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News > OS News > Fascinating theory surrounding provenance of leather Captain's Chair

Fascinating theory surrounding provenance of leather Captain's Chair

17 Jan 2023
Written by Jennifer Law
OS News

The festive period provided the opportunity for OS Richard Joscelyne (SHb, 60-66) to turn detective and try and track down the story behind the stunning and mysterious leather Captain’s Chair which we published about in the autumn:

Richard undertook detailed research on the possible provenance of the chair and thinks he has uncovered a wonderful family connection which has led to an expected outcome…

Richard’s theory unfolds like this…

‘The Captain’s Chair was gifted by the boys to Mr Charles Mellows, always known as “Chas”, in recognition of his initiative to promote the idea of an outdoor bath and his efforts to see the project through to completion’.

In support of this suggestion, Richard argues as follows:-

  1. The fact that the chair was given by the boys collectively suggests either a significant national person/event when many other private/public groups would have also given a gift, or that it was given to someone at the College that most, if not all, boys would know.  I could find no Royal occasion (birth,  christening, marriage or anniversary that occurred in summer 1928, nor any other occasion that might have triggered such benevolence, so a gift to someone closely linked to BSC seemed much more likely. However, I doubt that members of the Governing Council would have been widely recognised by the boys, so academic or ancillary staff are left
  2. The date of the presentation is June 1928, but the academic year would surely have ended in July 1928, so a retirement gift seemed unlikely, a search among retiring staff of the time did not show any obvious candidate for what was a generous gift. A single chair seemed inappropriate for a wedding gift and I could find no reference to any significant wedding in June 1928 of a staff member. Nor could I find any obvious anniversary for a member of staff – the Headmaster, F.S. Young, had been in office for 28 years. BSC was 60 years old in 1928, but the anniversary should really lie in September, not June. Would the boys really celebrate by giving a chair?  However, there was one notable event in June 1928. In May 1928 the Outdoor Bath was structurally ready to be filled so water flowed in from 22nd May. It would have taken some time to fill, so it seems very likely that it became fit for purpose in June 1928. The first official school swimming match occurred on 2nd July 1928.
  3. If the trigger event was the opening of the pool, who would have been most associated in the minds of the boys with that? The obvious and really, only answer, would be Chas Mellows. In the early part of 1928 large gangs of boys were involved in the initial excavations. Knowing just a little of Chas’ reputation as an enthusiastic and inspirational Master, I feel sure he would have been highly active and visible in guiding their efforts.
  4. Chas’ obituaries included the following by H.E.Wall – “It was he who launched the splendid project of the open-air bath (in modern parlance the outdoor pool).” The Stortfordian of the time reported – “Our thanks are due to Mr. Mellows, for the perseverance he has shown in getting this ambitious project carried out and for his help in the excavating.”
  5. The Centenary Chronicle of BSC reported - Chas Mellows “took over the coaching of swimming after the 1914-18 War and ran it until 1951, with such conspicuous and well-known success that no underlining is needed here”. The national reputation of BSC as a leading swimming school would have reinforced the idea that Chas should be recognised with a presentation.

However, there is a more personal side to the research for me. My father, Richard C Joscelyne (SH,1922-30) would have been 15 in June 1928. I don’t think he was a great swimmer, but certainly a rugger player, and would go on to 1st XV and then OS and Minor Counties rugger. I feel sure that he would have contributed to the fund, possibly along with my uncle, Michael Joscelyne (SHb,27-34)) who would have been in the Prep. at that time. Finally, my Great Grandfather started the firm of Clement Joscelyne, in Market Square, Bishop’s Stortford in 1879, which was in the business of retail furnishing. Clement’s Son, Charles Joscelyne (00-03), would have been running the business in 1928 and aware of the construction of the pool as he was President of the Old Stortfordians and a College contemporary of Chas. I assume that he might have volunteered suggestions for a gift of a piece of furniture and it seems very likely to me that the boys would have purchased the chair from Clement Joscelyne’s of Bishop’s Stortford. Sadly the company folded 10 years ago and I doubt there are any surviving records from that time that could help to prove this.'

The wonderfully positive next instalment in this fascinating story is that Richard has been in touch with the current owner and has agreed to purchase the chair for himself, returning what we strongly believe is a Clement Joscelyne’s chair dedicated to a cherished figure amongst College heritage back into Joscelyne ownership!

Has Richard’s theory stirred any memories of the chair for you? Is there any additional information you can add to this captivating story?

If you have anything to add the Development Team would love to hear from you:

We are hugely grateful to Richard for dedicating so much time and concentration to trying to establish the provenance of this beautiful chair - we hope it brings much happiness when he gives it a new home!

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School House,Maze Green Rd,
Bishop's Stortford,CM23 2PQ

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