Peter Walls Workshop at Chalford

Title

Peter Walls Workshop at Chalford

Subject

Gimson's Sapperton workshop was closed after his death but many of the craftsmen went with Peter van der Waals to his new premises in Chalford where they continued Gimson's vision of beautiful design allied with quality hand made cabinetmaking.

Photographs L - R :-

1. Chalford Workshop - Ernest Smith (foreground facing right), Harry Davoll (next bench facing right) and Percy Tanner (furthest bench facing right)
2. Chalford Workshop (?)
3. Halliday's Mill where Peter Waals set up his Workshop
4. Clergy Seat and Desk by Frank Rust for Cranham Church
5. Chalford Church Font Cover, a product of Peter Walls Workshop at Chalford
6. Chalford Church Lectern, a product of Peter Walls Workshop at Chalford
7. Chalford Church Screen, a product of Peter Walls Workshop at Chalford
8. Chalford Church Altar Screen, a product of Peter Walls Workshop at Chalford
9. Bookcase for Sir Stafford Cripps by Fred Gardiner
10. Bureau for Dr John by Fred Gardiner

Description

Peter Walls Workshop at Chalford 
by Kay Rhodes

From 1919 to 1937 a group of craftsmen worked for Peter Waals in workshops in what used to be Halliday's (or Smart's) Mill at the bottom of Cowcombe Hill.

Much has been written about their work, examples of which can be found from cottages to cathedrals in different parts of the country and abroad. They worked in a tradition started by Morris and then Gimson et al in the Daneway Workshops.

They worked as a team, combining skills to craft in wood working in a great variety of forms, from panelling and floorboards, to intricate gun cupboards and desks. One may see examples in Eton College, Westminster Cathedral, Khartoum Cathedral, local village houses and churches, Rodmarton Manor, Leicester University, to name but a few.

But though the Chalford team has become famous, it was made up of men, each with a different background and a different temperament, a different family and a different outlook. Individually much less has been recorded. This is an attempt to put on record a little about the individuals in the famous group; to put a few details in around the faces seen in the group photos. Information has been compiled from members of the group still alive and from surviving relatives and friends. The recollections and stories are informal, but they give a flavour of the people "off-stage", living locally with their families among neighbours and friends in these villages.

Here a little light is thrown on the surrounding area outside the sharply focussed spotlight and a little more is recorded about the craftsmen living and working in the neighbourhood and forming a part of our local history.

Those men included not just the high profile Fred Gardiner, Harry Davoll and Norman Bucknell (who are profiled elsewhere) but also the lesser known but no less essential Earnest Smith, Frank Rust, Fred Orton, Percy Tanner, Rowley Young, Percy Burchett, Owen Scruby, Bert Hunt and Derek Gardiner who are fondly remembered below.

The Local Craftsmen
These notes were compiled by Kay Rhodes with grateful thanks to Annette Carruthers, Philip Gardiner, G.W.Gleed, Gwyneth Hunt, Mrs Kardynal, Mrs M.Maidstone, Mrs Orton, Lionel Padin, Frank Rust, Owen Scrubey, Stella Tanner and Rowley Young.

Derek Gardiner
(Actual name Fred but known as Derek)
Was born at Eastcombe, into a farming family. He joined Peter Waals in 1931 and left just before the fire. He writes:-

"It was on January 1st 1932 that I started to get appearance pay with Peter Waals, or it would be more accurate to say that I became an honorary member of the team as I worked the first three months for nothing then went on to 5/- a week for 49 hours. 

I was the last of the staff to speak to Mr. Waals before his death, as on finishing work one Saturday I went into his office and asked him for a rise. He died the next day. (My first victim?!?)

Another thing which sticks in my memory was when he (Peter Waals) was packing up a tray to send to a client and he asked me to get him some "ripped" paper, so of course I ripped him some up and took it to him. But he said he didn't want that, he wanted some "ripped paper", so of course being always ready to oblige. I ripped him up some more. I became his worst apprentice on the spot, with a "Yamrn the Poy" to go with it. Anyway he went and got his own 'ribbed' paper, or corrugated card as I should have known it."

