Pinbury Park is a large house part of which dates back at least to the eleventh century.
It stands half way down a hill looking south across the valley of the River Frome. The grounds include a magnificent avenue of ancient yew trees known as ‘The Nun’s Walk’. It was sold to the Bathurst family in 1788 and leased to a farmer who worked the land but neglected the house. It fell into disrepair but Gimson and the Barnsleys were captivated by the house and its magical setting. They were able to negotiate a repairing lease of £75 a year which made them responsible for the restoration and upkeep of the house.
The three men moved to Pinbury early in the spring of 1894. Mr Gardiner who farmed the adjoining land took over the farm and Ernest Barnsley built a cottage on site for his stockman. He himself moved into the main farmhouse with his wife Alice and two daughters. He was the business man of the enterprise and he enjoyed developing the new social contacts. The two bachelors, Gimson and Sidney Barnsley, adapted outbuildings into living accommodation. Gimson described their initial way of life as ‘picnicy’. In April 1894 he responded to his sister Maggie’s enquiries:
‘You ask how our cooking is getting on. We have got as far as Welsh Rabbit and fried onions. We light the fire at about 7.30 in the evening and cook ourselves little suppers. And not only that, we eat them, and wash up as well. I have often wondered why so many men felt such a strong desire for a smoke after a meal. It is because they don’t wash up. With me it now takes the place of the cigarette.’
Shortly after their move Gimson asked his cousin, Lucy Morley, to join them and look after the housekeeping. She had been brought up on a farm in Lincolnshire and a congenital problem had made her deaf at the age of nineteen. She was a keen supporter of the three men’s work and in 1895 she and Sidney Barnsley were married. At Pinbury they kept goats and chickens, grew some of their own vegetables, baked bread in a large brick oven, and brewed cider. Both Gimson and Sidney Barnsley had dogs; taking them for walks provided a regular opportunity to observe nature at first hand.
The Workshop at Pinbury
The three men adapted one of the outbuildings at Pinbury into a workshop. One photograph, probably dating from 1896, has survived (shown below). It shows Gimson’s pole lathe and ladderback chairs in the process of construction. Stacked up against the walls are his decorative plaster friezes. He exhibited two ash chairs and a decorative plasterwork frieze at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition in London in December 1896.
Sidney Barnsley and to a lesser extent his brother, Ernest, concentrated on designing and making furniture. As far as we know neither man had any serious training in woodworking but learnt techniques by a process of trial and error. They would have also acquired skills by watching and talking to Richard Harrison, the local wheelwright at Sapperton. Harrison made farm wagons and farm tools and was also one of two coffin makers in the village. He probably made some furniture for the local community and supplied timber – oak, ash and elm felled locally.
Sidney Barnsley began making furniture based on a simple box structure such as chests and corn bins. The construction – pinned joints, through tenons and dovetails – were left visible as part of the honest construction demanded of Arts and Crafts furniture. Decoration was very limited. A few pieces have some lines of gouged decoration and at least one chest has a heart on the front made up of gouges recalling a traditional marriage chest. Chamfering, a technique used by wheelwrights, was also used by Sidney Barnsley. The wheelwright cut or shaved the wood in a precise way with a draw knife to reduce its weight without affecting the strength. For Sidney Barnsley the attraction of the technique was the taut, elegant lines it gave to the legs and underframing of tables as well as the quality and variety of light reflection.
Ernest Barnsley also made some furniture including a music cabinet which can be seen in the workshop photo and was included in the 1896 Arts and Crafts Exhibition and the oak chest in Leicester’s collection. This chest is a variation on a piece of furniture (now at Rodmarton Manor near Cirencester) designed and made in 1896 by his younger brother. They must have been working very closely together at this point, discussing aspects of design and construction as they were developed. Sidney Barnsley’s son Edward passed on his mother’s recollections of the workshop:
‘She would make the cakes for the mid-morning break, and the drinks and taking them in find [Sidney] hard at work at the bench , the other two standing by, often hands in pockets, whistling Gilbert and Sullivan tunes’.