Dower chest

Chests were generally used to hold clothes or bed-linen and upon marriage, women were presented with linen and blankets in a wooden chest which became known as the ‘dower chest’. Carved on the front of this large oak-panelled chest is ‘L A K A 1671’ – the initials of Lewis Anwyl and Katherine Anwyl and this chest was given to them on the occasion of their marriage in 1671. They lived at Y Parc, Croesor, Llanfrothen, Gwynedd. A group of 17th century buildings survive at Parc, plus the remains of substantial 17th-century stone-built garden terraces, all set within a small walled park.

The house where the chest was thought to have come from might have had narrow doors and windows. Luckily, this large chest can be dismantled by pulling out the wooden pegs – it is an early flat pack piece of furniture. Storiel has a model of the chest which can be dismantled in the same way, demonstrating its clever construction.

Chests like this were used to store household linen and possessions, or oatmeal or flour. The lid could be removed and used as a spare bed. The lids of smaller chests would accommodate a baby and could also be used as a surface to knead bread on, and then use as a proving tray.

A large chest like this could store a year’s supply of oatmeal for a family. It would be kept in a dry, warm room, usually a bedroom above the kitchen. The freshly milled oatmeal was poured into the chest (holes and gaps would be carefully blocked) and the whole family would take it in turns to stamp down the oatmeal, wearing clean white socks especially for this important annual occasion. The oatmeal was tightly packed so it would keep fresh and free from mites for the next year. Keeping the chest in the bedroom would also alert the household to the nocturnal attacks of mice and rats.

This dower chest is on display in Gallery 3.