, leather items, old toys, scrapbooks… the range is so diverse!

This week a fairly ordinary chair needed the expertise of upholsterer Sonnaz Nooranvary. The chair might have looked ordinary but, of course, it held precious childhood memories for its owner. Sonnaz was able to strip it down and re-upholster it so it could be used for the owner’s own family and continue the chair’s legacy.

Family furniture

After the programme, I totted up the items of family furniture we have between us and I was quite surprised how many there were. My sister has a glass fronted cabinet which used to have pride of place in my paternal grandmother’s sitting room, a tiny chest of drawers with Chinese style decorations, a writing slope, a wooden trunk and a woven wicker chair (which coincidentally she’d made new cushions for only this week!).

I have a writing slope, too, and for years I had my grandmother’s pine trunk (now passed on to my grandchildren for their toys) and I also have her “wotnot” which sits next to our grandfather clock. The clock isn't a family heirloom but I’ve had it over 30 years now and may well become one when I’m gone!

One particularly treasured item is a little chair (pictured above) which my grandfather made me when I was a child. It’s been passed down to my son, then to my niece and is now back with my son for his own children to use. And rather like the chair in this week’s episode of The Repair Shop, it’s been re-upholstered on more than one occasion.

When it was handed down to my grandchildren, we wrote down the chair's story, listing the names and birth dates of the recipients - grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren and attached it as a “plaque” on the underside of the chair.

Mystery date

And talking of the underside of chairs… I have one other chair which is a family piece. It’s a small wooden dining chair (see photo below) which I’ve always been led to believe my great-grandfather, Thomas Diggory, made. He wasn’t a carpenter by trade – in his time he was a groom, a coachman and a gardener – but perhaps he was someone who could turn his hand to all manner of practical things.

On the bottom is written in pencil my great-grandfather's name (presumably by him?) and an address – Park Hall, Goldthorn Hill – which I mentioned in a blog post recently, was where my paternal grandmother was born and where her family lived, in the lodge.

Below the name and address is a date (unfortunately it's too blurred to see properly in the photograph). I’m pretty sure it says November, followed by a year… but, frustratingly, I can’t quite make it out! It looks like 18… something and the last figure could be a 1 or a 7 or a perhaps a 9… If my great-grandfather did make it, had he written the date on to mark the occasion he’d finished it? Or did the date have another significance? Without knowing what that date is, I can't speculate any further.

So, if you know of any tips for reading faded pencil on wood, I’d be delighted to hear about them!



Carolyn Retallick
Carolyn Retallick

I can't help re the writing in pencil, but just wanted to say I think the The Repair Shop is fascinating! The stories behind the items brought in are sometimes so moving. I have looked around to try and find something to get on the show lol, but the only thing is my "furry" chair given to me by my parents on my 16th birthday, some 50 odd years ago! It is very comfortable and supportive, except now it is in dire need of reupholstering. Have I got the nerve? Probably not. Maybe I will ask a local person to do it! It would be such a shame if it fell to bits as there are a lot of memo…

Carolyn Retallick
Carolyn Retallick

Btw I did see the tortoise pouffe! I’m just not sure my chair would have the same emotional impact!! 😂

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