When did they (regular people, rich people, etc.) start using stools and benches in the British Isles? My question is about daily life, not just the earliest archaeological finds. Specifically, I'm wondering when constructed furniture (as opposed to logs, rugs, just sitting on the ground) became typical in an ordinary person's home (hut, roundhouse, etc.).

This article on the history of furniture gives some details:

Furniture from 500-1500 A.D. (Or ‘Medieval furniture‘), was designed in European [sic]. Chairs were popular for seating and were often made of heavy oak with exquisite artistic designs.

Is it possible to narrow down this 1,000 year time span to something more specific in relation to the British Isles?

Wikipedia isn't much more helpful on this but would seem to indicate no earlier than the late medieval period.

Can anyone provide any more details the use of furniture in the medieval (or perhaps early modern) homes of ordinary people?

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    It used to be that sitting was only for kings and lords etc. When Oliver Cromwell founded parliament and imprisoned the nobility within the Tower, he introduced the concept of an M.P. "sitting" on behalf of a district. Traditional English folk who are not M.P.'s stand or lean at all times. With the postwar erosion of morals and public order and the influx of Indian immigrants (who sit on sitars), sitting, even in public has become commonplace. Jan 5, 2017 at 13:12
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    Requests for trivia or basic historical facts are off-topic if they can be easily answered by looking up the relevant topic on Wikipedia (my emphasis). If you're going to close a question from that reason, at least leave a link to the page you think answers the question.. Nov 24, 2017 at 12:02
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    That said, wooden furniture has been around in Europe since the Bronze Age, and probably even earlier. The ability to make a simple chair should be well within the scope of anyone who can construct a house/hut. Most people probably had furniture, it just rarely survives because wood is perishable. (Skara Brae is exceptional because the furniture was built from stone.) So the answer to the question is no, we just don't know. But it's not off-topic. Nov 24, 2017 at 12:11
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    @sempaiscuba. Agreed, it's not off topic, and I think it's worth seeing if anyone can add anything of value to your comment and the answer already given (even if a precise answer is impossible). Nov 24, 2017 at 13:01
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    I have now voted to reopen. The edit shows both a page that (may have been used) to research, and describes what it is about that page that is not acceptable as an answer.
    – CGCampbell
    Nov 24, 2017 at 13:59

2 Answers 2


Furniture has of course been in use for thousands of years before the advent of Christianity.

The earliest excavation of furniture artifacts in Britain were found in Skara Brae, Scotland. It is estimated to be from 3100-2500 BC. Due to lack of wood, the inhabitants are thought to have compensated by use of stone as the artifacts included:

  1. Stone beds
  2. Stone dressers
  3. Stone shelves
  4. Stone seats (That would fit as stools or benches)

Pictured below is evidence of furniture in the site:

enter image description here

Then we have Roman influence on Britain as well from the days of Roman Britannia. Romans primarily based their furniture on Greek designs. Quoting from Wikipedia:

Roman furniture was constructed principally using wood, metal and stone, with marble and limestone used for outside furniture. Very little wooden furniture survives intact, but there is evidence that a variety of woods were used, including maple, citron, beech, oak, and holly. Some imported wood such as satinwood was used for decoration. The most commonly used metal was bronze, of which numerous examples have survived, for example headrests for couches and metal stools.

In any case, it is safe to assume that Britons had furniture in 3100 BC. If I were to make an assumption, I would say humans must have made "furniture" as soon as they started wearing clothes/skins and found out that sitting on ground was not really good for their clothes.

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    The Orkneys were relatively heavily forested during the Mesolithic and Neolithic times, so wood would definitely have been used for fuel, implements, and feasibly for furniture. We don't see an awful lot of wooden ancient furniture simply because it would have been recycled into something else and used as firewood.
    – user22859
    Jan 4, 2017 at 15:21
  • @Pᴇᴛᴇ That's something I didn't know. I was relying on wikipedia here which said wood was scarce there
    – NSNoob
    Jan 4, 2017 at 16:33
  • @NSNoob and Pete Thanks for your input! Do you know when this kind of constructed furniture would have become commonplace in homes? (It looks as though seating was usually very primitive even as late as the iron age: bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/british_prehistory/…)
    – user23025
    Jan 5, 2017 at 20:18
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    @Wiglaf Hello Wiglaf the Houses excavated in Scotland belong to Pastoralists (Raising cattle and sheep), who are fairly common people if you ask me. These are not castles of high lords, these are homes of the common people. If furniture was common in their home back then, it should be evident that Britons have been using furniture commonly since the neolithic times.
    – NSNoob
    Jan 6, 2017 at 8:02
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    Pure opinion -- furniture would have made an appearance with the adoption of a relatively settled lifestyle, which faciliated the accumulation and storage (instead of transport) of stuff. If you have to move frequently, you either keep the volume down or you have to have something or someone to help. Clothing racks (for drying and airing), storage boxes (vermin-proof for perishables) and beds were probably first.
    – bgwiehle
    Nov 24, 2017 at 16:25


The available sources suggest that even Iron Age roundhouses had some basic furniture such as benches and that, among the poor at least, the quantity (and probably the quality) of furniture did not change much for many centuries, perhaps until as late as the 16th century.


