I’ m not sure why there are so many descriptive names for our product. We call them garden swing seats. However, garden hammocks, swinging benches, swinging sofas and swinging chairs are just some of the descriptive terms universally used. Originally they were called Couch Hammocks but the name seems to have disappeared into the mists of time. It is quite difficult finding a single name which describes any product perfectly. When we exhibited at Chelsea it was evident that there was quite a range of descriptive names for them, but no ever referred to them as Couch Hammocks
I think it might be down to which part of the country you live in. Regional variations still abound for all sorts of words; alleyways are called ginnels and snickets in Yorkshire, we say someone is ‘maungey’ meaning they are spoilt or peevish, in Manchester a ‘prannock’ is an idiot, in Edinburgh the word for cigarette is a ‘snout’ and in Belfast a £5 note is a ‘flim’. Many traditional words are slow to disappear and still very regional, in fact, they can seem a foreign language to those from another part of the country. In the North, with a few exceptions, garden swing seats are not hammocks or benches, swinging sofas or chairs, they are Garden Swing Seats!
Swings will have been around for as long as mankind found the back and forth motion of rocking, soothing and peaceful. We rock babies to calm them; the natural motion to adopt when needing a bit of comfort. From that first piece of wood slung between two pieces of twine and hung from a tree branch, swing seats were born.
It was the Edwardians who during that age of luxury decided to make swing seats luxuriously comfortable. Hard wooden or metal benches usually associated with outdoor furniture were transformed for a self-indulgent lifestyle which was much welcomed after the horrors and deprivations of the First World War. Introducing interior sprung cushions on garden furniture which sat on verandas and terraces or beside pools and ponds, made sitting outside luxuriously comfortable. Interior sprung and covered with rubberised hair, which was used before the advent of today’s materials, the cushions were then covered in large, flowery designs. Bright, bold, striped materials were used for the awning and to protect the seat during bad, summer weather, it was entirely enveloped under a removable, overall cover made from a heavy cotton canvas just as we do with our swing seats today.
We first came across garden swing seats being sold commercially in this country in ‘Grace’s Guide to British Industry’ which is a history of manufacturing from the Industrial Revolution to recent times in the UK and elsewhere. It is a fascinating browse if you have time and gives a brief, historical account of companies and their products. Just tap ‘Grace’s Guide’ into your computer and wonder at the variety of goods being produced in the UK.
At the Manufactures of Garden Furniture Show at Olympia in London, which is still going but now under the name of the Ideal Home Exhibition and still held on the same site, records show that in 1947 the Fitter Brothers from Birmingham, as well as exhibiting couch hammocks, had on their stand loungers, umbrellas, tables, chairs, sunbeds, benches, deck chairs and tubular hotel and hotel furniture of all types. They had two stands on the first floor at the show, numbers 770 and 778. The couch hammocks were sold under the Bedford brand name and occasionally we still come across them when they are sent to us for refurbishing.
Couch hammocks were, it appears the commercial name given to garden swing seats, and Fitter Brothers were not the only company selling them. These days’ exhibitors tend to sell single types of their wares, for example, we only sold swing seats, no plant pots, lighting or other garden accessories. In earlier times exhibitors displayed a huge range of products to fill their stands from all types of Umbrellas for Ladies and Gents, Golf, Fishing and Garden equipment, Garden Tables and Chairs, and other types of Garden Furniture. Walking Sticks; Seat Sticks and Seat Stick Umbrella Combinations, Sun Awnings and Blinds not forgetting the Couch Hammocks. The list is endless. Their stands must have been huge in order to contain the plethora of goods for sale.
In the days of the British Empire personnel from the Foreign Office and the British Army could be posted abroad to any country in the world. The Army and Navy Store in London would supply and deliver all the equipment needed including extras that would ensure you took a bit of the homeland with you and that could include a garden swing seat.
The store was founded in London in the 1800s by a group of Army and Naval officers to supply ‘articles of domestic consumption and general use to its members at the lowest rates’. By the end of the century, the store was selling a huge variety of goods from wedding dresses to camping tents. Within their enormous, annual, Couch Hammocks illustrated catalogue, Couch Hammocks were popular particularly with those foreign office personnel posted to India. The store became famous and trusted to deliver goods anywhere in the world. In 1973 the Army and Navy Store was taken over by House of Fraser.
Diaries, novels and personal reminiscences written during the bygone days of the British Empire, the wives of the diplomats described how they relaxed on their swing seats whilst enjoying ‘tiffin’ and cocktails on the veranda. Entertaining your social set was a full-time job and providing a delicious afternoon tea at 4 pm and then a flamboyant cocktail at 6 pm in comfort was all part of the daily life.
If all went well with your posting and there were not too many skirmishes, life for government wives could be pretty boring; endless days of very hot and humid weather were relieved with entertaining and generally keeping up socially, so what better place than under the shade of the awning of your swing seat imported from the ‘Old Country’..
So, however, you describe a swing seat it is good to know that they are as much loved and enjoyed today as they were during the last century. Relax in the lap of luxury and entertain friends and relations at your leisure, or just sneak away and catch a few hours of time to yourself with a drink, your newspaper and a book!