As a kid I wanted to be a Carpenter. My working life began in 1967 as an apprentice Carpenter and Joiner on The Easton Estate. There I remained for 10 years that included the 5 year apprenticeship. Anyone who knows (or remembers) ‘the lot’ of a joiner on a country estate will know that it involved being adept at a number of skills not always in wood. You painted and you decorated and built in stone and brick and plastered and dabbled in electrics, plumbing and Lead and did all things to do with buildings. On this estate there were no new buildings, you worked on antique houses and buildings. And in ‘The Big House’ there were antiques of the finer kind. I was not an antique restorer by name then but often mended pieces of furniture; very likely the wrong way. I hope I was not the one who put nails into some of the furniture I have struggled with in more recent years.
Needing (more than wanting) to get away from home, after those first 10 years, I joined the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, partly to extend a hobby I had enjoyed in electronics. After 8 years, I left the service, realizing that what I was doing did not suit my character nor aptitude and that I missed the coordination of hand and eye in practical challenges, like simply making a door fit into a crooked opening of a crooked old house and the sensitivity required to marry new work to old. But I wanted finer stuff more and decided I would like to restore antique furniture. I had ‘kept my hand in’ as a woodworker during the navy years, moonlighting around Weymouth, where we lived, and the Isle of Portland, where we had lived, to make and fit joinery and I had used marquetry as a pastime onboard ship during long deployments including during the Falklands conflict. Later, when promoting my work, I made some interesting contacts around the port cities of America and visited the workshops of fellow craftsmen. I learned much about the working characteristics of many exotic woods by trying to make them into intricate shapes riding rough seas and with only a scalpel, when a fine saw would have been a far easier way to cut some of the very hard woods. My navy time ended with a resettlement course and specialist apprenticeship with an Antique Restoration firm in Wincanton owned by a very skilled restorer and capable businessman called Mike Durkee who had served his time and training in London and serviced much of the need of the Bath and Avon area antiques trade. He employed about a dozen people, all with specialities within restoration. Mike told me he could see that I had a ‘feel’ for the work and tested me with a number of difficult jobs. I passed all his tests and impressed him early on by completing something he did not think I would be able to do. It was a job demanding patience, along with an understanding of the complex characteristics of a ragged piece of bird’s eye veneer that needed to be put onto a table top using a veneer hammer and hot (traditional) Scotch glue. Atop of my training and experience, that ‘feel’ for the work is the best qualification I have for doing this often difficult work. My time with Mike ended too soon. I would like to have stayed and he wanted me to stay (well, he said he did) and continue my daily commute to Wincanton from Weymouth, through the fabulous Dorset and Somerset countryside, passing the Cerne Abbas Giant, twice daily. But my ambition at that time was to have my own workshop and my own business. This house, along with buildings became available for rent and was close to my parents who were now new grandparents to our first child. So we sold our house and moved and I converted calf boxes to my workshop where I have worked since 1985.
At first I worked, by subcontract, for Alan Cross Limited, a firm in Nottingham that made furniture and also did restoration work. I did all their restoration work, and in between those jobs, made furniture. In that way I learned how to make furniture by modern methods with modern machinery and in small batches if need be. Later I worked for John Saggers, Cabinetmaker and Restorer in the Vale of Belvoir. Again I did the firm’s restoration work and combined this with bespoke furniture making. Both of these firms had some prestigious clients. Since 1990 I have made a living in my own workshop from my own client base from a relatively small geographic area. For 17 years during that time I worked until 2010, in tandem with the NHS Department of Occupational Therapy, creating achievable small projects in wood and other materials for patients to use as a therapy.
If I were to declare my strengths and weaknesses it would be to say that I have unwavering confidence in doing my work and that has never let me down. My greatest weakness is to hate to pick up the phone to call a customer to say, “It’s done.” When an antique piece looks like it has not been broken and so not been mended and so probably not been touched in recent times, I feel nervous at asking for the money owed, even though I have felt the hours of painstaking work, the attention to detail, to achieve that. Also an antique piece will never have been made, by me, to look new so perhaps subconsciously I am waiting with dread for that customer who thinks it should.
I hope in these pages to show the diverse range of work I have undertaken in 31 years and to offer a sound and reliable and continuing service, that an accountable small business must, to new and my valuable regular customers.
|New & Production|
|Woodworking, Veneering & Inlay|
|French Polishing & Finishing|
|Locks, Keys & Fine Metalwork|
|Caning, Rushwork & Cording|
|Glass & Mirrors|
|Leather & Sciver|