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

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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-

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