Chairmaking skill will create a new legacy

Hugo Burge (left) is  to fund training workshops where Lawrence Neal will pass on his skills and knowledge.
Hugo Burge (left) is to fund training workshops where Lawrence Neal will pass on his skills and knowledge.

A workshop and subsidised accommodation on Marchmont Estate will hopefully ensure that the skill of making rush seated chairs can continue.

One of the country’s few rush seated chair craftsmen, Lawrence Neil is approaching retirement and Heritage Crafts Association supporter Hugo Burge of Marchmont House, want to make sure that Lawrence is able to pass on his skills knowledge and tools.

Hugo said: “I fell in love with the Ernest Gimson’s Bedales Library and its chairs over 20 years ago when I bought six Bedales chairs from Lawrence Neal in 1994.

“Much more recently, I have been working with Lawrence, who continues to make rush seated chairs today in a 100-year tradition from Ernest Gimson, still using Gimson’s tools.

“We are now looking for two individuals to learn from Lawrence directly (as apprentices), in Stockton, Warwickshire for one to two years, before moving the whole workshop up to Marchmont House stables near Greenlaw to let Lawrence retire and take the business forwards.”

Lawrence has spent his life making rush seated chairs, a trade he learned from his father Neville, who in turn learned from Edward Gardiner. Gardiner had learned from the famous architect and designer Ernest Gimson who was taught by country chairmaker Philip Clissett.

Ernest Gimson was one of Britain’s greatest architect designers and a pioneer of The Arts and Crafts Movement.

Confident that there is still a market for hand-crafted rush seated chairs and that once trained the new craftspeople will be able to make a living, Hugo is keen to get involved in the project and ensure that the traditional skills survive.

He expects the business to generate a good living and offer the opportunity to grow and evolve, with an incredible lineage, using the actual tools passed on to Lawrence from his father, tools that had been used by Gimson himself.

“There will be a base salary and the opportunity to grow your income, taking subsidised accommodation on the Marchmont Estate when you establish the workshop,” explained Hugo.

“This is a unique opportunity to build and create a new legacy; a new chapter of chairmaking – it will require commitment and long term dedication, so will be highly selective and not for everyone, but for two people with a real passion for taking the legacy of this traditional process into the twenty first century it will be ideal.”

Rush seating chairs were produced by wood turners for common use in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in many parts of England. William Morris, founder of the Arts and Crafts movement, produced the Sussex range of rush seated chairs for many years through his firm Morris and Company but tutors in the craft are now hard to find.

The application deadline to apply to learn how to become a bespoke chairmaker is March 31. For an application form visit the Heritage Crafts Association website: www.heritagecrafts.org.uk