Of mice and men

Country Life Every Week - - Spectator -

shire, was re­stored with Mouse­man oak and seven carved mice are hid­den in the room.

The Mouse­man be­came a cult in York­shire, helped by Am­ple­forth Abbey which com­mis­sioned his first pieces. his lo­cal parish church at Kil­burn in north York­shire, where his fa­ther was the vil­lage joiner, has pews that were made by him, the orig­i­nal work­shops are nearby and his great-grand­son, Ian Thomp­son Cartwright, runs the busi­ness. how­ever, lit­tle seems to be known about the Mouse­man him­self, although there must be peo­ple who re­mem­ber him.

My par­ents’ ta­ble and chairs dis­ap­peared one day, pre­sum­ably to the auc­tion house. This was al­ways hap­pen­ing, but I re­mem­ber the mice with par­tic­u­lar af­fec­tion —far more than the Ge­or­gian ma­hogany ta­ble and hep­ple­white chairs that re­placed them. When I heard that a lot of Mouse­man oak from a Leeds girls’ school was up for sale, I man­aged to buy a set of six well-used chairs, still as sturdy as when they were new. Thomp­son, be­ing a true York­shire­man, was highly prac­ti­cal, which is why such pieces are still in fine con­di­tion.

The buy turned out to be a sharp move be­cause Mouse­man prices are, if not ex­actly rock­et­ing, go­ing steadily up­wards. The firm’s news­let­ter shows a 1930s side­board sell­ing last sum­mer for an as­ton­ish­ing £20,000—a record. The seller bought the piece in 1993 for £3,400, de­scribed then as ‘a very full price’. A Ge­or­gian ma­hogany bureau book­case sold at the same time also raised this amount.

how times have changed. Last year, a clas­sic 18th-cen­tury Ir­ish ma­hogany side­board, a typ­i­cal ex­am­ple, be­ing char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally ex­u­ber­ant—all lion’s feet and carv­ing—was es­ti­mated at only £300–£500. Such is the demise of Ge­or­gian ‘brown fur­ni­ture’. To­day, a sim­ple Thomp­son chop­ping board may sell for £480 and four chairs for £4,500.

The Mouse­man was the gen­uine thing. his pieces, al­ways made of english oak, are un­mis­tak­able, although in­flu­enced by the Arts-and-crafts move­ment of Wil­liam Mor­ris. They are un­pre­ten­tious, prac­ti­cal and made by car­pen­ters who were ap­pren­ticed in the Kil­burn work­shops.

There are now some 30 crafts­men work­ing there and each, they say, has his own slight vari­ant on the mouse—a longer tail, more whiskers. My wooden bowl, with a mouse on the out­side, might date from the 1930s; cer­tainly, any mouse with front feet is an early one, as these were likely to break off and were dis­con­tin­ued.

Since re­search­ing all this, I’ve got my bowl and cheese­board out of the back of the kitchen cup­boards to show them off. We York­shire folk should be proud of the Mouse­man and all his round-eared, friendly mice.

‘At the Rose and Crown, seven mice are hid­den in the room

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