Dictionary of English Pieces - Davenports. Desks, Dining Tables, Dressers, Dumb Waiters


First made at the end of the eighteenth century, the davenport is a small desk. It has a sloping-top which is hinged, and a series of drawers down one side. They were made in both rosewood and mahogany; early examples have short square legs, later ones are turned.


Like the davenport, above, a desk is a piece of furniture with a sloping- top for writing. Sixteenth- and seventeenth- century examples were small, portable sloping-top boxes which would contain pen, ink and paper and provide for their use. Some early eighteenth-century examples were fitted with stands, but in Victorian times the original box-type returned to favour. These latter were of mahogany or rosewood and bound with brass. Nowadays the term desk is applied to almost any piece of furniture at which writing can be done, including what was once called a writing table. These have a leather-covered top and tiers of drawers below, often with a central knee-hole recess for comfort. Large, double-sided versions of this type are called partner's desks.

Dining Tables

The first dining tables of which survivors remain are the type known as refectory tables. They are made usually of oak, and one of the earliest, at Penshurst Place in Kent, has a typical thick top of joined planks supported on three separate trestles. Later, came a lower part in one piece with heavy legs united by stretchers at their bases and rails at the tops. The Elizabethan dining table, also of oak and constructed in this manner, was often carved and inlaid, the legs being turned into strikingly large bulbous swellings, An alternative type at this period was the draw table, which extended by means of leaves at either end sliding in and out from below the principal top.

Refectory tables stayed in use throughout most of the seventeenth century, but towards 1680 came large circular tables on gate-leg supports. Many of these are four feet or more in diameter, and it seems probable that their use was for dining.

Mahogany dining tables survive in large numbers, and are of many types. Early ones, of about 1740, have falling side-flaps supported by swinging outwards the hinged legs; others are in sections and become as many as four separate tables when taken apart. Late in the eighteenth century came the type with each section supported on a central pillar with splayed legs and brass-capped toes; a type that is very popular today for the practical reason that the legs are out of the way of the diners.


A piece of furniture on which china or silver was displayed. In the seventeenth century it was a long table with drawers, usually raised on legs, and made generally of oak. In the eighteenth century came the fashion of fitting a superstructure of shelves, sometimes with small cupboards at either end, and these are often called Welsh dressers. Rare examples are made of yew wood.

Dumb Waiters

A set of revolving trays of different sizes supported on a central pillar, and used beside the dining table. Eighteenth-century mahogany examples had circular trays and tripod bases, some nineteenth-century rosewood ones were oblong and had four-legged supports.

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