Although our knowledge of furniture in the homes of ordinary people before the 17th century is somewhat sketchy, there are enough small pieces of information to get a general idea.

In Roman times, furniture was common in the houses of the wealthier members of society but we have little idea of the furniture inside the Iron Age roundhouses of the local population - it simply hasn't survived. However, recreations such as the one pictures below often show basic furniture.

Inside an Iron Age Roundhouse

Source: https://www.coam.org.uk/about-us/historic-buildings/iron-age-house/

Although the physical evidence of furniture may have long gone, it is not unreasonable to assume that Iron Age Britons who were able to build roundhouses would also have been quite capable of making basic furniture. In fact, an ongoing excavation in Cambridgeshire (Must Farm) of a site estimated to be around 3,000 years old has discovered remarkably well-preserved roundhouses with numerous items, including benches.

For the wealthy at least, after the Romans left, the amount and / or quality of furniture seems to have gone into decline:

The early Middle Ages were much poorer in household furnishings of every kind than the Roman world, but in the 14th and 15th century a growing affluence brought a major revival of furniture making, with many new types of cupboards, boxes with compartments, and various sorts of desks appearing.

However, the rich still had at least some basic furniture. In Saxon times,

Thanes and their followers slept on beds but the poorest people slept on the floor.

Several hundred years later, the amount of furniture of at least a reasonable quality was still quite limited even among the rich, judging by this passage relating to the time of Henry III (1216 - 1272):

Aristocratic households traveled frequently, visiting their various estates, conducting political business, and engaging in warfare. Most of the furniture traveled with the household—even the bedstead, a fairly large item, was bundled onto a cart or pack animal. This itinerant lifestyle dictated that furniture had to be kept to a minimum, and easily transportable. The total quantity of furniture and possessions in the home of an ordinary knight was probably comparable to that of a lower-middle-class wage earner today

Source: J.L. Singman, Daily Life in Medieval Europe

Edward I bedroom

Recreation of the bedroom of Edward I (1272 - 1307) Source: https://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/0c/0e/3d/6b/king-edward-i-s-bedroom.jpg

Referring to a medieval peasant's hut, local histories.org states

Any furniture was very basic. Chairs were very expensive and no peasant could afford one. Instead they sat on benches or stools. They would have a simple wooden table and chests for storing clothes and other valuables.

Christopher Dyer, in Furnishings of medieval English peasant houses (pdf) notes that,

Though wooden peasant furniture has not survived, metal fittings such as locks and keys and hinges, and applied decoration from chests, are found on village excavations.

medieval peasant hut

The interior of a rich peasant's hut. Poor peasants would not have had proper beds and certainly not a chimney. Instead, they would have slept on sacks stuffed with straw and had a hearth in the middle of the room, with the smoke drifting up through the roof.

This article on the History of Furniture manufacturing says that, in the Middle Ages,

Furniture was extremely basic, even in wealthy homes, chairs were uncommon; mainly, people sat on stools and benches.

For bedding, Dyer says

William Atkynson of Helperby near York who was not especially rich owned a featherbed. His less fortunate contemporaries slept on mattresses stuffed with straw or hair.. The really superior households, those of farmers with more than 100 acres of land, could aspire to fit a bed with a dorser, curtain and canopy, like Thomas Vicars of Strensall (1450) who had a green bed with a tapet (carpet) and a blue bed with curtains.

Much of the evidence for furniture comes from surviving inventories of peasants' homes. One of these, that of Richard Sclatter of Worcestershire lists bed, chair, tressle table, benches and chests in 1472 (note 'chair' is singular). There seems to have been only a small change over the next hundred years or so:

In the 16th century, furniture was more plentiful, but still basic; massive oak furniture was common among the rich. Chairs, still very expensive, were becoming more widespread....Seventeenth century furniture can be described as plain, heavy and made of oak; furniture among the affluent gradually became more comfy and decorated, made of walnut, then mahogany.

House of Robert Dene, d.1552

"This reconstruction drawing by Pat Hughes shows the house of Robert Dene (who died in 1552)...based on the inventory of his possessions attached to his will. This names four rooms...trestle table, benches, chairs, cupboards,...chests, beds..."

There was no mass-produced furniture before the 19th century. Any furniture of at least some quality would have been made by local carpenters. However, by the middle of the 17th century it would appear that furniture was common in most homes. By the 18th century, there seems to have been almost too much furniture:

Eighteenthcentury cottagers had too much free-standing furniture – including tables, chairs, cupboards and bedsteads, as well as spinning-wheels and laundry tubs – to have an open hearth in the middle of the floor.

Source: P. Sharpe & J. McEwan – Accommodating Poverty

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    I find the peasant hut diagram unbelievable. In 1969 my family had the opportunity to visit the well-off farming family in Staphorst, NL, that had sheltered my father for several weeks during World War 2. The animals slept in a partly excavated barn ~4 feet or so deep under one end of the house, and the big family bed was on its stone roof. In 1969, a well-off but traditional farming family still slept there, because it made "such a warm comfy bed." as I was told at the time. Nov 25, 2017 at 13:28
  • Interesting, and your feedback appreciated. I'll investigate further and see what turns up. Nov 25, 2017 at 13:50

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