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Retro Sunday: Men Of The Royal Lancaster Regiment Making Their Own Campaign Furniture.

Pioneers of the King's Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment, with their campaign furniture, 1808

Excerpted from British Campaign Furniture. Elegance under Canvas, 1740-1914, Nicholas
A. Brawer

Photo: Pioneers of the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment, with their campaign furniture, 1898. Black and white photograph reproduced in The Army and Navy Illustrated, May 28, 1898, p. 237. 2

This fascinating image shows men of the Royal Lancaster Regiment making their own campaign furniture. Of particular interest are the two campaign chests on the far left and far right of the picture.

From the Georgian through the Edwardian periods, gentlemen-officers lavished time and money on both their full dress uniforms and their campaign furniture. In 1813, Charles James, author of The Regimental Companion, wrote, “It is expected from the soldier, that his arms and accoutrements [including furniture] are at all times in the highest order, that they be not only clean but highly polished.” Officers were expected to outfit themselves in style.

The vast majority of campaign furniture was purchased privately. Desks, chairs, beds, game tables, and other luxuries of travel were manufactured for any person of means-civilian, naval, or military-who had need of it while traveling. Few, if any, of these pieces were supplied by the British Board of Ordnance; these rarities would have been marked with the initials BO or (after 1856) WD, for War Department, and accompanied by the Broad Arrow stamp.

Occasionally the army recommended certain models and manufacturers of campaign furniture, as it did in The Report of the Kabul Committee on Equipment (Calcutta, 1882; p.22):

.. the committee now considers the question of camp furniture for officers. The majority of the committee consider it to be necessary for the comfort of an officer, that be should bave a bed, and they find that the pattern… made by Ro of Dublin is the most suitable. It weighs under 20 Ibs…. They also consider that each officer should have a chair, and they recommend the pattern shown in the sketch… which weighs 3 ls…. They also consider a table … for each officer is necessary. These for all officers should be of one uniform size and pattern, viz. 24″ x 18″ x 30″. Trestle legs, joined by a cross bar which is connected by a leather thong to a D riveted in centre of table. These tables being joined together make an excellent mess table….

Brass-bound military chests were among the most popular pieces of campaign furniture for both colonists and military officers in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These chests, which were often contained within their own wooden packing cases, split into two sections of equal size for ease of storage and transportation. For example, the two halves of a chest formed a balanced load when hung over a mule’s back . Campaign furniture strapped to a pack horse’s back. c. 1853-6They were used both on the outward sea voyage, forming a necessary part of the traveler’s cabin furniture, as well as on land upon arrival, where they served as a chest of drawers in a tent or bungalow.

Campaign furniture strapped to a pack horse's back. c. 1853-6

Examples of a mid-Victorian campaign chests at Garden Court Antiques.

Handsome Mahogany Campaign Chest On Chest, Circa 1850.
Handsome Mahogany Campaign Chest On Chest, Circa 1850.
  1. Handsome Mahogany Campaign Chest On Chest, Circa 1850
  2. Handsome Mahogany Campaign Chest On Chest, English Circa 1850.


Further readings and sources:

  1. British Campaign Furniture. Elegance under Canvas, 1740-1914, Nicholas
    A. Brawer,
    ©2001 P. 59-60 & P. 182 See:
  2. Navy and Army Illustrated: bound copies Date: Mar 1898 – Sep 1898 Reference: RAMC/2093/4 Part of: Royal Army Medical Corps Muniments Collection, May 28, 1898, P. 237.
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Campaign Furniture Comes Home From the Wars

Handsome Mahogany Campaign Chest On Chest, Circa 1850.

by Lisa Hammel, The New York Times, November 5, 1966

Nineteenth-century campaign furniture, is as square-shouldered and bristling with brass as a four-star general.

Campaign furniture refers to those normally austere pieces used by army officers in the field or naval officers at sea. The explanation for its popularity may lie in an offhand remark made by a furniture buyer, who recently referred to the style as “basically boxes.” Basically boxes is right, yet it is probably the simple rectangular lines of the pieces that make them work well in modern rooms, in many period settings or in a mixed decor. The austerity of shape is offset, however, by the warm gleam of brass hardware. Traditionally on these pieces, drawer pulls are recessed rectangles; corners are capped with metal, and sometimes a strip of metal edges the top of the chest or desk.

Although the idea of field furniture is as old as war, the pieces seen today date mainly from the Napoleonic era in style. Some authorities believe the chests were based on the much older portable oriental chests, the boxy frames of which were decorated with a similar metal trim. The military and naval chests of Napoleon’s day were made so they could be stacked, and many of today’s still can be. Handles on the sides facilitated carrying.

Almost all the old pieces are mahogany. Contemporary versions might be anything from rosewood to brightly colored lacquer.

While the pleces may no longer be used under the narrow panoplied tent, or inside the captain’s snug cabin, observers of today’s decorating scene point out that the add-and-subtract, semi-portable pieces have a peculiar usefulness for today’s space-cramped, on-the-move population.

Campaign Furniture Comes Home From the Wars, by Lisa Hammel, The New York Times, November 5, 1966, Section R, Page 36 – New York Times Archive.

Lisa Hammel (1928-2019) was a staff reporter with the New York Times covering women’s news and education. She later wrote about crafts, artists and exhibitions and interviewed figures such as Edward Albee in their homes. She won a major journalism award in 1969 for an interview with Dr. Spock. In 1978, she became founding editor of Antiques World magazine.