He also remembers that "Harry Davoll always brought his lunch to work in a wickerwork basket and always put a block of wood in it to take home at night. Someone nailed through the block into the bench one day, and when Harry (Footer) grabbed the handle and went to dash out and catch his bus at 5 o'clock, he of course left the bottom of his basket nailed to the bench. I got the blame for that, but was innocent that time. 

When he left Peter Walls, Derek Gardiner worked for a firm in Broadway, Gloucestershire and after the War worked for two local builders. In 1952 he emigrated to New Zealand. He had made all his own furniture in England but sold this before leaving. In New Zealand he made it again and the craftsmanship has been highly praised on the other side of the world too.

Frank Rust
Frank Rust was the son of Herbert John Rust, Head Gamekeeper at Edgeworth Manor. He left school at 14 and worked a year at Edgeworth Rectory before being apprenticed in 1919 to Gimson at the Daneway. His apprenticeship was decided on by his father influenced by Squire James of Edgeworth Manor who was himself a craftsman in silver and metals. Though Frank himself had wanted to be a gamekeeper like his father, after the first World War all estates were cutting back on staff and openings were few.

At Daneway, Percy Tanner and Frank Rust were the only two apprentices at that time. Their apprenticeship here was short however, because Gimson died only three months after Frank Rust joined the workshops and Frank moved to Chalford with Peter Waals. He cycled there daily from Daneway along the canal to Chalford, often with Percy Burchett who was living in Sapperton, and remembers that though the journey was only i hour there it took ! hour to get back because the gradient was against you. 

Frank still remembers particularly being involved in work for the Biddulphs at Rodmarton, and the Cadburys at Througham. He also remembers helping on the screen at Chalford Church, and the "priedieu'' for Cranham Church.

Then in the 1930's, when work was slack, Peter Waals put off younger men, including Frank, because of the slump. Frank was involved for ten or twelve years at Chalford.

Afterwards, as well as working on Edgeworth Manor Estate keeping all the furniture and panelling in good order and making some furniture for the Squire James, Frank worked for Nicholls, then Holbros Tetbury doing general joinery (nearly all in hardwood then!). For the last 15 years of his working life he was joiner and carpenter at Cirencester Hospital. He retired to Edgeworth.

Owen Scruby
Owen Scrubey was born in 1905 in Warwickshire, but his father later became head gardener for the Biddulphs at Rodmarton Manor and it was probably through Mrs. Biddulph's influence that Owen was apprenticed as a cabinet maker. 

He started in 1921 with Peter Waals at Chalford. When he first began there were only two machines in the workshop - a treadle saw and a saw bench. Later a few more machines were added, one of which is still in the workshop Owen used during the last years of his life. 

When he started with Waals he worked unpaid for the first three months and then was paid 5/- a week. The hours were long and no "chatting" was allowed. The apprenticeship continued for 5 years during which time Percy Burchett and Bert Hunt taught the young apprentice much.

Owen remembered making a chestnut chest for Rodmarton Manor with panels painted by Louise Powell, the font cover for Chalford Church and also the cross on the screen there (though the adjacent figures are by Simmons), and a be

After the workshop fire Owen set up on his own, working independently, and at the time of my contact was still working beside one of the old machines from Peter Waals workshops in the building that used to be Peter Waals1 garage. He recalled Peter Waals car - "quite an impressive thing to us in those days. The rest of us just had bikes or motorbikes''.

Owen remembered making a chestnut chest for Rodmarton Manor with panels painted by Louise Powell, the font cover for Chalford Church and also the cross on the screen there (though the adjacent figures are by Simmons), and a bedstead now at Arlington Mill. 

In his own workshop Owen made work for orders from Sir George Trevelyan, and did work for Wycliffe College Chapel, among many other commissions.

