One of the reasons that campaign furniture was so common in English society is that officers were required to purchase their own furniture and necessities for their commission.
As a result, The Army & Navy Co-operative Society, Limited, was an important part of the lives of servicemen, their families and (later on) England at large. The idea behind the Society, which traces its roots back to 1871, was to provide goods to officers at low prices.
The Society was where officers would buy every item they might need in service of the British Empire, from their sidearm to their shaving mirror.
My research into campaign furniture for a forthcoming book has had me plunging into the catalogues and rules of the Society. One of the interesting documents I turned up was an 1891 list of what officers needed to buy for their training:
Ash Chest of 3 long Drawers Large square Table on four legs (forming front cover to chest). Ash Tripod Washstand, fitted with 16 in. enamelled iron basin, chamber, soap and brush trays, goblet and bottle and glass. Birch Camp Bedstead, size 2 ft. 4 in. by 6 ft. 4 in. Quilted Horsehair Mattress. Horsehair Pillow. Three striped coloured Blankets. Waterproof Sheet to cover bed. Sponge Bath. Lantern. Looking-glass to stand or hang. Tent pole-strap. Strong Camp Hammock Chair. Strip of Matting. Piece of Rope (to secure matting round chest when packed).
Price complete to purchase 12 pounds 19 shillings 6 pennies.
The next stage of my research is to amass as many of the catalogues as I can – especially the early ones. One catalogue from 1898 is where the Roorkhee chair allegedly made its debut.
The maximum size of British campaign chests is pretty standard. You’re unlikely to find ones that are wider than 40” and taller than 42”. Outliers are out there, of course, but 40” x 40” is pretty typical. And the chests are almost always made with two stacked drawer units.
Well, there are several generally accepted reasons. The British Army General Order 131 (d) from 1871 states that the maximum size for a chest of drawers was 40” wide x 26” x 24”. This guideline seems to be pretty standard in earlier chests as well. So two pieces would create a typical chest of 40” to 42” high. Also, according to Nicholas Brawer, the author of the best book on this style of furniture, the two halves of a single chest could be strapped over a mule’s back to create a balanced load on the animal.
So this morning I was surprised to see the above image in my inbox.
This gargantuan chest, owned by the British National Army Museum, has an undisputed provenance to a brigadier general. You can read all about the chest at the National Army Museum’s excellent site here.
The chest looks like it obeys all the basic rules of having a chest of drawers that knocks down into mule-sized components. But three components? Wow.
There are a couple other over-the-top details on this chest, including the separate top and bottom pieces, which added significant weight.
I feel sorry for the mule that had to carry the third component. I hope they balanced the beast’s burden with something else. Otherwise, the poor thing would just trot in circles.