The furniture of Gimson and the Barnsleys is often described as the Cotswold tradition or style and has inspired designers and makers worldwide.
Features of the Cotswold tradition included using solid wood; veneers were used occasionally to make the best use of an unusual and decorative grain effect. The use of open construction: note the pattern of dovetails down the sides of a piece of furniture, the through tenons and pinned joints. Simple but well-proportioned functional pieces of furniture. Careful choice of timber to enhance the grain effects was a common technique.
Restrained decoration including; gouging, chip carving, chamfering and panelling with half-ovolo moulding including octagonal panels within squares or rectangles. The craftsmen used a specially-shaped small plane to create this type of moulding. Inlaid dark and light stringing was often used. Layers of contrasting timber, usually holly and ebony, were glued together then cut by hand with a treadle saw for inlay work.
Furniture was not necessarily sanded perfectly smooth; oak and other similar timbers were usually left with a very slightly irregular surface from the plane and finished with beeswax.
Contemporaries of Gimson and the Barnsleys
A number of contemporary designers developed work in the same idiom. These included Arthur Romney Green who started designing and making furniture in Haslemere, Surrey in 1904. He visited Gimson’s workshop at Sapperton in February that year. Three other twentieth-century furniture makers worked for him in his workshop at Christchurch, Hampshire. These were Eric Sharpe who subsequently set up his own workshop at Martyr Worthy in Hampshire, Stanley W Davies who moved to Windermere in the Lake District, and Robin Nance who settled in St Ives, Cornwall.
Other Arts & Crafts designers influenced by their work included Charles Spooner and Ambrose Heal.
The Cotswold Tradition in Britain
Gimson’s foreman, Peter Waals, carried on working in the same tradition in his Chalford workshop from 1919. Many of the craftsmen who worked with Gimson moved to Chalford with him including Ernest Smith, Percy Burchett and Harry Davoll. He also co-operated on a number of projects with Gimson’s former assistant Norman Jewson.
In 1935, Waals was appointed advisor in design and construction at Loughborough Teacher Training College, a post which was taken over by Edward Barnsley in 1937 and held until 1965. This provided hands-on workshop training for future handicraft teachers in schools and colleges. Furniture was made by students for the residential Hazelrigg Hall and the Cotswold tradition remained an inspiration for many throughout their working lives. Much of the furniture remains at the college, now Loughborough University.
After Waals’s death in 1937 his widow and son tried to keep the workshop going but a disastrous fire in 1938 forced the closure of the business. Many of the craftsmen, including Fred Gardiner and Owen Scrubey, continued working independently through the twentieth century.
Sidney Barnsley’s son, Edward Barnsley, worked with Gimson’s former pupil, Geoffrey Lupton, at Froxfield, near Petersfield, Hampshire and took over the workshop in 1923. The Edward Barnsley Educational Trust at Froxfield still provides valuable workshop training for furniture makers.
The young Gordon Russell ran his father’s antique business in Broadway, Worcestershire before serving in the First World War. On returning to Broadway in 1919 he set up workshops designing furniture very much in the Cotswold tradition. He also set up a smithy and employed the blacksmith, Harry Gardiner, who had worked for Gimson. Russell’s metalwork designs were inspired by and developed from Gimson’s. During the Second World War Russell was involved with the Utility Furniture Scheme. The philosophy of the Cotswold tradition – the emphasis on good materials, quality workmanship and simple, well-proportioned designs – was fundamental to Utility Furniture, the only furniture which could be purchased during the war.
A number of small scale manufacturers continued to produce furniture in the Cotswold style. Heal and Son produced work in the same idiom through the first half of the twentieth century. Others in the 1920s and ‘30s included Percy A Wells for Oetzmann and Co., E Arthur Brown for Crossley and Brown, John Stark for Stark Brothers Ltd, and Shirley B Wainwright.
The work of Gimson and Sidney Barnsley was known internationally through exhibitions and magazines. It was a source of inspiration for continental designers, especially the Deutsche Werkbund in Germany and Wiener Werkstatte in Austria, and the American Arts and Crafts Movement.
The Swedish designer-maker, Carl Malmsten, visited Gimson in the Cotswolds and was inspired by the Cotswold tradition. One of his pupils was the American craftsman, James Krenov, who had a tremendous influence throughout the United States. Alan Peters based in Devon, Steven Lamont in Hampshire, and Nicholas Hobbs in Derbyshire are just a few of the contemporary makers working in the Cotswold tradition. Christopher Vickers in Somerset specialises in making furniture and metalwork inspired by Gimson and Sidney Barnsley. Chair-making is still being carried on including by Lawrence Neal in Stockton near Rugby and Paul Spriggs in South Cerney, Gloucestershire.