Francis Albert (Bert) Hunt 1893 - 1980
Bert Hunt, as he was known to all, was born at Far Oakridge, youngest son of George Henry Hunt, builder. Bert wished to work on furniture, and after leaving school and working a while for his father, he joined as an apprentice at the Gimson workshops around 1907 /09. He stayed there until the 1914-1918 war, when he joined up, and served in the North Somerset Yeomanry with the horses.

He returned to Daneway in 1919 just before Girnson's death. Later he became one of the men who worked for Peter Waals when Waals set up his own workshop at Chalford. Like several others he was put off for a long while in the early 1930s because of work being slack. His colleagues of the time, among others, were Harry Davoll and Ernest Smith.

It is thought that Bert Hunt was still connected with the Chalford workshop in 1936 when Peter Waals died. Bert Hunt was one of the bearers at the furneral. 

Whilst employed at Chalford, Bert Hunt was both a journeyman, helping set up work already made, and closely involved in working on screens and staircases in which he specialised. He worked on Chalford church screen with others under the scrutiny of Peter Waals. He also made sideboards, Welsh dressers, tables and chairs, some of which can be seen in his daughter's home. He preferred working in oak.

After the workshops closed at Chalford, Bert Hunt worked for two builders where he was able to do specialist work when needed as a carpenter and joiner. In his retirement he undertook work for various people, and his pieces can be seen in other homes as well as his own. 

As well as being a craftsman in wood, Bert Hunt was a musician. At the age of 16 he was organist at the chapel in Tunley, and in the early 1920s he took over as resident organist at Oakridge, a post he held for many years. He was a shy and retiring man.

Rowley Young
Rowley Young came from a local family. He left school at 13 and went into the stick factory before starting to learn cabinet making at night school. He joined Peter Waals at Chalford when he was 15 and remembers that they got no pay at all for the first three months on trial, then 2/6d a week, increasing by 2/6d a year over the six-year apprenticeship.

Rowley Young's father used to supply the cartage (horse drawn) to bring the wood selected by Peter Waals from the Ryeford Sawmills to Chalford. 

Rowley Young kept pieces of ebony and holly strips made by hand with a treadle saw for the inlay work. It was a task he said which the apprentices became quite good at as they were given much practice!

He remembers working on the belfry Screen for Stroud Parish Church, the Screen at Chalford, tables 16' long, 2" thick and 4-5' wide for Eton College (they proved too big to go in through the doors!).

One occasion when laying oak flooring in a house near Painswick, they were startled by eight or nine people coming down the chimney. Every piece of flooring was planed and grooved by hand and secret nailed. 

He remembers too a visit with Peter Waals to Windsor to see the Dolls House, and the occasion of the first Wembley Exhibition, when Peter Waals exhibit - an English Walnut Writing Bureau - was queried because the maker was "not English''!

Earnest Smith (1876 - 1967)
Ernest Smith was born in Slough, the son of a cabinet-maker of distinction. His father did work for Queen Victoria at Windsor, and his grand daughter has a photograph of a cabinet with lacquer panels made by him for The Queen. It was not therefore surprising that Ernest became a cabinet-maker himself.

Earnest began in Slough and recounted that as a boy apprentice it was his job to clean the workshop of sawdust and shavings on Saturdays and to bag up wood offcuts and take them to Slough workhouse for firewood. For this he was rewarded with a halfpenny bun by the workhouse master's wife. Later he went to London where he completed his apprenticeship.

As a young man he joined South Bucks Royal Volunteers. He was a keen amateur photographer, developing and printing his own photographs. He was later to make many pictures of the furniture made at the Chalford workshop.

At the age of 27, Ernest moved to Gloucestershire to join Gimson's workshops. He told the story of how he arrived at Cirencester station one afternoon in 1904 to find that the carrier's cart to Sapperton was full because it was market day, so he had to ride on the step and leave his tool chest to be brought on the cart the next day. That evening one of the other workmen at Gimson's with whom he was sharing lodgings took him round the Daneway workshops to have a look at some of the furniture. Ernest's comrade pointed out a piece of furniture made by Peter Waals, the foreman. This proved fortuitous as, the next day, Ernest was able to comment favourably on this piece to Waals himself, remarking that he thought that 'a good man made that'.

