Of mice and men
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