The Old Library is home to several pieces of antique furniture with a historical connection to the college or to distinguished former members. Some notable furnishings are described below.
Thomas Warton’s Chair
Thomas Warton (1728-90) was a notable poet, biographer and historian, who was Professor of Poetry at Oxford from 1757-67, and became Poet Laureate in 1785. He came to Trinity as an undergraduate in 1744, was elected a Fellow in 1752, and remained at the college for the rest of his life. Warton was a good friend of Samuel Johnson, whom he allowed to use the Old Library for his studies.
The chair was apparently designed and made for Warton, and is a unique take on the eighteenth century Windsor spindle-backed design, incorporating cabriole legs and splayed arms. Warton died while sitting in his chair and was buried in the Trinity ante-chapel.
Robert Raper’s Chair
Robert Raper (1842-1915), a Trinity undergraduate from 1861 and Fellow from 1871, took a leading role in the administration of the college, becoming Senior Bursar and Vice-President. He acquired extensive influence in the wider University as a Curator of the Parks from 1885, and of the Botanic Garden from 1887 to 1899, as well as founding the Appointments Committee (now the Careers Service) in 1892.
The chair, made for Raper and now kept in the Old Library, has a rattan-cane weave seat and was designed with angled arms to facilitate easy reading of broadsheet newspapers. It bears the inscription Hac sella utebatur et in camera et in horto (‘this chair was used both inside and in the garden’).
Trinity has three metamorphic chairs dating from the early nineteenth century. These chairs contain a hinge that enables them to open out into library steps. The finest of Trinity’s metamorphic chairs, dated c. 1810-1815 is made from mahogany with a caned seat and has been tentatively attributed to Morgan and Saunders (image right).
The manufacturer of the two other metamorphic chairs on display in the Old Library is unknown, though the proportions are less precise and the construction inferior to the Morgan and Saunders chair. The first has straight, reeded arms, sabre-shaped legs and a plain front seat rail. The second (image left), which is of better quality, is of a more traditional design, with voluted arms and an over-scrolled top rail.
The caquetoire, or caqueteuse style of armchair emerged during the European Renaissance and was initially most popular in France. The name is derived from caqueter, a French term meaning, ‘to chat’ as they were designed for ladies to sit together and converse. The back of the chair is characteristically high and narrow, whilst the seat is narrow at the back but splayed out in a triangle shape, to accommodate ladies’ voluminous skirts.
The Trinity chair is Scottish and may date from the seventeenth century, though it has been much repaired. It came to Trinity as part of the bequest of Hugh Charles Cumberbatch in 1957; Cumberbatch, who came up to Trinity as an undergraduate in 1904, left his entire estate to the college.