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    Chamber horse - “fitness” and fun of the English aristocrats of the 18th century
Chamber horse - “fitness” and fun of the English aristocrats of the 18th century
Heywood Hardy. From the Life of the English Aristocracy. Source: https://kolybanov.livejournal.com

Chamber horse - “fitness” and fun of the English aristocrats of the 18th century

Throughout all periods, each wealthy family in England maintained a stable. Owning a horse was a symbol of aristocratic status, a mark of prestige and proper etiquette. Riding horses served as both a recreational activity and the primary sport for family members. The inclement weather in the British Isles often disrupted travel, leading respectable men and women to stay on their estates and indulge in excessive eating and feelings of malaise. With the onset of excess weight, hypochondria grew stronger. "Spleen" was a trendy term at the time, representing feelings of sadness, despair, and melancholy.

Shamber horse. Source: pinterest.com
Chamber horse. Source: pinterest.com

Rescue from spleen

In March 1739, two London newspapers, the Daily Post and the General Advertiser, promoted a unique piece of exercise equipment known as the "chamber horse," invented by Henry Marsh. This innovative chair, located in the Clare Market area of London, featured high-quality leather upholstery, handrails for stability, and a spring mechanism that allowed users to simulate horseback riding. It gained popularity under the influence of Thomas Sheraton, a renowned English cabinetmaker known for his neoclassical style. The design of the chamber horse was detailed in Sheraton's influential work, "The Cabinetmaker's and Upholsterer's Drawing Book," published in 1793. This guide highlighted the use of a unique biconical spiral spring system that provided varying levels of resistance, a design element that would later be incorporated into various furniture pieces such as mattresses and seating.

Part of the Chamber horse design. Source: https://www.smow.com/blog/
Part of the Chamber horse design. Source: https://www.smow.com/blog/

The exercise chair's top board is filled with hair and covered in leather, with strategically placed slits to release air when compressed. To use the chair, one sits on the seat, grips the handles, and pulls them down while bending their knees. The springs compress and then propel the user upward, mimicking the motion of horseback riding. Known as a "chamber horse," this simulator was commonly found in dining rooms and was a luxury item affordable to the wealthy. However, those with limited resources could access it for health improvement at pharmacies for a fee of 6 cents per hour.

Chamber horse. Source: https://mungfali.com/
Chamber horse. Source: https://mungfali.com/

Who was the one that used the chamber horse?

John Wesley, a clergyman, preacher, and writer who led the revival movement in the Anglican Church, believed in the health benefits of using a Chamber horse as an exercise machine. At 87, he recommended it to his niece Sarah, advising her to use it for at least half an hour a day to stay in shape. The John Wesley Museum in Wesley Chapel, London, showcases a specimen of the Chamber horse.

Inspired by British physician and philosopher George Cheyne, author Samuel Richardson used the Chamber horse as a way to improve his health. Cheyne, who struggled with weight issues himself, believed in the importance of staying active and recommended the simulator to his patients. In his renowned work, Essay on Health and Long Life, Cheyne outlined his recommendations for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

A 2012 study by Patricia Bixler Reber describes the infant chamber horse. It was made for the children of King George III by royal cabinetmaker John Bradburn. The horse had a more complex device with a turning mechanism and could “carry” four children at once. The Royal Chamber horse was included in the Great Wardrobe Bill of 1768.

An interesting story is that of Alexander Murray, the youngest son of the fourth Lord Elibank, imprisoned in Newgate Prison in 1751. He protested against the nominees in the city elections, being a convinced Jacobite, a supporter of the exiled King James and the restoration of the House of Stuart to the throne. At his sentencing, he did not kneel at the bar, for which he received 5 months in prison. In prison, he became ill and was forced to exercise daily on a chamber horse.

Jane Austen, in her unfinished novel Sanditon, mentions a chamber horse that its owner, Mr. Hollis, rents out by the hour.

David Niven in the 1967 movie Casino Royale. Source pinterest.com
David Niven in the 1967 movie Casino Royale. Source pinterest.com

In the opening scenes of the 1967 comedy Casino Royale, British actor David Niven's character, Sir James Bond, prioritises his health by using a Chamber horse for exercise. The Chamber horse, once a tool for aristocrats to stay fit in the absence of physical activity, is now a relic of the past. Today's elite prefer modern sports and gym equipment for their fitness routine. The Chamber horse is now a rare antique found only in museums or vintage films like Casino Royale. At a 2000 Christie's auction, a Chamber horse was valued at £600-800 and sold for £588.

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