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Image of From left: The chair and a portrait of Laurence Sterne which is in the College's collection
From left: The chair and a portrait of Laurence Sterne which is in the College's collection

College archivist finds Laurence Sterne's chair while rummaging in storage

When archivist Robert Athol came across a chair in a store room with a plaque attached which read: ‘Here sat Laurence Sterne’, he assumed it was some sort of joke.

Laurence Sterne, one of the 18th century’s most famous authors, was a notable alumnus having studied at Jesus from 1733-37.

But Robert was astonished to discover it was indeed genuine when, by further coincidence, he found a bundle of letters in the College archives proving the chair's provenance.

He then contacted The Laurence Sterne Trust and arranged for the chair to be returned to Shandy Hall, the writer’s home in Coxwold, Yorkshire, which is now a museum dedicated to Sterne. The exchange took place earlier this month.

Patrick Wildgust, Curator at Shandy Hall said: “We have very few things that belonged to Sterne - letters perhaps are the closest you can get to a writer - but we now have the chair in which he sat. It can speak of an extraordinary association.

“I can imagine there will be writers who would be delighted to sit in Sterne’s chair. It can add another dimension to the fact he was a living, breathing writer. It’s a delight for us to be able to have it.”

After graduating, Sterne serving as vicar of Coxwold until, in 1759, he published The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman which brought him instant success and made him a best-selling author.

Mr Athol found, through letters, that the chair was passed through the hands of subsequent vicars in Coxold until it was offered to Jesus College in 1928.

The brass plaque on the back reads ‘Hic sedebat Laurentius Sterne’, which translates as ‘Here sat Laurence Sterne’.

The plaque written in Latin, which loosely translates as 'Here sat Laurence Sterne'

Mr Athol said: “I have an interest in Georgian furniture so I just liked the look of it. When I examined the plaque I assumed it was a joke as Sterne was an alumnus. I thought nothing more of it, until about two or three weeks later I happened upon some bundles of letters in the archives which had all the details and proved the provenance.

“We are delighted to have been able to not only ensure this important artefact has ‘gone home’ and will now be seen by a significantly wider audience, but also pleased to have strengthened our existing relationship with everyone at Shandy Hall.”

For more on this story,see the Archive of the Month.

“I assumed it was a joke as Sterne was an alumnus. I thought nothing more of it, until...I happened upon some bundles of letters in the archives which had all the details and proved the provenance."

 

 

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