After the successful launch of the Chair exhibition at Tinsmiths in Ledbury, I took a trip to visit a couple of colleagues who run chair-making courses to take some photos for my forthcoming presentation on 15th July about Philip Clissett and his chair-making legacy.
First I called on Tim Gatfield, who had attended a course with Gudrun at Clissett Wood about 15 years ago and after a few years as her assistant, he purchased a woodland just north of Bath. With the help of many volunteers, he has built a beautiful set-up of workshops, round-houses and cabins in which he hosts a series of green wood courses at The Cherry Wood Project throughout the summer.
I arrived during the last few hours of a 9-day chair-making course. Three participants had already left but the others kindly posed with Tim and his two apprentices, proudly displaying the splendid results of their time in the workshop.
A couple of years ago, after quite a struggle, he obtained full planning permission, not only for his woodland work and the courses but also for a large yurt in which he lives with his wife and their two children – a well-deserved reward for years of hard work. After an evening meal with Tim and Debs and a night in one of the cabins, I lit the fire for a cuppa and some breakfast ready to set off for my next port of call at Westonbirt Arboretum.
One of my last photos at Cherry wood was the compost toilet, situated across a suspended walkway among the trees. I couldn’t help but contrast this with a structure linked to the recent extravagant tree-top walkway recently installed by the Forestry Commission. 24 years ago, I spent a few weeks in the autumn at the arboretum with my then girl-friend Tamsin, producing baby-rattles on the pole-lathe to sell to the streams of visitors coming to see the autumn colours. How things had changed since then! Instead of a tiny kiosk with one attendant, I was greeted by a huge entrance building with automated turnstiles.
I found my way to what until recently had been Westonbirt Garden Centre, which closed and was then used as a builders yard during the construction of the spectacular tree-top walkway.
Now the yard was in operation as the base for Windsor chair-making courses run by my colleague Paul Hayden, who had attended one of my courses way back in 1989. I couldn’t help being stuck by the contrast between Paul’s ‘builders yard’ and Tim’s ‘woodland idyll’ but they are both equally valid embodiments of a genuine enthusiasm to convey the delights of working with greenwood.
I took this photo looking down from the walkway as Paul was just getting underway with the start of a six-day chair-making course. Although he has been running courses at Westonbirt with his colleague Peter Murray for several years, Paul’s enterprise is about to take a leap forward when he hopes this summer, to gain planning permission to turn his ‘yard’ into a full blown green wood centre with a permanent workshop, a sawmill and a shop. With the arboretum catering for around half a million tree-lovers each year, most of whom will walk across the tree-level walkway to gaze down onto Paul and his chair-making students, I’m sure Paul will play a major role in keeping alive the tradition of making chairs by hand.