After six months Ernest found a cottage in Waterlane (one that later became the forge) and in April 1905 he married his sweetheart from Slough. She came from London to her new home, travelling the last part by carrier's cart up Farm Lane.

She must have wondered into what depth of country she was coming as a new bride. Her mother apparently would not believe she would stick it for more than three months! The Smiths moved from one end of Waterlane to the other in 1912 to a pair of cottages that Ernest eventually .knocked into one. His daughter, then seven or eight, remembers helping him to get up the old stone floor in the second cottage with hammer and cold chisel.

The cottage was called Highland Cottage, but it is now known as Well Cottage. Seventeen years later the Smiths moved to Chalford where one of Ernest's first tasks was to build himself a workshop, which is still standing today.

After Gimson's death, Ernest moved to the Chalford workshop with Peter Waals, where he eventually became foreman. His daughter remembers him speaking of working with Percy Burchett on the doors for Khartoum cathedral. He also worked on the screen and the lectern for Christchurch, Chalford among many other commissions.

His daughter recalls that he was a quiet man, not given to talking much about work when at home. However, she still remembers how upset her father was when the fire destroyed the Chalford workshop. All his tools were lost together with those of his father which he had inherited. All tools were 'worn in' by each craftsman to suit themselves, and therefore became unique to each man.

After the Chalford workshop closed, Ernest worked independently from home and supplied furniture for orders passed to him by, among others, George Trevelyan. He made a tallboy for his own home after he retired, incorporating elements in the design to suit his own personal lifestyle. This item, a table needlework chest and a fire screen are still in his daughter's home.

His last piece of work was a garden gate with the fielded panels and chamfered edges typical of the Cotswold tradition, which he made after going blind at the age of 77.

Fred Orton

Fred Orton joined Gimson when he first set up his workshop at Daneway.

Fred was the son of a cooper from Burton-on-Trent. His father was transferred to Stroud Brewery in the early 1890s and the family lived along the Bath Road.

Fred wanted to become a cabinet-maker and after working for a while in Langport, Somerset, he returned to the Stroud district to pursue his career, joining Gimson when he first set up his workshop at Daneway.

While working at Daneway, Fred lodged at Hillhouse Farm, Tunley, before buying a cottage on Butts Hill in Oakridge. Fred's work for Gimson often involved travelling to install work he had completed in churches, halls and many large houses across the country. At that time travel to places as far afield as Norwich was by bicycle, and one arrived white from head to foot with the dust from the broken limestone from which roads were made.

During the First World War Fred worked on the repair of ships in the docks at Bristol, then after the war he went to work for Peter Waals like many of the other Gimson craftsmen.

In the Second World War Fred went to work for Tylers at Thrupp, who were involved in making troop carrying gliders. During the war his first wife died and he remarried - May Wear was a local.

After the war Fred's working life took him into the employment of Freemans at Camp, the well-known builders, and later Gilmore's in Bath Street, Stroud, where he renovated and repaired antiques.

Percy Tanner

Percy Tanner was born in Rodbrow Wood Cottage, Oakridge, son of John Tanner. He had two brothers and two sisters. His grandfather was a carpenter and his father was a ganger plate-layer who resolved that no son of his should go on the railways.

Percy went to Oakridge school, then to Stroud Boys Craft School. His brothers were apprenticed, one as an engineer and one as a ship-builder and Percy joined Gimson as an apprentice cabinetmaker at Daneway. He did not complete his apprenticeship until after Gimson's death, when he went to Chalford with Peter Waals.

