Against the grain
Traditional Cotswold furniture-making owes much to the legacy of the Arts-and-crafts movement, finds Jane Wheatley, as she meets the carpenters who like to take time over their craft
Aman at work, making something which he feels will exist because he is working at it and wills it, is exercising the energies of his mind and soul as well as of his body. memory and imagination help him as he works.’ So wrote William morris— the ‘father of the arts-and-crafts movement’—who had his summer residence in Kelmscott. Sidney Barnsley and Ernest Gimson ran their workshops at Sapperton, making furniture for the ordinary man using traditional skills and natural materials in response to the industrialisation of the late 19th century.
In 1965, matthew Burt began his apprenticeship in the village of Kencott, close to the Barnsley and Gimson workshops: ‘Their influence was all around me,’ he says. mr Burt was 24, with degrees in botany and zoology, when he decided to learn the language of furniture making. In 1978, he opened for business, working from a corrugated-iron shed in the garden of his Wiltshire home.
It was tough at first,’ he admits, ‘one day I couldn’t buy food because we had no money. Then, the next morning, I heard the rumble of an expensive car outside: a man got out, had a look round, ordered a child’s play pavilion and a table and wrote out a cheque for £9,000.’
Today, 80% of the work comes from repeat clients—‘these relation- ships are intensely pleasurable’ he says—and with his wife, Celia, he employs a team of eight working out of smartly converted barns. They produce pieces from a loo-roll holder to a bishop’s throne, although mr Burt no longer does the making— ‘those contemplative hours, listening to Test Match Special’—concentrat- ing on design instead to create ‘pieces that speak of today, but will endure beyond fashion. Slow furniture if you like’.
He sources English trees in the round. ‘I look for aberrant timber,’ he says, pointing to a block of ash, softly rippled like seersucker. ‘This is a fault caused by a growth hor-