Waals continued Gimson’s work and produced some wonderful furniture
ONE hundred years ago, when the architect and designer Ernest Gimson died, it did not seem as if the furniture making business he had been building up since 1902 would continue.
But his foreman Peter van der Waals (inset, 1870-1937) stepped in and ran it until his death, creating beautiful, high-quality furniture in Chalford.
A highly-skilled and qualified cabinet maker, Waals had come from The Hague in the Netherlands to work for Gimson where he and Ernest Barnsley set up their furniture workshop in their home for the past several years, Sapperton.
He had been working in England since 1899 and started working for Barnsley and Gimson in 1901.
Both Gimson and Barnsley had experimented with making furniture and Gimson had employed people to make his designs while living in London, but the new business needed a team of skilled cabinet makers.
Waals was followed by other London workers Ernest Smith and Percy Burchett. Harry Davoll had only come from Cirencester.
They worked at Daneway House, just outside Sapperton, using the space for both a workshop in the grounds and the house as a showroom.
Waals’ arrival at the workshop signalled a more sophisticated understanding of furniture construction.
Waals was a stickler for quality and, as such, worked well with Gimson who, according to furniture maker Edward Barnsley, ‘wouldn’t compromise in any sort of way’ with clients or quality.
Sir George Trevelyan, who studied furniture making with Waals from 1929-31, said: “Gimson would be the first to acknowledge the immense debt he owed to him as a colleague… he used Waals from the outset in close co-operation.”
Waals was paid £2 10s a week as foreman in 1914.
In 1920 the workshops at Daneway were closed and Waals moved with his team members to Halliday Mill at Chalford.
In the photograph you can see Waals working on a piece in the workshop.
Chalford was much more convenient for the railway – there was a station there in those days.
It must have been tough for Waals taking over the workshop, but most of the team stayed with him, “held by the greatness of their tradition and its standards,” according to Trevelyan. Waals continued to use Gimson’s designs as inspiration, adapting them to his clients’ needs, and also designed pieces himself.
The Wilson holds a significant collection of his work. Sadly we hold only two of his drawings because shortly after his death in 1937, there was a terrible fire at the workshop and the drawings were destroyed.
We have a cabinet in walnut with ebony and holly stringing which was designed by Waals in 1931 for the Gloucester College of Education as a memorial to Mary Elizabeth Playne.
Playne founded the Gloucester School of Cookery in 1890 and wchaired the governors of the College of Education from 1893-1909.
You can see several pieces designed by Waals and made by the Chalford workshop in both the Arts and Crafts Movement Gallery and the Furniture Store.
Come and have a look at the fine workmanship, or book onto the tours run by our knowledgeable volunteers on Thursdays and Saturdays at 2pm.
Watch out later in the year for our new exhibition about Ernest Gimson commemorating the centenary of his death.
Cabinet maker Ernest Smith the Chalford workshop in about 1924