Top of the Tree – Chair-maker Lawrence Neal

A sweet, hay-like smell hits you as chair-maker, Lawrence Neal, answers his door. The door opens in to what appears once to have been Victorian Schoolroom, but was in fact the village co-op store. Neville Neal, Lawrence’s father moved his furniture workshop to this large, light room in 1960.

Lawrence Neal's Workshop

A glance around identifies the parts – parts of chairs carefully grouped, tools equally. Handsome, solid machinery to cut and shape and the source of that sweet smell. As Lawrence’s recently lit wood stove cranks up the heat the bundles of rushes stacked in a corner warm. “It’s not my favourite job, but just once a year I pull on my waders and harvest the rushes from the Avon”, Lawrence tells me.

Bundles of Rushes for Seating

To understand how Lawrence arrived at his chair-making career we need to take a few steps back in time to the early nineteenth century: then country chair-makers (usually called bodgers) were common. Philip Clissett (b.1817) was one of the longest lived of these. In 1890 architect, furniture designer Ernest Gimson took lessons from Clissett and over the next thirty years this experience influenced his designs. Gimson became an important part of the Arts and Crafts movement and established a furniture business in Gloucestershire.

Log Burner

Gimson encouraged a young, local man to take up chair-making. Edward Gardiner worked with Gimson and, after the First World War, set up a workshop in Priors Marston, Warwickshire. Neville Neal, Lawrence’s father, became his apprentice in 1939 and took over the business after Gardiner’s death essentially making chairs which can be traced back to Clissett. Here we are in 1966 with a busy chair-making business run by father with son, Lawrence, as apprentice. As the maker at the top of a “family tree” of chairmakers, I asked Lawrence whether any other career had been in the frame, “Not really, it was just assumed. I had been in and out of the workshop throughout my youth and when I reached 15 years it seemed natural to learn more”.

Lawrence Neal's Gimson Fireside Chair

Neville Neal died in 2000 & Lawrence has worked on his own from then on, making spindle and ladderback chairs with rush seats. Now, at close to retirement age, Lawrence really doesn’t know what else he would do with his time “There’s only so many times you can re-decorate the house”, he laughs.

Lawrence Neal

Neville Neal was fortunate to have a child disposed to precision and constancy. Lawrence’s working life has a rhythm and regularity that few experience – he selects a year’s supply oak and ash and harvests enough rush to complete the seats for the 120 chairs he makes annually. His machine tools are circular saw and lathe, his hand tools include cleaver, axe, chisel, draw knife, clamp and spokeshave. In addition he bends wood using something akin to a burco boiler.


Glancing at the many patterns for chair parts hanging on the workshop wall, Lawrence points out several that he believes began life in Gimson’s furniture workshop. “The designs haven’t really changed, I still make the chairs made by Clissett, Gimson, Gardiner and my Father.” Once you familiarise yourself with these designs you realise why the designs are so constant. The chairs are honest and so well worked out – just the right structure for their weight and purpose – nothing can be added or taken away to any advantage in function or look.

Lawrence Neal Chairs


Working from the Wood, an exhibition celebrating the bi-centenary of the birth of Philip Clissett runs from 29th June to 30 July 2017 at Tinsmiths, Ledbury. It features Lawrence Neal’s chairs. Other exhibitors, also influenced by Philip Clissett, will be Koji Katsuragi, Sebastian Cox, Mike Abbott, Gudrun Leitz and Neil Taylor. Please contact with your name and postal address if you would like to be sent an invitation to the opening. Mike Abbott will be giving a talk on Philip Clissett on Saturday, 15th July at 4pm at The Burgage Hall, Ledbury. Tickets will be made available at from 1st June 2017.

Hand Tools

Sunny Todd – giving it some thought

There is something very inspiring about passion. In this case, I mean passion for one’s work. Sunny visited us with samples of his textile designs a few month’s ago and we were struck by his commitment, enthusiasm and drive. His designs are dramatic, bold and bright, they leap out and grab you. It is really good to have something that shakes us, something quite different and a bit daring for Tinsmiths.

printed cottons by Sunny Todd“Tinsmiths feels to be very much at the heart of the bustling community and it has been a real joy to begin working with them this year. I have particularly enjoyed collaborating with owner Phoebe Clive on unique colour combinations for the store; I have really appreciated her advice, support and belief in me as a new designer and I am very much looking forward to my show at Tinsmiths next summer.” says Sunny, who moved to Ledbury, with his young family, this spring (2013).Sunny Todd “I have been so surprised by the vibrancy of this small market town” remarks Sunny, whose energy and interest can only add to the life of the town.

After training at the Royal College of Art, graduating with an MA in Printed Textile Design, Sunny Todd worked as a freelance designer in London for various companies including Topshop, Topman, Levis, River Island and Urban Outfitters, predominantly customising garments with Silk Screen prints.

Passionate about producing designs that are clean, bold and graphic, Sunny intuitively and obsessively draws with pen, scissors and scalpel to create repeats that are confident, dynamic and full of movement. Scale is explored, reducing and exaggerating to experiment with composition and the impact of the repeat.

Sunny PrintingAll his designs are cut by hand which gives the art work beautiful irregularities, and so when fabrics are digitally printed by British company Smarts they retain the hand printed aesthetic. Sunny gives a good deal of thought to how his textiles will be used and his latest wash bags and shoulder bags are good examples of this – his large shoulder bags should be considered part of one’s apparel, not merely a necessity.

Sunny's Voluminous Diamond Shoulder BagSunny’s show at Tinsmiths runs from 6th September to 4th October, 2014 and there will be an opportunity to meet and talk to Sunny about his work at the opening on the evening of Friday, 5th September. If you would like to receive an invitation, please e-mail with your details.

