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King Henry VIII's stairlift owes it all to Acorn!

12:00am | & News

He had six wives, divorced two and had two more beheaded, fell out with the Catholic Church, established the Church of England and made radical changes to the English constitution.

School history lessons teach us all these things about one of Britain's most notorious monarchs, King Henry VIII, but did you know he might have also invented the stairlift?

Until recently one Frederick Muffett, a 'carpenter and beerhouse keeper' of Royal Tunbridge Wells, was credited with registering the first workable design for a stairlift in the late 1800s. He patented "an invalid chair with tramway for use on staircases" which can be seen as the direct ancestor of today's modern rail and carriage stairlifts.

But was it the first? Not according to renowned historian Dr David Starkey, whose research has uncovered evidence that King Henry VIII used a royal stairlift more than three centuries earlier. Trawling through a long and detailed list of the king's possessions compiled around the time of his death in 1547, Dr Starkey found reference to "a chair... that goeth up and down" which was in use at Whitehall Palace in London.

It is the earliest known written reference to a chair designed specifically for transporting a person up and down stairs – in other words, a stairlift.

Dr Starkey believes it was used to transport the King up and down a 20ft staircase at the palace, with servants hauling on a block and tackle system similar to that on the king's famous warship Mary Rose. He also found reference to the King owning three wheelchairs to help him move around his palaces, although they might be better described as 'wheelthrones' given their apparent grandness.

Dr Starkey cited the finds as evidence of his view that Henry was barely able to walk towards the end of his life. Despite being vigorous in his youth, spending much of his time riding, hunting and travelling the country, Henry's health declined rapidly in later life. He suffered a serious leg injury while jousting in 1536 which never properly healed and significantly hindered his mobility from then on.

Unable to exercise, but still enjoying huge royal banquets, his weight soared to around 30 stone, his chronic obesity exacerbating his ulcerated leg wound and making him virtually immobile without help from servants. Portraits of the King in his later years, like the one here, show him to be bloated and using a strong wooden staff for support. He would have found climbing stairs almost impossible, argues Dr Starkey, so the invention of the stairlift was born out of necessity.

Unfortunately no drawings or designs for this Tudor stairlift exists, but if it was made from stout English oak, as seems likely, it would have originally been an Acorn!

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