OK, I love camping and being in the outdoors, but I prefer to not really rough it. I liked the catered Milford Track as opposed to the “non-catered crowd” who had cold showers and had to carry all their gear. The catered option only needed to carry a change or two of clothes since everything else was provided.
I would rather kayak, canoe, bike, or something else where I can carry enough gear to be comfy on the trail. Or else have someone else provide it me. I’d rather hike from Auberge to Auberge than do the full scale Appalachian Trail. This is my idea of camping.
And so did my ancestors (well, not Nathaniel Pryor and Charles Floyd), as the study of campaign furniture shows. Campaign furniture is a type of furniture made for travel. Historically, much of it was made for military campaigns. While the most famous examples are usually British, there are more than enough non-British examples. US Generals (e.g., Washington) and other officers carried this type of gear while on campaign. Here is an example of North American campaign furniture from the French and Indian War.
This picture is of George Washington’s travel bed. There are similar examples at Valley Forge and Morristown used by other officers. A search on campaign furniture provides all sorts of interesting examples of early glamping where the officers’ carried enough of the comforts of home to make war a little less of a hell.
I just learned that the centrepiece of the Museum of the American Revolution which will be opening in Philadelphia on the 19th of this month will be a recreation of Washington’s Marquee tent!
Of course, like most of the more civilised things which passed, this required loads of servants to carry the gear into the back of beyond. Not to mention setting up camp really was setting up camp.
The Boer War in South Africa also was a big game changer since the enemy could move quickly. The mobile units were not quite as mobile as they had thought given the effort that this type of gear takes to transport and then set up. In 1903, the Secretary of State for War, H. O. Arnold-Forster, stated, “The British Army is a social institution prepared for every emergency except that of war.”
The campaign furniture went out for most warfare (Evelyn Waugh makes a comment about a “thunder chest” in one of his books about the Second World War), but it lingered on in the Safari and Imperial set.
I’m not sure campaign furniture has totally become obsolete even now. Although, you need to go to a reenactor’s supply store if you want some made to the old fashioned standards. Also, there are things which have modernised the concepts which these items are based upon. The Butterfly and Director’s chair are examples where campaign furniture still lives on.
Campaign furniture is evocative of luxurious travel and a time gone by. There is more likely to be an owner’s or maker’s name on a piece of portable furniture than a domestic version and it is easier to put it into a social context. The appeal of its nature has been picked up on and modern furniture made in a campaign style is produced by a number of makers today. Often, the consideration of portability has not been a factor with the overriding concern being to achieve the look by adding brass corners and strapwork. Another group of manufactures have produced direct copies of period campaign furniture seeing that there is still a call for it today be it for safaris or the high-class camper.
Good design will always be popular and this, along with many of the original reasons for the popularity of campaign furniture hold true today. It is practical, often versatile and naturally, very easy to move about.
While the average camper may not go to the extremes seen in campaign furniture, the folding chair, table, or camp bed are still with us.
Nicholas A. Brawer, 2001. British Campaign Furniture: Elegance Under Canvas, 1740 – 1914. ISBN 0-8109-5711-6