The Dunbar Hay Chair

In 1937 Eric Ravilious did something radical for him, he designed a chair. For a watercolour artist to doodle out a design like this, I think was rather brave. The job came as a commision from his friend Cecilia Dunbar Kilburn who ran the shop Dunbar Hay Ltd. Cecilia and Ravilious were pupils at the Royal College of Art at the same time.

Cecilia Dunbar Kilburn, Eric Ravilious and Anthony Betts in the RCA common room.

Design wasn’t unusual for Ravilious, he had done a lot of china designs for Wedgwood and some glassware for Stuart Crystal. However, whenever I have tried to find information on the maker of the chair below I have always hit a wall. The best way was to ask someone on Instagram who collected Kelly’s Guides and other business directories.

Before this the only information to be found in any book or in the V&A archive was that the chair was made by H.Harris.

It might not look to be important but you never know what links come from this information and it could in time help to find out production numbers, if any other designs were made or rejected, any surplus stock and on…


Eric Ravilious Designed Chair as part of a table set sold at Dunbar Hay, 1937

This armchair forms part of a dining suite, the only known furniture designed by Eric Ravilious. He was an artist and illustrator whose paintings included murals for interiors. The chair was commissioned for a new furnishing shop founded by Cecilia Dunbar Kilburn and Athole Hay. Four dining sets with variations were made.

In the 1930s there were still many enemies of the square and sometimes harsh shapes of modernism. Many designers and patrons preferred furniture that had links with the past. This chair is in keeping with the popular Regency revival style of the 1930s. The lines are recognisably those of the English Regency style (about 1810–30), but they are simplified to correspond to 1930s taste. 

The person on Instagram was David Wakefield, a typographer and designer with an amazing collection of books on printmaking and ephemera. It was with his help alone I can tell you now that H. Harris was Hyman Harris.

In 1911, Hyman Harris was recorded at 3 Grimsby Street, Bethnal Green. At that time, advertised as a wood chimney-piece manufacturer with Williamson & Harris at Guy’s Buildings and 85 Kingsland Road. 

By 1931, he is H Harris & Sons Ltd, at 18 Gosset Street and 17 & 25 Newling Street, Bethnal Green, still recorded as chimney-piece manufacturer. However, by 1944, or earlier after 1931, he is H Harris & Sons (Furniture) Ltd, Who. cabinet makers, Grimsby Street, E2. 

 Newling Street, Bethnal Green

The business continued until 1968.


It looks like the Ravilious Chairs were not manufactured beyond a prototype and now belong to the step-sister of John Aldridge.  If you want to find out what a cad Cecilia’s husband was, you can read about it here

V&A Archive CIRC.265&A-1948
c/o D.Wakefield


Although not a post on art per se it is an account of a family and their links with art.


Lord Sempill

William Francis Forbes-Sempill, 19th Lord Sempill, was a Scottish peer and record-breaking air pioneer who was later shown to have passed secret information to the Imperial Japanese military before the Second World War.

Educated at Eton, he began his career as a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps and then served in the Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Air Force during the First World War. In 1921, Sempill led an official military mission to Japan that showcased the latest British aircraft. In subsequent years he continued to aid the Imperial Japanese Navy in developing its Navy Air Service.

In the 1920s, Sempill began giving military secrets to the Japanese. Although his activities were uncovered by British Intelligence, Sempill was not prosecuted for spying and allowed to continue in public life. He was eventually forced to retire from the Royal Navy in 1941 after being discovered passing on secret material to Tokyo shortly before Japan declared war in the Pacific.


 John Lavery – Eileen in Primrose Yellow, 1926

Eileen Lavery

In 1919 Sempill married Eileen Marion Lavery, daughter of the Irish painter Sir John Lavery the WW1 War Artist. Eileen was Lavery’s only child. Shortly after giving birth and suffering from tuberculosis, Kathleen MacDermott, her mother, died in November 1891.

When her father took up permanent residence in London 1898. Eileen attended Holy Cross Convent School at Rochampton, and accompanied her father on his annual trips to Tangier before her marriage to James Dickinson in 1912. This marriage failed after the birth of their first child and Eileen and James divorced.


 John Lavery – R23 Type British Airships at Pulham St Mary, Norfolk, 1918

In 1920 Eileen married William Francis Forbes-Sempill, later Lord Sempill of Craigevar with whom she had two further children.

Their first daughter, Ann Moira, was born in 1920. Their second daughter, June Mary, was born in 1923, and was killed aged 18 as a result of enemy action on 11 May 1941 – the last day of the Blitz – at 15 Basil Street, London, just behind Harrods. She had been serving with the WVS Mobile Canteen Service. Eileen died in 1935.


 Eric Ravilious – Wood Engraved Trade Card for Dunbar Hay Ltd, 1938

Cecilia Dunbar Kilburn

Lord Sempill would remarry, Cecilia Alice Dunbar-Kilburn, the daughter of Bertram Edward Dunbar-Kilburn, a

patent agent.

Cecilia would open the shop ‘Dunbar Hay Ltd’ of 15 Albemarle Street, London W1. It was founded in 1936 with and Athole Hay and gave opportunities for graphic artists and students from the Royal College of Art. These included Eric Ravilious, Eric Bawden and Enid Marx, to show their designs, including furniture, furnishings, ceramics, fabrics, patterns. Ravilious designed the wood-engraved trade card for the shop, which closed in 1940 because of WW2

In 1947 Cecilia would publish a monograph on English pottery and china as part of the Britian in pictures series of books.


Sir Ewan Forbes, 11th Baronet

Sir Ewan Forbes of Craigievar, 11th Baronet (6 September 1912 – 12 September 1991) was a Scottish nobleman, general practitioner and farmer. Due to the presence of an intersex condition at birth, he was christened Elizabeth Forbes-Sempill, and officially registered as the youngest daughter of John, Lord Sempill. After an uncomfortable upbringing, he began living as a man at the start of his medical career in 1945. He formally re-registered his birth as male in 1952, adopting the name of “Ewan Forbes-Sempill”, and was married a month later.

In 1965, he stood to inherit his elder brother’s baronetcy, together with a large estate. This inheritance was challenged by his cousin, who argued that the re-registration was invalid; under this interpretation, Forbes would legally be considered a woman, and thus unable to inherit. The legal position was unclear, and it took three years before a ruling by the Court of Session was finally upheld by the Home Secretary, granting him the title.