When the Chalford workshop closed, Percy went into the building trade and saved up to get married. In 1936 he wed Phyllis Hawkes. Percy's sister remembered that many of the men from Oakridge and Waterlane walked down into Chalford together, and how they used to laugh at the high-class people who came to the workshop to order furniture, pretending to know all about furniture joints etc. when they clearly did not. People in Oakridge, she said, were proud of their craftsmen friends and neighbours but knew that the work they produced was a luxury beyond local people's means.

Of his work, Percy's sister spoke of the bedroom suite Percy made for his own home, a baton specially commissioned by a customer in the USA and a large oak table made in 1924 for Eton College assembly hall.

His wife recalled inlaid picture and mirror frames, bookcases, wardrobes, chests, chairs and boxes, all with fine decorative detail showing the Gimson influence.

Percy, like many of the Chalford workshop craftsmen, did work for Christchurch, Chalford.

He is remembered as a quiet, good, conscientious man - a true craftsman.

Working Life at the Workshops
by Kay Rhodes

If one started as an apprentice, one was on trial for three months without pay. After that, depending on the year, pay started at 2/6 or 5/- a week. The apprenticeship was 5 or 6 years long. One of the jobs given to all apprentices was making the inlay strips of ebony and holly on a treadle saw, and another job was making panelling.

All the wood used at the workshops was stacked outside for two years in the yard behind Waal's house and inside the mill for a further year to dry. All the wood was then planed and grooved by hand, even the flooring and only handmade nails were used in flooring.

Individuals once skilled were given drawings and they worked from them, choosing their own wood and carrying out the task. Most of the men were encouraged not to specialise but to be able to undertake a variety of work. Any questions were to be asked of the foreman and no general talking allowed.

Some of the men remembered that no lunch break was permitted, and no holiday pay (not even Christmas if it was mid-week). Some remember when the day began at 6.00 a.m. and ended at 6.00 p.m. At a different period the hours were 7.30 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. Monday - Friday, and 7.30 - 12.00 on Saturdays. 

Each man had his own tools. One of the additional disasters of the final fire was the loss of the men's own tools. 

If work had to be fitted or undertaken in other parts of the country, the men lodged away while working. 

Waals had an office just off the workshop and he still worked at the bench occasionally, the machines occupied the ground floor in the mill and benches were on the first floor.

Each craftsman filled in a time sheet recording his hours on a piece of work, and Waals kept a record book like Gimson's Job Book.

A Brief History of the Workshop Buildings
by Lionel Padin

Hallidays (or Smarts) Mill at Chalford is believed to have been unused as a factory after W. S. Cox vacated it in 1902. Cox was a silk Throwster, the premises were too small and the water in the stream was not of sufficient force to operate the machines. He moved to Day's Mill at Nailsworth.

The building was then used as a Primrose League Hall, opened by Lady Bathurst. Amongst other uses, it was where parcels for the troops in the first World War were packed and then despatched. 

Peter Van der Waals died on May 30th 1937. The business carried on for a while in Hallidays Mill, but it was decided to move to Cotswold Works, on the opposite side of the Canal to Chalford Chairs, which was at this time empty.

Mrs. Van der Waals agreed it would be better to move. There was a fine two storey workshop, quite big enough for the Waals employees. The office block was converted to living accommodation and Mrs. Waals moved in. 

Work carried on as before for some time, then a disastrous fire gutted the building used as the Workshop. All craftwork in progress and some completed work was destroyed. 

Another part of the factory complex was opened up and work restarted after a short break, but several of the employees had either retired or left for other employ. The Waals tradition was carried on until the threat of hostilities came in 1939. Then Leonard Van der Waals (Peter's son) was called up for the Army. This brought the firm to a close.

A Fire Guts the Workshop
From The Stroud News and Journal

"For several weeks the workmen had been engaged in carving priests and choir stalls for Cam Church, and these with other clever pieces of workmanship and quantities of carefully selected woods were destroyed.

Flames were leaping high into the air, fed by the stores of wood and fanned by the wind, and for some time the heat was so intense that no one could approach the building.

