A chance find in a charity shop has led to the launch of a mini enterprise in the heritage industry.
Lorraine Barber was so taken with a miniature replica of the Coronation chair that she tracked down its history and then began making her own models.
Word of her hobby spread to Westminster Abbey as an ideal history teaching aid about the monarchy, and recently she was asked to make models for Scone Palace, the Gothic stately home at the site in Perth where Scottish kings were crowned,
Lorraine’s venture is now on the verge of being a commercial concern, and she wants to assure its future. Unfortunately, she is not in the best of health so one of her main priorities is to find a way for it to continue as a charity fund raiser.
Every chair she sells means a donation for the Alzheimer’s Society. The charity is close to her heart because her late father was diagnosed with the condition, and she is also keen to support local charities helping young people with mental health issues.
Her replica chairs have already met with royal approval from HRH Prince Charles. As the “Dame of Thrones” she developed a flat pack version of the historic Coronation chair which has been used in the UK and America in schools and for workshops. She was thrilled, as a former Towneley High girl, when Unity College pupils made replicas. Their work is on show in the education department at Westminster Abbey.
Said Lorraine: “It took three years to get authority for the replicas from Westminster Abbey, and now they are on sale and displayed there. It is a wonderfully creative way for children to learn about our history and the role of the monarchy.
Her latest venture, with assistance of the furniture maker Heritage Designs, of Barrowford, is building a life-sized replica for Towneley Hall which she hopes can be auctioned to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society.
Lorraine says her Coronation chair hobby has also been a lifeline for her, a way to keep her mind off her illness. She was very sick five years ago and today is in constant pain. Doctors have told her she cannot expect to go out to work again. “The chairs give me something to get up for” said Lorraine. “They are a symbol from medieval days, part of the history of England, and there is a demand for them, so keeping up with production is very hard. Luckily I have friends and volunteers who help, but it is coming to the stage that more people will be needed.
History will repeat itself if the replica Coronation chairs do develop on an industrial scale. Lorraine showed her charity shop find to Granville Holden, an old friend in Harle Syke who identified it as the work of cabinetmaker Ronnie Douglas Lees, also of Harle Syke, who made replica chairs to commemorate the Coronation in 1953.
Said Lorraine; “It is only recently that I found out that Mr Lees made furniture for the GUS catalogue and that the replicas were included in the catalogue at the time of the Coronation. Catalogues were massive in the 50s and went round the world.”