Sunny's washbags




Andrew Davidson – the complete set of Harry Potter Covers

Following up my last post, and for woodengravers, print lovers and J.K. Rowling enthusiasts, here are four of the seven covers completed in seven weeks – an amazing achievement. As Andrew says, the later covers get “darker” and more dramatic – following the telling of the tales. The last three will be published in September and I’ll add these as soon as they are issued.

Here they are, but don’t forget you can actually see them from 7th September to 12th October at Tinsmiths.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

r Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

r Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire


Harry Potter and ………

We stage artist and printmaker, Andrew Davidson’s solo show here next month. Andrew has just completed seven covers for Bloomsbury’s next edition of the complete series of Harry Potter books, the first four of which have just been released. Andrew, who works almost exclusively to commission, will exhibit his prints and textiles, here, at Tinsmiths next month (7th September to 12th October) and we are delighted that this very rare solo exhibition will include the Potter series of wood-engravings.

Bloomsbury's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Wood engraving by Andrew Davidson for Bloomsbury’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Bloomsbury really couldn’t have selected better for J.K. Rowling’s work.  “I wanted them to look as if they had come straight from the pages of a book taken from the library at Hogwarts (the boarding school for wizard’s where the books are set)”, explains Andrew.

The project took around two and a half months to complete, and each of the images describes a key scene, character or setting from that novel: designs for first books in the series feature the Hogwarts Express train and Gothic castle, while later covers have a darker feel and feature ghouls, skulls and serpents. The complexity of Andrew’s work, hand engraved on English Boxwood measuring no more than 9″ x 7″ and printed on Japanese paper, really suits the genre. Andrew’s commission from Bloomsbury allows him to hand-print 20 of each of the illustrations from the wood-engravings for his own use and it is these that we will have on display.

Hogwart's Express by Andrew Davidson

Hogwart’s Express steams into view. Wood engraving by Andrew Davidson.

If you would like to come to our opening evening, please e-mail for an invitation (letterpress printed with engravings taken from Andrew Davidson’s textile design, Royal Oak, for Lewis and Wood in Stroud, Glos.)





Plotting Prints

We are delighted to be showing the work of Kate Farley in our late spring exhibition and excited to be able to show her work as it progresses from paper and smaller scale items to designs for furnishing fabrics.

Kate Farley prints bags fabrics

Kate has an eye which constantly seeks out pattern in the world around us; she is sensitive to the strong graphic elements from the three dimensional and uses these to compose compelling patterns.

artwork for fabrics by kate farleyKate first visited Tinsmiths a couple of years ago when we showed some of her limited edition lino-cuts and it has been an interesting journey to see how elements within this work have been translated into repeat patterns for cloth. Kitchen gardens and allotments celebrating the home-grown, home-cooked ethic are the inspiration for this body of work.

As with many designers, the design process starts with the sketchbook which Kate uses to record planting plans of historic kitchen garden as well as here own vegetable patch. Elements from these plans can be turned into motifs for lino-cuts which in turn can be recreated as repeat designs.

Our solo exhibition of Kate’s work has given us the chance not only to show the full breadth of what Kate produces but also explore how the artwork becomes an applied design.

katefarleychairs1above: oak reading chair and curtain in Kate’s new upholstery and curtain fabrics.

Tile Art, Tinsmiths

Our Tile exhibition opens in a couple of weeks, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the use of tiles, the ways that they are produced and used. Last month’s visit to Jackfield Tile Museum at Ironbridge really helped. The museum is housed in the original offices of Craven Dunnill est. 1872 with the adjacent factory open to the public on specified days.

Craven Dunnill at Jackfield, tile press

Jackfield Tile Museum & early tile press

Press technology developed in the nineteenth century remains the industry standard; the  presses (now hydraulic) ram clay powder into plaster moulds to produce flat or textured tiles. Despite the use of hydraulic presses, the production line is still very labour intensive – perhaps not in comparison to our “potter’s tiles” in the exhibition – but in terms of modern factory production, this is very “hands on”.

making encaustic tiles at Jackfield

Rammed, textured tiles for slip infill – aka encaustic

The museum area is fascinating – my favorite room being the light, bright Design Room which now houses a snap-shot of art history through tiles 1840 to 1960 and the most fabulously tiled employees “loos”. As most people know the heyday for decorative tiles in this country was undoubtedly the Victorian era; a time when anything that could be decorated, would be.

The Crown Liquor Saloon, Belfast

At the Tile Museum I was particularly struck by a reconstruction of a Victorian bar – where tiles were made that formed an arc both horizontally and vertically and had decorative textured surfaces – just think of the engineering involved and the confidence that sales would justify the set-up costs. Perhaps this is easier to imagine when one realises that this small area of Jackfield (home to the largest encaustic tile factory in the world in the 1870s, Maws & Co.) produced more tiles than anywhere else, the factories even had their own railway lines and exported worldwide.

The Trade Showroom and loos at Jackfield

The Trade Showroom & Employees Facilities at Jackfield

But what of contemporary tile use today? With architectural projects spending millions on polished concrete for the outside of their buildings, is their anyone considering extensive use of tiles as an alternative? Well, a quick google search reveals lots of ceramic cladding, a few plain glazed flat tiles covering large areas but oh,  for the colour, pattern and texture that there could be……architects, designers awake….. if anyone has some invigorating examples of architectural tiles, please send them in to us. In the meantime do come and see Tile Art at Tinsmiths from 16th March and on-line at from 23rd.

Floor Tile by Andrew & Claire Mc Garva

Floor Tile by Andrew & Claire Mc Garva