Saturday, 20 February 2010

Lawrence Neal chairmaker

Folk who enjoyed the mastercrafts episode on chairmaking should watch this video and see exactly where those skills have been kept alive. It is a good example of the way in which tacit knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation and is now being spread more widely using modern media and the knowledge used by a great many modern chairmakers. It is also a lovely example of a well made youtube craft video.

Everyone in the craft world is familiar with "Gimson" style chairs and many chairmakers make them. Ernest Gimson was an architect and designer heavily influenced by William Morris his furniture designs are his most lasting legacy inspired by the best of the past redesigned for the present and the future. ‘I never feel myself apart from our own time by harking back to the past, to be complete we must live in all the tenses – past, future as well as present’.

Gimson saw chairs made by Phillip Clisset at the art workers guild. I showed those original chairs on the blog a while ago, Gimson spent a few weeks working with Clisset, and learned the basics of the craft before setting up a workshop making his own chairs. He eventually took on the young Edward Gardiner as a partner in his chairmaking business who in turn passed the skills on to Neville Neal who was still working rushing seats when I visited Neville and his son Lawrence at their Warwickshire workshop around 1998.

So the old country chairmaking knowledge of how to make strong joints in a green wood chair had been passed down from generation to generation. In the early 1990's Mike Abbott author of the highly popular "Green Woodwork" visited Lawrence and learned how he made the chairs. Up to that point Mike had primarily been working in and teaching the Windsor chair tradition. With Mikes second book "Living Wood" and through his many courses the techniques of these special joints have become much more widely known and practiced.

The vast majority of chairmakers today however make a few chairs, and mix it with teaching or other income. Lawrence is perhaps unique in making all his living from making green wood chairs and he still uses Edward Gardiner's shave horse to create Gimson's designs. His chairs cost no more than any other hand made chair (in fact they are a lot less than most) and I would highly recommend them, they really are a piece of British craft history. He is not over run with orders at the moment so will be glad to hear from you, you can buy one here.


  1. A really informative article and links to other sites. Its great to start digging in to the history of greenwood chair making. Thanks

  2. This is only a tiny intro to one type of green wood chair. Bernard Cotton's book "the English Regional Chair" shows the range of what was done in the past.