Within a moment, however, the firemen were pumping water from the canal onto the flames from a powerful jet. Sparks ignited other buildings but firemen were able to extinguish the outbreaks before serious damage was done.

Over three hours elapsed before the major fire was brought under control, but the fire engines were not able to leave the scene until midnight. Even then it was necessary for three firemen to remain throughout the night to prevent the smouldering debris from bursting again into flame.

The whole of the workshop was destroyed.

 

Source

Oakridge History Group

Contributor

Kay Rhodes
Lionel Padin

Relation

Gloucestershire Archives holds the following :
1. Ledger of Peter Van der Waals of Chalford, cabinet maker and joiner., 1920 - 1936, ref. D2876/1

Notable customers and furniture made include:-
1920-36 Hon. Mrs. M. Biddulph, Rodmarton Manor (furniture; boy's work benches and cabinet makers' time giving lessons) 
1919, 22 Messrs. Berkeley and Jewson, S. Cerney
1920-3, Sidney H. Barnsley, Architect, Sapperton 
1921-9 University of Leicester (ceremonial furniture presented by S. Quinton)
1920-5 F. L. Griggs A.R.A., Chipping Camden
1920 C.C. Winmill, Architect for Crockham Hill Church
1920-2 The Misses Davies, Gregynog Hall, nr. Newtown, Wales
1922 Major E. R. Crundall, Iles Farm, Far Oakridge, Stroud
1920-4 Capt. Godfrey Rice, Leigh Hall, Cricklade, Wilts. (H. Chadwick Windley, Architect)
1920-2 Messrs. Falconer, Baker and Cambell, Architects, Amberley
1921 Mrs. Granville Barker, Netherton Hall, Farway, Honiton, Devon (R.S. Weir, Architect)
1927 Humpfrey Ellis, [radio] aerial frame
1922-4 W. G. Simmonds, The Frith, Far Oakridge, Stroud
1922-4 Henry A. Payne, St. Loe's House, Amberley, Stroud
1922 Paul Woodroffe, Esq., Chipping Camden
1922 Leicester County Council (2 oak seats)
1922 St. Simon and St. Jude's Church, Earl Shilton
1923 Anstey Church (lectern)
1924 Holy Apostles Church, Leicester (Bishops' Chair, reredos etc.)
1926 St. Saviour's Church, Leicester (reredos, Clergy seat)
1922 British Institute of Industrial Art (tables)
1925 B. M. Chandler, Hidcote House (panelling)
1926 Owlpen House (chestnut floor)
1923 Sir Edwin Lutyens, Architect (furniture for the Queens Dolls House)
1924-31 W. A. and F. Cadbury, Kings Norton, Birmingham (chairs)
1925-8 C. V. Meek, Mansion House, Bisley
1927-9 F. Winterbotham, Standish Court, Stonehouse
1926-9 L. B. Murray, Lodge Farm, Painswick
1926 The Pharmacist's Union (ceremonial furniture)
1929 Stroud Parish Church (screen)
1930 Cranham Chapel (panelling, chairs etc.)

Type

Static Image

Files

Chalford Workshop - Ernest Smith (foreground facing right), Harry Davoll (next bench facing right) and Percy Tanner (furthest bench facing right)
Chalford Workshop (?)
Halliday's Mill where Peter Waals set up his Workshop
Clergy Seat and Desk by Frank Rust for Cranham Church
Chalford Church Font Cover, a product of Peter Walls Workshop at Chalford
Chalford Church Lectern, a product of Peter Walls Workshop at Chalford
Chalford Church Screen, a product of Peter Walls Workshop at Chalford
Chalford Church Altar Screen, a product of Peter Walls Workshop at Chalford
Bookcase for Sir Stafford Cripps by Fred Gardiner
Bureau for Dr John by Fred Gardiner

Citation

“Peter Walls Workshop at Chalford ,” Oakridge Community Archives, accessed November 19, 2017, http://oakridgecommunityarchives.org/items/show/371.

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