Tom Balderstone, Creative Apprentice
Museum of Cambridge
The mayor’s chair was used by Cambridge mayors throughout the 18th century. It was hand crafted by local artisans and is a beautiful and skilfully well-made object. The frame is mahogany and the seat and back are made from hand-stitched leather, the details in the arms and head were all made by hand – it’s one of our museum’s prettiest objects, one that’s also very under-appreciated in my opinion.
The height and decoration of the chair was a clear symbol of power and stature, it has a strong throne-like quality that many young visitors comment on. The chair, which seated many mayors, is just another example of the stature that mayors held in Cambridge, and by an extension the power that their councillors held.
To me the object, as well as being beautiful in its own right, is a wonderful symbol of the complex relationship between town and gown. Ever since the 13th century the university has held huge influence over the city and its people, though governmental power has been in the council and their mayor. Both the university and the city have shaped the culture and history of Cambridge, but the story of the local government is not told as often.
Our collection tries to reflect both sides of Cambridge and its history, looking at the people, the council and the university too, and this object reflects that.
The Museum of Cambridge holds many objects that have multiple meanings, but to me this is one of the best. We try to tell the whole story of Cambridge and our collection has hundreds of hidden stories, some of which have been mislaid in the telling of histories.