MENTION the name Chippendale and most people would think ‘chairs’.

Of course they would be right: best-known for his elegant, distinctive chairs, Otley-born Thomas Chippendale became a leading furniture designer and maker, whose artistry has influenced generations.

His talents were such that he became known as the ‘Shakespeare of furniture’ who undertook commissions to furnish and decorate many large country homes throughout the UK. He also had a keen eye for décor, advising clients on soft furnishings, wallpaper and paint colour.

In 1754 he published a revolutionary book of his designs, The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director, which contained 160 engravings of fashionable, aspirational and practical furniture designs, promising to be both ‘elegant and useful.’ It made him famous throughout Europe and North America.

Across the world, the name ‘Chippendale’ became a byword for fine quality furniture, but despite his outstanding craftsmanship, running a business was not plain sailing. Chippendale struggled to receive payment from some of his wealthy clients, with sums owed running into thousands of pounds - the equivalent today of hundreds of thousands.

Letters politely pleading for money owed can be seen at a fascinating exhibition at Nostell Priory near Wakefield - home to the National Trust’s greatest collection of Chippendale interiors and furniture, as well as an extensive archive of correspondence between him and his clients, the Winn family who owned the house.

Between 1766 and 1785 Chippendale supplied many beautifully-crafted pieces to the Winns, including a gentleman’s dressing table and writing desk, supplied for £12.10 shillings - £2,000 today - and an ingenious wooden chest which opens to become a set of steps to reach upper shelves in the library.

His lavish refurbishments, on which he worked with neo-classical architect Robert Adam - can be seen in the grand first floor rooms, which makes it all the more heart-rending to read his letters requesting outstanding bills.

‘Disputes over transport methods, threats to ruin Thomas Chippendale’s reputation and bounced cheques all speak of a fractious relationship between client and patron,’ explains one of the informative boards in the exhibition which marks 300 years since the craftsman’s birth.

Created in collaboration with The Hepworth, Wakefield, the exhibition explores his special connection with the priory. He and his son, also Thomas, worked there for more than 19 years, beginning in 1766 and only ending with the death of their client.

It was interesting to see the wooden chopping block ‘possibly supplied’ by Chippendale, who also made furniture and utensils for servants.

Chippendale died in relative obscurity in 1779, leaving no fortune. In 1803 the firm went bankrupt. It was no until 1857 at the Great Exhibition, that Chippendale’s furniture was rediscovered.

Nostell Priory dates from 1733, and was built for the Winn family on the site of a medieval priory.. It was given to the National Trust in 1953 by the trustees of the estate and Rowland Winn, 3rd Baron St Oswald.

It’s fascinating to walk around, with vast rooms displaying decorative plasterwork, stunning wallpaper, paintings including a Hogarth, The Procession to Calvary by Pieter Breughel the Younger, plus exquisitely made furniture to die for.

The priory’s army of volunteers are, quite simply, amazing. No question, however obscure or complicated, goes unanswered. Friendly but not intrusive, each was a mine of information.

Outside, there’s swathes of lush parkland with countryside and lakeside walks to enjoy. Dogs are welcome on leads and can run free in a specially-designated area.

We loved the walled kitchen garden, with its fruit tree espaliers and neat rows of vegetables. I jealously coveted the healthy rhubarb patch, having just sampled a flapjack made from it at the sunny Courtyard Café.

In its woodland setting, the playground looked great fun, with children of all ages having a whale of a time on a zip wire, climbing frame and basket swing.

The celebrations - part of the national Chippendale 300 event - will continue throughout the year at both Nostell and the Hepworth, which is also hosting an exhibition.

The name lives on, not least with the touring dance troupe best known for its male striptease performances. The honed men who pack out theatres with their sexy routines, were named after Chippendale-style chairs in a Los Angeles nightclub.

* Nostell Priory, Doncaster Road, Wakefield WF4 1QE; For opening times and prices visit; Nostell Priory Doncaster Rd, Nostell, Wakefield WF4 1QE Tel: 01924 863892.

*Chippendale: the Man and the Brand and Interior Worlds run from this month to Sunday October 28.